‘Crash’ Course from Kenneth Eng: Racism defines America

AsianWeek controversy has been quite an upset. For one, it claims to be the voice of the Asian Americans, and then goes on to publish an article written by a racist bigot who has absolutely no knowledge of his own history, and then the paper goes on to apologize while refusing to single out editors.

If only Kenneth Eng would have been the problem of it, the problem would have been solved by now, considering that he has been fired and even his article has been withdrawn from the AsianWeek website. On the contrary, bloggers are highlighting how immensely published is Eng and how his arguments might have some merit or how disgusted they are at this character. Now we have his photographs appearing on several sites and discussions on his student days in a New York film school. For someone who loves limelight (and any PR charmer can tell you any publicity is good publicity), Eng is having a field day. Amidst all this diplomatic efforts to showcase how not-so-racists we are in comparison to Kenneth Eng, the question must be redirected at the holier of the factions.

The truth of the matter is Kenneth Eng is a product of our system, not a creator of it. Just as Michael Richards was. Has Richards’ apologies helped any bit more than would Eng’s? Or did Mel Gibson really lose out all that deal after his apologies? Such politics of apologies are aimed at individual ‘atonement’s, not at social remedies.

Eng/Gibson/Kramer are trying to say something. And so also those who bear with these bunch. And again those of us readers who comment at the end of the blog entries reinforcing their myopic views. Now, deleting their comments and their articles and apologizing for the same is not the solution. Far from it, such responses are what I would say constitute the “Crash” actions. Remember that movie which won Oscar last year and promised everything was fine on the racial front and that Dubois was inherently wrong.

No, Dubois was not wrong. In fact he is more relevant today than ever before. America, the metamorphosed country of illusions lulling its “diverse” people to sound amnesia by preaching “equality and liberty” is condemned to grapple with its color-lines. Any amount of diplomatic legerdemain by community “leaders” and public figures, college professors and filmmakers cannot hide this reality. The problem of 21st century America is the problem of Capitalism that thrives on inequalities based on several of its social locations. How else does one justify the continued consolidation of most wealth and power in the hands of a few white men in this country? How does one justify the saga of discriminations against people of color in the workplace? How does one justify the annual raise of bonuses to the tune of two hundred percent for the owning class while the workers beg for a five percent up?

Individualism leading to Community-ism
In hostile situations of cut throat capitalistic competitions, everyone is up for the battle of interests. In place of individual rights that this country so proudly enshrined in its constitution that merely focussed on the wealthy and powerful (only the truly free enjoyed the rights, not those they enslaved), the group rights started forming impressions following several reformist movements last century.

Group reformist movements, just like the individual rights movements, engage in competing to garner support from those from whom the rights flow. The ruling classes who devise and define individual rights to their interests (for example it is alright to be a Christian, but not alright to be a Communist; its your right to have family, but not to have it if you are not heterosexual) also describe the scope of group rights. However just as illusive are individual rights, so are the group rights, in a capitalistic setup where the romance of rights are not inherent, but gifted.

To preserve the gifts (‘scope of rights’ that come with charity, although rights themselves may have been fought for, within limits set by the capitalists), groups often tend to resort to squabble, mud-slings and outright racism. People like Kenneth Eng are products of such society divided into groups competing to attract favors from charity masters. Even as the Engs hate racism targeted against them, they rarely stop to find out the true reasons behind the same.

Its utter ignorance of some people about their own history that leads to culmination and growth of racism in our world. Are young students like Kenneth Eng taught in their school about the role of black people in shaping the free America? Are young black students taught about the systematic biases that continue circulating against Asian-Americans in mainstream entertainment industry? Are young south asian students told of the role of black Muslims in enlightening the conscience of this country when it was deep asleep in evil contentment? Are young white students taught of the role of Latino working class in wealth creation of the superpower at the cost of their own exploitation over debates surrounding minimum wage? Are the minority students taught about how majority of white workers indeed are at receiving end of en exploitative economic system?

Need of the hour:
What needs to be done at this juncture is not for black commentators attacking Asian press or South Asian commentators condemning Kenneth Eng. For all we know, Eng could well become a celebrity in a few months. The root cause of racism is not one bigoted mind. Its capitalism that we largely let go unchecked for in its practice. We must address the manner in which private capital creation safeguards specific group interests rather than working for the betterment of the world. The racial tensions in the US are economic in nature. There is no place for moral preachings here. No place for Crash finale!

