Ama's America is Brazil, not the United States. Racism in Brazil and elsewhere in the African diaspora is discussed in texts on other pages. To build a comprehensive web page on racism in the U.S. and world-wide, would be a major task and would require a breadth of knowledge and experience that I lack. Here are just a few thought-provoking articles. I pose the question: what bearing, if any, does Ama's story have on contemporary racism in the U.S and elsewhere?
Martin Jacques The global hierarchy of race The Guardian Saturday September 20, 2003
As the only racial group that never suffers
systemic racism, whites are in denial
about its impact
I always found race difficult to understand. It
was never intuitive. And the reason
was simple. Like every other white person, I had never experienced it myself: the meaning of colour was
something I had to learn. The turning point was falling in love with my wife,
an Indian-Malaysian, and her coming to live in England. Then, over time, I came to see my own country in a
completely different way,
through her eyes, her background. Colour is something white people never have to think about because for them it is never
a handicap, never a source
of prejudice or discrimination, but rather the opposite, a source of privilege. However liberal and enlightened I tried
to be, I still had a white
outlook on the world. My wife was the beginning of my education.
But it was not until we went to live in Hong Kong
that my view of the world, and
the place that race occupies within it, was to be utterly transformed. Rather than seeing race through
the prism of my own society, I learned to see it globally. When we left these
shores, it felt as if we were moving closer to my wife's world: this was east
Asia and she was Malaysian. And she, unlike me, had the benefit of speaking
Cantonese. So my expectation was that she would feel more comfortable in this
environment than I would. I was wrong. As a white, I found myself treated
with respect and deference; my wife, notwithstanding
her knowledge of the language and her intimacy with Chinese culture, was the object of an
In our 14 months in Hong Kong, I learned some
brutal lessons about racism. First,
it is not the preserve of whites. Every race displays racial prejudice, is capable of racism, carries
assumptions about its own virtue and superiority.
Each racism, furthermore, is subtly different, reflecting the specificity of its own culture
Second, there is a global racial hierarchy that
helps to shape the power and the
prejudices of each race. At the top of this hierarchy are whites. The reasons are deep-rooted and
profound. White societies have been the global top dogs for half a millennium, ever
since Chinese civilisation went into decline. With global hegemony, first with Europe and then the US,
whites have long commanded
respect, as well as arousing fear and resentment, among other races. Being white confers a privilege, a special kind of deference,
throughout the world, be it
Kingston, Hong Kong, Delhi, Lagos - or even, despite the way it is portrayed in Britain, Harare.
Whites are the only race that never suffers any kind of systemic racism
anywhere in the world. And the impact of white racism has been far more profound
and baneful than any other: it remains the only racism with global reach.
Being top of the pile means that whites are
peculiarly and uniquely insensitive
to race and racism, and the power relations this involves. We are invariably the beneficiaries,
never the victims. Even when well-meaning, we remain strangely ignorant. The
clout enjoyed by whites does not reside simply in an abstraction - western
societies - but in the skin of each and every one of us. Whether we like it or not,
in every corner of the planet we enjoy an extraordinary personal power
bestowed by our colour. It is something we are largely oblivious of, and
consequently take for granted, irrespective of whether we are liberal or
reactionary, backpackers, tourists or expatriate businessmen.
The existence of a de facto global racial
hierarchy helps to shape the nature of
racial prejudice exhibited by other races. Whites are universally respected, even when that respect
is combined with strong resentment. A race generally defers to those above
it in the hierarchy and is contemptuous of those below it. The Chinese -
like the Japanese - widely consider themselves to be number two in the pecking
order and look down upon all other races as inferior. Their respect for
whites is also grudging - many Chinese believe that western hegemony is, in
effect, held on no more than prolonged leasehold. Those below the Chinese and the
Japanese in the hierarchy are invariably people
of colour (both Chinese and Japanese often like to see themselves as white, or nearly white). At the
bottom of the pile, virtually everywhere it would seem, are those of African
descent, the only exception in certain cases being the indigenous peoples.
This highlights the centrality of colour to the
global hierarchy. Other factors
serve to define and reinforce a race's position in the hierarchy - levels of development,
civilisational values, history, religion, physical characteristics and dress - but
the most insistent and widespread is colour. The reason is that colour is
instantly recognisable, it defines difference at the glance of an eye. It also
happens to have another effect. It makes the global hierarchy seem like the
natural order of things: you are born with your colour, it is something nobody
can do anything about, it is neither cultural nor social but physical in
origin. In the era of globalisation, with mass migration and globalised cultural
industries, colour has become the universal calling card of difference. In
interwar Europe, the dominant forms of racism were anti-semitism and racialised
nationalisms, today it is colour: at a football
match, it is blacks not Jews that get jeered, even in eastern Europe.
Liberals like to think that racism is a product of
ignorance, of a lack of contact,
and that as human mobility increases, so racism will decline. This might be described as the Benetton view of the world. And it
does contain a modicum of
truth. Intermixing can foster greater understanding, but not necessarily, as Burnley, Sri Lanka and Israel, in their very
different ways, all
Hong Kong, compared with China, is an open
society, and has long been so, yet it
has had little or no effect in mollifying Chinese prejudice towards
people of darker skin. It
is not that racism is immovable and intractable, but that its roots are deep, its
prejudices as old as humanity itself. The origins of Chinese racism lie in the Middle
Kingdom: the belief that the Chinese are superior
to other races - with the exception of whites - is centuries, if not thousands of years, old. The
disparaging attitude among American whites towards blacks has its roots in
slavery. Wishing it wasn't true, denying it is true, will never change the
reality. We can only understand - and tackle racism - if we are honest about
it. And when it comes to race - more than any other issue - honesty is in
desperately short supply.
