Race https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/11835/all cached version 12/02/2019 03:12:18 en What really happened when Kanye West met Donald Trump? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/edward-sugden/what-really-happened-when-kanye-west-met-donald-trump <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The famous rapper shows how racially-defined but wealthy individuals are used to mask deep structures of oppression.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EdwardSugden2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">President Donald J. Trump and Kanye West in the Oval Office, 2018-10-11. Credit: White House Official Photo via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:President_Donald_Trump_and_Kanye_West_2018-10-11.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>In early October 2018 Kanye West met with Donald Trump at the White House in Washington DC. Sitting opposite one another in the oval office, <a href="https://www.vulture.com/2018/10/kanye-west-and-donald-trump-meeting-transcript.html">they exchanged views</a> on the abolition of slavery, gang and police violence in Chicago, mental health, plane design, entrepreneurialism, a potential 2024 presidential run, the cosmos, and multiverse theory.</p> <p>Gathered around the two men were stacks of flashing cameras and a mob of suited media representatives who were called on sporadically to ask mild-mannered questions. Even by the standards of a presidency that has <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/edward-sugden/donald-trump-and-politics-of-emotion">turned governance into little more than mass entertainment</a> it was an unedifying spectacle.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet the Trump phenomenon has an uncanny ability to make structural fault lines in American society visible, literal and painful. What historically has remained unsaid or gestured towards in euphemistic half-phrases has, in the past three years, been shouted from the rooftops or become brazenly physicalized.</p> <p>Trump’s meeting with West was no different, in that it revealed the antagonistic relationship between race and class in the United States in the twenty-first century. West’s position as a millionaire <em>and</em> an African American has forced him to embody two contradictory forces at once. These forces have entered into an irresolvable battle for power over his mind</p> <p>This tension is revealed by a close analysis of West’s monologue in the White House. His digressive talk veered between the parroting of neoliberal economic shibboleths and insightful analysis of oppression from a man who, with more perception than most, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIUzLpO1kxI">called out the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina for what it was</a> – a vast act of racialized state apathy.</p> <p>As a millionaire businessman living a life of luxury in Los Angeles, West is an archetypal plutocrat: moneyed, pro-free market, pro-tax cuts for the ultra-rich, and apparently able to pay for a <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/11/kim-kardashian-kanye-west-history-private-firefighting/575887/">private fire service</a> to protect his family from the effects of climate change.</p> <p>In the White House meeting, he churned out the tiresome right-wing attack line on the undeserving racialized poor, saying that “welfare is the reason why a lot of black people end up being Democrat.” He boasted of his entrepreneurial nous in a world that fetishizes big business, claiming that “I’ve never stepped into a situation where I didn’t make people more money.”And amidst praise of billionaires, he talked enthusiastically about private healthcare and his desire to “empower the pharmaceuticals.”&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, West has been subject to structural racism - a process in which racial difference is used to create and maintain an uneven socio-economic hierarchy. Such racism has been a basic precondition for the functioning of the same plutocratic state of which West is a part economically, from the moment the plantation system was dissolved at the end of the Civil War.</p> <p>Dissonantly intruding into his conversation with Trump was the repressed presence of systematic state violence against African Americans in the USA. West drew attention to the premeditated disinvestment that has taken place in community programs in US inner cities, and how the shrinking of state support has augmented America’s prison-industrial complex: “we got rid of the mental health institutes of the ‘80s and the ‘90s,” he told the president, “and the prison rates shot up.”</p> <p>West also reflected on the lack of educational provision in historically African American areas, saying that “we never had anyone who taught us, they didn’t teach us.” Most challenging of all, he showed how the system of chattel slavery persists in contemporary America when he concluded that “we’re putting people in positions to have to do illegal things to have to end up in the cheapest factory ever, the prison system.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>West’s analysis points to the neoliberal transformation of race relations that has occurred in the US since the 1980s. The removal of infrastructural supports for minority populations, whether in employment, economic or community development, has collided with an increasingly militarized state apparatus that criminalizes people of color. This project has bled exploited minority bodies dry of surplus value and created a theatre of violence that is used to justify increased discipline and punishment by the state and its security apparatus.</p> <p>While this is comparatively recent history, it has a much deeper provenance. Since the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, the entwined class and race warfare that has raged in the USA has reinstituted plantation slavery on transformed terms by generating veiled forms of enforced labor, establishing supposedly-neutral juridical frameworks that override civil rights, and creating extra-legal structures that condemn populations of color to dispossession.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result of this process, West’s race and class are in schizophrenic conflict with each-other, two different and opposing elements that are forced to share the same mind. In this sense, the most revealing part of his monologue in the Oval Office was when he spoke about his “bipolar disorder.” We ought not to understand his bipolarity as simply an individual phenomenon, the product of a mind that may be disintegrating in the face of the pressures of fame. Instead, such contradictions are best understood as the product of a particular racial history.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The great African American thinker <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._E._B._Du_Bois">W.E.B. Du Bois</a> called this phenomenon ‘double consciousness’ in his masterpiece <em>The Souls of Black Folk</em>: “One ever feels his two-ness,” he wrote, “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” Hence, the imperative to identify with a nation that has exerted systemic violence on the basis of race generates inevitable internal divisions, of which mental illness is one manifestation.</p> <p>The rationale for covering up these divisions by the plutocratic class is obvious: West is the latest example of the tactical deployment of a single racially-defined but wealthy individual to mask deep structures of oppression. By turning the issue of race into a question of friendship between powerful men, sustaining the illusion that anyone from anywhere can become rich, and suggesting that people of color can share in their worldview, this class can perpetuate demonstrably racist structures while presenting a blithe and innocent countenance to the world.&nbsp;</p> <p>The media reaction to West’s appearance in the White House has been every bit as insidious. Many commentators have gorged themselves on his clear mental distress; just look at how often words like “<a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-kanye-west-meeting-video-quotes-white-house-hugging-maga-a8579926.html">bizarre</a>” and “<a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/11/politics/kanye-west-donald-trump/index.html">surreal</a>” are used in reference to the meeting. These op-eds cast West as the latest in a long line of African American ‘fool’ characters that have entertained white populations from the days of the minstrels. Most of these readings fail to carry out even the most basic political analysis of the root causes of this purportedly eccentric behavior. Once again, individual personality takes the place of history.