Professor Pushkala Prasad’s Edwin M. Moseley Faculty Lectureship on the U.S. Commercial Empire
On Weds., March 7th, Professor of Management and Business Pushkala Prasad presented her Edwin M. Moseley Faculty Lectureship “(Ir)resistible and (Dis)reputable Empire: Racialized Capitalism and the Tainting of Brand USA,” in Skidmore’s Gannett Auditorium.
Before Professor Prasad began her lecture, President Philip Glotzbach said some kind words about her scholarly achievements. He noted that as a Moseley Lecturer, she “joins a long and illustrious list of those preceding her…a who’s who of Skidmore.”
After Glotzbach’s welcome, Beau Breslin, Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, introduced her professional and academic achievements, calling her a “path breaker, trail blazer, pioneer.” Indeed, Professor Prasad is the first of her department to deliver the lecture. Breslin noted that she is one of the faculty’s most recognizable names and most capable professors.
Professor Prasad then took the podium and expressed a deep gratitude for Glotzbach’s and Breslin’s kind and welcoming sentiments. She began by thanking everyone who brought her to this point, especially her reliable and supportive husband. She humoredly said, “He taught me it is so much easier to be a smart person than a good one.”
After these opening words, she began her lecture by explaining that the U.S. as an empire, with the greatest thing about it being that not many acknowledge its existence as one. However unique and distinctive, it is an empire nonetheless, promoting the spread of freedom and liberty around the world. This includes the American imperialistic tendencies of “expansion” and “intervention.”
Professor Prasad then discussed the U.S. Empire through the words of William Henry Seward, who stated that America thrives in the realm of commerce, which is what makes it great and fosters the idea of a “commercial, capitalist empire.” She described the U.S. as using a “soft power” in combination with liberty and commerce. The branding of a nation lies on these values, making America both irresistible and disreputable.
A fascinating anecdote that marks the “irresistible” nature of the U.S. is the multi-million dollar industry of flag manufacturing. No other country’s flag production compares to that of the U.S.’s flag. She explained that the U.S. flag is often made in countries like China or Vietnam, or in the state of Wisconsin, and their businesses are booming with buyers. Whether they are flag wavers or burners, both have proven to be good for the U.S. flag business.
Professor Prasad also discussed the darker side of the U.S., the disreputable, which characterizes America as a force for evil. She roots this in the perpetuated existence of a racialized capitalism, explained as race inflected into capitalist processes and institutions as much as class and gender, but is unacknowledged and downplayed in regard to capitalism. There is an undeniable and heavy role of race in the assignment of value to different social identity groups, which as Professor Prasad explained, fosters the “emergence of a hierarchical system of human capital.”
The lives of certain identity groups that participate in this commercial society as workers and consumers, are viewed as lesser than others, and therefore as “less deserving of decent treatment.”
Since Professor Prasad believes “in the narrative quality of life” as a way to explain these complex societal issues, she discussed the backstory of the United Fruit Company.
The United Fruit Company was U.S. owned but based in Guatemala as the #1 supplier of bananas to the U.S. This company turned the “luxury” fruit of bananas into a nutritious and necessary food for ordinary Americans. The company also said that they singlehandedly brought cultivation to Central America, yet this could not be farther from the truth. The United Fruit Company exploited wages, fostered poor working conditions, and created racially segregated houses for their workers, among a handful of other injustices. This company points to the ever-present racialized policies and structures that exist structurally in our society and shape how we interact with one another.
The Guatemalan tragedy is only one example of the U.S. commercial empire’s pursuit of liberty and freedom for all. Professor Prasad remarked that she is not against businesses, as a Management and Business Professor herself, does not see the concept of capitalism as innately bad. In practice, however, U.S. capitalism has been especially detrimental to people of color. Prasad commented on “white privilege and the sheer magnitude of material entitlement that comes with it,” highlighting social inequities and current realities that can be so easily overlooked, yet are so important to be aware of.
Prasad ended her lecture by having a conversation with the audience. She poignantly said that she is “a big fan of millennials,” and hopes that these younger generations will advocate for and be open to necessary change.
In her research and study of these issues, she noticed that “often, what you find is worse than what you thought.” In her closing statements, she challenged the audience to “question the Eurocentric assumptions we live in—some of it is just propaganda posing as knowledge."