Race remains the great taboo. Take the case of
Hong Kong. A conspiracy of silence
surrounded race. As the British departed in 1997, amid much self-congratulation, they
breathed not a word about racism. Yet the latter was integral to colonial rule, its
leitmotif: colonialism, after all, is institutionalised
racism at its crudest and most base. The majority of Chinese, the object of it, meanwhile, harboured an equally
racist mentality towards
people of darker skin. Masters of their own home, they too are in denial of their own racism. But that, in varying degrees, is
true of racism not only in
Hong Kong but in every country in the world. You may remember that, after the riots in Burnley in the summer of 2001, Tony
Blair declared that they
were not a true reflection of the state of race relations in Britain: of course, they were, even if the picture is less
discouraging in other
Racism everywhere remains largely invisible and
hugely under-estimated, the issue
that barely speaks its name. How can the Economist produce a 15,000-word
survey on migration, as it
did last year, and hardly mention the word racism? Why does virtually no one talk
about the racism suffered by the Williams sisters on the tennis circuit
even though the evidence is legion? Why are the deeply racist western attitudes
towards Arabs barely mentioned in the context of the occupation of Iraq,
carefully hidden behind talk of religion and civilisational values?
The dominant race in a society, whether white or
otherwise, rarely admits to its
own racism. Denial is near universal. The reasons are manifold. It has a
huge vested interest in its
own privilege. It will often be oblivious to its own prejudices. It will regard
its racist attitudes as nothing more than common sense, having the force
and justification of nature. Only when challenged
by those on the receiving end is racism outed, and attitudes begin to change. The reason why British
society is less nakedly racist than it used to be is that whites have been
forced by people of colour to question age-old racist assumptions. Nations are
never honest about themselves: they are all in varying degrees of denial.
This is clearly fundamental to understanding the
way in which racism is underplayed
as a national and global issue. But there is another reason, which is a specifically white problem.
Because whites remain the overwhelmingly dominant
global race, perched in splendid isolation on top of the pile even though they only represent 17% of
the world's population, they are overwhelmingly
responsible for setting the global agenda, for determining what is discussed and what is not. And
the fact that whites have no experience of racism, except as perpetrators,
means that racism is constantly underplayed by western institutions - by
governments, by the media, by corporations. Moreover, because whites have
reigned globally supreme for half a millennium, they, more than any other race, have left their mark on the
rest of humanity: they have
a vested interest in denying the extent and baneful effects of racism.
It was only two years ago, you may remember, that
the first-ever United Nations
conference on racism was held - against the fierce resistance of the US (and that in the Clinton era).
Nothing more eloquently testifies to the unwillingness
of western governments to engage in a global dialogue about the problem of racism.
If racism is now more widely recognised than it
used to be, the situation is likely
to be transformed over the next few decades. As migration increases, as the regime of denial is
challenged, as subordinate races find the will and confidence to challenge the
dominant race, as understanding of racism develops, as we become more aware
of other racisms like that of the Han Chinese,
then the global prominence of racism is surely set to increase dramatically.
It is rare to hear a political leader speaking the
discourse of colour. Robert Mugabe
is one, but he is tainted and discredited. The Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, is
articulate on the subject of white privilege and the global hierarchy. The
most striking example by a huge margin, though, is Nelson Mandela. When it comes
to colour, his sacrifice is beyond compare and his authority unimpeachable.
And his message is always universal - not confined to the interests of one
race. It is he who has suggested that western support for Israel has something
to do with race. It is he who has hinted that it is no accident that the
authority of the UN is under threat at a time when its secretary general is black.
And yet his voice is almost alone in a world where race oozes from every pore
of humanity. In a world where racism is becoming
increasingly important, we will need more such leaders. And invariably they will be people of
colour: on this subject whites lack moral authority. I could only
understand the racism suffered by my wife through her words and experience. I never
felt it myself. The difference is utterly fundamental.
· Martin Jacques is a visiting fellow at the
London School of Economics. The death
of his wife, Harinder Veriah, in 2000 in a Hong Kong hospital triggered an outcry which culminated in
this summer's announcement by the Hong Kong government that it would
introduce anti-racist legislation for the first time
- [BRC-NEWS] 12-11-99
I want to inform BRC-NEWS subscribers about my recent book, Race in the Mind of America: Breaking the Vicious Circle between Blacks and Whites, published by Routledge.
Since my aim is not a commercial one of selling the book per se -- as you all know, no one gets rich writing a serious (not a pop) book, especially on a topic like race that so many Americans would rather not think about complexly -- but rather is in promoting and engaging in a dialogue that can break us out of the strictures on thought that keep us locked into injustice and inequality, I am including in this e-mail a brief account of some of the book's points. I would be very interested in exchanging views either about the material posted here or about the book as a whole.
I am presently CUNY Distinguished Professor in the doctoral program in clinical psychology at City College of New York and founding director of the College's Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies.
