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The Struggle for Prosperity
The United States of America is a country well known for progress; as a result of its upward mobility it has come to be regarded as ‘the leader of the free world’ for many years. America’s military strength, involvement in foreign affairs, multiple allegiances and global economic success has allowed for the nation to remain in power. With such a well renowned reputation, the country has sparked popular interest by many looking to emigrate and as such America is acknowledged as a growing multicultural nation. Racial diversity emanates from the countries ideals that promote prosperity such as; The American Dream, and The Bill Rights which generate interest of foreigners who seek opportunities for a better life in a country where the circumstances are favourable. Unfortunately for as long as we can remember American history has contradicted its ideals towards policies that promote prosperity for its immigrants and domestic people of colour. The notion of equality has become theoretical; The American dream is a misguided truth designed to benefit white America, “Students like me were given visas and scholarships, complete financial aid, mind you, and invited into the ranks of the meritocracy. In return, we were expected to contribute our talents to your society” (Hamid 7) the beliefs of opportunity are merely a practice of exploitation and an abuse of power over its people by American authority to obtain and sustain this global domination. For years and years The United States of America has been troubled with different forms of racism throughout the course of its time, and although the more extreme versions of apartheid like slavery have been abolished, modern forms of scientific racism have been adopted and put in its place. Institutional racism is a prime example of postmodern scientific racism; institutional racism is a practice that occurs when organizations, institutions or governments implicitly or explicitly target and discriminate against members of specific ethnic groups based off of a bias perception such as stereotypes and prejudice “”that inevitably limit the rights of categorized group as members of society forcing them to feel inferior. Another adopted from of modern racism is structural racism, “Americans create lives of their own. Yet as people they face boundaries and constrictions set by the white majority” (Guess 650); structural racism is a system that fabricates a racial imbalance that is considered a norm by erecting barriers to opportunity against ‘other’ ethnic groups inhibiting the potential for success by placing the ‘others’ at a disadvantage, all the while privileged Americans [whites] are able to capitalize an economic advantage from this structured segregation. White America inevitably are complicit members of society that are able to practice their fundamental right of achieving prosperity through the exploitation, mistreatment and discrimination against “other” ethnic groups in order to achieve and sustain their economic advantage.
A multicultural society appeals for tolerance, the populace must have a will to be open minded to the various forms of culture that forms areas of diversity forms such as fashion, personal and religious beliefs, cultural traditions and ordinary to extraordinary practices. In The US this tolerance facilitates the willingness to accept and integrate stratifying communities from all over globe in an effort to shatter cultural barriers and help manifest strong beliefs of diversity and cultural inclusion. In Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist we interpret the perspective of a foreigner from Pakistan and his experience with American culture, in the events prior to the 9/11 attack against The United States that took place in New York, and the events following the attacks that symbolically according to Changez “brought America to her knees” (Hamid 55) where drastic change altered the accord of the nation. Racism experienced of by the inferior ethnic groups raises suspicion on the integrity of America’s principles, and allows for these ‘others’ to question if they are truly accepted as members of society or if the idea of inclusion is all a façade for universal capital.
Identity: Defining Ethnicity and Race
In order to justify racism in its many forms, we first need to understand the significance of race and ethnicity and how the two are differentiate to the concept of postmodern racism. Race and ethnicity share the same ideology however, when it comes to distinguishing the two we identify race to be associated with biology, race is defined as the classification of humans into groups based on physical traits, ancestry, genetics, where small genetic variations across the world produce diverse physical appearances such as variations in skin colour that consequently race cannot altered it is definitive to the individual by their physical components and is often a visual evaluation that characterizes people as different. Ethnicity on the other hand is said to be associated with social encounters and could be confused with the allusion of race; as mentioned small genetic variations produce diverse physical appearances in relation to geography, it allows for individuals alike to conform; endogamy for example is a cultural practice that encourages group members to marry only persons within their group. (Plum 655) as a result ethnicity is defined as the state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. Unlike race, people are not defined to their ethnic background based on appearance rather; they can manipulate their association to categorized ethnic groups. Ethnicity can be expressed or masked by individuals; multiple affiliations to different ethnic can be adopted by individuals, the categorizations of ethnicity and the nature in which people associate with them is rather expansive and as a result it increases the likelihood of discrimination and mistreatment amongst different social groups.
In the years prior to the 9/11 attacks social order in America was tranquil in major cities like New York. Newcomers of the country were able to adapt to the changes of a new society, the domestic citizens of America welcomed the idea of change in society that would diversify their country, the old and the new collectively, were able to set aside their many differences and blend together in society, often referenced in American culture as the melting pot. The firsthand experience of Changez’ inception to America seems to be fulfilling of the so called ‘American Dream’; a young man born outside US borders, presented with an opportunity to be educated at an elite school; who without a doubt he is hardworking and determined to succeed; a young man who, throughout his journey has made sacrifices for the greater good, as a result he has ultimately achieved success as an immigrant in America. Changez has become a distinguished member of society of American society, he begins to identify himself as an American citizen and he is recognized in the eyes of the public as so. In order to understand how and why this has come to be, we again need to understand what being an American truly is. In America, the dominant race is white, and the assumption can be made that being American is to be white, yet that is only partially conclusive “conventional approaches to the study of ‘race’ in America tend to ignore ‘whiteness’ by treating it simply as a given, and even as a benign factor in ‘race’ ” (Guess 651) we cannot define race to be the signifier of American identity we can only consider it a standard. The interpretation of Changez’ adaption to American culture may allude his transformation from a foreigner into a predisposed image of a white man that represents American identity, Moshin Hamid’s presents this allusion in many ways throughout the text, even does so right from the beginning where Changez encounters the American in Lahore “How did I know you were American? No, not by the colour of your skin” (Hamid 5) Moshin never uses race to define the characters in his text as American, by doing so he leaves it open for interpretation. It is however suggested that American culture is defined by its desire for capital, Changez for example can be identified as an American through his career in finance at the Underwood Samson “On that day, I did not think of myself as a Pakistani, but as an Underwood Samson trainee, and my firm’s impressive offices made me proud” (Hamid 28) when Changez comes to realize that his career has allowed for him to enter a higher social class he begins to act on it “’What people do, how they behave and structure their daily lives, and even how humans are affected by certain ideological stances can all be observed in tracespeople either intentionally or inadvertently leave behind’ (Berg 1989:85)” (Guess 651) he was able to fabricate a life that resembled his American colleagues. It was in the Philippines where Changez truly felt he had become an American, and by doing so he put his Pakistani past behind him because he perceived it to be inferior to his new American identity. Underwood Samson guiding principle describes the culture that surrounds America as a nation that thrives on capital “Focus on the fundamentals” (Hamid 73) a principle that allowed for those thriving for success to become completely involved in their work; removing any implications that would affect performance; production was the key to achieving these aspirations, doing all that was necessary no matter how others perceived the actions associated with the culture.