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“My eyes are wide open and now (I) realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in,” wrote Kanye in a <a href="https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/1057382916760707072">recent tweet</a> that announced his political retirement. In many ways, however, it is not so much that he was used as a vessel by others that is most problematic in his encounter with Trump. Rather, it is the way in which the whole sorry episode has elucidated the continuing racial divisions in American society and the techniques by which mass spectacle has depoliticized them. These divisions have real and damaging effects on individual consciousness and the wider struggle for justice in America. &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/edward-sugden/donald-trump-and-politics-of-emotion">Donald Trump and the politics of emotion</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/lori-lakin-hutcherson/my-white-friend-asked-me-to-explain-white-privilege-so-i-decide">My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest.</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/scot-nakagawa/blacklivesmatter-and-white-progressive-colorblindness">#Blacklivesmatter and white progressive colorblindness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Class Race Edward Sugden Liberation Culture Intersectionality Tue, 04 Dec 2018 19:23:30 +0000 Edward Sugden 120756 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Critical voices in critical times: Fanon, race & politics - an interview with Mireille Fanon-Mendès France (part 1 of 2) https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/linda-herrera/critical-voices-in-critical-times-fanon-africa-decolonisation-g <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Mireille Fanon-Mendès France, activist, scholar, and daughter of Frantz Fanon, talks about the enduring relevance of his ideas and passions in contemporary political life. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/Fanon Cover Pic.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/Fanon Cover Pic.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="382" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Fanon artwork by Gaber at http://gaberism.net/ portrait of Mireille Fanon-Mendes France by Linda Herrera. </span></span></span>The work and life of Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), whose incisive and visionary work on revolution, liberation, race, emancipation, and decolonization, continues to resonate in these “interesting” times. Who better to talk about the enduring relevance of Fanon’s ideas and passions in contemporary political life then his formidable daughter, Mireille Fanon-Mendès France. In addition to being an authority on Fanon, Fanon-Mendès France is a scholar of decolonialism, UN expert on people of African descent, legal advisor in a law firm in France, and human rights <a href="https://electronicintifada.net/content/interview-daughter-frantz-fanon-palestine-solidarity/9865"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">activist on Palestine</span></a> and other places where the right to self-determination is in question. She also works on issues of land tenure in countries where people were enslaved and indigenous people annihilated after colonization. She is a member of the <a href="http://frantzfanonfoundation-fondationfrantzfanon.com/"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Frantz Fanon Foundation</span></a>. Her most recent article is, “<a href="http://frantzfanonfoundation-fondationfrantzfanon.com/article2400.html"><em><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Charlottesville</span></em></a><em>, un rassemblement, une question allant bien au-delà des Etats Unis.</em>” </p><p> We met in the Luxemburg Garden in Paris on June 9, 2017 for a conversation about Fanon, populism, race, migration, policing, new social movements, and education. Above all, we pondered if and how the kind of emancipatory movements that rose with such force half a century ago during the anti-colonial and civil rights movements, could have a chance in an era of policed and neoliberal globalization. </p> <p> This interview and accompanying <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjbkwM-EMog&amp;feature=youtu.be">videos</a> is in two parts.</p><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/qjbkwM-EMog" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><strong>How is the work and writing of Frantz Fanon relevant today?</strong></p> <p>What Fanon began to do as an activist, psychiatrist, and journalist, was to find the way to free the people from alienation, colonial alienation and, in the case of Fanon, social and mental alienation. He was not alone. We have to underline, he was not the only one doing that. In the 1960s there was a movement. We can think of [Patrice] Lumumba (1925-1961), and also Steve Biko (1946-1977). But he was the only psychiatrist linking his professional practice to his activism and his thinking. We can speak of Fanon as thought in action, this is one of his unique features.</p> <p> [These figures] tried to free the people of alienation, but they did not succeed [in completing] the process of liberation. What they got was the liberation of people, but not their emancipation.&nbsp; We have to think now about how to get the emancipation of people in order to have a free Being, non-alienated, emancipated, and non-racialized, non-stigmatized for reasons of skin color, gender, sex, class, religion, or whatever the reason. And that’s why the work introduced by Fanon is still relevant. Because in fact, his work is not done. He thought about the first steps of this process of emancipation. He was thinking about issues like women, and role of the veil among Muslim women. He was thinking about what does it mean to be a Being? The question of universality. Is there a real universality or a “colonial universality”? Is it a “decolonial” universality, or colonial? Until now, there is only colonial, not a decolonial universality. We need now to find answers to all these questions he raised. &nbsp;</p> <p> We [have to be cognizant] that we are asking these questions from within a financialized and militarized system that took shape after World War II. This system tends to [divide humans] into “Beings,” and “Non-Beings.” This universality we speak of denotes a colonial perception of the world. In fact, it has become clear that the capitalist world was built on a series of lies which are being constantly repeated. They become truths through the international community and its multilateral institutions, and also by a large part of civil society.</p> <p> <strong>There has been a continuous wave of uprisings and popular movements around the world since the Arab Uprisings of 2010/2011. Do you think we are in an era of emancipatory movements, or are they something else? </strong> </p> <p> In most of our societies, people are ready to carry on and work for social transformation, to break the divide of Beings / Non-Beings [but they don’t know the way]. The financialization of the world unfortunately even negatively impacts the way people live and think. I think now people want to see some change, but I don’t think they want to have political change. They want to see change for [the sake of] change, but not for a strong project for social transformation. [That’s why I think] people don’t care about social transformation. I really think they only care about some small change at the political level. For example, to be able to watch someone else on the television, [different from] the formal politicians we have in France, the US, and other countries. We are no longer in a society that fundamentally values human emancipation. We are in a society of illusion, built from the past but with more cynicism.</p> <p>It is in this narrowing space, in this time of decline, that populist movements emerge. It’s very dangerous because these [populists] are not in favor of the people. They are in favor of a certain part of the society, and particularly in favor of the Being. Their concern is with rich people, the powerful people, and how to keep the power between them. Their objective is not to share the power, to see for example, a participatory democracy, the application of fundamental rights or environmental [issues]. They are not concerned about these things. They give us just some carrots to eat. But just some very small carrots to say we are happy, and it’s okay. But really, they are just concerned with how they can keep the money and use the system to work more in their favor, for their own profit. </p> <p>You can take the last US and French elections as examples. A lot of people voted for Trump. He is a very dangerous person, and absolutely unpolitical. He knows nothing about fundamental rights, not even about human rights. Really, he does not know anything. He is very focused on himself and his family. And in France there’s Macron. He’s just a technocrat. He does not know about politics either. I think the people who elected Trump and Macron made a huge mistake. And for me, I am now hopeless. I don’t see how we can transform this kind of situation. It will take a long time. </p><p>This type of election has an impact on the mental health of a society. The members of society feel themselves dispossessed of their intelligence and of their right to think. The question becomes, how we can find a space where thought can be reconstructed and people allowed to think? In the meantime, we are in a depressed state and somewhat hopeless. </p><p> <strong>In France, many people supported Emmanuel Macron for president even if they opposed his policies. They considered the far right National Front party, </strong><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_Le_Pen"><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><strong>Marine Le Pen</strong></span></a><strong>, more dangerous. </strong> </p> <p> &nbsp;I disagree totally with all these people who were saying we should vote for Macron because we don’t want Marine Le Pen.