Lets admit and accept that as long as we refrain from critiquing the capitalist causes (private monopolies) we will have to accept racism as part and parcel of the deal. Till now, people other than white are being called in their suffixes. American history is differently noted than African-American history! How will we expect Engs of the world to even feel grateful for immense sufferings of generations of black people that must be acknowledged at every mention of America even as an idea? How will we expect white people to understand that Columbus was not after all some hero and that this land was indeed “made for you and me”, and not just for the English speaking elites. Such expectations will bear fruit only if people are treated equally irrespective of race in this country and elsewhere. However that would mean perhaps to quote Paul Robeson, “adopting the nature and politics of Soviet Union where people are treated as people, not as black or white”. Even adopting one-tenth of former Soviet policies would entail the reversal of centuries-old capital accumulation policies that are in place in a flourishing capitalism. As long as a society is built on bedrock of money as the only thing that matters–to buy health insurance to higher education–people will always be treated as secondary subjects. And where people need to be treated as secondary subjects, to refrain those very people from fomenting a revolution against their secondary status, it becomes imperative for the capital masters to wage a divide and rule policy that keeps people ignorant about their collective struggles in everyday lives. While at it, the economic system goes unchecked in its biases against working class by deliberately playing one group against another when it comes to economic parity, share holding and accountability. No wonder, thousands of discrimination cases at the workplace are filed every week based on racial disparities.

We need to shed our racialisms and embrace the collective history of struggles of working class people of this country and the world against their class antagonists in our everyday observations. Careful and conscious efforts must be made towards deconstructing problems such as Eng’s while observing the need for such racism not to take place again.

One thing is to condemn racism, which is all good, but entirely useless. Since we know no one can feel unscathed from racist attacks under capitalism which bases itself on human inequality, today’s condemned group will become the condemner tomorrow. The other thing is to actually ensure that we do not produce a new generation of racists in our own households. There would be no end to this Ghettopoly-Tsunami saga, if we did not really address the issues critically. That some Blacks despise some Asians, some Asians despise some Blacks, and some Whites despise some immigrants and vice versa is a well known fact. How many Indian families actually encourage their doting daughters to make friends with Blacks and Muslims? How many of us actually stop thinking about people beyond their colors the moment we fail to receive our due share? How long will the “good” people refuse to acknowledge that? How long we will keep condemning Kenneth Eng?

We must make every efforts to acknowledge collective contributions to working class struggles. White people should be educated about Whiteness history that must detail not the struggle of black people alone, but also the struggle of good white people while dealing with slavery and racism. Neither slavery nor racism should be treated as subjects of the past, for both are going to remain in full function as long as there is an owning class of minority people–those that traditionally were slaveowners and who own us mentally now with their monopoly media misinformation tirades.

South Asian Journalist Association (SAJA) which is composed of really nice people some of whom I have had the opportunity to have interacted with, must make every effort to include black people on its editorial board. No issues of journalism that pertains to people of South Asian origin precludes people of other races. Likewise good Asian folks at the AsianWeek should include Latino people on their boards. The black television programs that have been accused of making fun of some Asians should include some enlightened Asians in their team. And together all of them should include some white people in their efforts to understand and strengthen collective efforts to uproot racism from this country.

Although racism, like sexism, is a byproduct of capitalism, capitalism will not vanish as long as we do not treat these diseases on a preventive manner. If we really wish to eradicate racism, and not merely talk about it, we must look beyond our own group interests and then we shall be able to address racism among our own communities in a more informed manner. Accusing the ‘other’ becomes easier when we are refusing to look outside our ‘own’ comforted walls. It is perhaps more true when we are dealing with a subject such as race–one that will not go away, but one we must deal with.

Time has come to look beyond our own races, and look for commonalities with the others in order to find the links that have been deliberately kept missing. Until then, we will be demanding an apology, not the solidarity. Because until then we are perhaps intending to let capitalism succeed at any cost in enslaving us while giving us an illusion of freedom, because we refuse to look beyond the windows to understand why some of us out in the rain will continue to suffer at the hand of the same system that can turn us against each other. For racism to go, we need to embrace human beings, not private wealth monopolists. For that to happen, we need to address issues of capitalism at its systematic level, not at its symptomatic level.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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