Ethiopia: Eid in Addis Ababa
from Raggamuslims’ Weblog
Colin Woodward traces the origins of settlement in the United States to demonstrate that American attitudes, values and politics are highly regional and perpetuate over time. This basis for this is the "Founder's Effect", a recognized phenomenon whereby the original settlers of an area have an outsize effect on culture across time. Looking at patterns of immigration and internal movement, Woodward shows the existence of 11 different regional cultural blocks. The unsurprising North vs South is certainly visible, as is the Red State vs Blue State divide of more recent times, but the book's major revelation is that there exist multiple blocks within those broader divisions that are regional in nature, persist over time, contain their own political and cultural visions and agendas, and are capable of shifting allegiances in pursuit of those goals. It didn't touch on race specifically or on more fine-grained immigrant contributions but in a way that allowed it to more starkly illustrate the differences among the multitude of white people that whiteness encourages us to gloss over. Regionally based, with different dominant churches, different dialects, different cultural values: It is not much of a stretch to say that America consists of 11 different emerging ethnicities that whiteness and other national myths render invisible.
Theodore W. Allen (1919-2005) told me where white people come from. We like to think we know who we are, and indeed many things about ourselves we can easily define: male, muslim, American. But I am white and I could not explain to myself what that meant. Any meaning I set was either too narrow, too broad, or defined by negation. The Invention of the White Race, newly republished in 2012, makes plain the nature and origins of whiteness over 2-volumes and 700 pages. Reader, I never read it. But on the internet is a synopsis written by Allen himself that condenses his argument down to a mere 146 paragraphs, and I read that. It was mindblowing. I summarize Allen's summary:
When the Nation of Islam said white people where created in a lab by evil black scientists, they were half right. White people where created in the American Colonies by evil white lawmakers. There is so much more detail in Allen's online summary: check it out if you don't believe me.
Changez's personal journey of transformation and the conflicts driving it were believable enough I guess, but not particularly dramatic or striking (and lacking almost entirely in fundamentalism). His critique of American society/empire was also fairly tepid. I suppose that's where the "Reluctant" comes from in the title, but it made the novel somewhat bland, like Confessions of an Economic Hitman Lite. On the other hand, the unusual narrative style worked well and kept me interested in the identity of the American agent till the end. I also liked the nuanced images of Lahore, Pakistani society and Changez's position in it. So I think I'll still pick up Moth Smoke or Rising Asia which play to RF's strengths, taking place entirely in Pakistan and featuring experimental styles of narration.