Race in the Mind of America takes as a starting point the analysis of vicious circles, which has been central to my writing as a psychologist and psychotherapist for many years, and applies that analysis on many levels to the ways that whites and blacks each experience the nature of our racial divide and to how the two groups interact with each other in ways that ironically end up perpetuating the very behaviors and attitudes in each other that each wishes would change. I examine these dynamics in everything from the ways that whites unconsciously reveal racial prejudices even in laboratory studies focusing on behaviors as innocuous as picking up a pencil that someone has dropped -- whites are MORE likely to pick it up if a black person has dropped it rather than a white person, IF the black person is in a SUBORDINATE position, and LESS likely to if the black person is in a supervisory role or position of greater knowledge -- to the more public behaviors that are likely to be at the center of the concerns of political scientists. I try to show how all of these our attitudes and behaviors, both conscious and unconscious, interact simultaneously and seamlessly to perpetuate our divisions and mutual mistrust (and, of course, try to offer at least some directions for BREAKING these vicious circles once we have understood them clearly).
In order to stimulate discussion, let me illustrate with a few examples of how the behaviors and attitudes of blacks and whites interdigitate:
EXAMPLE: VICIOUS CIRCLES AND ACADEMIC FAILURE
As Stanford social psychologist Claude Steele has shown in an elegant series of studies, the impact of stereotyping and myths about black intellectual inferiority can lead talented black students to perform on a variety of tests less well than their white counterparts EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE EQUALLY KNOWLEDGEABLE AND INTELLIGENT. (When THE EXACT SAME material is presented in ways that do not call forth what Steele calls stereotype anxiety, the black students do just as well as the whites). Perhaps even more serious, the impact of stereotypes of inferiority can lead lead many black kids to withdraw from intellectual pursuits altogether (a process Steele calls "disidentification" with school and academics), and this can in turn lead to failure to develop the skills that would contradict the stereotype. What transpires is a kind of "pseudo-confirmation" of a basically false stereotype, leading to the same pattern once more.
Further exacerbating this pattern, the attitudes that build up around it -- for example, the view that studying hard and doing well in school are "acting white" and the pressures that are consequently put on bright black kids to suppress their academic inclinations -- add further to poor school performance and to the associated stereotypes. The circle then begins again when this poor performance, partly RESULTING FROM the defensive need to declare aspiring in school to be "acting white," further fuels that same debilitating attitude.
>From a quite different vantage point, the low scores of students in poorly funded inner city schools, rather than being viewed by middle class whites as a compelling indication that greater funding is needed, often serve as a rationale for maintaining the very inequities that generate them.
The white attitude frequently is: "These kids can't learn; the reading scores show it again and again. So what's the point of pouring good money after bad in a futile effort to bring them up to standard? Better to spend the money on kids who can learn!" The result, of course, is that once again the scores in the inner city schools are low and the rationale for not investing in them is maintained.
NOTE HERE SOMETHING CRUCIAL:
Because of the impact of stereotypes, inequalities, and injustices, the kids often REALLY DON'T learn as well. So when they apply for jobs or for university admissions, they often REALLY ARE less qualified. It is not simple discrimination or racism alone that limits their opportunities.
BUT, note as well that this poor performance is the result of enormous and racially based unfairness. It results from kids attending schools and living in neighborhoods that would place great obstacles in the path of ANY young person encountering them, and it is the legacy of centuries of injustice, disparagement, and the need to find adaptations to the continuing assaults.
Our debates on issues of race are unproductive -- and do not point us toward solutions -- because EACH side sees ONLY ONE of these two realities, or, even when acknowledging the other side of the story, pushes it well to the background. Thus, whites pay attention to the test performance of minority kids or their attitudes about school but push to the background the injustices that produce this state of affairs. And blacks pay attention to those injustices, and to the many ways in which they are treated as second class citizens, but push to the background the real (and, of course, painful) performance deficits that are a consequence of those very injustices. BECAUSE EACH GROUP LEAVES OUT OR PUSHES TO THE BACKGROUND THE PERCEPTUAL EXPERIENCE THAT IS CENTRAL TO THE REALITY OF THE OTHER, EACH FEELS THAT THE OTHER IS EITHER BLIND OR DISINGENUOUS. The result is that a meaningful dialogue and the path toward finally righting these injustices and inequalities are blocked.
EXAMPLE: VICIOUS CIRCLES AND THE "WORK ETHIC"
In similar fashion to what I described with regard to schools, years of real, indeed blatant, discrimination can produce attitudes -- resentment, skepticism about whether hard work is really rewarded, etc. -- that can lead employers, even in the present era when the more overt and hard-edged of white prejudices have become increasingly unacceptable (and when the law forbids racial discrimination), to be hesitant to hire or promote blacks because of their "attitude." Here once again, we encounter an ironic circle: These reactions by employers (well documented by researchers such as William Julius Wilson) can serve to further maintain the skepticism of many black workers that they are treated fairly, thus maintaining the same attitudes on their part and consequently the same attitudes on the part of employers, ad infinitum.
As this cycle repeats itself again and again, it is again important to notice that both sides' reactions are based on the palpable evidence of their own senses. Our deep divisions are maintained because each side believes, with great conviction, that they are just "seeing reality" and that the other side is denying it.
VICIOUS CIRCLES AND THE FEAR OF OFFENDING
Vicious circles operate even in the efforts both blacks and whites may engage in to not offend the other. When interracial conversations about race are not hostile and provocative, they are often evasive and insincere. Every year, I teach at City College a course on racial and ethnic stereotyping. A substantial portion of the course emphasizes exercises in which students learn the subtleties of stereotyping through exploring and sharing their mutual visions of each other's groups. (This is an exercise, incidentally, in which students also explore which aspects of the stereotypes of their own group they fear may have some truth). The discussions are extremely frank, and students are usually quite struck by the middle of the course with how much they have learned and how much has been able to be said. But there is always a point at which I ask, "Now tell us about the things you say to each other in the halls that you only say among your own (blacks to blacks, Latinos to Latinos, whites to whites, etc.)." Inevitably, there is then much nervous laughter and a sense of recognition that, as open as they have seemed to be with each other, there is MUCH more that remains unsaid. I am an experienced clinical psychologist, but I have not been very successful in addressing the evasions that characterize the class from this point on each semester.