The cultural adaptions made by Changez are symbolic to understanding how his perspective changed after seeing the news on his final night in the Philippines. The 9/11 attacks, changed the way Americans would perceive Changez and those with similar characteristics of race; as mentioned earlier race and ethnicity share the same ideology, the two factor into the prejudice faced by minorities. After the 9/11 attacks took place ethnicity was not taken into account, not for Changez who had been so proud to belong to a culture where he felt superior. The issue of prejudice that occurred post 9/11 caused Americans, especially white Americans who were likely to have been most affected by the devastating catastrophe that took down World Trade Centers, was that all citizens of America regardless of race were victims of this tragic event, but not everyone was treated alike. The World Trade Center (WTC); towers that were iconic to the identity of American capitalism, men like Jim, Samson and Underwood who we identify as white Americans in Moshin Hamid’s novel were the face of American capitalism; a large percentage of businessmen and women alike who were a part of the wealthier upper class were likely to be the target of this tragic event. There is a series of conspiracy theories that surround this act of terror; American greed for oil is believed to have triggered the attacks on the nation, “which is simply suggestive of the American economic control and domination all over the world” (Isam 83) regardless a disturbance in the Middle East by The United States hunger for capital was surely the reason why the WTC were targeted. Nonetheless America’s response to those associated with the Muslim religion and culture was unjust; “such conviction expresses itself in attitudes of prejudice and is acted out in discriminatory behavior. In its place follows social practices that are essentially depersonalized through institutionalization.” (Guess 651) the attacks against America by the organization Al Qaeda caused innocent people from the middle east to face the backlash of hate that was fueled by racism:
Outer appearance and identification is hence, once again, placed over actual substance and identity. The propagated images and discourse on terrorism and the attacks of 9/11 thus already had their impact on people, influencing them in such a way that they perceive foreign-looking people with suspicion and presumption of possible terrorist ideas […] taking the face of Osama Bin Laden and diffusing a stereotypical image of the terrorist. Stereotypes as “a mental image or generalized set of beliefs that a person holds about most members of a particular social group” (Blum 13)
For all those from the Middle East living in America, society around them allowed for them to feel inferior. Citizens of America began to feel like they were able to blame the people of Middle Eastern descent for the September 11 attacks, what America America failed to acknowledge is that those who wore the hijab, the burka, turban or even those that read the Quran were contributing members to society. They stripped those that fit the slightest bit of the stereotypes to that of a ‘jihadist terrorist’ of their rights and identity as American citizens and wrongfully discriminated against them “a social construction begins to reveal itself when we understand that the Irish, Italians, and Jews have all been viewed as non-white in particular places at specific moments in history.” (Guess 660) What America truly did was turn their backs on their own citizens who were just as devastated as the rest of its citizens.
Diversity promotes the inclusion of all parties regardless of their differences; it empowers equal opportunity amongst society. After 9/11 America failed to embody their principles, they turned their backs on the many like Changez who were once proud to be identified as an American. The United States may have been the victim during the attacks, but in truth America was as a whole were no better than their attackers after the matter “racism by intent, a type of racism that is founded upon custom and tradition, but shatters against social scientific principles” (Guess 651) American media for example was highly unjust, though the world sympathizes for the loss of all the American lives lost in the attacks, America’s attacks on nations like Afghanistan and Iraq were portrayed as justifiable, thousands of innocent lives were lost for the sole purpose of revenge. In a world where two wrongs do not make a right, the struggle between two ideologies; “fundamentalism can take different forms […] economic and political fundamentalisms fundamentalism can be associated with Islamic extremism, and also with American capitalism” (Isam 456) which unfortunately proves that the capitalist nation could be seen as free from doubt and essentially being morally right. The many innocent people of Middle Eastern descent who faced the backlash of 9/11 wanted nothing more than to live in peace and to be accepted regardless of their differences. American culture is diverse; all citizens deserve to be treated as equals, though individuals have different beliefs it does not mean that one carries precedent over the other; the events after 9/11 leaves us to question America’s values, it also raises many questions on their innocence, they may have been victims of an attack but how they responded only proves that they are just as guilty as their attackers that day.
- Blum, Verena. Identity and Identification in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist Justus Liebig University Giessen. 2011
- Guess, Teresa. J. The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence University of Missouri St. Louis. 2006
- Hamid, Mohsin. The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2007. Print.
- Isam, Shihada. Internatioal Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies: The Backlash of 9/11 on Muslims in Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist Al Aqsa University. Gaza Strip Palestine. 2015
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