The Clintons: Back on the campaign trail with the help of the New York Times

This article was published at Salon.com on December 4, 2013 under the headline, “New York Times’ blind spot on Clinton and race.”

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The New York Times published a piece this week in the service of the Democratic Party’s campaign for the 2016 elections that reveals a grave misunderstanding of recent history. Reporters Amy Chozick and Jonathan Martin profiled the tactics of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, the 42nd president of the United States, to restore their fragile relationship with African-Americans in anticipation of the former’s 2016 presidential run. The Times frames it as an attempt to “to soothe and strengthen their relationship with African-Americans,” apparently strained after Bill’s 2008 comments about the Obama presidency.

Here is the motivation they assign to the Clintons:

This task [of courting the black vote] has taken on new urgency given the Democratic Party’s push to the left, away from the centrist politics with which the Clintons are identified. Strong support from black voters could serve as a bulwark for Mrs. Clinton against a liberal primary challenge should she decide to run for president in 2016.

It would have been illuminating, and accurate as well, to distinguish between Democratic Party functionaries and Democratic voters in their description; I don’t see much in the way of Democratic politicos’ “push to the left”: NDAA 2012/2013, bank bailouts, the ACA, among other laws, don’t strike me as overly progressive.

Chozick and Martin assiduously cover the various black leaders with whom the Clintons have consorted since Hillary’s resignation as secretary of state earlier this year. Along with that coverage is a telling, if not accurate, description of Bill Clinton’s legacy, which Hillary will surely be relying on to vouch for her “progressive” credentials. Here is perhaps the most remarkable paragraph of the article:

Mr. Clinton has a rich, if occasionally fraught, history with African-Americans. He was a New South governor and a progressive on race who would eventually be called “the first black president” by the author Toni Morrison. But he infuriated blacks in 2008 when, after Mr. Obama won a big South Carolina primary victory, he seemed to dismiss the achievement by reminding the press that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had won the state twice and calling Mr. Obama’s antiwar position “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

Many African-Americans took Mr. Clinton’s fairy tale comment to mean that Mr. Obama’s candidacy itself was a hopeless fantasy.

It is true that black Americans were mightily irritated by Bill’s comments. But that’s hardly the only source of the injury.

(Un)surprisingly, even as Chozick and Martin tritely repeat Toni Morrison’s description of Clinton as the first black president, proudly repeated by Bill (and ad nauseam by mainstream media), they don’t offer any context for her remarks.

Morrison, writing in the New Yorker in 1998, was reflecting on the Republicans’ move to impeach Bill Clinton in the aftermath of revelations of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, his intern at the time. She says:

African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: “No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.”

It is clear that Morrison is poetic and pained here. She analogizes the experiences faced by Clinton to those faced all too often by black men. There is much that can be said about this piece. But the cynicism of Clinton and his supporters is such that her phrase was co-opted as an endorsement of his “progressive” politics, rather than what it signaled at the very least; it is a searing insight into the inferior, abject status of black men in the United States at the end of the millennium. And here is Morrison in her own words in 2008.

But Chozick and Martin, in their own perhaps subconscious cynicism merely repeat Morrison’s endorsement and omit any discussion of Clinton’s policies during his two terms as president, or during his time as governor of Arkansas.

The first “black” president and his partner in devastation proudly designed the prototype of Clinton’s famous 1996 welfare reform bill when he was the governor of Arkansas. Women who applied for aid from the state were required, among other indignities, to name the potential fathers of their children. Yes, yes, save your objections: This policy was created to search out “deadbeat dads,” and get them to pay child support.

But somehow it never occurred to many — not the press, not white liberals, not liberal feminists, much less the Clintons (if they cared at all) — that such a reform would only be effective in further humiliating already poor women, women who, had they other options, would never have resorted to the state for help. Here’s a brilliant letter from a Seattle feminist to N.O.W. back in 2007, which sets out the various assumptions and implications of welfare reform.

The ballast for welfare reform exploited the racial antagonism against black women that was inflated and gained momentum under Ronald Reagan’s administration. But as many, from Barbara Ehrenreich to digby to Jason DeParle, point out, the Clintons and their Democratic buddies endorsed the righteous smokescreen that “workfare” was needed to teach the poor how to keep a job rather than asking for money, and to teach poor (black) women “chastity training.” Patronizing? Racist? Those words don’t even cover half of it, especially as they’re accompanied by the convenient selective amnesia about the legacy of slavery and the still-existent practice of institutional discrimination against blacks. We can see this in the history of the drug war, the prison industry, red-lining, not to mention plain old-fashioned racism as seen in our public school system, post-secondary admissions practices, and employment across multiple industries.

Hillary’s express support for welfare reform enabled Bill to get the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed. Peter Edelman, a senior Clinton appointee who resigned in protest of the bill, pointed out that this was the “worst thing Bill Clinton has done.” Due to the remarkable efforts of the “first black president” and his wife, and like-minded “liberals” and conservatives who believed that the poor needed to be taught to climb out of a “culture of poverty,” welfare was no longer the entitlement that it had been for decades (and should have remained as such). Rather, it was transformed into a sporadic privilege periodically and provisionally bestowed on the poor, all the while leaving millions more in poverty. As Edelman pointed out in 2011, that 1996 bill made things much worse for the poor: “There are now people who cannot find work, and who cannot get welfare.”

Needless to say, Democrats and Republicans have managed to augment, enhance, exacerbate the level of nationwide poverty through its support of banking deregulation and absence of serious sanctions for bankers and subprime mortgage companies.

When Chozick and Martin write about Bill Clinton as a “progressive on race,” I have to wonder which criteria they use to measure. They use certain famous black politicians’ comments (such as those of Democratic Rep. James Clyburn or Rep. Elijah Cummings) or public gestures (such as sitting next to “friend and rival” and former Democratic Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder at Howard University’s May 2013 commencement) at face value and out of context. To gauge race progress by which friends a white Democrat sits next to — doesn’t this strike anyone as uncomfortably close to the “Some of my best friends” cliché?

Why not consider the effects of NAFTA and WTO, which decimated the manufacturing industry that employed enormous numbers of African-Americans? Many journalists and left economists have detailed the detrimental impact of the offshoring of corporations, the forgiveness of taxes, the eradication of labor protections for foreign nationals who work at formerly American companies. Why does none of this figure into the assessment of “racial progress”? Even one paragraph might have allowed for the possibility that the Times was engaged in some critical questions about the releases and information that they were being fed by the Clinton campaign.

Why not consider the effects of the 1996 Immigration Reform Bill, which was a precursor to the enormous anti-immigration tide that has swept the country, enhanced by the right-wing and neo-patriotic impulses of both Democrats and Republicans in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks?

Why not consider the effects of the 1994 Crime Bill, which heralded in “three strikes” legislation at the federal level, also signed under the “first black president”? The expansion of the death penalty in the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Act?

I can hear objections that Hillary should be able to run on her own record. OK, why not examine a few of her votes? Remember, it was Sen. Russ Feingold — not Sen. Clinton, or Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, or Secretary of State John Kerry — who stood up against the USA Patriot Act, as a harbinger of a (by now) vengeful, 12-year, racist and arbitrary tide of vitriol against Muslims in the U.S., Iraq, Afghanistan, U.K., Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere in the world. How about on the 2002 authorization to invade Iraq? AUMF 2005? The 2007 surge in Iraq? She voted in favor of them. To her credit, she voted against the 2008 FISA bill, citing checks on presidential authority, even as elsewhere she has been in support of increasing it. How does she feel about WikiLeaks? Edward Snowden? The death penalty (supports it, but not for Iran).