Outright insults and directly hostile comments are, of course, obvious contributors to the perpetuation of our divisions. But less readily understood is the impact of what we do NOT say, the ways in which communication is blocked or inhibited. In different ways, both sides are afraid they will say something that confirms the stereotype the other holds of them. As a consequence, conversations between blacks and whites are often stilted and restrained.
And in another of the many ironies that arise in this realm, evasions that derive from the sense of estrangement and unease end up exacerbating the very feeling of unbridgeable difference from which they arise. Absence of frankness, bred of discomfort, breeds further discomfort. And on a policy level, our ability to develop concrete programs that could get at the roots of our difficulties and interrupt the repetition of the circle is hindered by an absence of candid exchange that places subtle restrictions even on what we are able to think.
COUNTERPRODUCTIVE ACCUSATIONS OF RACISM
A central concern of Race in the Mind of America is examining the consequences of the ways we used words like "racism" and "racist." I argue that over the years our use of these words has expanded, and that this expansion has actually impeded our ability to get whites to hear what they need to hear. I argue that we need to utilize a more differentiated vocabulary in which, in many instances, we will get further if instead of referring to racism we refer to prejudice, stereotyping, bias, discrimination, ethnocentrism, insensitivity, inequality, injustice, indifference, and even ignorance
I make this suggestion not because I believe racism has disappeared in American life, nor out of any view that our racial problems have become less severe, therefore meriting our use of "milder" terms. Racism remains a central fact of our life together, and in certain respects our racial divisions have become more rather than less intractable in recent years. What I wish to introduce is not a "milder" vocabulary, not a list of euphemisms, but rather a more precise and differentiated vocabulary. My aim is not to sweep racism under the rug, but to understand more clearly the experiences and attitudes to which the term is usually applied.
One key problem is that the words "racism" and "racist" tend to be conversation stoppers. When "I disagree" or "You don't understand" or "You don't know the facts" or even "You're wrong" becomes "You're racist," real dialogue ceases. And it ceases regardless of whether what is evoked is an angry retort or a deferential and ultimately insincere genuflection. When whites walk on eggshells in their interactions with blacks, fearing that to express their views in all their complexity would leave them open to the accusation of being racists, all that results is a covering over of real issues and feelings that are essential to address if any progress in race relations is to be made.
"OTHERNESS" AND INDIFFERENCE
A more useful way, I suggest, to conceptualize the broad commonality among the diverse experiences we tend to label as "racist" is to focus our attention on the sense of "otherness" that is central to these experiences.
What is perhaps most important of all for whites to acknowledge and understand is indifference. A great deal of what is often characterized as racism can be more precisely and usefully described as indifference. Perhaps no other feature of white attitudes, and of the underlying attitudinal structure of white society as a whole, is as cumulatively responsible for the pain and privation experienced by our nation's black minority at this point in our history as is indifference. And at the same time, perhaps no feature is as misunderstood or overlooked.
"Otherness" is at work in all of the destructive ways in which people of different groups interact. Prejudices, biases, stereotypes, and the like would have no objects were not some people experienced as "other". But "otherness" is perhaps especially germane to the role of indifference, which in a sense can be viewed as a pure culture of otherness. That is, in prejudice, stereotyping, ethnocentrism, and other such obviously problematic features of how groups of human beings interact, something is added to otherness. There is something more active in these behaviors and attitudes that makes them a bit more able to be detected. Indifference, in contrast, is a quiet toxin. It severs the sinews and nerves of society without announcing itself. Its effects are devastating, but its tracks are hidden in the overall attitude of "each man for himself" that is so prominent a part of our society's ethos.
Further obscuring the central role of indifference in our social problems is that highly immediate and visible tragedy can transcend the sense of otherness. Few white Americans would fail to rescue a black child trapped in a well or a black man pinned under the wreckage of a building collapse. At such moments the sense of human solidarity takes center stage, not the sense of differentness. And indeed, this is one of the reasons that most white Americans do not really believe in their heart of hearts that they are racist.
But when it comes to the slow bleeding that daily drains the spirit and hope from life in our nation's ghettoes, indifference shows itself in full measure. The white majority tolerates the misery in the midst of our affluent society because of the strong sense of "them" that whites attach to the residents of our inner cities (and even to middle class blacks who actually share their occupations, incomes, etc), the sense that "they" are not like "us," that they are different. And so most whites, who are aware of little feeling of outright hostility, who believe in fair play and equal opportunity, see little that has to do with them in the painful realities of our inner cities. In both (ironically almost opposite) meanings of the phrase, what is happening there is "too bad." But for all too many whites, it is not perceived as their responsibility.
Indifference and the sense of otherness are not experiences that are limited to issues of race. We may see them operating every time there is a plane crash abroad and the newscaster announces how many Americans are aboard. The likelihood, for any listener, that any American victim of the crash will be someone they actually know is exceedingly small; there are, after all, a quarter of a billion Americans. Yet this information is always supplied, for it defines whether the victim was "one of us," and, if truth be told, it defines to a significant degree whether we should CARE.