&nbsp; If we decide to vote for Macron in order to avoid having Le Pen as president, it could be a solution. But then we [would have needed] to negotiate with Macron, to say, “We are not in favor of your policies. We refuse your policies. But we know we need to be behind you in order to avoid Marine Le Pen.” But without any negotiation, the people gave Macron the <em>carte blanche</em>. And now Macron considers that the people support him. And he’s very happy with that. He’s doing political games. Politics now is like an internet game, [trying to have stories go viral].&nbsp; </p> <p>I’m sure he’s absolutely not aware about African descent here or what it means to be racialized in this country where there is this stupid slogan, “<em>vivre ensemble</em>” (live together). That means absolutely nothing. They have individual projects for their own interests, not for the good of the people. We really shouldn’t wait for anything [positive] from them. Presidents like Trump, Macron, and many others around the world, are very destructive. </p> <p> <strong>At the same time as the rise of “anti-political” populists, we also have the rise of more left-leaning figures like Bernie Sanders in the US and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France. Do you think they represent a different kind of political project with possible emancipatory elements? </strong> </p> <p>For me, Mélenchon is absolutely not at the same level as Bernie Sanders. I don’t know Bernie Sanders very well, beyond what I read, but if I make some comparison with Mélenchon, I can say Mélenchon for me is not an alternative. I do not see in him any real change of approach, or something substantially different than what we have had in government for decades. He’s a nationalist, a chauvinist, and sometimes expresses curious understandings of Islam and the Arab world. And even if during his presidential campaign he took some lessons to appear politer and [more politically correct], in fact, he has a background of verbal violence. By this I mean he is above all oriented by a “white” perception of the world, shaped by European Modernity.</p> <p>He’s not concerned with [suffering] people and he does not know anything about Africa. He knows of course about politics in South America, but not about the largest part of the population, those Non-Beings in South America. And here I’m speaking about people of African descent. He knows nothing about the continent of Africa and nothing about Asia, about India. He repeats things like, “China is the enemy.” No, China is not the enemy. We have to deal with China. We have to work with China to build a decolonial and social approach, and not an approach based on hierarchy and domination.&nbsp; For me, this moment is really like a nightmare and every morning I ask myself, “Oh, how is the world today? Is it the end?” Not in terms of armed war, but in terms of war against the human being. </p><p><strong>How has France remained intertwined with countries of the African cont</strong><strong>in</strong><strong>ent? </strong></p> <p> The African continent is <em>still </em>under colonization. We just have to note that it’s a new form of colonization. It is under colonization not only by former colonizing countries, but by the IMF, the World Bank, European Bank, European commission, the European Union. Europe pays the salaries of the functionaries of the African Union and imposes bilateral agreements that are unfair and wrong.</p> <p> One of the reasons [France] is a rich country, though we have a lot of debt, is because of the money given by the African states to manage <em>their own money</em>. [This money is] coming from Africa. … And it’s terrible.&nbsp; Francophone states in Africa are obliged to pay a kind of tax from colonial times. If they don’t, they are expelled from the <a href="http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2017/02/28/costs-and-benefits-cfa-franc"><span style="text-decoration: underline;">CFA</span></a> [franc currency] system.Nobody thinks about that. And there is not one current president from these 14 African countries ready to say to France, “Ok, stop now. Enough is enough.” And really, they have to do that if they want to work for their populations. Because by accepting [these conditions], they accept that France transnationals and private funds can plunder Africa’s natural resources without any redistribution. You can see how transnational capital succeeds with the help of [African] states to plunder the natural resources and steal the lands. You see this in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, throughout southern Africa. It’s terrible to see how the population is expelled from their lands in the interest of just a few. This plundering partly explains the high level of poverty. Europe, the “white world,” needs Africa’s and South America’s natural resources to live. It needs to continue to do what it wants and to exploit the world for its own profit.&nbsp; </p> <p> We need a strong African continent in order to balance political international relations and to have a real third force. We need a third force. We cannot leave these [destructive] Occidental countries to do what they want, to bring war everywhere. Because they put all people in danger and they push the world to its fall. </p> <p> <strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/M. Fanon 1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/M. Fanon 1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mireille Fanon-Mendes France, 2017 Picture by Linda Herrera.</span></span></span>Do you have ideas about how to build a “third force”? </strong> </p> <p> It’s always difficult because if there is something on Africa, it’s not coming from Africans. It’s coming always from abroad, from the “experts.” If you go to Africa you will find lots of people who can speak about the future of Africa. They have projects. They have political ideas. And they’re absolutely able to think about their future. But the former colonizing countries do not want to see such people. They don’t care. More or less they are considered as enemies. And related to that, one of Frantz Fanon’s concerns in the beginning of 1960s, the main objective and obsession for him, was how to build African Unity without the former colonizer. Otherwise, if you maintain the former colonizer in one way or another, you are still under colonization. And it is the reality now. This continent is still under colonization. </p> <p> <strong>How can returning to the work of Fanon help us to tackle some of these contemporary issues in Africa and beyond?</strong></p> <p>Fanon is helping us because he forces us to not renounce the project of emancipation. He forces us to go further and continue his work. In fact, when you read, <em>The Wretched of the Earth</em> (1961) or <em>L'an V de la révolution algérienne</em> (1959) (<em>A Dying Colonialism</em>), there is some thinking on the evolution of the coming world, but via the African continent. He anticipated that if the African continent did not build unity, their liberation movements would fail. And this is exactly where we are [today]. And that’s a problem also because the African continent is not the continent we need to balance international relations.</p><p>But now, I don’t know how we can proceed. Really, I don’t know. It’s a difficult situation. Here in France we are under a State of Emergency. It means our private and public liberties are really reduced and anyone can be arrested. For example, if someone here passes and understands we are speaking about emancipation or whatever, and he misunderstands something, he can go to the police. We could be denounced. And we could be arrested under the <em>fiche S</em> [as a threat to national security.] And with no access to a lawyer for 72 hours. </p><p>And when there is a demonstration, like the COP21, (<span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/paris-protestors-frances-anti-terror-laws/418062/">global climate conference in Paris</a> </span>in November-December 2015), a lot of people [roughly 200]&nbsp; were arrested, without any reason. Without any tangible proof, just based on denouncement, suspicion. And people are afraid. The consequence now is that people are afraid to be engaged. It takes a lot more courage now to be engaged. That wasn’t the case before, it was much easier. Today to be active requires a double commitment: a commitment to solidarity, but also a commitment to be willing to give up your freedom for the collective good. </p><p>There is also an anxiety that permeates this elitist and financialized world order, that of losing one's work or of never finding work to begin with. And this is especially true for young people. Most of the people are living with anxiety. And in this way, the dominant class succeeds to win and to impose the kind of life they want, to control the people. </p><p>I’m thinking, related to Fanon, what Fanon said about colonization and how it affects the colonized people. Now, we are in the same situation but not because of colonization, but because of globalization. They succeed to maintain in all of us a high level of anxiety, of fear. For example, walking in the public space we don’t know if we will have an attack, or whatever. And then there’s the instability with work, the difficulty to get good healthcare, a quality education for your children, whatever. At every level of life you are under anxiety. Because with globalization, if you are out of the globalization system, you may be considered or feared to be out, totally out of life. And for people, the most important thing is to be maintained inside this globalization system. It’s functioning exactly like the colonized system. I think really, we have to think like that—what Fanon said about colonization, how it could be applied to the globalization system. Really very intelligent (laughs). It’s just because we have an interview [I came up with this idea]. I did not think about this before that.