These are hardly left votes. These are hardly liberal votes. These are hardly racially progressive votes.

Let’s not judge whether someone is a “race progressive” — especially a politician — by the utterances of his/her friends. Presumably, journalists understand that the notion of an alliance does not confirm the truth of one’s race politics; it merely demonstrates that all other concerns have been provisionally subordinated in order to further one particular goal. Sure, we can call it pragmatic, strategic, realpolitik. But regardless of the term used, journalists — of all people — know that citing such alliances does not offer a valuable insight or confirmation about the truth of one’s politics.

I tell my students that if they want to write about politics effectively and forcefully, they must major in something other than journalism: history, sociology, ethnic studies, politics — something other than a field that disciplines its students to forget that accurate narratives have a long-seated, deeply buried history that cannot simply be articulated through a repetition of sound bites aired by corporate news media or covering poll results. Facts, those snippets that refer to a certain state of the world, must be assembled and grounded by searching through indirect, long-buried records that have long slipped the public (and corporate media’s) memory. Such an excavation requires the skills of an archaeologist and the critical distance of an outsider — not the propitiatory writing skills of someone familiar with the well-worn seat of an election press bus or who lunches with his subjects on a regular basis.

Of course, that assumes that establishment media such as the Times is interested in reportage from a critical perspective. Perhaps that’s the most flawed assumption of all.

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The Irony of MLK Day 2013: A Renewed Invitation into White Supremacy

I wonder how many consider today to be a magnificent symbolic coincidence rather than a Manichean irony: today, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the greatest civil rights leaders of modern United States history—a man who went to jail to defend the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of minorities and to speak against injustice at home and abroad.  Today, we will also commemorate the re-election of the President of the Unites States and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner—a man who supports a drug war that incarcerates hundreds of thousands of black and brown minorities; kills U.S. citizens and foreign nationals; eviscerates civil liberties for alleged terrorists and citizens alike; deports 1.5 million migrants and separate parents from their children; protects bankers while allowing poor homeowners to lose their homes; and persecutes whistleblowers without mercy.

There are those who insist that the wrongs of the last four years should be attributed to the malevolent impulses and political calculations of Congress. It is true that Congress can’t be exculpated from its decade-long foaming submission to the American drive to control what it refuses to try to understand, namely the War on Terror. Its shills and hacks have quickly leaped on the bandwagon to push (lean?) forward to sanction a military budget bill that continues the expansion of the drone program and the U.S.’s continued military presence in Afghanistan along with the expansion of bases in large swaths of Africa, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Congress enthusiastically pushed for the renewal of FISA in 2008 (along with the eager support of Senator Obama). In 2013, Congress again with the relentless leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, pushed for the passage of the renewal of FISA (without oversight) for five years, along with the passage of NDAA 2012 and 2013, despite the clear purpose of those bills to eviscerate the separation of powers. Congress eagerly endorsed Obama’s loud requests for unilateral presidential authority to arrest and detain any and all persons that it deems a danger to the United States—US citizens and foreigners alike.

With a couple of exceptions, our politicians in Congress are without initiative or honor.  But Congress is not the source of numerous other wrongdoings.  My optimism for this Presidency has all but evaporated in the face of Obama’s policies—unhampered by Congress–designed to tear apart families in the United States and around the world.  I cannot celebrate the second inauguration of the POTUS, under whose watch in the last 4 years, the minds and lives of thousands of innocents have been broken, if not downright destroyed. By drones, invasions, bombs, torture, solitary confinement, renditions, due process-less proceedings, secrecy, and lack of accountability or transparency.  Instead, I will be retracing the steps that have led to the amorality of the Democratic Party and the Presidential Administration that has been able to retain and expand some of the most heinous policies of the previous Republican Administration, and which has been able to initiate some horrifically destructive policies of their own (click on the link to see just a few of the actions I have in mind).

Today, some writers will invoke Dr. Martin Luther King’s courageous April 4, 1967 speech, and rightfully so. King calls for us to see the connections between the fight for civil rights at “home” and the injustice of the U.S.’s incursions, bombings, deaths, and destruction abroad.  He tells us of the response by those who are puzzled by his challenge to US continued attack in Vietnam:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?

In his long, detailed, passionate response—which is as apt today as it was in 1967, Dr. King pointed to one source of his awareness of the links between peace and civil rights:

It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

It is a prescient statement that resonates with the imperialist policies of the United States today. The men and women who enthusiastically endorse sending our young people to war will not suffer the same hurtful ramifications as those men and women who are sent to war–or those on the receiving end of drones, bombs, guns, and destruction. Dr. King’s speech itself is long, insightful, poignant and courageous. Please take some time to read it today if you haven’t already.

What, if anything, has changed between the circumstances of American imperialism in the 1960’s and today? I think it is this: that more and more men and women of color have been invited into the offices of White Supremacy to share in the destruction of other men and women of color who are vulnerable, disfranchised, and rapidly being eviscerated through the policies of a multi-racial white supremacy.

As philosopher and political activist Dr. Cornel West pointed out last week, if Dr. King were alive today, he would have been detained and arrested for his associations with then-terrorist Nelson Mandela, under the auspices of NDAA. Dr. King might have also been arrested for his political speech, namely, his ability to rouse millions with his stirring calls for political justice in the face of American-led atrocities.

By remaining steadfast in their allegiance to illegal overtures in domestic and foreign policy, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Deval Patrick, Susan Rice, Carmen Ortiz, Preet Bharara and other leaders of color have helped the structures of White Supremacy profit and flourish: The imperialist state has extended its hand to brown and black “liberals” in order to help them into the reigning structures of Imperialism.  It has been remarkable to watch leaders of color as they refuse to challenge the wrongful legacy of colonialism and Jim Crow.  Yes, the civil rights of whites have also been slowly scrubbed away, but—with the exception of poor whites—it is much less than the wide-scale evisceration of the peaceful ability to live for Muslims in the U.S., Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Malians, Afghans, Iraqis.

I think there is another question that we must come to terms with: What is the function of an African American president in a society that has clearly not come to terms with its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, legalized slavery and racial apartheid in the form of mass incarceration and the widespread criminalization of Blacks?

As Prof. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva points out unflinchingly, given the history in this country, how is it even possible that we could have elected a Black man to the presidency in 2008?

This brutally frank and funny 29 minute interview is worth watching in its entirety. But FF to 4:35 to hear some of Bonilla-Silva’s answer: The successful election of Barack Obama was an invitation to do the dirty work of White Supremacy for it.  He points out that in Puerto Rico, where he grew up, it was hardly unusual to see black leaders engage in the same racial apologetics and detrimental politics that the former colonial Spanish and current American government engaged in vis-à-vis Puerto Rico’s inhabitants. It doesn’t surprise him that this can be so.

There are many other such examples that we can choose from that illustrate similar white supremacist dynamics. Take for example, the White Supremacist government of Rhodesia that selected Bishop Muzorewa to take over the daily administration of its racist state.

But we have even more recent and better-known examples: Bush Administration’s former Secretary, Condoleeza Rice, DOJ attorney John Yoo (author of the Torture Memos), and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who created the marvelous quick-sandlike legal structure of Guantanamo and others.  Their invitations into white supremacy were still novelties, but identifiable because they did so under the auspices of a Conservative Administration that could make few credible claims to anti-racist activity. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Republicans were able to promote their claims to be non-racist by using the presence of these individuals as cultural symbols to distract many of us—especially and including liberal Democrats in the Senate and Congress—from its overt return to a racial mission in the Middle East under the auspices of a colonizing/civilizing project. The War on Terror could thereby be couched as an ostensible hunt for justice and legitimized aim for retribution.