This is precisely the issue that most burdens race relations in our society as well. The real meaning of race comes down largely to this: IS THIS SOMEONE I SHOULD CARE ABOUT? This is a terrible and shameful truth, and in its full impact it will not be easy for white America to face. But it points much more precisely, I believe, to the true source of white guilt than does the label of racism. As a consequence, it has a better chance of being acknowledged, of leading us to examine what is in our hearts, and of generating the concrete social and economic changes that are essential for real justice and equality to be achieved.
The above points, and others that lie at the heart of Race in the Mind of America, are ones that I believe it is urgent we address if we are to make progress in finally overcoming the many persisting injustices in our society. I know that some of these points may be controversial, and I hope that posting this message will elicit a dialogue about these matters.
Paul Wachtel email@example.com
David Graham Du Bois on the “War Against Terrorism” November 27, 2001
A War Like No Other? You Bet!, Black Electorate, November 27, 2001, by David Graham Du Bois
(extract – for
full article see http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=492)
against terrorism" is in fact an open declaration of war against
the peoples of the developing world; initially the peoples of the Middle
East and Africa, and ultimately the peoples of South and Central America
and the Caribbean, all Asia, the South Pacific and the islands of the
Seas -- some four-fifths of humanity.
It is a desperate
attempt to meet and overcome this developing world's growing challenge
to the continuation of four centuries of European and American hegemonic
domination, exploitation, suppression, insult and injury by its
executors in America and Europe.
In pursuit of this
objective the events of September 11 are being used to justify the
imposition of a wide range of military and socio-political measures
gravely endangering democracy as we know it; measures that have as their
objective the emergence of an authoritarian, military/corporate state in
the U.S.A. This gives rise to serious question as to who really planned
and executed the September 11 events.
The fact that the overwhelming
majority of the peoples of the developing world are peoples of color, or
are perceived of as peoples of color, explains the ease with which
support among the majority populations of Europe and North America is
being generated behind the myth of a "war against terrorism".
Four centuries of the European African slave trade and the cruel
exploitation of the human and natural resources of the African continent
have been and are today justified by the myth of an inherent white
superiority facing an inherent black inferiority.
As a practicing
journalist for more than forty years, thirty of which were spent working
out of North and West Africa and the Middle East, I know something about
the news and analyses the American people are provided from those parts
of the developing world.
We are not told the
truth. And, of the little we are told most is a distortion of the truth
to make the U.S. look like "the good guys".
What we're getting
today from Afghanistan and environs is no different. How can anyone
expect the American people to know "why they hate us so"?
The fact is they do
not hate the American people. They hate the policies of succeeding U.S.
es, they are politically
sophisticated enough to make that important distinction. The war being
waged against Afghanistan today is a monstrous act of State terrorism.
If allowed by the
peoples of the world it will be extended to Iraq, and later to the other
"rogue states" of U.S. determination, opening the floodgates
to a devastating race war divided along the global color line.
In 1915 W. E. B. Du
Bois wrote: "Most men in this world are colored. A belief in
humanity means a belief in colored men. The future world will, in all
reasonable probability be what colored men make it."
It is this
"reasonable probability" the "war against terrorism"
is intended to prevent. But, it will only delay the inevitable.
David Graham Du Bois is the
President & CEO of the W.E.B. Du Bois Foundation, Inc.
As thousands of
Black people and people of color gather in Durban South Africa for the
World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) the United States government has
been exposed as a hypocrite and a coward by its reluctance and outright
refusal to discuss some of the burning past and contemporary issues of
racism and white supremacy, not the least of which is the Holocaust of
enslavement and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
How is it that a
nation whose pledge of allegiance includes the words "one nation
under God with liberty and justice for all" could refuse to face up
to the past and present injustices committed against the sons and
daughters of Africa in this country and the world? How is it that the
world's one remaining super-power could cower before its responsibility
to discuss the unconscionable deeds of the past and present, which are
inconsistent with its professed creed? How is that a person of African
descent, a person with a Black face, how is it that Colin Powell, the
first African American Secretary of State could stall, filibuster and
obstruct on an issue so vital to his own people?
The answer is that
America is a nation still in denial about the dastardly deeds of its
past and the ongoing existence of racist policies and practices in the
present, a super-power whose status has largely been built on
"might not right." The behavior of Colin Powell, a
"distinguished" son of Africa, is yet another testimony to the
fallacy of skin politics. Simply exchanging White faces for Black faces
in positions of power and authority does not necessarily translate into
justice or empowerment for Black people. In a right wing, illegitimate,
racist administration, Colin Powell or any other Black person must do as
the master commands or suffer the consequences.
Over the past
several months it has been utterly amazing to watch the United States
government and its European allies use every conceivable tactic to avoid
having the issue of the Holocaust of enslavement and the trans-Atlantic
slave trade placed on the agenda of WCAR. Nations from Africa and the
Third World have reported that the U.S. has used threats, intimidation
and bribery in its attempt to block a comprehensive discussion about
slavery, particularly the notion that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was
a crime against humanity and the effort of people of African descent and
their allies to have the conference adopt a resolution to that effect.
The reason for this resistance is obvious; declaring the slave trade a
crime against humanity would bolster the moral and legal claim of
Africans in America, the Caribbean and the continent for reparations.
Many of the nations of Europe are guilty of initiating and profiting
from the enslavement and trafficking in human beings from Africa. The
United States of America is also guilty of perpetuating and profiting
from the slave trade and slavery.
