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Gandhi, Obama, and Race

Mahadev Desai and Gandhi meet with other Indian nationalists in 1939
Mahadev Desai (left) and Gandhi meet with other Indian nationalists in 1939

by Kevin Alfred Strom

THIS WEEK Google replaced their normal search page graphic with one depicting Mohandas K. Gandhi, also known as Mahatma (Sanskrit for “Great Soul”) Gandhi, in recognition of his birthday, which is now celebrated as the International Day of Non-Violence. Gandhi’s movement of civil disobedience was a significant factor in India’s successful quest for self-determination and the ultimate withdrawal of Britain from the Indian subcontinent.

Barack Obama praised Gandhi on Friday, saying “Gandhi’s teachings and ideals, shared with Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1959 pilgrimage to India, transformed American society through our civil rights movement. The America of today has its roots in the India of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent social action movement for Indian independence which he led. We must renew our commitment to live his ideals and to celebrate the dignity of all human beings.”

Many people, Obama included if he’s sincere, see Gandhi and his movement in very simplistic and essentially mythological terms: Gandhi’s movement, they believe, was a “struggle for equality” within a multiracial paradigm. Actually it was the opposite of that.

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