In order to engage the issue of state-led racism initiated, deployed and conducted effectively by men and women in power, we must address a system of multiracial white supremacy. This is a terrifying and politicized term. But we need to wrap our minds around it.  A multiracial white supremacy is a system of power that has invited in—or exploited wherever it could– people of color in order to wage institutional, legal, political assaults on other black, brown, and poor people—at “home” and internationally.

Four years ago, Ethnic Studies Professor Dylan Rodriguez wrote a frank and prescient assessment of the election of the first Black President. It is still painful to read, because it is still relevant. In 2008, Rodriguez wrote:

Putting aside, for the moment, the liberal valorization of Obama as the less-bad or (misnamed) “progressive” alternative to the horrible specter of a Bush-McCain national inheritance, we must come to terms with the inevitability of the Obama administration as a refurbishing, not an interruption or abolition, of the normalized violence of the American national project. To the extent that the subjection of indigenous, Black, and Brown people to regimes of displacement and suffering remains the condition of possibility for the reproduction (or even the reinvigoration) of an otherwise eroding American global dominance, the figure of Obama represents a new inhabitation of white supremacy’s structuring logics of violence.

The only phrase I would change is “new inhabitation.” It is no longer so.

Rodriguez ends his essay with the following:

At best, when the U.S. nation-building project is not actually engaged in genocidal, semi-genocidal, and proto-genocidal institutional and military practices against the weakest, poorest, and darkest—at home and abroad—it massages and soothes the worst of its violence with banal gestures of genocide management. As these words are being written, Obama and his advisors are engaged in intensive high-level meetings with the Bush administration’s national security experts. The life chances of millions are literally being classified and encoded in portfolios and flash drives, traded across conference tables as the election night hangover subsides. For those whose political identifications demand an end to this historical conspiracy of violence, and whose social dreams are tied to the abolition of the U.S. nation building project’s changing and shifting (but durable and indelible) attachments to the logic of genocide, this historical moment calls for an amplified, urgent, and radical critical sensibility, not a multiplication of white supremacy’s “hope.”

Instead, we saw the precise inverse of Prof. Rodriguez’s calls for action: Not only invocations of “white supremacy’s hope,” but languor and denial. In the last 12 months, we heard a constant (white) feminist and (multiracial) liberal moral “shaming” of those—especially whites–who attempted to point to a reality-based truth.  In this sense, the last four years have enhanced the wishes of a dominant power structure that deflects charges of racism through the public responses of “post-racist” liberal feminists, Democrats, and pundits who support African Americans and other minorities in leadership positions while marginally attending to the systemic force-feeding of a US military with black and brown bodies; while remaining silent in the face of the mass penalties that brown and black people face in this country under the auspices of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs; massive foreclosures on homes disproportionately affecting minorities; and in one of the latest international affronts to people of color—while insisting on Israel’s “Right of Self-Defense” in the face of what is clearly a bullying and brutish beat-down of a long oppressed Palestinian population.

What is egregious about the latter is not only the clear indifference and neglect of basic human rights for a group of people whose land has been increasingly diminished, but the willful blindness and insistence that those who have been imprisoned, brutalized, emaciated through sanctions, bombs, and sheer daily terror at the end of the legal machinery and weapons of a colonial police state—are on an equal playing field with a state with sophisticated arms funded and supported by the United States.

As we enter the second term of a Presidency that has proved that the wide-scale destruction of black, brown and Muslim peoples for political gain can be conducted spectacularly and quite profitably, I wonder what it will take for Americans to take stock of their racist and imperialist legacy to challenge the injustices waged at home and abroad? Is it even possible to remember the legacy of Dr. King without being ashamed at the intentional destruction of people of color at home and internationally? And if we can, doesn’t that say more about the dessication of the American moral conscience than anything else?

Meditations on White Privilege and Racial Injustice

Update I & II (below):

In the months leading up to last week’s elections, there were multiple occasions when white liberals deployed the charge of racial and gender “privilege” against other whites. Such accusations were lobbed against those who argued that over the last four years, the Democratic Administration had pursued policies that resulted in serious physical, social, and economic harms against men and women of color in the United States and internationally.

The damage wrought upon minorities under a 9-11 regime began with the Bush Administration, which intensified the scrutiny of all Muslims. In many cases, being a Muslim male became a criminal act. That criminality has been continued and expanded under the Obama Administration. More generally, the active destruction and criminalization of Black and brown men and women can be seen in numerous policies promoted over the last four years.

The U.S. government’s message that poor and vulnerable populations of color are worth little, or even expendable, has been amplified.  It is not too extreme to suggest that the right to live has been greatly mitigated for poor, and vulnerable black and brown peoples. And that is in the U.S.; internationally, the Obama Administration has amplified its focus in assault on brown and black populations of various countries, between drone wars, invasions, and other wars.

Yet, the response to commentators—at least those who are white or male–who have precisely criticized POTUS/Dems on their assaults on the civil and human rights violations of Black, brown, and Muslim folks has been to accuse them of white or male “privilege.” This is a bewildering accusation, especially as it has been lobbed by other white men and women (Black and brown critics of the POTUS/Dems’ racial politics have been largely ignored by those same detractors).

Stated simply, we are not talking about white privilege here. The term “white privilege” is increasingly used for the public moral shaming of whites whose politics other whites disagree with. Not for that reason alone, white privilege is becoming an increasingly ineffective term. White “privilege” relies on its relative politeness to obfuscate the most urgent concern in post 9-11 United States: the state-led power that facilitates the emaciation of vulnerable populations.  By state-led power, I refer to directives, laws, bills, and executive/congressional endorsements of policies that authorize the neglect, indifference, or active harm or persecution of US “minorities” and dark foreign nationals in the US and in nations with whom the US is at odds.

We have ample evidence of this: the expansion of the drug war and more frequent prosecutions of petty drug possessions (despite state—approved medical marijuana laws)[*];  FBIled entrapment of Muslim men for terrorist acts; counterterrorism prosecutions in which the defense is required to do its work with its hands tied (through the absence of known charges, evidence or Constitutional guidelines).  As well, the conditions of incarceration have been shocking for Muslim men imprisoned in the United States for dissenting speech acts (which is about the only provable “crime” in many cases): solitary confinement, Special Administrative Measures which restrict the ability to pray or pray in Arabic, visiting time with family, having fresh air. The list goes on.

Under the Obama Administration, we have seen the institutionalized expansion of unchecked executive power to determine which US citizens, children, and foreign nationals to kill (NDAA), to arrest for protest (H.R. 347), to arrest and cross-check with FBI databases for visa violations (Secure Communities). We now take for granted preventive detention, kill lists, and centralized surveillance in the form of Fusion Centers.

Certainly, there is cultural, “ironic,” aesthetic, media racism–but the most immediate and dire racism is that involved in the violation of the political and legal rights of human beings. Of U.S. and foreign nationals.  When white men point these out, they are using their privilege to highlight those harms to other populations. The attention that they draw to the assaults inflicted upon black and brown bodies doesn’t make them racist. It makes them the allies of black and brown folks who are being injured. It makes them my allies insofar as the harms done to black and brown women and men are among my most urgent concerns.

In fact, many of us, white and brown and black have different kinds and degrees of privilege. But after the 2008 elections and the last four years of a Black president, it is far from clear that we have a more racially progressive society. While a certain visual racial harmony is actively promoted in television and media in the form of interracial friendships, relationships, and children, it obscures the material injustice that is waged below the surface.