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/linda-herrera/critical-voices-in-critical-times-partition-of-india-lessons-le">Critical voices in critical times: the partition of India – lessons learned, an interview with Rajmohan Gandhi</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/linda-herrera/critical-voices-in-critical-times-fanon-race-politics-interview">Critical voices in critical times: Fanon, race &amp; politics - an interview with Mireille Fanon-Mendès France (part 2 of 2) </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia France Democracy and government Equality International politics Africa Algeria colonialism decolonialism populism Race migration Linda Herrera Mon, 11 Sep 2017 08:03:26 +0000 Linda Herrera 113259 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On posh white blokes in NGOs https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/guppi-bola/on-posh-white-blokes-in-ngos <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The world of development NGOs is full of white men from well off backgrounds. One of them wrote about how this is a problem in the Guardian last week, and here, one of their employees responds, looking at who speaks about these things and how; who is heard, and what should be done about it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/Posh-Man.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/Posh-Man.jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="227" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A posh white man</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>Last week, the man who makes most of the decisions at my workplace released an article about </span></span></span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/oct/04/white-men-global-development" target="_top"><span><span>posh white blokes in our sector</span></span></a><span><span><span> - development NGOs. To his credit, it was an open and courageous piece that took the sector by surprise. So, is there problem with too many posh white blokes in social justice movements? Maybe a more pertinent question here is; what does he do about being a posh white bloke? You can't change who you are – but you can control the situation you are in. Just opening up a discussion on diversity without suggesting how we tackle oppression risks adding to more rhetoric, and a dangerous apathy around transformative change in the workplace. Here’s my take on what could have been said instead. </span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>My boss, Ben, isn't the first white male to publicly question his position of power in the “doing-good” field. From his own admission, part of his learning about privilege was influenced by another powerful white male; </span></span></span><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/opinion/the-charitable-industrial-complex.html?_r=3&amp;adxnnl=1&amp;adxnnlx=1381334608-TN8dLjjWx++/v" target="_top"><span><span>Peter Buffet</span></span></a><span><span><span>. It strikes me that it takes someone who looks like you to encourage a response to a problem that </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>marginalised people have been talking about for many many years.</span></span></span></span><span><span><span> In understanding what's needed for a free and fair world, maybe my boss would have noticed the hundreds of other articles, emails and conversations that spoke of oppression, privilege, diversity and respect way before Buffet scored an article in the New York Times. </span></span></span> </p> <p><span><span><span>Take Teju Cole for example, who tweeted a series of phrases about the </span></span></span><a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/" target="_top"><span><span>White saviour industrial complex</span></span></a><span><span><span> after the Kony débâcle more than a year earlier. Cole, an effusive novelist and passionate equal rights campaigner, speaks vividly about the role of the white male in many different movements. His article only made it to The Atlantic, but its relevance is no less significant.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span>For starters, Cole </span></span><span><span><span>speaks of the normalisation of nurtured/political language as a cause for people calling out oppression to be viewed as radical or extreme. As a novelist he supports and encourages the use of </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>emotive words</span></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>to express the gravity of our current systems of oppression. There is an air of diplomacy and politics to Ben's choice of words that fits the current NGO discourse, one that I imagine is accepted by the audience responding in the comments box. It may have been a tactical decision, or it could be that very demonstration of who speaks and who is being spoken to. Whilst writing with emotion and empathy is difficult to master, what would have happened if Ben cried out for change? He didn't – and that I think says enough for itself.<br /></span></span></span><span><span><br /></span></span><span><span><span>The second point I noticed is trickier to tackle because at some point, someone has to speak out; but it raises the concern of </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>voice</span></span></span></span><span><span><span>. Might it have been possible that by writing the article, Ben </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>reinforced the fact that white men are the only group powerful enough to bring about change</span></span></span></span><span><span><span>? What I don't see often enough is people giving opportunities to those outside the already "powerful" to voice how they feel. This isn't just about offering up your seat at the table, this means </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>using your position to challenge your peers and colleagues by insisting someone else's voice is more important than yours</span></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>and that they should listen. </span></span></span> </p> <p><span><span><span>The Guardian pointed out the voice of the white powerful male encouraged more responses than any other article on the Professionals Network. Hit a nerve? Or validation? My point is when marginalised voices wish to speak they have to fight for their space. And when they get that space, they're ignored. T</span></span></span><span><span><span><span>aking a space that is already available to the white powerful male reinforces that level of status.</span></span></span></span><span><span><span> A more significant demonstration of leadership might have been giving that space to any employee from a so-called "diverse background". They would have had the chance to express their thoughts and feelings on the organisation, have their efforts for speaking out championed in the same way, and then maybe receive a commitment to address their concerns from their management. This article won't get in the Guardian, but let's see who shares it and what responses it gets back (214 Facebook post and innumerable tweets to beat – here's counting!) </span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>Lastly, and probably more importantly, was there an issue in Ben </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>concluding on and</span></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span><span>accepting his position of power </span></span></span></span><span><span><span>before even asking for a response. What I have learnt over the last decade of campaigning is that asking more questions and learning to listen is a genuine act of selflessness over making a statement or conclusion on your own position. As Teju puts it "His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated disasters." Read in to the many comments generated by the article and there is an uncomfortable agreement the “white male” complex exists, but </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>less of an acknowledgement about who</span></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span><span>is speaking and who still is silent.