March 21, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 35°F


Writer studies race issues

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, will be giving a presentation titled “The American Lenin” 7 p.m. Monday in Klingenstein Lounge as part of the Race and Immigration discussion series hosted by the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity.

Prashad is an award-winning author of 11 books. His most recent, “The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World,” was picked by the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop as the Best Nonfiction Book of 2008. His studies focus on international policy and race relations.

Staff Writer Lauren Barber spoke with Prashad about his research and upcoming visit to the college.

Lauren Barber: You did fieldwork in India as part of your doctoral work. What was that experience like?

Vijay Prashad: I traveled around and lived with different communities. I was born and raised until my teen years in India. For me, to go and spend a couple of years in India was extremely powerful. I was in my early 20s. I never lived in India by myself like that. To do it with communities I didn’t really know anything about — extremely poor communities — [has] really shaped who I’ve become. Fieldwork is a remarkable experience. It puts its mark on you. Some of the things I look back on with fondness and nostalgia, but some of it was hard. All of it was extremely beneficial.

LB: How has fieldwork influenced you?

VP: I don’t believe in just equality or opportunity. I believe in much more than that. People need to have their right to have dignity. Then I spent two years with people who struggled with dignity. It gave me a sense of importance of what I believe in and how difficult the road is. There are some very vicious people who benefit from denying people dignity. I don’t think I ever fully understood that until I saw it from the point of view of being oppressed.

LB: What will you address during your Race and Immigration discussion?

VP: I’m interested in why it is that people who write about race in the United States are not also interested in concepts from imperialism. I’m interested in the relationship between race inside America and imperialism. I’m going to go over the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, who was very interested in the relationship between Alabama and Ethiopia, for example. He saw there was a necessary relationship. I want to revise that interest and those aspects and put them in a framework.

LB: What is the most interesting topic you have researched and written about?

VP: It’s what I’ve been continuing to write about: the reason why two-thirds of the world’s people live in near poverty and why one of every five people on the planet lives in a slum. That question of why that is so continues to interest me. Every 11 minutes, another person enters a slum. It’s really miserable.

LB: What do you enjoy most about teaching people what you’ve learned in the field?

VP: You get to meet people who are forming their ideas about the world, and you are given the opportunity to help them along. I had some superb teachers when I was younger. Because I got so much out of them, I recognize how important it is to play that same kind of role.