Racial or gender progressivism cannot—should not– be assessed from symbolic gestures such as the invitation to cocktails and dinner at the White House, or the public performance of a marriage, or the camera-mediated emotions of public figures.  They may be comforting, but they do not—should not–detract from attention to the damage that state-led policies are imposing on black, white, brown human bodies or psyches.

The racial injustice that must be urgently challenged falls along the grid of human rights violations, that is, the violations to one’s human dignity and well-being. Violations of basic human rights—those which are not articulated in the US constitution, but which nevertheless follow from a shared understanding of humanity—can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR). Some argue that the UNDHR is more of a normative—moral—framework, than a political framework. In other words, the idea behind the UNDHR is that, while a number of these rights appear to be similar to those articulated in the US Constitution (for good reason: they were co-authored by Eleanor Roosevelt, spouse of FDR), they are considered to apply to human beings regardless of a person’s national affiliation, and they speak to a positive understanding of rights which emphasizes social and psychic well-being.

I understand the myriad arguments about the unenforceability of the UNDHR. The formidable Ms. A(rendt) was dubious of the capacity to invoke human rights when human beings are forced outside a political system—when they become stateless. My concern, however, is that we must shift our deeply American—myopic, culturally narcissistic, exceptionalist–worldview to consider a different normative model for racial and human justice: one that attends to the well-being or flourishing, of human beings.

Racism and whiteness, as we’ve seen throughout this election and after, often go together. But whiteness can also be used to highlight and criticize the civil and human rights violations that are imposed on vulnerable Black and brown populations, without deserving the term “racism,” or “privilege.” In post 9-11 United States, those who engage in the latter—by allying themselves with darker vulnerable populations–often reap few benefits by speaking out against state-led racism, xenophobia, and material racial and gender injustice.


[*] Will the Feds continue this policy even after 2 successful state measures to legalize marijuana in WA and CO?

Update I: Perhaps an answer to my question above: A petition to insist on states’ rights to legalize, regulate, and tax pot and booze.

Update II: I should note that this essay doesn’t preclude the fact that, even as allies, white progressives have been susceptible to not seeing the racial complexities of imperialism–as we can all be. For example, as in the cases of Syrian and Iran, it is possible to be against the assaults on human beings and also against direct military intervention. The following posts explore these complexities in nuanced ways:
1. Guest blogger Prof. Omar Dahi on Syria.
2. Raha Iranian Feminist Collective essay on the moral and political complexities of a progressive response to Iran.
3. A letter also by Raha on this blog which articulates beautifully a similar point.

Emily Hauser’s Disgusting Indifference to Women of Color

Update I & Update 2: Below

On yesterday’s on-line “HuffPo Live Debate” on supporting Obama, between Daniel Ellsberg, Daily Beast writer Emily Hauser, and Naked Capitalism writer Matt Stoller, Hauser quickly distinguished herself by trying to shame Stoller into shutting up about basic economic facts that pertained to women and illuminated POTUS in a less than sterling light.

It was the usual run of the mill “white women’s” discussion, reminiscent of the pablum that Katha Pollitt was spewing in January of this year. Hauser scolded Matt Stoller for suggesting that anyone might have a serious “deal-breaking” problem with various policies of POTUS/Democrats.

the suggestion that my life and the life of my daughter, and the life of my mother, sister, and friends is more or the less the same under a Republican as it is under a Democrats is so wildly mistaken as to be delusional, frankly.

Here’s Hauser on the most important implications for the “50% of Americans who are women”:

A woman’s right to choice…A women’s right to bodily autonomy. A woman’s right to be a person. And we’ve seen the Democrats working to stem that tide.…But that doesn’t mean that I’ve agreed with everything [Obama’s] done, or everything that’s been done in Congress while [Obama’s] been there, not even by my fellow Democrats… We’re seeing the Democrats working to stem that tide …But I never expect to agree with everything everybody does, least of all of someone who has to be president of all Americans, least of all me and my fondest dreams

She continues:

But as a woman who’s raising my daughter, I tell you what, there’s no comparison that can be made between life in these United States under a potential Romney Presidency and life here under a second term with Obama.

Thank goodness that Emily Hauser has reminded us to focus on what’s important.

Reproductive rights matter. Plenty. But apparently—and this will be news to the Democrats and to a number of American feminists–they’re not the only issue that women—or men–should care about. To hear the Democrats and NOW and many other repro health organizations, the differences between O and R are HUGE—when it comes to women’s issues.  It’s true that O has mild leanings in favor of reproductive rights. But as I’ve written about over and over again on this blog—they’re mild and rather unaggressive in defending those rights. I’m thinking of Sec. of HHS Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to prevent access to OTC contraception despite widespread support; exempting Catholic organizations from providing contraception under Obama Health Insurance Subsidies (let’s just stop calling it Obamacare. It’s NOT healthcare. It’s a subsidy that draws insurance companies into the mix). It doesn’t count as big in O’s favor that he nominated 2 supposedly pro-choice Supreme Court justices (of which the only proof we have that they’ll be pro-choice is that they’re women), one of whom sided in favor of a conservative decision to limit access to reproductive rights. Of the other one, Kagan, very little favorable can be satisfactorily determined on the issue of choice.

Framing the feminist liberatory potential of an Obama win in the second term on the reproductive choice reduces women to (one—narrow—aspect of) their sexuality. It also ignores how many women—poor white women and women of color have either never had easy access to reproductive rights or have had their access slowly eroded well before now.

It is true that Obama supported and pushed through the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gives women a more flexible statute of limitations to sue for discriminatory wages; it doesn’t actually mandate that women be paid the SAME as men. Thank the good old religion of free markets for that. The Market! The Market! The Market will provide!

I’m going to extend Emily Hauser’s call to remember what’s important. Let me go out on that delusional limb to consider what the past 11 years—including the most recent 4– has brought women who are part of 50% of Americans AND the world.

Women and their well-being have been aggressively under attack by the current and previous POTUSes. Both the Republicans AND Democrats have attacked women’s psychic, physical, and social/economic well-being.  From a global perspective, like the penumbra of the Articles listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the well-being of a woman—any woman— depends on a range of rights that guarantee safety, well-being, keeping her children safe and protected, ensuring her community is intact because, in fact, it is in “the community in which alone the free and full development of [her] personality is possible.” And that includes a “cultural right to self-determination,” as has been suggested by some in the human rights community.

I know that international constitutions and conventions aren’t big in Hauser’s crowd, what with enemy combatants and all. But they’re a whole lot more protective of the interests of humans than American discussions. So I’m going to keep with that premise.

Such a perspective means that One’s Community Matters. That same view includes the right to be part of a continuing community, where a woman’s family, neighbors, friends, and extended relatives are intact, safe, and free of harm—from others and by the state.  When the daily existence of a woman consists of living in fear that her community is slowly being eviscerated, through drones, invasions, assaults, rapes by an invading army, sanctions, and open cultural vilification or outright hatred (as in the case of Islamophobia), then her well-being is no longer intact. Her psychic and physical and social existence is no longer safe from harm.

When a woman’s son or spouse or father or brother or cousin or uncle or nephew faces hourly risks of the following: being droned to death; being arrested for unknown reasons; disappearing into the indefinite detention hole for days, months, years at a time; rendered somewhere far away to be tortured; then she can no longer count on the right of cultural self-determination—because her culture is being demolished. Her family is being destroyed. Her community is disappearing. And her ability to determine herself disappears right along with the rest.