</span></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>This is where the concern still lies. </span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span>The feeling from some of my very close (white male) counterparts, is </span></span><span><span><span>e</span></span></span><span><span><span><span>ither you say nothing and get called out for not saying anything, or you speak out and get called out for speaking!</span></span></span></span><span><span><span> Actually, that's not true; I think it was a big step to begin a conversation to such a mainstream audience. More importantly is if Ben, and other individuals in positions of power are sincerely concerned about this – acting before preaching will provide honesty to their words and ambition to their actions. This response is something we should be expecting and encouraging, but it's what is done with these responses that are the greatest measure of that leadership.</span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span>Before shaking things up and leaving however, I wanted to look more into some particular examples of </span></span></span><span><span><span><span>policies and practice</span></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>that could be adopted to make change happen for real. To me they relate significantly to diversity in the workplace, although to many they are bundled under "issues to do with HR". Tackling oppression isn't about having a few nice words written down on the intranet, it's about culture change and active dismantling of power structures between colleagues. This is a small step in turning an article's rhetoric into something pragmatic, giving those intrigued by what has been said something to adopt as methods of organisational change. Let's start with organisational change first, and then ask some bigger questions as we go forward. Small steps, big ambitions sincere hearts and honest words – it would be great to know what others think is possible and how we can make it happen. </span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>a)</span></span></span><span><span><span><strong> Internships</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>- It is wholly unacceptable for any social justice organisation to take on unpaid interns. To proclaim “without them we can't do half our job” is the perfect demonstration of their value – so let's be sincere about it and make it possible for everyone to take such opportunities. Paid internships are not the answer to “becoming a more diverse organisation”, but they are step on in breaking the cycle of entry that most NGO's run by at the moment.</span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>b) </span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>P</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>ay inequality</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span> – Within most NGOs in the UK, there is a gross inequality between the unpaid intern/living wage workers and the CEO of the organisation. CEOs work damn hard and that’s how the high pay is justified. What if the job was shared by three? Decisions wouldn't rest on one person; the work load would be distributed. Some CEO pays level in at <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/10/19/what-percent-are-you/">the top 10% of global pay</a> – fair? I’m not so sure.</span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>c) </span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>Rights of short-term contract workers: </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>Most NGOs suffer from resource uncertainties. However for many short-term contracts the money was always there to extend – but the security and support that most full time staff received was not. From confidence, training opportunities, professional development, the ability to feel ownership and autonomy with the projects – the impact on worker morale is profound. Union support and training all need to be addressed sincerely, and a policy to end short-term contracts under 6 months. </span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>d) </span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>D</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>ecision making and hierarchy</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>: It seems impossible to some but flat non-hierarchical <a href="http://valuesandframes.org/campaign-case-study-the-otesha-project/">structures actually work</a>. If we're not going to chop the CEO off from the top job at least begin with breaking down management groups and creating open forums for all staff to submit and partake in big decisions. Some NGOs are already big, clunky dinosaurs that are slow to act – forums don't need to slow things down - they can provide a space for staff to regularly express ideas and opinions in the workplace and so allow managers to act fast to resolve issues before they become problems. </span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>e) </span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>A</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>ll male panels </strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>- The more often we accept sitting on all male all white all fully-abled/educated panels without questioning why – the harder it will become to make that change. Accepting all male panels as a fair representation of the development sector is wrong, and needs to be challenged by NGOs. To my knowledge, </span></span></span><a href="http://platformlondon.org/" target="_top"><span><span>Platform</span></span></a><span><span><span> has an excellent policy on this among many others – it would be good to hear of similar organisations and how they tackle this. </span></span></span><span><span><br /><br /></span></span><span><span><span>f) </span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>Training for solidarity</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span>- If you're going to run a diversity review at work, consider adopting an external facilitator to lead this. It might be worth arranging a series of training offered by many external consultants on transformational change, anti-oppression and privilege. It takes a lot of commitment to take on such a process - the training is challenging, uncomfortable and often very emotional. It is also essential to recognise that training is not the only route to understanding what oppression is and how it manifests itself in everyday life. Organisations need to explore the issue of solidarity and how it encourages its staff to exercise that on a day to day basis. How do we run campaigns, who do we target, do we really know our movement and what their needs are? We want to answer these questions but we often answer them alone, in our well-ventilated office in middle England. Get out there, the diverse struggle is not far from your home and many need support.</span></span></span></p> <p><span><span><span>g) </span></span></span><span><span><span><strong>Equal opportunities?</strong></span></span></span><span><span><span> Lastly, much like the gini coefficient vs GDP – it's not enough to say that the vast majority of staff in your global organisation are from developing country backgrounds. Even if this is true – what's the distribution like across the organisation and compare that with where the power is. </span></span></span> </p> <p><span><span><em><strong>Disclaimer:</strong></em></span></span><span><span><em> It's important in all of this to note who I am and what has happened since Ben wrote that article. Firstly, there is no way I would identify myself as the voice of the oppressed. I am a British born Asian with a middle-class upbringing who studied her masters at Oxford. So you can attack me for any of those things if you feel offended by what I have written. Secondly, this article is an adaptation of an email conversation I have been having with Ben this week – which I felt couldn't be confined to our inboxes. To his credit, Ben took my suggestions whole heartedly and has agreed to meet up to discuss them further. I can't fault his leadership on that, so even by singling out him as the author of the article, my comments are really more general. Lastly, I have used the term “white male” several times but I wanted to reaffirm that power expresses itself in many ways – be it through class, gender, disability or race. So don't feel attacked white men – we know there are many other forms of oppression out there. Read well.<br /></em></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sally-kohn/dont-feed-trolls-cultivating-civility-online">Don&#039;t feed the trolls? Cultivating civility online</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/dawn-foster/women-in-journalism-not-trivial-subject">Women in journalism: not a trivial subject</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK Race development NGOs gender Guppi Bola Wed, 16 Oct 2013 08:26:25 +0000 Guppi Bola 76069 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For racial healing, we need to get real about racism https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/scot-nakagawa/for-racial-healing-we-need-to-get-real-about-racism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The United States was founded upon racist ideas: a land of opportunity, but only for European immigrants. To overcome the divisions that fragment us, we all need to invest in personal transformation.