Much of the economic
foundation and the wealth of Europe and America was constructed off the
free labor of Africans in the most horrific Holocaust in human history,
the rape and pillage of Africa during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As
the late Walter Rodney cogently argues in How Europe Underdeveloped
Africa, a thriving commercial and industrial revolution and the
prosperity of Europe and America was a product of the destruction of
Black societies and civilizations in Africa. The free labor of Africans
who survived their initial enslavement and the "dread middle
passage" fueled the prosperity of Europe and America. The nations
of Europe and America do not want to discuss the slave trade as a crime
against humanity because the blood of our ancestors is on their hands.
They are guilty of fostering and profiting from a criminal enterprise -
an enterprise that continued and continues in various forms and
manifestations - colonialism, neo-colonialism, domestic colonialism,
apartheid and racial discrimination and oppression - into the 21st
America and the
nations of Europe, the criminals have waged an unrelenting campaign to
prevent a formal discussion of slavery at WCAR because there is a
growing groundswell among the victims for reparations to repair the
damages of centuries of degradation, exploitation, expropriation,
oppression and genocide. The game is up, the bill has come due. The
United States government and those who fostered and profited from the
enslavement and trafficking of Africans can no longer deny or escape
their responsibility. No matter what the formal agenda, the Holocaust of
enslavement and the trans-Atlantic slave trade will be the major issue
at WCAR. No matter what the formal resolutions or outcome of the
conference, the sons and daughters of Africa and our allies have already
won by educating millions of people about the role of the nations of
Europe and the United States in fostering, promulgating and profiting
from the destructions of societies and human beings in Africa and other
parts of the world.
The masses of the
disinherited and dispossessed of the world are on the move, mounting an
irreversible demand that the criminals be held responsible and
accountable for their deeds. The tide of history is decisively turning
in favor of the oppressed. No matter the outcome of WCAR there can be no
turning back. There will be no peace without justice and no
reconciliation without reparations. The perpetrators of the crime must
make restitution for their deeds. The hypocrites and cowards must
confess, apologize and pay up!
Copyright (c) 2001 Ron Daniels. All Rights Reserved.
Racism: The Great Impediment Towards Real Social Change by Teresa Williams July 19, 2001
"Progressive: Moving forward; advancing;
proceeding insteps; promoting or favoring political or social reform;
Liberal" (Webster's II Dictionary)
As many are preparing for the upcoming U.N. World
Conference Against Racism in August which will be held in South Africa,
the word racism is receiving a tremendous amount of analysis and
attention - long overdue. Although there have been great efforts and
initiatives to address racism in America (namely the Clinton
Administrations' Initiative on Race), there has been no real sustaining
dialogue about racism on a national level nor any strategic effort to
acknowledge and dismantle racism in our society.
Racism is indeed a word that evokes tremendous
reaction, emotion, guilt, rage and in many cases, denial. For many
people of color in the American context, it is a household word that we
have grown up with over generations. Our very survival and maturation
process was often measured in terms of how we were able to cope with
instances of racism in our daily lives and how we were to relate to the
white folks who were the beneficiaries and perpetrators of a racist
social system that constructed and dictated American society (and the
world) largely through the lens of a white supremacist masculinist
paradigm and a capitalist framework.
In order to discuss issues of racism in the
American context, we must also be prepared to discuss the history of the
American experience from both the perspectives of non-white and white
people and we must be prepared to discuss the implications of white
privilege and class privilege within a capitalist framework. We must
also be prepared to discuss the culture of violence which exacerbates
and intersects with racism and other systems of oppression within our
society (i.e. - genocide) which are a direct reflection of the
historical violence and exploitation of non-whites - namely Native
Americans, Enslaved Africans and Mexican people. More than anything, we
must be committed to breaking the conspiracy of silence and the blatant
denial of racism in progressive circles and organizations of social
Racism has often been perceived as something that
is practiced in institutionalized systems of government, corporate
America or places which are deemed 'mainstream'. It is often not
recognized as being endemic in settings where individuals are engaged in
activism and social change and who proudly assert 'progressive
principles and social action' under the banner of numerous causes and a
multiplicity of social and global concerns. One can work for
environmental justice, women's rights or raise a fist against
globalization without naming or addressing racism because it is
convenient to dismiss racism as something that happens elsewhere and not
in the midst of a progressive agenda or organization.
Many white liberals feel that if they are
addressing other issues of societal oppression, they need not focus
directly on racism, especially if they have a few token faces of color
in the mix to give the work environment an image of' diversity'. Another
extreme example would be to align one's organization with that of a
black organization to be perceived as being progressively anti-racist
and 'down for the cause'. For it is seen as safe, politically correct
and convenient to be an ally of an organization or project of color than
to address issues of racism within one's own organization first -
despite the hypocrisy and contradiction of being anti-racist and
progressive. Racism is often not seen in the context of white liberal
social activism because it runs the risk of bringing people to terms
with their own internalized racist practices and assumptions which go
largely ignored in their work environments and their personal
lives. Progressive whites are going to have to take more responsibility
for naming and dismantling the system of racism and oppression in
America and not leave it to people of color to continue this education
process for them.
Racism and oppression cannot be conveniently
packaged and separated from social and global issues because they are
deeply entrenched within the modus operandi of domination, white
privilege, control and human exploitation. To separate the reality of
racism and oppression from globalization is to imply that globalization
is all about class struggle and exploitative measures being used against
people who are economically and socially marginalized by corporate
powers. Globalization is the modern face of cultural imperialism and
neo-colonization that greatly affects people of color around the world
while hegemonizing a value system of extreme consumerism and
materialism. Globalization is racism and classism in twenty-first
century praxis coupled with the gross sexualization and devaluation of
females. It is engineered by white male supremacy with an intention to
dominate the global economy via a homogenized assimilation of values and
lifestyle that reflect and affirm a Euro-centric ethos.