Now, I’m not big into sister-talk, but for the last 11 years (and yes, for the innumerate, that includes the last FOUR as well), my daily routine has involved waking up hearing about one or several of the following, and wondering about the women whose lives are shattered through the following policies and practices (and if the details bore you, or you don’t want to be confused with the facts, skip past the blue):

In the United States:

-More than 1 in 5 children live in poverty in 2011. That’s an increase from 1 in 6 children in 2000.

-1.2 million migrants deported in the last 3 years by the Department of Homeland Security (and that’s only in the first three years under a Democratic president).

-46,000 parental deportations of migrants who had US born children (and that’s just from the six month period of Jan-June 2011).

-1 in 9 Black men are in prison. 1 of 3 Black men can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.  These numbers aren’t diminished by the active drug war continued under the current Administration.

-African American & Latino homeowners suffered disproportionately more housing foreclosures than white men or women. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 17% of Latino homeowners, 11% of African homeowners are at risk for losing their homes. I have not been able to extract the number of women affected, but it’s safe to say black and brown women of color have also been disproportionately affected.

The current Administration did not cause these foreclosures. But according to Neil Barofsky, under Pres. Obama, the Treasury department deliberately and cynically did not use TARP money to help these homeowners despite the express bipartisan intent of the US Congress.

At most, the 49-state mortgage settlement brokered under President Obama will be at most a palliative, if not in fact harmful to these same families.

-Between 800-1000 Muslim men—or more–who are arrested on trumped-up charges made possible by the USA PATRIOT Act (which allows for pre-emptive policing, warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, interrogation).

-The entrapment, surveillance, and racial profiling of Muslim men in hundreds of mosques under the NYPD and FBI.

-the death of US citizens under the age of 16, like Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Senior Obama Advisor Robert Gibb’s response (at 2:40 in clip) to whether that was a moral move on POTUS’ part was to point out that Al-Aulaqi should have found a “far more responsible father.” Of course.

-A series of laws, designed and passed to allow the maximum, least-documented, aggressive targeting of Muslim men ALONG with maximum immunity for US government officials and security-related employees. There are so many. Just go read Glenn Greenwald. For the last 5 years.

Internationally:

35,000 have perished in Pakistan, where the US is waging a “shadow” war against “terror groups and militants.”These are deaths from direct violence: bombings, gunshot wounds, missile strikes, etc.

-A celebrated DRONE Program targeted towards militants in Pakistan. More than 3000 militants and civilians will have been killed, more than the number of those who died in the US on September 11, 2011. Other countries being droned include Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Philippines. Soon to be added: Mali.

-A celebrated “Secret Kill List,” configured and for the authority of the current POTUS.

-As of yesterday, the Secret Kill list will be expanded into a disposition matrix which will make the War on Terror a permanent part of the lives of men and the other 50% of US inhabitants—an ever-increasing list of name of people to kill—gathered by way of National Counterterrorism Center. Here’s an excellent piece that connects the dots.

*********

When American feminists tell me about the importance of protecting reproductive rights, do they believe that Black, Latino, undocumented, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani women have reproductive rights, too? Or is that one of those areas where we just can’t expect the Dems to protect “my fondest dreams”? Do we have obligations to hold the Dems accountable for active harms to women around the world?

When Emily Hauser tells me that about POTUS and the Dems’ aggressive attempts to “protect” the bodily autonomy of women—in the face of facts that dispute it, such as increased incarceration rates, poverty, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures for Black and Latina women, and increased every-other-kind-of-targeting for well-being of the brown (most often Muslim) women, I have to wonder what she thinks about the following:

Does the imprisonment/solitary confinement/indefinite incarceration of men–who are Muslim, black, Latino, Asian–count as a “gender issue”?

Does the economic and political detriment to women from having their sons, spouses, brothers, fathers entrapped and arrested–count as “a feminist issue”? By economic and political detriment, I mean the social ostracization, the material effect of the loss of income, the political vulnerability of having a male who is potentially the head of a household.

Does the deportation of hundreds of thousands of men AND women—and the separation of U.S. citizen/children from their parents annually count as an issue that “affects” women? By “affect,” I mean the the psychic, material, social vulnerability to survive, to thrive, to live free of fear and harm.  Does the legal adoption of those children to U.S. citizen parents and the subsequent break-up of families count as a “woman’s” issue?

And before someone tells me that that’s a patriarchal question—that women should be able to make their own decisions and survive independently of “their men,” let me suggest that we look around the US for a quick min: It’s a patriarchal society.

When Emily Hauser insists that she “can’t get everything for free,” I wonder what she thinks of the price black and brown women have to pay for their “reproductive rights.” That price is a hell of a lot more costly than hers: Her family isn’t being decimated through deportations, entrapments, surveillance, and indefinite detentions. There appear to be few male relatives in her life who are being decimated. And if there are, she doesn’t appear to care. Not so for most Muslim women.

To the ridiculous argument offered in that HuffPo Live “Debate” that we must support Obama, even thought he “is doing things that are disillusioning to us,” I agree: It IS disillusioning to have the POTUS take the lead on the extra-legal murders of people he and his staff think are terrorists—without EVER offering evidence. It IS a bit disillusioning to hear about a “disposition matrix.”  It IS disillusioning to wake up every day and hear about NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and the NYPD harassing Muslim men—who are the family members of Muslim women. Interrogating them. Incarcerating them indefinitely and without charges. Running kangaroo courts. Yes. A bit disillusioning. A bit.

When Daniel Ellsberg (and implicitly) Emily Hauser agree that the POTUS is a murderer, but still good on reproductive rights, I can’t help but think that Mr. Ellsberg, Ms. Hauser, just want to vote for Obama and the Democrats, regardless of ANY facts that detract from the ascription of his supposed moral righteousness. Regardless.

What a remarkable feat of hypocrisy, racist-guilt-tripping, and righteous wealthy American myopia to tell Matt Stoller and all the men that he’s supposed to stand in for, that “[he] doesn’t get to have a say on [her]body,” but that Hauser can cheer and clap as she anxiously runs to the polls to vote for a guy and his party who have aggressively, enthusiastically, and eagerly harmed the bodies of the loved ones of many, many US citizens and foreign nationals here and abroad—brown, black, Muslim,–their children, their spouses, their fathers, their brothers?

Emily Hauser’s feminism is the kind of feminism that deprioritizes the multiple dimensions of the well-being of black and brown women, in order to protect one aspect of women’s lives to detriment of so many others.  In light of these facts (which shouldn’t be taken to confuse your ideological commitments), I’d describe Hauser’s voting advice as telling Women of Color to “please f*ck off.”

**********************

Update I: I initially omitted the following facts because they happened before 2008. But because they are related to international women’s reproductive rights, I think they bear mentioning as part of the list of atrocities that the US has waged. Dem or Repub or 3rd party, it’s still our collective government waging the assault–and many Democrats voted to go into Iraq, as we know.

Iraqi women have suffered severe reproductive problems and have had children with birth defects as a result of years of cluster bombs: 1 of 2 children born in Falluja has birth defects. That’s 50%. One in Two. Between 2007-2010, 1 in 6 births ended in miscarriage.

Tens of thousands of Afghan women live on soil poisoned by depleted uranium (which has a half-life of 4.5 billion years), resulting in an 18-fold increase in the rate of cancer from 500 cases in 2004 to over 9000 cases in 2009? The damage to their reproductive systems is untold.

