Interlude 1: Gandhi’s Impact on Civil Rights (Feb 16/17)

Black Ghandi Vijay Prashad is a cult scholar, with a fan following as large as some rock bands. He explores non-violent resistance versus violence as a strategy, and some of the debates around it. This article also exposes some of Gandhi’s experience in South Africa.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Dialogues with Americans This piece provides a nice overview of some of Gandhi’s communications with American missionaries, journalists, authors and activists. It also provides some insight into little known controversies and critiques in his life, such as his arguments with feminist Margaret Sanger. Furthermore, for those of you who want to know what India has to do with your IPSP, the end of the article has some partial answers.


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20 Responses to Interlude 1: Gandhi’s Impact on Civil Rights (Feb 16/17)

  1. jake says:

    Richard Gregg’s description of non-violent resistance as moral jiu-jitsu is, I think, a really insightful metaphor. Gregg’s distillation and dissemination of nonviolent resistance theory represented only one of a constellation of ideas espoused by authors, educators, and activists who informed and were informed by Gandhi. Both article’s descriptions of the cross-pollinating intellectual history of nonviolent resistance helped me contextualize Gandhi’s life in a way earlier articles we’ve read for this class had not. Prashad’s “Black Gandhi” provides a succinct history of Gandhi’s political development, emphasizing his experiences in South Africa and how circumstances there led him to his particular theory of social change, what would become known Gandhism. Because it is making an argument about the resonance of Gandhism in the American Civil Rights Movement, for the first time this semester I began to grapple with the merits of Ghandi’s strategy and tactics versus other strategies. In “Mahatma Gandhi’s Dialogues with Americans” Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that social and political conflict often necessitate the use of coercion and even violent means for good ends, made me think about the American Civil War. It’s difficult to imagine under what other circumstances the stain of slavery could have been erased. And while Gandhism was explicitly nonviolent mass mobilizations often lead to violent clashes between Indians and the British. More importantly, while Gandhi practiced nonviolent resistance, I believe much of the movement’s strength can be attributed to the threat of violence. W.E.B. Du Bois recognized this important point when he argued that the differences in the numbers (an Indian majority versus a small African American minority) required different tactics. Both articles, but particularly “Black Gandhi,” temper some of the more simplistic characterizations of Gandhi by contextualizing his theories of social justice within a broader intellectual and social history.

  2. Jake says:

    There is I debate within the ows movement right now about tactics that is really relevant to the readings. Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a piece about the use of the black boc, a tactic used most provocatively in recent protests in Oakland, claiming it will undermine and derail the movement. The most vocal reaction probably came from anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber, who felt that Hedges mischaracterized black bocs and was slandering the movement. What’s interesting, particularly for this class, is that both authors are talking about Ghandian tactics of non-violence and both in their arguments claim Ghandi. Earlier today Hedges sent out another article that expands upon his earlier argument but is less divisive.
    Hedges 1:
    Hedges 2:

  3. Dylan P. says:

    Gandhi was, of course, a great leader and advocate for non-violent social change, and his work was very effective in many ways. However, his methods are not universally applicable and cannot be exactly reproduced to gain the same results. It is clear that the tactics must be contextualized, but what I think is more important to take into account is that the contexts of a given situation will reveal the limits of Gandhian non-violence. It is not the case that Gandhi’s methods are right for all, but that it was right for India. We have seen instances of non-violence working as in the case of the civil rights movement, but even that had to be adjusted. Regardless of how effective any one campaign of non-violence is, some examples in Black Gandhi— specifically of Vladimir Lenin and Frantz Fanon—remind us that it is premature and foolish to rule out violence (as a last or only available resort). All three were virulent anti-imperialists who took on very different tactics.
    Gandhi and Lenin were not terribly different in tactics and ideology (save the death of one royal family). Gandhi shared many Bolshevik ideas, but he had the non-threatening mystique of an easterner. I posit that Gandhi also benefited from the “luxury” of being occupied rather than the constant torment of one’s own country being ruled by a long line of tyrants. A movement for independence allows different tactics than an internal regime change. However, Lenin did benefit from being of the same nationality as his oppressor. Perhaps non-violence is most applicable to occupied groups of different ethnicity than the oppressor.
    Consider black philosopher Frantz Fanon in the midst of the Algerian struggle for independence from France around the same time as the American Civil Rights Movement. Although, Fanon was not a leader of the movement he did give voice to the struggle. In “Black Skin, White Mask” Fanon speaks of the constant physical and psychical pain of associating one’s body with one’s subjugation. For the Algerians, these feelings manifested themselves in violence—due to existential pain, religious problems, and political turmoil. In the United States however, those sentiments bubbled to the surface in the 1920’s and in the Black Power movement, but the relatively small minority could not overtake the United States as in Russia, Algeria, or even India. Different circumstances call for different tactics.