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/race_america_broken_mirror.jpg%20" alt="American society is like a broken mirror" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">America: divided by racism. Credit: Shutterstock. All rights reserved.&nbsp;</p><p>Here&rsquo;s a provocative statement. The reason white Americans are so touchy about racism is precisely because white supremacy is ingrained in white identity. When people of color challenge racism, we aren't just challenging what whites do, we're challenging an aspect of who they are, and from the position of the inferiors in a racial hierarchy that is held together in no small part by white entitlement. </p> <p>In order to reconcile ourselves to one another, we need to get real about the forces that fragment us, especially race. But overcoming racial divisions will require us to go beyond politics as usual and invest ourselves in personal transformation.</p> <p>Why? We live in a society that has so deeply internalized race, that race, and by extension racism, is at the very core of who we are as a people. As Americans, our history of racism is the story of us. Until we deal with that, we will never coalesce across the divisions that history has created.</p> <p>But if white people were the only problem, racism would be resolved by demographic change. Yet demographic change will not end racism.</p> <p>Race was, for most of U.S. history, an important system of political and social organization. The rationale for imposing that system wasn&rsquo;t just internalized by whites. We have <em>all</em> internalized race, though with strikingly different consequences.</p> <p>The notion of &ldquo;white devils&rdquo; running around among us only strengthens racism. Simplistic ideas of good and evil are integral to the racial categories upon which racism is founded. Deciding that certain people are morally deficient because of race only strengthens those categories.</p> <p>Instead of relying on simple good vs evil dichotomies of race, I often picture America as a broken mirror. Each fragment reflects some aspect of who we are as a people. But the images they reflect are so incomplete that trying to make sense of them is next to impossible.</p> <p>Even many of the dominant themes of American culture are essentially racist tropes.</p> <p>Take for instance the American Dream. It's founded in the belief that America is a land of freedom in which hard work will yield opportunity. But America is a nation founded in slavery. The slave trade capitalized the original colonies and eventually the project of creating the United States of America. </p> <p>Because of slavery, the U.S. was founded as a land of opportunity, but only for European immigrants. This reality persisted all the way up to the end of the Civil War, a conflict that ended less than 150 years ago. That&rsquo;s real.</p> <p>White immigrants were drawn to America in order to escape the rigid European class system and achieve the dream of becoming gentry in the New World. The economy they entered relied on a racial caste system that favored whites. White people&rsquo;s dream of social mobility had nothing to do with black slaves and would continue to have very little to do with their descendents, even through the mid-twentieth century rise of the American middle class.</p> <p>With slavery as its economic engine, the U.S. expanded across the continent. Americans won territory by engaging in genocidal campaigns against the original people of North America.</p> <p>In spite of this history, we call ourselves a &ldquo;nation of immigrants.&rdquo; The very notion is rooted in our history of excluding African Americans and Native people from citizenship, making the U.S. historically, indeed, a nation made up only of immigrants. That&rsquo;s also real. Yet we conflate the idea of the &ldquo;nation of immigrants&rdquo; with liberty and justice for all.</p> <p>We continue to organize our understanding of America according to race today. Consider the Asian American &ldquo;<a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~hist32/History/S22%20-The%20Malleable%20Yet%20Undying%20Nature%20of%20the%20Yellow%20Peril.htm"><span>model minority</span><span></span></a>&rdquo; stereotype. The stereotype is rooted in the 1960s when it was deployed to undercut support for the Civil Rights Movement.</p> <p>Asians in America like me were described during this period as compliant, uncomplaining strivers, as compared with black people, who were cast as a &ldquo;problem minority.&rdquo; Asians were said to have channeled our concerns about racial injustice into hard work, winning success and supposedly putting the lie to the claim on the part of black leaders that government action was required to resolve persistent black poverty.</p> <p>The reality is that Asian American &ldquo;success&rdquo; is by no means cultural. It is a political construct.</p> <p>Asian America is a hodge podge of ethnic groups, many of which have benefited from the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. Many others were recruited to the U.S. to fulfill our need for certain classes of highly skilled workers. Because of special visas, those with higher educations and higher incomes are over-represented among Asian Americans.</p> <p>Yet Asian Americans <a href="http://www.asian-nation.org/model-minority.shtml"><span>actually make less per capita than whites</span><span></span></a>. Asian household incomes skew higher, both because we tend to be concentrated in expensive coastal cities where wages are inflated, and because we have more incomes per household on average.</p> <p>But race is so powerful a force in shaping our understanding of one another that the &ldquo;model minority&rdquo; stereotype has become accepted as fact. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that genetics play a factor in Asian American achievement.</p> <p>As a racial justice advocate and community organizer, I&rsquo;ve had to learn to live with this reality. In the 1970s, the angry young man I was believed that race is a political system requiring political solutions. We would win racial equity only by appealing to political and economic self-interest. Anything else was just feel-good politics; they might feel nice but they&rsquo;re ultimately a waste of time.</p> <p>But over the years my cynicism eroded, replaced by the recognition that in spite of all of the organizing I was doing, work magnified many times over by the efforts of thousands of campaigns for racial justice waged by people far cleverer than me, racism adapts to changing circumstances and persists in ever more insidious forms.</p> <p>Racism is not just a political problem. It lives in our hearts and we live it every day through our shared culture. All of us do, even if we may experience race differently, and many of us to our disadvantage.</p> <p>We are, indeed, a broken mirror. <em>To truly understand human need and find our way to a just peace, we must commit to the slow and painstaking work of pulling the jagged shards of that mirror together so that with each touch we become a truer reflection of what it means to be human.</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>This will require honest dialogue, and a willingness to invest as much in cross-racial community building as we do in campaigns and public policy. Through expanding our relationship networks we expand our perspectives, ideally in ways that redefine our sense of community need.</p> <p>We need to conduct a people&rsquo;s archeology of race. If the story of race is the story of us, what are the many threads of this story and how do they inform our sense of who we are?</p> <p>I&rsquo;ve witnessed this kind of work many times. I&rsquo;ve stood in circles with the families of incarcerated people, naming our fears, claiming our weaknesses, and helping each other find the strength to continue to struggle to change Departments of Corrections and public opinion concerning our loved ones. The process doesn&rsquo;t just involve &ldquo;feel-goodisms&rdquo;. It also requires us to name the negative stereotypes we&rsquo;ve developed concerning one another so that when they are used against us we aren&rsquo;t divided by unacknowledged prejudices lurking beneath the surface.</p> <p>In multi-ethnic groups of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we&rsquo;ve shared the stories of how our families came to be in the U.S., or how the U.S. came to claim our families and homelands. And as we tell our stories, we do as much to acknowledge privilege as to describe our oppression. The stories are charted. Timelines and maps are often created. We acknowledge that the oppression of Asian America is not just the story of racist immigration quotas, hate crimes, and exploitation. It is also our story, and the extent to which we&rsquo;ve accepted certain privileges of being American, or even of being stereotyped as model Americans.