Update II (Oct. 27, 2012): In her column, “Not Voting for Obama,” Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report has another analysis of the harms wrought by the current Democratic Administration.  As she says:

If Democrats also believe in wars of aggression and bail outs and subservience to finance capital, Republicans are only left with abortion and gay marriage as issues to differentiate themselves.”

This conclusion, says Kimberly, has been brought on by progressives themselves:

“It is a lack of progressive activism which has precipitated this crisis. In the absence of strong and coordinated opposition to Democratic Party duplicity, progressives meekly go along with whatever bad deals are presented to them and then recoil in fear every four years when they are told that the barbarians are at the gate. Republicans only help make the case for this complicity with openly racist and misogynistic policies.” 

John Knefel: Adnan Latif Wrote to his Lawyer About Why He Wanted to End His Life

This article is reblogged from Alternet.org. It is a must-read and sheds more light on the needless and groundless circumstances that led Latif to give up all hope on his ever leaving Guantanamo Bay.I will refrain from calling this a tragedy: a tragedy is thought to be inevitable. Latif’s incarceration and suicide were anything but. What happened to Latif is a travesty. And there is plenty of blame to be assigned: to the past and current Presidential Administrations; the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Military, for starters.

What happened to Latif is still happening: and not only to Guantanamo detainees. Incarceration without due process rights, under unjust circumstances or false evidence is a regular event that happens to thousands of minorities–men and women–everyday in the United States: in U.S. prisons and detention facilities that hold migrants and refugees. More on this in a future post.

Dead Gitmo Prisoner’s Tragic Letter About Why He Gave Up on Life

by John Knefel

September 13, 2012  |

Adnan Latif was found dead in his cell on September 10th, 2012, just a day before the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. He was 32. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade, despite a 2010 court ruling that ordered the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Latif’s release forthwith,” due to lack of evidence that he had committed any crime. He suffered at the hands of the US government in ways that most people can’t begin to comprehend, and his death should be a reminder that the national shame that is Guantanamo Bay lives on and now enjoys bipartisan support.

Reexamining a letter  he wrote to his lawyer David Remes in December of 2010 shows the depths of his despair near the end of his life. His letter begins simply. The first paragraph is just one devastating sentence: “Do whatever you wish to do, the issue is over.” He then goes on to describe Guantanamo as, “a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know [sic] except the language of power, oppression, and humiliation for whoever enters it.”

“Anybody who is able to die,” Latif writes, “will be able to achieve happiness for himself, he has no hope except that.”

He continues:

“The requirement…is to leave this life which is no longer anymore [sic] called a life, instead it itself has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul. I will not allow any more of this and I will end it.”

Latif attempted suicide in 2009 by slitting his wrists, and his attorney, David Remes, has said that he tried to kill himself on other occasions as well.

A car accident in 1994 left Latif with a head injury, which he was attempting to get treated in Afghanistan when he was captured near the border by Pakistani authorities. In January, 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo, with the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first detainees. According to the ACLU, Latif was cleared to be released in 2004, 2007, 2009, and again in 2010 by US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy. The Obama DOJ appealed the 2010 decision, in part because of a policy of not transferring detainees to Yemen, and so Latif remained in custody – not because of what he had done (which was nothing), but because of where he was born. The decision to appeal his release wasn’t a holdover from the Bush era. That was an affirmative decision made by the Obama administration, and any supporters who hoped Obama would close Guantanamo Bay should understand that fact.

Latif is far from the only prisoner still held at Guantanamo despite being okayed for release. “Over half of the people left in Gitmo have been cleared for years,” said Cori Crider, Legal Director at Reprieve in charge of managing litigation on secret prisons,who has represented clients detained at Guantanamo. Crider went on to say that although conditions at the prison are better than they were in 2002, indefinite detention is enough to break people.  “That young man, who was, say, twenty when he is seized, is thirty. He sees his life slipping away from him with no sign of release. Hopelessness takes lives at Gitmo now.”

There are, unsurprisingly, international legal ramifications to Latif’s death as well. “When a Government deprives a person of their liberty and keeps them in detention, it exercises almost complete control over that person’s security and well-being. Because of this control, if a person dies in custody, there is a presumption under international law of government responsibility,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, Former Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. “Thus, for any death in custody, the government must accept legal responsibility, or affirmatively demonstrate that it was not responsible for the death.” The understandable reaction that this is merely another example in an already disgracefully long list of international crimes committed since 9/11 only underscores how radical and warped US national security and foreign policy has become.

“A world power failed to safeguard peace and human rights and from saving me. I will do whatever I am able to do to rid myself of the imposed death on me at any moment of this prison.”

Adnan Latif’s letter is in full below. (Click to read a larger version)

Julián Castro’s Grandmother’s American Dream

On Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro gave a moving speech about how his family achieved the American Dream. His grandmother, an orphan, moved at age 6 from Mexico to San Antonio in 1920 to live with relatives. Though she spent her life working at low-wage jobs, cleaning houses and babysitting, to help her family, her move eventually allowed for Julian’s mother to grow up and go to college. Eventually came Julian and his twin brother Joaquin, who grew up to go to Stanford University and then to Harvard Law School.  Notably, they followed in the footsteps of the current President.

What Castro omitted to mention last night or on other occasions where he has insisted that President Obama’s actions have benefited Latinos tremendously is that the American Dream was much more plausible for Mexican migrants in the 1920’s than it is today. There isn’t much information about the circumstances of Julian Castro’s grandmother’s migration, but according to historian Harvey Levenstein, by the 1920’s,“…half a million Mexicans were counted legally crossing the southern border. The number of Mexicans who did not bother with the immigration formalities was not known, but it was certainly not insignificant.”

Whether or not Julian Castro’s grandmother was a legal migrant, her family didn’t have to worry about her “legality,” because it hadn’t yet become an issue. It was only beginning in the 1920’s that there was an increasing drive to restrict migration from Mexico, driven in large part by the labor union AFL, headed by Samuel Gompers. Gompers and other AFL leaders, had been trying since 1919 to restrict immigration from Asia, Europe, and Mexico.  They were unsuccessful until 1924, when they reluctantly included Canada along with Mexico in the immigration bill that passed.

In fact, during the same period that tens of thousands of Mexicans were migrating at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, U.S. hostilities had been directed against Asian migrants for some time.  Chinese immigrants, brought in the mid 1800’s to work on the Trans-Pacific railroad, had outlived their usefulness for the American state. Worried that they would now compete with white American workers for jobs, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, deporting all Chinese immigrants unless they were merchants. In 1907, the US made an agreement with Japan to restrict Japanese migration. Due to many factors, including Indian agitation against the British colonial government for self-rule in the 1910’s, severe restrictions on Asian immigration were placed on East Indian and other Asian immigrants in 1917.  With the passage of the Asia Barred Zone Act—its name reveals all–migrants from India, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Pacific were prohibited from entering the US, unless they were students, merchants, or diplomats.  The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, along with the beginnings of restrictions on Mexican immigrants, restricted Asian immigration to 2% of the recorded Asian population in the United States at any given time.

But another forgotten fact: the southern border between the U.S and Mexico had been under contestation even after the 1848 Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, when the U.S. had successfully annexed large swaths of Mexican territory, including California, Texas, “New” Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah.  The U.S., in an ever increasing game of “drawing lines in the sand,” had given Mexican nationals residing in those areas three years to decide whether they would become U.S. citizens (along with promises that they would be able to keep their ranches and farmlands).  During those three years, and even after, despite the promises of the Treaty, there were many challenges to the ownership of rancheros’ lands, which went all the way up to the Supreme Court. The Court almost uniformly took land away from Mexicans even when they had changed their allegiances. The controversies over Mexican migration were perhaps diluted because the annexation of Mexican land—along with many broken promises–were fresh in the minds of American politicians and judges. But given the barring of Asian immigration, the US had also quietly looked to Mexico for its cheap labor, which quieted the hostilities against Mexican immigrants until the late 1920’s.