    • Dear Dylan

      Algeria is an excellent example to compare this too. Furthermore, some of King’s success may perhaps be attributed to the threat of violence provided by Malcolm X, and others. I love Fanon. He is a wonderful African theorist. Thank you for your ideas.


  4. Leslie H. says:

    The “Black Gandhi” reading really got me thinking about how I would react if people like me were being lynched and someone proposed nonviolence as the solution. In hindsight, it’s easy to credit nonviolence movements with bringing about social change and to feel secure in the decisions that were made to pursue nonviolent paths. But I have to wonder, if I had been living in that time, surrounded by hate, discrimination, the threat of lynching, would I have been satisfied with a nonviolent approach? Why should I not want an eye for an eye? As I said, history paints a pretty picture of how effective the nonviolent approach was for the civil rights movement, but I still think its remarkable that masses of people rallied behind the nonviolent protest idea and saw it through to success. I’m not saying that a violent approach would have been the right thing to do or that it would have even worked, but I am saying that I would understand if that had been the road they chose. Winsor said that “violent methods never win the desired goal,” but I think there are quite a few countries and historians who would beg to differ (after all, if wars absolutely never brought a desired outcome to at least one side, I think we would have found something else to do with our time and money by 2012—again not saying that war is right or wrong, but it happens, and sometimes the “winner” likes the outcome). I am interested to see how the theme of nonviolence continues into our readings about desegregation in Little Rock. Whom did our civil rights leaders credit with their nonviolence ideas? Was Gandhi a strong influence or even perhaps a role model for them? I’m looking forward to examining the differences and similarities of these two nonviolent movements.

    • Dear Leslie.

      Great insights.

      Yes, it will be great to be able to compare and contrast a familiar and an unfamiliar case, won’t it? This is exactly the kind of mental process I am hoping for.

      The Kenyan case will provide contrast with a violent liberation movement, which frankly is the form that decolonization took in most African countries.


  5. Britney Sink says:

    In Black Gandhi, the author gives an overview of how Americans seemed to view Gandhi, whereas Dialogues with Americans speaks to more specific interactions Gandhi had. One theme common in both articles is Americans’ association of Gandhi with Christianity. Americans tended to idolize Gandhi, possibly even more than his Indian followers. People attributed to him Christ-like characteristics, even going so far as to call him a brown Christ figure. What’s interesting in all of this is Gandhi’s desire to keep his distance from Christianity, actually not wanting to be likened to Christ or associated with a religion other than Hindu. On the part of Americans, even though Gandhi was deserving of praise, likening him to Christ was still extreme, especially since it is very rare that anyone would call another Christ-like. It begs the question if the majority whites in America felt comfortable calling a “little brown man,” as they said, Christ-like, because he is so different from them, and therefore not a threat. Although Martin Luther King, Jr. was so impactful in the Civil Rights Movement, including using passive resistance through civil disobedience, was he considered a type of Christ?

