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Arundhati Roy
Alex Steffen, 15 Mar 04

Arundhati Roy is an inspired writer, the darling of the WSF crowd, and fast becoming one of the world's foremost critics of stupidity and shortsightness in our international systems. I don't always agree with what she has to say -- sometimes she's flat-out rabid -- but I have never yet read anything she's written and not come away with a better understanding of how many in the developing world see America and its policies. In particular, her Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving? is the kind of opinion that almost never is heard in the mainstream of American media, much to our own detriment:

"Unlike in the old days the New Imperialist doesn't need to trudge around the tropics risking malaria or diahorrea or early death. New Imperialism can be conducted on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on racism of Old Imperialism is outdated. The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New Racism.

"The tradition of `turkey pardoning' in the U.S. is a wonderful allegory for New Racism. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation presents the U.S. President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the President spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the 50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable, to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon they'll even speak English!)

"That's how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred turkeys — the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself) — are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for the IMF and the WTO — so who can accuse those organisations of being anti-turkey?"

My main problem with Roy is that she's long on polemic and short on solution. That said, her writings are a key tool for understanding the internal politics of the Second Superpower.

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I'd suggest that this his hardly "new" racism. Tokenism is really a part of the old racism, or at least what is now the middle-aged racism. I haven't read anything else by this writer, so perhaps she has a lot of valuable things to say on the subject, but I'm not sure this metaphor is going to crack open much debate.

I think the real challenge in understanding racism today is getting a better handle on systemic racism, systems that enforce a racist status quo and undermine the best intentions of those who think they've learned all the lessons of racism past.

Posted by: jesse black on 16 Mar 04

Jesse - Yes! Racism is a two-way street. We can only try our best to be aware of the systemic causes and apologise and understand as best we can.

Posted by: Stefan Thomas on 17 Mar 04

"The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS."

So, there are *millions* of people who had jobs, homes, electricity and water, and who are now losing all that? Where is that happening?

Posted by: mitch on 18 Mar 04

Mitch! Wake up! It's happening right now across the developed world. Where are you living?

Posted by: Stefan Thomas on 18 Mar 04

I live in Australia. But Australia's just a small country... I ask again, where in the world are there *millions* of newly homeless people? I thought you might mention villagers displaced by dams in India, since I know Arundhati Roy has written about that. But you say this is happening in the developed world!

In fact, on re-reading the quote, it seems even more obviously hyperbolic. There's the lucky few, and then "the *remaining* millions" - literally, all other people - are homeless and dying of AIDS. As a sketch of how the world *is*, I can't accept this as mere rhetorical overkill, it actually misrepresents things. The last I heard, something like one in six people globally were living in "absolute poverty". For Arundhati's description to be even poetically true, it would have to be more like five out of six. So I'm going to have to look elsewhere for a realistic accounting of the state of the world.

Posted by: mitch on 18 Mar 04


Thank you very much for suggessting me an idea !

Posted by: Gandalf on 18 Mar 04


You are lucky to be living in Australia which still has some semblance left of the socialist programs from 50 years ago. In America, right now, there are over 6 million people who have no homes but live in their cars. They work every day and sleep in their cars at night. This is the reality of what's going on! The people who once worked in manufacturing jobs (well paid) were forced into service jobs (low paid) and now we hear, just today, that Ralphs Supermarkets in California is closing fifteen supermarkets = high pay, low pay, no pay - die!

Posted by: Stefan Thomas on 19 Mar 04

I wonder how many aboriginal people in Australia are happy with living under an Australia government?

Posted by: Zaid on 19 Mar 04


Absolutely...but we are talking about systemic racialism here. That includes your position in society or your class or caste. One morning you may wake up and realize you are just a white version of a person of color. And everything that implies.

Posted by: Stefan Thomas on 22 Mar 04



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