That was when deportation became an enforceable practice.  In her book, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, historian Mae Ngai points out that a miniscule number of people–about 2000 annually–were deported between 1908-1920, mostly from hospitals, asylums, and jails.  By 1924, Congress had imposed much more restrictive immigration laws, along with a newly created Border Patrol.  For the first time, “illegal entry” came with potential imprisonment and fines.  Mexican immigration became increasingly scrutinized and restricted, even as the Mexican population grew. According to Ngai, the population of South Texas doubled in size between 1920 and 1930, to 322,000, and the “ethnic Mexican population” grew to nearly 1.5 million by 1930. As well, she points out, more than 400,00 Mexicans and Mexican Americans were “repatriated” in the 1930’s. Mexicans who remained in the U.S. in the 1930’s despite the increasing restrictions were able to become a significant economic presence, and in 1943, the story changed: Mexican immigration was channeled through the “Migrant Labor Agreement,” between the U.S. and Mexico to provide cheap labor for U.S. farms, more commonly known as the Bracero program.

This is a rather broad sketch of the rich, dynamic and vibrant history of migration—and especially Mexican migration—to this country.  Clearly there is much more to this history, as well as to the moving—but selective–history that Julian Castro told last night.  Americans, including the Convention-goers have appeared to have forgotten the history of the last century. But they have also forgotten a more recent history: one in which the current Democratic Administration has deported over 1.2 million undocumented migrants during the previous four years—many more so than its Republican predecessor.

It is true that the Obama Administration has recently reversed its position on the deportation of undocumented migrants, if they fit certain requirements, like being under 30 and having migrated with their parents before they were 16. But the reversal, which occurred less than 5 months before the November election, is not an executive order—it’s a provisional suspension of the policies of Department of Homeland Security. As such, the durability of this reversal is in serious question, along with its timing. It occurred near the end of a term in which the war on migrants was harsh and unrelenting, and “defers action” for 2 years for approved applicants on the matter of deportation. Will it last after a potential re-election of the President?

If Julian Castro’s grandmother had been orphaned in Mexico today, would she have been able to immigrate to the United States to live with her relatives? And if, by some miracle, she had migrated but without papers, would she have been able to stay? Would she have been able to be proud of her Ivy League-educated twin grandsons?  To say the least, her status would have been affected by the vicissitudes of the President’s inclinations and re-election prospects—not to mention her age, whom she arrived with, and a host of other uncontrollable circumstances. One wonders whether the American Dream would be possible for Grandmother Castro today. I suspect not.

The unspoken lesson that we can draw from Julian Castro’s story is that the American Dream was in reach for his family—not only because they worked hard—this is true of many families—but because their ability to migrate wasn’t in question. But the American Dream has already been unrelentingly prohibited for the many families deported and broken apart under the Obama Administration. Maybe we should take a long hard look at that history and ask ourselves whether the President will prohibit the Dream again, if elected for another term.

Fear and Loathing of and by Brown People: Let’s Remember Our Histories

Yesterday, I received this message on a list of family friends and relatives who would self-identify as Indian. The email, which was in 24 point font, replete with a (different) picture of Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, who supposedly said these things, and an emblem of the United States flag, waving, at the bottom of the missive.

BRAVO!

W O W ! She Did It Again!!!Australia says NO — This will be the second Time Julia Gillard has done this!

She sure isn’t backing down on her hard line stance and one has to appreciate her belief in the rights of her native countrymen.


A breath of fresh air to see someone lead. Australian Prime Minister does it again!!


The whole world needs a leader like this!

Prime Minister Julia Gillard – Australia


Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.


Separately, Gillard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying she supported spy agencies monitoring the nation’s mosques. Quote: ‘IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT… Take It Or Leave It. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali , we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.’


‘This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.’


‘We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn the language!’


‘Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.’


‘We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.’


‘This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, ‘THE RIGHT TO LEAVE’.’


‘If you aren’t happy here then LEAVE. We didn’t force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country YOU accepted.’


NOTE:
IF we circulate this amongst ourselves in Canada & USA , WE will find the courage to start speaking and voicing the same truths.

If you agree please SEND THIS ON
and ON, to as many people as you know…

I have received many of these emails before, but for the sake of keeping peace, I have ignored them. But in the last 11 days, there have been eight (8) attacks on religious centers: 1 on the gurdwara in Oak Creek and 7 on mosques around the United States. I am unable to ignore this email.

I am reminded of the admonition made by Rinku Sen in the aftermath of the Oak Creek gurdwara shootings. Sen urged her white friends to “make a fuss, cause a family crisis, become unpopular, speak up” in the face of such statements about foreigners. And even though Sen addressed this to her white friends, I think the same message applies to folks like myself. And like Samita Mukhopadhyay, whose poignant column about her mother’s response to the Oak Creek shootings, I hope we can find the right response.

I grew up in this country surrounded mostly by whites, and very few South Asians. Maybe it explains something, maybe nothing. But it means that I often see the world through the eyes of someone who was bullied and teased mercilessly—for what? At the time, I thought it was because I was so ugly, with my long coconut-oiled hair, thick-framed glasses, unfashionable Sears polo shirts and ill-fitting purple pants—because that’s what they made fun of. I thought it was because my mother didn’t know better than to wear a sari and dot on her forehead, and a nose ring in public—because that’s what they made fun of. I thought it was because my mother refused to let me go to classmates’ houses after school until first coming home so that she could see that I was safe. I thought it was because I deserved it.

It wasn’t until a decade later, when recounting these stories to a grad-school roommate who tilted her head and looked at me quizzically and asked, “You do realize that you were the target of racism, right?” that I realized those stories for what they were.

The above speech can not be attributed to Julia Gillard. It is a chain letter that has been circulating for two years. Whether she harbors similar sentiments, even under the Labor Party, I’ll write about in a future post. But let’s pretend, for a short moment, that there really was someone, akin to the Australian Prime Minister—we’ll call her the Ghost Minister–who said this:

This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.

Which culture might the Ghost Minister be referring to? Would it be the culture of prisoners and convicts who were sent to Australia to live out their penance far away from the “civilized shores of England?” Would it be the culture that assumed that Australia was “terra nullius,” an empty land, even though it was inhabited by many indigenous tribes, who were conquered and quarantined by the whites who were shunned by their own English countrymen?

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia

Does the Ghost Minister know what Sharia Law is? It is not the fundamentalist law publicized by the fear-mongering media and Christian fundamentalists (who would like their own fundamentalist laws imposed upon all of us, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs). As Yale professor of Religious Studies Eliyahu Stern tells us in the New York Times that the efforts to outlaw Sharia Law in the United States

would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration, while others would go even further in stigmatizing Islamic life.
 

South Asian Hindus have long understood what it means to have a foreign state authority curtail their practices, since they remember when British colonial authorities imposed restrictions on whether women could wear saris without blouses in public, or which religious practices are acceptable.

Similarly, Sharia law reflects precepts that have to do with daily life. How would vegetarian Hindus understand a mandate that they MUST eat meat to supplement the protein in their diets–except as a disciplining and show of state power (and as I write this, I’m reminded of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s restrictions on sodas larger than 16 ounces)?

