“How does it feel to be a problem?” asked W. E. B. Du Bois of black Americans in his classic The Souls of Black Folk. A hundred years later, Vijay Prashad asks South Asians “How does it feel to be a solution?” In this kaleidoscopic critique, Prashad looks into the complexities faced by the members of a “model minority”-one, he claims, that is consistently deployed as “a weapon in the war against black America.” On a vast canvas, The Karma of Brown Folk attacks the two pillars of the “model minority” image, that South Asians are both inherently successful and pliant, and analyzes the ways in which U.S. immigration policy and American Orientalism have perpetuated these stereotypes. Prashad uses irony, humor, razor-sharp criticism, personal reflections, and historical research to challenge the arguments made by Dinesh D’Souza, who heralds South Asian success in the U.S., and to question the quiet accommodation to racism made by many South Asians. A look at Deepak Chopra and others whom Prashad terms “Godmen” shows us how some South Asians exploit the stereotype of inherent spirituality, much to the chagrin of other South Asians. Following the long engagement of American culture with South Asia, Prashad traces India’s effect on thinkers like Cotton Mather and Henry David Thoreau, Ravi Shankar’s influence on John Coltrane, and such essential issues as race versus caste and the connection between antiracism activism and anticolonial resistance. The Karma of Brown Folk locates the birth of the “model minority” myth, placing it firmly in the context of reaction to the struggle for Black Liberation. Prashad reclaims the long history of black and South Asian solidarity, discussing joint struggles in the U.S., the Caribbean, South Africa, and elsewhere, and exposes how these powerful moments of alliance faded from historical memory and were replaced by Indian support for antiblack racism. Ultimately, Prashad writes not just about South Asians in America but about America itself, in the tradition of Tocqueville, Du Bois, Richard Wright, and others. He explores the place of collective struggle and multiracial alliances in the transformation of self and community-in short, how Americans define themselves.
The Groundings with my Brothers (1969) by Walter Rodney
“In this classic work published in the heady days of anti-colonial revolution, Groundings with My Brothers follows the global circulation of emancipatory ideas, from the black students of North America to the Rasta counterculture of Jamaica and beyond. The book is striking in its simultaneous ability to survey the wide and heterogeneous international context while remaining anchored in grassroots politics, as Rodney offers us first-hand accounts of mass movement organizing. Having inspired a generation of revolutionaries, this new edition will re-introduce the book to a new political landscape that it helped shape, with reflections from leading scholar-activists.”
See also: A tribute article titled: ‘Walter Rodney: A luminous beacon for racial, social and political change.’
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1999) by Adam Hochschild
“In the late nineteenth century, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium carried out a brutal plundering of the territory surrounding the Congo River. Ultimately slashing the area’s population by ten million, he still managed to shrewdly cultivate his reputation as a great humanitarian. A tale far richer than any novelist could invent, King Leopold’s Ghost is the horrifying account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who defied Leopold: African rebel leaders who fought against hopeless odds and a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure but unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust and participants in the twentieth century’s first great human rights movement.”
C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings of C.L.R. James 1939-1949 Edited by Paul Le Blanc and Scott McLemee
“CLR James and Revolutionary Marxism collect some of the most important, but difficult to obtain, articles from the legendary Trinidadian-Marxist.C. L. R. James was one of the most influential Marxists of his generation. His important contributions ranged from the subjects of Black liberation to contemporary philosophy and even touched on the anticolonial potential of cricket. In this collection of hard-to-find articles and essays, his towering intellect and engaging style touch on a diverse array of topics.
Scott McLemee writes the weekly column “Intellectual Affairs” for Inside Higher Ed. Paul Le Blanc is a professor of history at La Roche College, and he has written on and participated in the US labor, radical, and civil rights movements.”
Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (2007) by Ruth Wilson Gilmore
“Since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased by more than 450%. Despite a crime rate that has been falling steadily for decades, California has led the way in this explosion, with what a state analyst called “the biggest prison building project in the history of the world.” Golden Gulag provides the first detailed explanation for that buildup by looking at how political and economic forces, ranging from global to local, conjoined to produce the prison boom.
In an informed and impassioned account, Ruth Wilson Gilmore examines this issue through statewide, rural, and urban perspectives to explain how the expansion developed from surpluses of finance capital, labor, land, and state capacity. Detailing crises that hit California’s economy with particular ferocity, she argues that defeats of radical struggles, weakening of labor, and shifting patterns of capital investment have been key conditions for prison growth. The results—a vast and expensive prison system, a huge number of incarcerated young people of color, and the increase in punitive justice such as the “three strikes” law—pose profound and troubling questions for the future of California, the United States, and the world. Golden Gulag provides a rich context for this complex dilemma, and at the same time challenges many cherished assumptions about who benefits and who suffers from the state’s commitment to prison expansion.”