    In Dialogues with Americans, the author gives plentiful examples of Gandhi’s interactions with missionaries, journalists, and leaders. Although most were supporters of Gandhi’s work, not all agreed with his point of view. Most interesting to me were the women who went to India to visit him during the first part of the twentieth century. Margaret Sanger, for instance, was an advocate for women’s rights and birth control. The article goes into some depth on her and Gandhi’s conversations on the subject, and his refusal to support birth control beyond the “rhythm method.” Two other women were unsupportive of Gandhi’s work and sought to propagandize against him. Katherine Mayo and Patricia Kendall were both middle-of-the-road writers that gained instant fame through book sales. The article puts importance on their contributions to the Raj’s campaign against India, giving them a large amount of power. I find this intriguing, given the time period and status of women’s rights in America. Even in the 1920s after women gained the right to vote, there was a limited scope of “equality.” For two women to be Gandhi’s most critical opponents, I wonder where their motivation came from, and if it had anything to do with simply wanting to make a name for themselves.

  6. Veena says:

    While reading each of this week’s articles, I couldn’t help noticing how often Gandhi was equated to a Christ-like figure in America. It almost seemed like Americans couldn’t support Gandhi or his ideas unless they were able to find some such link. Even after Gandhi disclosed that he did not like comparisons with Christ, they continued to come rolling in.

    One of the things I didn’t really notice that Britney pointed out during our group discussion was the seeming power female writers had to influence people about Gandhi. Both Katherine Mayo and Patricia Kendall were average writers who, during a time when women were not necessarily viewed as intellectuals, traveled to India to meet Gandhi and then wrote pretty scathing remarks about him and the non-violence movement in India. It is interesting that they managed to have such an influence over some Americans’ perceptions of Gandhi. This was something that I didn’t even pick up on but that seems obvious after hearing Britney voice it.

    Additionally, I loved the back-and-forth that occurred between Gandhi and Margaret Sanger over the issues of sex and birth control. I did find it a bit odd, however, that all of their communication took place via newspapers rather than private letters to each other. It seemed almost deliberate, as if they needed the public forum to not only each voice their opinions about the subjects but also to rally support for their sides. In an odd way it kind of reminded me of the campaign ads you see now for Presidential candidates where they put a negative spin on something their opponent does and then show how their ideas are better. It was like an early international political campaign between Sanger and Gandhi on these specific topics.

  7. Trish says:

    I love Veena’s observation that although Ghandi didn’t like being compared to Christ, “They continued to come rolling in.” So please forgive me, Veena!

    “Black Ghandi”- Vijay Prashad

    While non-violent resistance as championed by Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. has yielded tremendous results in overcoming adversity and oppression, it is interesting to consider how that method functions in varying social and political climates. Just as Jesus, through abnegating fear and ill will towards others, is an example of non-violent protest and healing, Ghandi’s example demonstrated the utility of this same method. However, it is reasonable to question that given the extreme political landscape in the United States during the Civil Rights movement, how non-violence resistance would lead to the end of the violence afflicted on African-Americans at the time. I was aghast at Prashad’s point that in the span of a few decades, more than 3,000 “vigilante” murders rooted in racism, occurred in the American south. In light of this fact, while I favor non-violent resistance, I empathize with Frazier’s insistence that more forceful methods should be employed under such circumstances. Frazier explains that those oppressed need to be seen as a legitimate, powerful group through aggressive resistance, in order to end the violence inflicted upon them. Ghandi would posit that to strive to accomplish this through violence would not end in solution because it is a mindset no different from that of the oppressors, violence breeds violence.
    Throughout our study of India and Ghandi’s role in independence, in particular, I have been curious as to how other social movements against oppression would measure up. Earlier this week I heard Afeni Shakur-Davis, former Black Panther, speak about non-violence and working for positive change for youth. Throughout her lecture she reminded us that we should strive to remove or stifle anger-motivated action because as she quoted from Dr. King Jr., “Once you arrive at anger and violence, you have no where else to go.” I find that this is relevant for both perspectives, both that of Frazier and non-violent advocates like Ghandi. If violence is cyclical, it seems to be a matter of where each perspective finds itself in that cycle. For those who believe that the only recourse is aggressive and violent opposition when under constant threat of violence, it seems that the struggle will never end, especially in considering that with violence there is no solution, as Dr. King Jr. advises. In every instance I can think of both historically and at present, victory is never won if violence is fought with violence. For example, although many would argue that it is our great military strength that makes the U.S. a world power, it is clear that the use of force by entering into a war in Afghanistan in order to combat terrorism has not occasioned a resolution apart from more division and resentment.