In France, several months ago, Marine Le Pen, the right-wing candidate for President, started a huge public furor by charging that French public schools, which served lunch daily, were serving Halal meat! Egads! Halal meat is meat that has been produced under Islamic dietary strictures that symbolize hygiene and purity.

Then President Sarko, in a fight to keep his seat, initially refused to be baited, but ultimately rose to Le Pen’s challenge by vowing to look into the matter and ridding the schools of Halal meat. Let us suppose the charge was true (it was never proven to be so). Why, then, did the French state—or at least scions of authority such as LePen and Sarko care? Were they concerned that ingesting halal meat would suddenly produce hordes of young white French Muslims spouting the Qu’ran? Hardly. Perhaps as animal rights activists have suggested, it is a crueler method of slaughtering animals for meat, since it bans the stunning of animals before slaughter, and it bothered Sarko and Le Pen. Sarkozy and Le Pen: Animal-rights activists? I think not.

Rather, it was because Muslim-baiting has become a popular pastime in France, along with virulent xenophobia and anti-immigration jousting. And Sarko lost anyway (only to be succeeded by Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party candidate and a supposedly kinder, lefter guy who’s turning out to be pretty authoritarian himself). Let that be a lesson to…the American voter.

Why would it be acceptable to impose dietary or marriage restrictions on Muslims’ religious laws? These are private matters every bit as much as Hindu religious law is. Unlike the misperception in the bill passed in the Tennessee General Assembly, Sharia law is not something that Muslims want to impose on the larger public. Nor is Sharia Law “a set of rules that promote ‘the destruction of the national existence of the United States,’” as Stern states. He continues:

This is exactly wrong. The crusade against Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and its fastest-growing religious minority.
 
The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. In 1807, Napoleon convened an assembly of rabbinic authorities to address the question of whether Jewish law prevented Jews from being loyal citizens of the republic. (They said that it did not.)
 

To be fair, the misperception of Sharia Law is widespread. At dinner some months ago with otherwise erudite white American friends, I found myself having to rebuff their kneejerk scorn of Sharia by sharing a story that I heard at a philosophy conference some years ago. It was told by a young white Canadian lawyer who represented a Muslim woman in her divorce proceedings. As the lawyer pointed out Canadian courts, like American courts, only recognize written contracts. This fact made it difficult for her client to obtain compensation as promised by her ex-husband’s family, because it was an oral promise cemented by an imam, and therefore unenforceable in a Canadian court. By convincing the Canadian court to recognize Sharia, her client was able to obtain what was due her.

Sadakat Kadri, author of a book that explores both the hard-line and more flexible interpretations of Sharia, speculates upon the mad fear of Sharia Law in the United States:

It’s crazy, basically. It’s this idea that Shariah is some kind of movement to take over the United States or a conspiracy to overturn American freedoms. That isn’t what Shariah is. There are certainly hard-line interpretations of Islamic law. But these measures don’t even claim to restrict themselves to that. They claim to prevent the courts from taking any account at all of the Shariah, which potentially means that a court can’t, for example, take account of someone’s will. If someone says they want to be buried according to Muslim rituals laid down in the Shariah, a court would theoretically not be able to take account of that. And, of course, it’s possible to say, ‘That’s not what the law’s aimed at. The law’s aimed at something very different.’ But as everyone should know by now, liberties begin to erode when you have laws that are too widely drawn.
 

According to Dwight Garner, who has a review of Kadri’s book in this past Sunday’s New York Times:

In [Kadri’s] reading of the Shariah, he finds rationality and flexibility. His argument is with recent hard-liners who, he writes, “have turned Islamic penal history on its head.”
He is furious that fundamentalists “have associated the Shariah in many people’s minds with some of the deadliest legal systems on the planet.” He calls them traditionalists who ignore tradition. He is disgusted that warped opinions “are mouthed today to validate murder after murder in Islam’s name.
 

It is the misperceptions of Muslims, Sharia, and the outrageous framing of all Muslims as reflecting zealotry and fundamentalism that lead to events like seven mosque attacks in the United States in last 10 days– in the immediate aftermath of the shootings at the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

To my fellow Indians: Does any of this remind you about the stories of British colonialism in India? Do you remember your mothers’ and grandmothers’ stories of how the British whipped, mutilated, and maimed Indians for not obeying their orders? Does anyone remember the Lahore Lynchings of 1915, a mass spectacle designed by the British colonial authority to warn Indians against further thought of self-rule? Although 24 Indians were scheduled to hang that day, the sentences of 17 were commuted— 7 men were still killed as a warning to others who wanted self-rule.

You must remember the mass hatred incited by India’s political elites, pitting Muslims against Hindus and Hindus against Muslims—I’m sure—because through my mother’s stories and the histories I’ve read—I do, and I wasn’t even there.

I remember my mother’s stories of being turned away from job interviews in the United States because she wore a sari thinking it was the most formal outfit she could wear for such a serious occasion. I remember her pink polyester suit, bought for subsequent interviews, because she felt it would be disrespectful to show her legs at work.

I remember my mother’s humiliation at having insults hurled at her in the 1980’s by ignorant young and old white men who proudly called themselves “Dotbusters.” These racist men told her to “go back to her country,” even though she had lived faithfully by the laws of the United States for twenty-five years.

Don’t you remember similar stories of hate directed against your mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts? The British, the Australians, the Americans, The French—and many others engaged in similar acts of savagery condoned by their own governments. Did our mothers and fathers and families deserve this? Certainly mine did not.

Many whites may not see Muslims as deserving of respect and civility. But you can bet that they don’t see me or my family (or yours) as deserving respect and civility either. They don’t care whether you are Muslim or not. They see you, a Hindu, and “them” (Muslims) as one and the same: a brown person who doesn’t speak English (even if you do), or who speaks English with an accent (if you don’t).

I know the stories of Sikhs men who immigrated to California in the early 1900’s. They were harassed, beaten, arrested, and deported, because they were subject to hatred by whites and fear that they were taking away jobs and lowering wages. I have been told of the harassment that Indians were subject to by the British for wanting Self-rule. And I know that the hate-filled curses that were directed against Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims had little to do with whether they “deserved” it, and everything to do with the American and British fear and loathing of Indians.

The Ghost Minister wants everyone to speak English, and not “Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language.” This message has been delivered before, and there is plenty of literature out there to refute it, so I won’t do it here. Suffice it to say that not speaking the language of the land inconveniences no one—except perhaps, the migrant. But it engenders hostility aplenty for reasons that have little to do with the difficulties of language: because it reminds the speaker that he too is merely a traveler on this land, which was taken away from the indigenous, from others, so that he too could grow up on this soil and profess his anger at those who want to live alongside him without succumbing to his norms, his religion, his practices—without succumbing to his demands.

Joining whites in a campaign of racism against Muslims will not garner us, as South Asians, as Indians, as Hindus, respect by those same whites. What I know is that that hatred against Muslims is not warranted. Every single religious group, whether Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, or Jews, has a wing of believers who are militant or radical. But the few don’t speak for the rest of their group, the many who are peace-loving and moderate. By joining in the hatred against another minority group, we betray the innocent, and increase the general hostility towards all minority groups, including our own.

It’s time to stand up to the ignorant bullies, whether American, British, or Australian, or French, or German. It turns out that the above remarks cannot be attributed to Julia Gillard. Still, I don’t doubt that they have been uttered aloud in many places in the world by whites, whose ancestors have been in that country for fewer than 200 years. And I don’t doubt that they will be used again—if not against Muslims, then against you and against me. Isn’t it time to stop standing with racists to harass others who, but for their turbans, beards, hijabs–but for their background—are just like us?