Because ours is a nation that has not focused on
the merits and insidious barriers of white-skinned privilege and the
dominant lens of white supremacy that pervades our media, education and
daily lifestyles, racism has not been viewed as something that shapes
our national psyche and attitudes. We exists and interact with each
other using numerous hidden dialogues and euphemisms we have skillfully
learned to navigate around the topic of race and racism in this country.
We have successfully omitted any reference to the atrocities of our
violent collective history and what this has done to us as a people and
we have in many ways colluded with the national governing mind to
silence our speech and our rage. For many whites, they are proud of
their white privilege and the fact that they need to feel an innate
sense of superiority to people of color to affirm their own white
identity. They can work for justice causes and lay claim to having some
connection with oppressed people but this selective activism should not
exempt them from becoming more committed and engaged in anti-racism work
in this country.
Tim Wise and Kendall Clark are two white
anti-racism activists whose extensive writings and lectures are having a
tremendous impact on the dialogue surrounding white privilege and racism
in this country. Their forthright and honest manner of addressing racism
and their willingness and courage to discuss the privileges of whiteness
and white supremacy sets an important precedent for what all progressive
or liberal white people should be doing on an ongoing basis if this
country is serious about moving forward on dismantling racism. In his
essay, "The Global Privileges of Whiteness", Clark alludes to
how white racism in America today has not disappeared but has in fact
evolved into a myriad of other forms:
"The average White American's attitudes about
race and racism are a mixture of self-congratulation and defensiveness -
"Yes, America has had some episodes of racism and racial bias, but
that's all clearly in the past..." In truth, White racism hasn't
gone anywhere. Its tenor and tone have evolved; now it's expressed in
carefully coded messages rather than in crudely overt themes. White
racism, and the White supremacist ideology it reflects, and the network
of White privilege it maintains, are alive and well". -- [The
Global Privileges of Whiteness by Kendall Clark <http://www.monkeyfist.com/articles/764>]
Tim Wise is a Southern-based anti-racism activist
who is actively engaged in confronting white supremacy and supremacists
(i.e.- David Duke) and has written extensively about racism, white
privilege and the hypocrisy of white liberalism. In his piece,
"Racism, White Liberals and the Limits of Tolerance", Wise
addresses the failure of progressive organizations and institutions to
address the realities and existence of racism and bigotry in
environments which are not necessarily deemed as 'extremists' and which
are often prime incubators and breeding grounds of racist behavior:
"In other words, even to the extent that we
should concern ourselves with combating "hatred," or
"intolerance," be it of the individual or organized type, it
is still necessary to consider the ways in which such overt bigotry is
instilled by the larger workings of the dominant culture, and by
institutions run not by "extremists," but by acceptable,
respected and mainstream Americans. This is the vital context to the
politics of hatred which is rarely explored, let alone addressed by the
organizations who proclaim themselves dedicated to an antiracist
mission". --[Racism, White Liberals and the Limits of Tolerance by
Tim Wise - Lip Magazine, 4/12/00,<http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featwise_11.htm>]
Having recently returned to the U.S. in April, I
am constantly reminded how I must re-integrate myself into a culture
that is constructed around concepts of whiteness and rightness. Being
abroad allowed me to exist and personally grow within another cultural
reality and paradigm, speak another language and construct a different
pattern of meaning across language, culture and history. I am not
defined or dictated by any white agenda or constantly reminded of my
blackness therefore allowing me to experience a tremendous psychological
release from the social baggage of white folks (except when I must
periodically interact with those who transport their racist baggage and
superiority complexes with them to a foreign context). Touching down
upon American soil and coming through U.S. customs, I was immediately
reminded by those white male custom agents of my race and the society
that I was re-entering into. Those triggered physical reactions to white
racism that are an indelible part of my American existence had once
again been resurfaced as if they were fixated within my DNA.
Each day since my return, I have witnessed a
draconian shift towards intolerance and oppression more than ever before
in American society in the form of gentrification, re-segregation,
police brutality, racial profiling, prison incarceration and more
sophisticated and covert forms of racism and oppression in the
workplace. Being in the nation's capital, in politically progressive
spaces where I would least expect to find elements of blatant
insensitivity and bigotry, I am forced to examine the contradictions and
the arrogance of white people coupled with the internalized apathy and
quiescence by many people of color who have learned to 'shuffle and
survive' in oppressive environments at the expense of their cultural
identity. I struggle once again to navigate this course where racism is
liable to rear its ugly head at any given time and place in its attempt
to reinforce my place within American society as a black woman- despite
my experiences, skills and intelligence. If the nation's capital does
not reflect a solid commitment and concern for addressing racism in
America nor sets a national precedent for what should be done to
dismantle the systemic chains of oppression, then it sends a clear
message to the rest of the nation that racism and all forms of bigotry
are not to be taken seriously in this country. It is this constant
debilitating reality of racism in America coupled with the
progressive and democratic contradictions that often propel many people
of color like myself to seek refuge abroad beyond the narrow-minded
social constraints and tensions of white racism coupled with a
Progressivism has become a trend, a catch-all
phrase that allows any hidden agenda to go unnoticed so long as it looks
and sounds progressive. Going against the grain of the mainstream while
holding on to those aspects of the mainstream that are convenient and
beneficial. A progressive and a conservative can both operate from
varying degrees ands trains of racism and bigotry and at times, both can
The American prison industrial complex and the big
business of warehousing mass numbers of the poor, juveniles and adults
of color in conditions akin to Nazi Germany is a phenomenon that did not
germinate overnight. It was a carefully calculated strategy to control
those aspects of our population that are deemed as worthless and
impediments to the New World Order and social progress. While many may
analyze the plight of prisoners and carefully cite staggering
statistics, few are adamantly questioning or challenging the very social
system that has resulted in the incarceration of these human beings in
the first place and what impact these high incarceration rates are
having on communities of color and on our nation as a whole. Few are
willing to challenge the strains of fascism on the increase in American
society and few are willing to name institutionalized racism as a major
element in the criminal injustice system which directly mirrors and
breeds off the cyclical patterns of racism deeply entrenched within the
American social structure.