  8. Matt Lyon says:

    This week’s readings got me thinking about memes and emotional transference. It makes me question exactly what creates a leader, a revolutionary, a martyr. In “Black Gandhi”, the author talks about Gandhi’s image in America as something like a demigod, not fully human, but a godlike figure in human skin. In fact, he spent his ‘formative years’ as a privileged, globe-trotting lawyer. That is not a bad thing; it is simply different than his image. I am curious if this image would be the same if 24 hour news channels and the internet were available at the time. I wonder if Status and Allure is raised by the mysteries of Distance and the Unknown. If Gandhi had the microscope of the world on him, would his message have resonated as clearly? Would his tactics be seen in the West as purely religiously-based, or would more public knowledge of the man and the situation lift the veil of ignorance and expose his practicality and humanness?

    American Black activist Stokely Carmichael once said that he had considered Gandhi’s tactics of civil disobedience and non-violent protests, but that it wouldn’t work in America because the aim of non-violence is to appeal to the conscience of one’s oppressor, to show them through your suffering the error of their ways. Carmichael said that white America had no conscience, and that it was time to raise up in arms to defend themselves and claim their rights, lest they be trampled and extinguished. I believe his fear of ‘rolling over’ and being defeated, or worse, is worth discussing. What good are non-violent tactics if a silent extermination is taking place? If the only motivation of the oppressor is the rid themselves of their enemies, without regard for their own image or conscience, what is to be gained by going quietly into the night? Recently there have been a rash of self-immolations by Buddhist Tibetans frustrated with the Chinese government’s stranglehold on their homeland. How does self-immolation play into these tactics? Is violence against oneself as an outward expression of oppression part of the family of non-violent protests tactics? This was, in fact, the tactic that sparked the Arab Spring. I hope we can speak on these issues more thoroughly.

  9. Nathan says:

    In the Black Gandhi article, many parallels are drawn between the civil rights struggle made by African-Americans here in the United States, and the struggle for independence in India. Both had inspirational leaders, with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who followed many of Gandhi’s methods. But the non-violence approach wasn’t reached unanimously among those in the black community, and rightly so. In his correspondence with W.E.B. DuBois in the 1920’s, Gandhi advocated the merits of the non-violent approach to gaining equality. However, DuBois was not so quick to embrace it, and backed up his argument by pointing out there were many differences between the two situations that called for different approaches. He acknowledged that while the non-violent approach might work well in India, it was not suited for the United States. After all, unlike in India, the repressed group was not a majority in the Untied States. In India when Gandhi was able to lead unified groups in protest, it often shut the city down, because society could not function normally with so many citizens involved in the protest. DuBois pointed out that would not be the case in America, where violence would be the only way to draw that kind of attention. Of course there were those that advocated the non-violent approach here, and those voices ended up being the most prominent in the civil rights movement, but at the time DuBois looked down on that point of view. He believed that almost everyone that advocated non-violence was the same race as the oppressors, even if they were more sympathetic to the cause of civil rights. I find DuBois argument more compelling than I thought I would, and it’s interesting to read the back and forth between these two ideas, and how they responded to one another.

  10. Andrea says:

    The philosophical disagreements African Americans had in the early 20th century regarding the appropriate approach to tackle oppression are understandable. On one hand, peonage, a terrible, oppressive system was still being practiced, many African American’s were first generation freepersons, Jim Crow laws were practiced, and lynchings were major social gatherings for many Whites. It is understandable why many people believed fighting fire with fire was the best method.
    On the other hand, Christianity, going to church, and the practice of peace and forgiveness were at the core of many African American communities. My grandfather, who was born in 1930, told me many stories of how important faith and church were to his family and the African American community where he was raised. The entire community attended church. Some even came and just sat outside of the church in the Arkansas heat and listened to the sermons and songs. Forgiveness was often preached even in the face of institutionalized oppression. With a community, so deeply rooted in Christianity, it is also understandable that many people believed nonviolent resistance powered by love was the best method.
    At the intersection of oppression and faith, it is evident that philosophical differences on how to accomplish change could emerge.