</p> <p>In this way, we can nourish the kind of genuine solidarity needed to win real change.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/%C3%B3l%C3%B6f-s%C3%B6ebech/everyday-stories-of-transformation">Everyday stories of transformation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/welcome-to-transformation-0">Welcome to Transformation </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/niki-seth-smith/romantic-love-agent-of-change-0">Romantic love: an agent of change? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Civil society Culture Equality Ideas racism Race Scot Nakagawa Tue, 02 Jul 2013 10:41:43 +0000 Scot Nakagawa 73752 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why has Barack Obama done so little about America’s most racist domestic policy? https://www.opendemocracy.net/obamas-racist-policy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, it was hailed by many as a final triumph over race. Some people muttered at the time that the US remains a deeply racially divided country, and that Obama’s victory was one merely at the level of political symbols. Four years later, it is hard to overstate quite how vindicated the latter group have been.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span>When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, it was hailed by many as a final triumph over race, bringing </span><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGqearqFqUQ"><span>tears to the eyes</span></a><span> of the likes Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Jackson. Some people muttered at the time that the US remains a deeply racially divided country, and that Obama’s victory was one merely at the level of political symbols: it would mean little if it were not translated into a transformation of race-relations on the ground. Four years later, it is hard to overstate quite how vindicated the latter group have been.</span></p><p><span>&nbsp;</span><span>In America today, a higher proportion of the black community are imprisoned than were imprisoned in apartheid South Africa. More African Americans are under some form of correctional control – probation, parole or jail – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. And despite constituting only 13% of the US population, African Americans account for 39% of all people incarcerated, either in prison or jail. In short, for African Americans today, the United States is one great Land of the Unfree.</span></p><p><span>&nbsp;</span><span>As the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes in her dynamite book </span><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Jim-Crow-Michelle-Alexander/dp/1595586431/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1349023976&amp;sr=8-1"><span>The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness</span></a><span> the modern American criminal justice system functions, in reality, as a form of racial control: plucking hundreds of thousands of African Americans from their streets and communities, locking them in cages, and rendering them to a permanent second-class status where they can be legally discriminated against in employment, housing, and education. Her thesis is that racial caste in America never ended from the days of slavery and then Jim Crow: it was ‘merely redesigned’.</span></p><p><span>&nbsp;</span><span>And there is one area, more than any other, that drives this stark racial disparity: the War on Drugs. Within the criminal justice system overall, blacks are 6.7 times more likely to end up incarcerated than whites. But for drug offences, blacks are </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/usa/Rcedrg00-04.htm#P289_60230"><span>13 times more likely</span></a><span> than whites to be incarcerated. In some states this disparity is more stark: in the likes of Maryland and Illinois (Obama’s home state), black men constitute a jaw-dropping 90% of all drug admissions. Indeed, black men are incarcerated for drug offences at a higher rate than for violent offences.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Before proceeding to explain how this modern form of racial control works it’s worth refuting two major misconceptions. The first is that African Americans constitute a higher proportion of drug users and sellers. In fact, drug use on the whole is </span><a href="http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k10NSDUH/2k10Results.htm#2.7"><span>almost precisely equal</span></a><span> amongst all racial groups. Nor does the drug war target dealers: </span><a href="http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/dp_25yearquagmire.pdf"><span>four out of five</span></a><span> arrests are for possession, the majority for marijuana.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The second misconception is that prohibition is a sensible and effective way of dealing with the risks posed by drug use. Fundamentally, drug use is more adequately dealt with when treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal one, and the </span><a href="http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/tables/trends/cig_smoking/index.htm"><span>empirical evidence</span></a><span> supports this. Indeed, a </span><a href="http://endingcannabisprohibition.yuku.com/topic/634/HOW-THE-NARCS-CREATED-CRACK-by-Richard-C-Cowan#.UFvv9q6KWSo"><span>compelling theory</span></a><span> has been put forward by the campaigner Richard Cowan termed the Iron Law of Prohibition: ‘the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the drugs will become… It is good business to minimize the bulk of contraband. Tiny pieces of crack are easier to carry than cocaine powder.’ This theory fits with the facts: crack appeared on American streets in 1984, 3 years after Reagan turned the War on Drugs into a literal war under the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act of 1981. </span></p><p><span></span><span>So, given that the </span><a href="http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html"><span>Fourteenth Amendment</span></a><span> of the US constitution explicitly guarantees ‘equal protection of the laws’, how has this come to pass? Racial discrimination informs each stage of the criminal justice system – from policing through to arrest through to court appearance, and what is key at all three stages of this process is the role of discretion in each. The first is in policing – given that at least 10% of the American population are drug users, the police have no end of the communities they can choose from, but they predominantly target poor, black, ghettos, to such an extent that its residents refer to the police presence as ‘The Occupation’. Why? Partly because they can get with it, partly because of conscious racism. </span></p><p><span></span><span>And not only conscious racism. Alexander cites a study from the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Addiction in which participants were asked to close their eyes and picture a drug dealer: 95% of them pictured someone black. Even African Americans displayed a similar level of cognitive bias. The chances of getting proper legal representation are slim to non-existent. Juries are often disproportionately white, who in turn will suffer from the cognitive bias cited above. Possession of crack was (until recently) punished 100 times more severely than possession of cocaine: 93% of convicted crack offenders are black, despite the fact crack use in absolute terms is far higher among whites.</span></p><p><span></span><span>No account of the racism of the American drug war would be complete without a description of the Supreme Court’s role in preserving discriminatory practices. The Supreme Court is designed to uphold the rights of ‘discrete and insular’ minorities. But in </span><span>McCleskey v Kemp</span><span>, for instance, it ruled that racial discrimination in sentencing is only relevant when evidence of conscious discrimination is demonstrable, even in the face of compelling statistical evidence. </span><span>Purkett v Elm</span><span> ruled that prosecutors need not provide ‘an explanation that is persuasive, or even plausible’ in their justification for juror strikes, paving the way for the elimination of minority representation on juries. And </span><span>Alexander v Sandoval</span><span> ruled that claims of racial discrimination could no longer be brought under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act 1964, which Alexander says ‘eliminated the last remaining avenue for challenging racial bias in the criminal justice system.’ These are three of only the most egregious examples. </span></p><p><span></span><span>Once jailed, those convicted can expect to remain incarcerated for a very long time. Thanks to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the typical mandatory sentence for a first-time drug offence in a federal court is five to ten years. &nbsp;And due to the ‘three-strikes’ laws (enacted under Clinton), all it takes is three drug offences and you are sentenced to life. Mass incarceration also exacerbates the spread of HIV infection, with African Americans </span><a href="http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ruckerj/johnson_raphael_AIDS-Prisonpaper_JLE.pdf"><span>suffering most</span></a><span>. According to Just Detention International, </span><a href="http://www.justdetention.org/en/learn_the_basics.aspx"><span>over 200,000</span></a><span> people in US detention are raped or sexually abused - many of them repeatedly. At least </span><a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1075842"><span>600,000</span></a><span> inmates are involved in prison labor throughout the US, producing products for the likes of Walmart and Lockheed Martin. This labour is either </span><a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/06/prison-labor-pads-corporate-profits-taxpayers-expense?INTCMP=SRCH"><span>completely unpaid, or almost unpaid,</span></a><span> as in the likes of Arizona, where workers are paid the princely sum of 50 cents an hour. Some states require all able-bodied inmates to work, meaning it is essentially coerced. And there is a word for coerced, unpaid labour: slavery.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Upon release, ex-offenders will enter into a world in which they have essentially been rendered second-class citizens, discriminated against in housing, employment, provision of food stamps, and voting rights. In housing, public housing associations are allowed to exclude or evict anyone convicted of any crime, no matter how small. In employment, all applicants are required to ‘check a box’ asking if they have ever been convicted of a crime – far less than half of employers say they would consider an ex-offender. Ex-offenders are also barred under federal law from receiving food stamps – and only a few states have opted-out of this rule.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Compounding all this is the level of disenfranchisement among felons: 11 states strip offenders from voting for life. As a result, </span><a href="http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/fd_State_Level_Estimates_of_Felon_Disen_2010.pdf"><span>7% of the African American</span></a><span> population are disenfranchised. Electorally, this makes an enormous difference. If the 600,000 ex-felons in Florida had been able to vote in 2000, it almost certainly would have tipped the result in favour of Gore. That could have meant the difference between an Iraq war, and no Iraq war. </span></p><p><span></span><span>There are two major ways in which the official incarceration statistics for ‘drug offences’ are deceptive. First, they do not account for the other 7.5 million citizens in another form of correctional community control – either on probation or parole. A disproportionate number are black, and many are supervised on drug-charges. Second, drug prohibition plays no small part in fostering what violence takes place in the United States – meaning that the 319,700 black offenders incarcerated for violent offences (almost equivalent to the number of people incarcerated for all reasons in 1980) can again be attributed (partly) to the War on Drugs. The relationship has been </span><a href="http://final.pdf/"><span>empirically demonstrated</span></a><span> by Harvard academic Jeffrey Miron: when he plotted the relationship between law enforcement and homicide levels, there were two big spikes along the length of the graph, which both correlate precisely with the US’s two 20</span><span>th</span><span> century attempts at prohibition. </span></p><p><span></span><span>So what has Obama done about it? He has </span><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/02/AR2010080204360.html"><span>reduced the sentencing disparity</span></a><span> between crack and cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which vastly disproportionately affected African Americans. The absolute numbers of all those incarcerated has, for the first time since 1972, dropped – though only by a pitiful 0.3%. Needless to say, this is nothing like enough. Indeed, by some measures, he has turned out to be a more ferocious drug warrior than Bush – the ratio of federal funds going to prevention and treatment over enforcement has </span><a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ondcp/policy-and-research/fy10budget.pdf"><span>tipped even more</span></a><span> heavily towards the latter. And his Stimulus Bill </span><a href="http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2009/feb/20/federal_budget_economic_stimulus"><span>included</span></a><span> a twelve-fold increase in funding for the Byrne Grant program, around of half of which goes towards drug enforcement. </span></p><p><span></span><span>The perpetuation of mass incarceration is attributable in no small part to what is described as the ‘prison-industrial complex’. The author of</span><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lockdown-America-Police-Prisons-Crisis/dp/1844672492/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1349473012&amp;sr=8-1"><span> </span><span>Lockdown America</span><span>,</span></a><span> Christian Parenti, explains that this is composed of a coalition of interests – the communities that benefit from the Keynesian stimulus of prison-building, the very</span><a href="http://reason.com/archives/2011/06/23/the-golden-states-iron-bars"><span> </span><span>well unionised</span></a><span> sectors of prison guards and workers, the</span><a href="http://reason.com/archives/2012/04/22/4-industries-getting-rich-off-the-drug-w/2"><span> </span><span>private prison industry</span></a><span>, and those businesses which profit from prison labour. But the fundamental cause is, according to Parenti, the </span><span>preservation</span><span> of capitalism and the accumulation of profit. Capital requires large,</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserve_army_of_labour#A_global_reserve_army_of_labour.3F"><span> </span><span>surplus groups of the poor</span></a><span> and unemployed in order to drive down wages. But it is also threatened by this large group of the poor and unemployed - who might rebel. Parenti argues that capital has come to understand that concessions to labor - in the form of a living wage and welfare state - run the risk of ‘subsidizing political rebellion’, making mass incarceration necessary to control and contain the ‘dangerous classes’.</span></p><p><span></span><span>There is one thing and one thing only which will bring this scandal to an end: a mass social movement which demands change. Softer drugs – including cannabis – should be legalized and regulated; harder drugs should medically prescribed. Personal possession of all drugs must – must – be decriminalised. Such a movement does not have to be built from scratch, it can be created from what there already is. </span><a href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/"><span>The Drug Policy Alliance</span></a><span>, the </span><a href="http://www.naacp.org/"><span>NAACP</span></a><span>, </span><a href="http://ssdp.org/"><span>Students for Sensible Drug Policy</span></a><span>, and the </span><a href="http://www.november.org/"><span>November Coalition</span></a><span> (and these are just four groups off the top of my head) must band together to decide how to proceed. We are dealing with deeply rooted vested interests, so such a movement will almost certainly need to utilise carefully co-ordinated direct action at points. It is crucial that such a movement targets all aspects of the American political system: Congress, the Supreme Court, and the interest groups that perpetuate mass incarceration, as well as the President.</span></p><p><span></span><span>In spite of all this, I think it is strategically important that all progressives vote Obama on November 6th. He is </span><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/obama-concludes-summit-of-the-americas-on-the-defensive-about-inviting-cuba/2012/04/15/gIQAVrgAKT_story_1.html7"><span>on record</span></a><span> as having said a debate about alternatives to prohibition is ‘appropriate’ (progress by the standards of the American Presidency), and with his ties to the black community, he is likely to be more sensitive to public pressure. But ultimately, the American political process is so deeply corrupted by Big Money that Barack Obama is merely the lesser of two evils. The political change necessary in the US will only come from grassroots activists who shout louder than the vested interests that fund the candidates. The minute after you vote, be sure to join, campaign and volunteer with various organisations that will help end the American drug war – the New Jim Crow. Then – and only then - will the United States of America be described, with any shred of accuracy, as the Land of the Free.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Key Sources</span></p><ol><li><span>The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander</span></li><li><span>The Sentencing Project: </span><span><a href="http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/index.cfm">http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/index.cfm</a></span></li><li><span>Human Rights Watch: Punishment and Prejudice, Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/usa/</span></li></ol> Drug & Criminal Justice Policy Forum Race The War on Drugs Barack Obama Stuart Rodger Mon, 15 Oct 2012 22:51:26 +0000 Stuart Rodger 68878 at https://www.opendemocracy.net