In the Skinner Memorial Chapel last Friday, the Carleton community gathered to hear Dr. Vijay Prashad deliver a convocation entitled, “Watada’s Election: Asian Americans and These Asian Wars.” Prashad’s presentation examined Asian Americans, the Iraq War, and the upcoming election.
Prashad is a professor of international studies and the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History at Trinity College in Connecticut. He received a B.A. in history from Pomona College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. Prashad is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Dean Arthur H. Hughes Award for Outstanding Achievement and Performance in Teaching for Trinity College in 2000.
Prashad serves on several boards, including the Center for Third World Organizing, United for a Fair Economy, and the National Priorities Project. He also writes for a variety of popular magazines in both India and the United States. Prashad is the author of a monthly column entitled “Letter from America” for Frontline magazine.
The author of twelve books, Prashad has had two of his works chosen by the Village Voice as book of the year; “The Karma of Brown Folk” and “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth.” The former is a South Asian American response to W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk.” In the book, Prashad challenges the stereotype of Asian American as a “model minority”—a model that defines the group as “successful” based on the achievements of some, without accounting for diversity in the Asian American population. He also reveals how South Asians are deployed as “weapons in the war against black America.”
“Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth” addresses the topic of polyculturalism in a globalized world, a concept pioneered by Prashad. Polyculturism asserts that all of the world’s cultures are inter-related. It is therefore opposed to the concept of multi-culturalism, which supporters of polyculturalism argue is divisive.
“Firstly, we need to get out of the idea that the ‘West is the fount of all that is good in the world, that it is the place from which all reason and justice comes,” said Prashad. “Secondly, we need to see that the world is formed by interconnections between that known as the ‘West’ and the vast rest, and that the cultures that we see in motion around us are dynamically generated by the various and complex interactions, which are later denied in bad faith in the service of nationalism. So, these two facets of polyculturalism may, I think, help us think out of the rhetoric of good and evil, us and them.”
Prashad’s most recent work is “Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World.” He is currently working on a book entitled, “An American Radical: The Writings of Kumar Goshal,” expected to be published in 2008.
In his presentation Friday, Prashad discussed the situation of Asian Americans, the War in Iraq, and the upcoming presidential election. He referenced the Hawaii-born First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, who was the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the Iraq War and occupation.
An intellectual extremist, Prashad said he believes that nothing is forbidden to think about and that everything is open to investigation. He urges his students to understand the material intellectuality and vicissitude of an issue, whether it is poverty, oppression, or nonviolence. Prashad stressed the fundamental importance of having the ability to “walk out into the world looking at things critically and being analytical about everything.”