    Prior to the abolition of slavery in 1865, violent resistance had been attempted before the nonviolent movements of the 20th century. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and slaves in St. John the Baptist Parish, LA had attempted or been a part of violent slave revolts in the 19th century. These revolts gained notoriety, but did not result in policy changes.
    On the other hand, the nonviolent movement was successful in the US as well as India partly because the leaders listened to the needs of the masses and mobilized the masses. Both Gandhi and King were good politicians, and the timing for such a movement was right for changes to take place.

  11. Mark Eastham says:

    Black Gandhi – Vijay Prashad

    One of the most interesting aspects about this article is the portrayal of the divisions of ideology between African-American leaders. Du Bois resisted full use of violence, but did not think that Gandhi’s Satyagraha tactics were an appropriate basis for the Civil Rights Movement. His belief that the African American population in the United States was too small to effectively use peaceful protests makes sense in theory, as Gandhi’s movement in India depended on a vast majority resisting a minority colonial oppressor. Du bois felt that the African-American population in the United States would be curtly quelled through complete adherence to nonviolence. In essence he felt that peaceful civil disobedience would not effectively catch on the grand scale against a large federal US government and the myriad of Jim Crow supporters. Frazier supported this and felt that nonviolent protest would lead to the, “unprecedented massacre of defenseless black men and women in the name of Law and Order.” In contrast, Ralph Temeplin and Jay Homles began the Harlem Ashram after a trip to India and developed the theory of Kristagraha, a mix between Christianity and Satyagraha. The author notes that Kristagraha influenced Dr. King in his own development of nonviolent ideology. This type of western nonviolent ideology, essentially imported and tweaked from the East, symbolizes the beginning of peaceful African-American resistance led by Dr. King who used both Christian and Kristagraha theory in his leadership. The similarities between King and Gandhi are clearly evident; they both depended on their own faiths, promoted the use of nonviolent protest, and used charisma and intellect to further their ideals. In terms of Christianity vs. Hinduism it is interesting when Prashad notes that Du Bois felt African Americans would mock the nonviolent approach of Gandhi as fasting and public prayer were not part of their tradition. Du Bois argument here is valid and supports the fact that types of protest can be carried across cultures but need to be adapted and made-suitable to the area of the world which they take place. King developed a unique nonviolent “Christian” approach through the incorporation of churches, songs, and marches and was ultimately successful. Even so, one cannot ignore the influence Gandhi’s ideology.

  12. nalmeida75 says:

