What does it mean to be a model minority?
"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.
Vijay Prashad is assistant professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Taking a cue from W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black FolkAwhich poses the question, "How does it feel to be a problem?"APrashad's book on race relations asks Asians, "How does it feel to be a solution?" An assistant professor of international relations, he shows how neoconservatives have used the success of South Asian immigrants (though most of the book deals with Indians) to argue that America now offers a level playing field and that if other minorities, particularly African-Americans, have not achieved as much success, it is due to their own lack of initiative. Yet Prashad demonstrates how the U.S.'s extremely selective immigration policy (from 1966 to 1977, for example, 83% of Indian immigrants to the U.S. were professionals) has led to the myth of the "successful race." In the same vein, Prashad also argues that "sly Babas" (or "Godmen"), like Deepak Chopra, perpetuate the idea that Asians are a pliant, spiritual group and do a disservice by peddling "opiates that comfort" rather than challenging people to alter the causes of their distress. Throughout his book, Prashad repeatedly reproaches society for forgetting the poorAchastising Bobby McFerrin, for example, for releasing his song Don't Worry Be Happy at a time of great economic insecurity, and castigating the medical community for not doing enough to control preventable diseases common among the poor. Though Prashad includes many revealing insights about South Asians in America, at times his book seems more like a scattered collection of anecdotal lectures than a cogent analysis of race relations among minority groups in our nation. (Mar.)
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“Fascinating reading . . . a keen eye-witness . . . Prashad has a genius for selecting the precise detail that makes observations spring to life.” -- A. Magazine: Inside Asian America
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