Having recently attended The Pro-Democracy
Convention which was held in Philadelphia in June to address and offer
election reform measures through the introduction of a Voter Bill of
Rights to Congress and to examine the atrocities of Election 2000 and
our electoral system, one recurring theme which was firmly echoed by Ron
Daniels, director of The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Rep.
John Conyers, Ted Glick and other speakers and participants was the need
to 'centralize racism and race in the current voting rights and
pro-democracy movement'. Professor Manning Marable of Columbia
University and a Co-Chair of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) stated in
his presentation that the fundamental problem in the USA is structural
racism and that it was necessary for us to confront the structural
racism within the context of this pro-democracy movement. He emphasized
the need to collectively build a grassroots movement from below towards
a multicultural democracy versus a white supremacist democracy.
Centralizing race and racism in every social movement illustrates a
willingness and commitment to dismantle racism at every level of our
progressive agenda and activism and this is something that white
activists and agents of social change must be prepared and committed to
do at this point of our collective struggle against any injustice or
oppression in this country. Those same institutionalized mechanisms that
disenfranchised black voters in Florida and across America have been
transmuted over the centuries in various strains and they are now
impacting the nation as a whole by making a mockery of our democratic
principles. What happened in Election 2000 should have never happened
and we should have been more capable of seeing the signs of this
institutionalized disenfranchisement which were embedded and inherent in
our society long before now. As clearly articulated by Timothy Marshall
and Ellen Chapnick of CCR in their opening comments during the
Convention, 'Those voting flaws were systemic and not accidental and the
fact that black males were most affected in this election was not an
White progressives in America cannot afford to
turn a blind eye to racism at this stage of the game. It is not enough
to diversify one's staff, to write impressive reports and policy papers
on social and political problems or to spearhead massive international
campaigns that detract away from the racist and fascist and principles
that haunt this nation. It is not enough to align one's organization
with another cause that is dealing with racism or bigotry to improve
your organizational standing as an ally nor is it enough to have a few
token non-threatening people of color as spokespeople who make their
white colleagues and staff feel comfortable in their white privilege,
hypocrisy and denial. It is not enough to label yourself as
'progressive' when you are in fact not progressing towards any real
reform related to racism and oppression in America and it is not enough
to institute projects and research on race-related issues without an
honest and committed effort to addressing your own racism first. And it
is certainly not enough to 'be ethnically inclined' by demonstrating
your knowledge of countries, ethnic clothes, food and music or 'fighting
for the rights of oppressed tribes in Nigeria or Afro-Columbians when
you drink Starbucks' coffee and live in stark white neighborhoods in the
Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and do not acknowledge or make any
sincere effort to address the injustice and inequities of black folks in
your own workplace and surrounding communities. Such is the privilege of
being white and progressive in the American context: one can be
selective in choosing how to deal with matters of race and 'difference'.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that as an
African-American woman, I have given myself permission to be my own
authority to write this commentary in order to weave together those
aspects that most affect and concern me in this country. Although I will
make no claim to be an authority on 'whiteness' or white privilege, I
can only construct my views and articulate my findings based upon my own
experiences and observations of white people as a woman of color and
conscience in American society and from my encounters and involvements
with white people who are committed to 'walking the talk' in their
efforts of addressing, unlearning and dismantling racism. I am equally
cognizant of the fact that as an American, I exist within an imperialist
and militarist nation which was constructed on capitalist values and
principles. Not a day goes by when I am not in a mode of resistance in
People of color in this country are not exempt
from working more on dismantling oppression and injustice in America.
But our struggle is a constant challenge as a collective (not
necessarily monolithic) group under white racism, domination and white
privilege and one that cannot be minimized. There are many impediments
in our struggle which are often fomented and exploited by
institutionalized forces in an effort to thwart our visions, unity and
goals for social change.
We need progressive white allies to do the work of
addressing racism first within their own families, communities and
organizations rather than seeking people of color to do the work for
them or with them before they have done their own soul-searching and to
acknowledge that racism does in fact exist. If we are really serious
about building a pro-democracy movement and ensuring that the democratic
rights and voices of all Americans are respected and valued, it is
important for us to collectively deal with the legacy of racism,
violence, exploitation and oppression in this country and by
centralizing the experiences and realities of people who are poor,
marginalized, discriminated against ,incarcerated and in all cases: who
do not possess white skin. This is, in my view, the real quintessence of
a progressive agenda for the 21st century.
Teresa Williams is a free-lance writer and
activist currently residing in the Washington, D.C. area. You may visit
her website at:<http://www.livegem.net/sojournercommunications>.
Copyright (c) 2001 Teresa Williams. All Rights
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Small, Stephen, Racist Ideologies in Tibbles, Anthony (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity, HMSO, 1994
The on-line history journal Common-place <www.common-place.org> devotes its entire July, 2001 issue to a deep and multi-faceted look at the tangled roots of race and slavery in the United States.
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism http://www.imadr.org