    Gandhi was not the first to speak about disobedience, but he was the first moderate to be successful at that. But there is a strong civilizational component to his uniqueness.
    India and the British did not share the same religion. The British realized they did not have the resources to convert India to Christianity. The strategy to rule laid on the tactic of stratification by castes, hoping to create enough divide and disperse hostilities.
    Gandhi borrowed non-violence and civil resistance from Hinduism. Religion and communal bonds were native sources of moral legitimacy and therefore political power to lead civil disobedience in India. Even if the method was borrowed from Thoureau the fact is non-violence has been used as a political tool since time immemorial. At least as far back as Taoism, five centuries before Christ.
    African Americans, mostly Christians in the 1920’s, could not get the same leverage from religion, because they shared that with the oppressor. Therefore many converted to Islamism before civil disobedience could work later in the 50’s.
    Black activist Bayard Rustin argued that activists had to identify an “organic way” with the black masses (p.12 “Black Gandhi”).
    The National Urban spent a decade researching what were all the issues connecting black people to find a minimum common denominator, back when they still defended non-violent resistance.
    Gandhi, in turn, always believed that non-violence would not work with civil rights. This is clear in Columbia’s scholar Shridharani statement “inchangeability of means and ends” (p. 340 Gandhi’s Dialogues). This meant Gandhi did not believe ever in an “organic way” for the Americans. Christian theologian Niebhur put in the so many words: “men en masse were much less moral than individual men and more inclined to evil and exploitation”.
    Gandhi never understood the plight, to him it was about religion in India, and perhaps he was curious to learn but it is questionable when he criticizes America for racial prejudice. More enlightening is his belief that India had a lot to teach America.
    Other arguments, included on the readings, are that in India the oppressed were the majority, not the minority and that violence in the U.S. came not only from the leadership the but also from the civil population.
    But generally, most Americans did not understand Gandhi’s purpose or importance. He was most often debated as a hero or a saint, instead of just someone who simply had been denied once and that could not go back again.
    Gandhi had used his ideas of passive resistance in Natal, perhaps anticipating what later happened to the white army in the October revolution in Russia, he did not want to take as many chances, particularly when he was representing a class action case, which did not represent all Indians.
    That same idealized image of Gandhi guided the debate about Gandhi s role in the Civil Rights movement, that extended from the earliest activists to his most ferocious critics like the Mayo.
    It was not until the notion by Taylor Branch that “non violence had begun by accident”, not leadership, (p. 14) that non-violence and particularly Gandhi started having a more earthly facet in the eyes of the civil rights movement.
    Gandhi also understood the power of technology and propaganda. He realized, like few leaders in his generation, that the press was a good vehicle to divulge the revolution. Even his critics, like Katherine Mayo or Patricia Kendall gave him worldwide exposure to keep the momentum. Web Miller’s testimony on the Salt March massacre brought India to the headlines in the world. He did not feel like he needed international recognition as grounds for a declaration of independence. Gandhi felt safe that once the British left no one else would be able to occupy the Sub-continent. In that sense he produces a somewhat disingenuous statement that he did not want America to send money or missionaries, or “dehumanizing machinery” (p. 338 Dialogues with Americans). While criticizing America for its religious arrogance, Gandhi knew that he could have not been so popular otherwise.

  13. Katie Milligan says:

    Mahatma Gandhi’s Dialogues with Americans

    It is very fitting that in order for Americans to feel like they could connect with Gandhi, he must first be “Americanized” in some way. The comparisons of Gandhi and Christ in American journalism have been criticized throughout the comments above. It is a shame that Gandhi, an innovator of nonviolence reform, had to be packaged and solid in the market of American public approval. I don’t blame Gandhi for being leery about making a trip to the states. He was very aware of the manipulation of his message and culture. This article was incredibly tedious, while it showed the variety of support and disdain for Gandhi, I think it failed to make critical remarks on how Gandhi was solid to the American public or how the message of nonviolence was distorted. The article touches on some of these issues, but I think it fails to critically assess how linked the United States and Great Britain really were. Gandhi was forced into an interesting political position through the duration of the war, but seemed to navigate the political channels with grace. I think this article does a generally good job of painting the social picture of the time period; the American social environment was mayhem at best. The war started to dishevel the social dynamics of gender and class, yet the stereotypes remained firmly in place. Throwing Gandhi’s radical challenges to the status quo was bound to cause some distaste with those in power. The article’s language does seem to insinuate that those in cohorts with Gandhi are being progressive, while those in opposition are aligned with backwards thinking. While history and my personal bias show this to be true, I wish the article had highlight more of the relationship between the British and United States. In doing so, I think it would expand on the reasoning of why people supported imperialism and the continuation of British power in India.

  14. Mitchell Adams says:

    Leonard A. Gordon, “Mahatma Gandhi’s Dialogues with Americans”

    After reading about Gandhi’s experiences and interactions with the United States, it is obvious that there was a certain respect between the two parties that helped both sides maintain a somewhat healthy relationship even with key differences in opinion. One such difference between the politics of Gandhi and the United States was the extreme racism shown in the United States during the time Gandhi was considering a visit. The paradox between the American focus on equality with the overt inequality present in segregation institutions was troubling to Gandhi and acted as one of the circumstances that caused those advising him to suggest the US was not ready for his visit. However, as Gandhi’s beliefs would later act as a contributing idea to the overall social rights movement, a visit might have helped launch some key ideas on peace that could have been used even earlier to advocate for important human rights. Gandhi also disagreed whole-heartedly with key American figures that advocated for contraception availability. Whereas contraception gave women more choice in the realm of sex and life planning, Gandhi saw their use as a sin and advocated for a system in which sex was only carried out to achieve full reproduction. Gandhi’s response to the use of condoms was that a man should be able to control his lust and that anything less was a sin. Overall, Gandhi’s relationship with the United States was defined by a mutual understanding combined with a heavy amount of debate as to the moral and political realities of the day. Who knows what would have happened if Gandhi had chosen to visit the United States. I believe that such a visit would have been beneficial to both sides and provided both with valuable perspective as key players in the world scene.

  15. Stan says:

    Black Gandhi

    Before reading Vijay Prashad’s article Black Gandhi, I did not know much of the connection between Martin Luther King and the American Civil Rights Movement’s connection to the work of Gandhi during India’s struggle for independence. The use of coordinated acts of nonviolence to affect social change has always made me think of the Civil Rights Movement, but I was not aware that its use could be traced further back to the Indian struggle for independence.

    I also found interesting Prashad’s account of the roles Gandhi played during his time in South Africa, and the struggles and tension between the different classes of Indians living there at the time. I have enjoyed gaining a better understanding of Gandhi’s early professional life as an attorney, and his gradual transformation from a young lawyer fighting to protect the interests of one relatively privileged group of Indians who were self segregated from a different class of their own kind in South Africa into an advocate for the whole of the Indian people. The article shed more light on the struggles between different classes of Indians that I had not been aware of or considered prior to this class.

    A final reflection of mine from the readings is how Prashad described the way both Gandhi and Martin Luther King utilized cultural and spiritual appeal to better insulate their change movements from their oppressors than the Bolsheviks who utilized in some cases tactics similar to Gandhi and King. The Bolshevik movement was seen by many as a “war on property”, rather than one grounded cultural or spiritual thought.

  16. Russell says:

    Gandhi’s Dialogues With Americans – Leonard A Gordon

    The first thing that strikes me about this article is how loosely the term “dialogue” is used. It seems most of the people in the essay never met Gandhi, and while several of them managed to communicate with him either directly or indirectly, several others simply wrote about him. Either Leonard Gordon doesn’t think an exchange or a feedback loop is necessary for dialogue, or he is more loosely defining international dialogue because of the restrictions on communication in the early 1900’s. Gordon even states “American’s dialogues with Gandhi did not cease with his death” (p. 350). This critique is more rhetorical than substantial, but Gordon’s case for the reactive nature of the relationship between India and America in this era might be more convincing if not tied to the idea of dialogue.
    Gordon does an excellent job analyzing the role media played in developing popular American opinion of India and its nationalist movement. Not only does he look at the role traditional media (radio and newspaper) played in relaying the news that informed opinions, he examines how the roles of preachers (John Haynes Holmes), missionaries (Fred Fisher), theologians (Niebuhr & Greenburg) exposé writers (Patricia Kendall), and the relatively new profession of photojournalists (Margaret Bourke-White) shaped American perspective. Limited availability of communication, sometimes due to censorship, both suppressed the flow of information and inspired activist journalism (Webb Miller) to free it.
    One thing that struck me in the article was the number of religious thinkers and clergy involved in these “dialogues”. It is difficult to tell if the dialogue was actually dominated by this group, or if Gordon’s research misses political and other secular voices. Religion (generally Christian) and popular opinion were definitely more intertwined in America at this time, so the former is possible. Gordon’s examination of the adoption of Gandhi and his ideas as inherently “Christian” by leaders like Fred Fisher and E Stanley Jones was particularly interesting in examining the redefining of foreign ideas as western, a kind of colonization of thought.

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