White Privilege, the Dems, and the Rhetoric of “Care”

To read some of the exchanges over the last week in the blogosphere, apparently “white privilege” means that one doesn’t attend to race and class issues at home, but instead privileges “foreign policy” and “national security” issues. This implies that there is privilege in worrying about the bodies and violations to foreign nationals over the bodies of brown and black Americans. Ok, let me grant that assumption for a second.  Still, I wonder why issues such as warrantless wiretapping, surveillance, unlawful (and supposedly “lawful,” warrantless) detention of US Muslim men of South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, the nullification of judicial review, the assassination of not just 1, but multiple, US citizens, the incarceration of U.S. citizens (black and brown), should be deprioritized by American voters. Are these not issues that should be of concern especially to folks who are unencumbered by an excess of “white privilege”?

Still granting the assumption that worrying about foreign issues involves undue privilege: I wonder, after considering some of the policies that the present Administration has supported and backed (from NDAA 2012, Expansion and Renewal of FISA, Expansion of prisons, expansion of DHS deportations of migrants; expansion of detention centers), in which ways have U.S people of color and poor  people benefited under the present Democratic Administration? There may be some, such as college loans forgiveness, and the absence of a concerted attack on reproductive rights. But there are certainly anti-choice Dems, such as Harry Reid, who have managed to stifle somewhat. I would hardly call Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ decision to revoke access to OTC contraception a big win for pro-choice folks.

According to a number of progressive economists, the top 20% has remained pretty unaffected by the present Democratic Administration, and I’m betting that includes some of the folks lobbing around the “white privilege” accusation.  Could it not be the case that one is exemplifying white privilege by deciding that one should be loyal to the Administration and the Democratic Party in the face of a range of demonstrable discriminations against certain kinds of minority populations? In the face of violations to certain kinds of brown and black bodies? Does such a loyalty not imply that those who are in a position to make choices are simply refusing to see the world that they themselves have made, by insisting on a repeated loyalty to the Democratic Party, despite the years of abusive behavior on the part of the Dems? Charles Mills calls this “the epistemology of ignorance,” namely that state of the world in which whites refuse to see the world that they themselves have made.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, “Median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and by 53% among black households during the financial crisis, compared with a fall of just 16% among white households.”

Presumably, the President so cared about the devastating impact to US populations of color that he was going to support California Attorney General Kamala Harris to get as much from the banks as she could, right? POTUS’ response was to pressure Harris to accept a ridiculous settlement with the 5 BIG BANKS of $25 billion dollars, which cashes out either to $750 or $840—yes, you read that right– per household for families who lost their houses due to subprime mortgages.

Again, according to the Pew report:

“A disproportionate share of Hispanics live in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the vanguard of the housing real estate market bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s but that have since been among the states experiencing the steepest declines in housing values.”

Take a look at those quotes again. This is not a “white privilege” issue. It affects U.S. minorities more so than whites. Clearly, the Big Banks must have “cared” about those homeowners, too, right? They must just have been broke, to pay so little. Right. According to today’s Bloomberg, “Even as U.S. unemployment has remained above 8 percent for 43 months, the country’s biggest banks are making almost as much as they ever have.” Namely, a combined $63 billion in profits.  The original rescue was signed by Bush, but what exactly did O require in terms of accountability from the banks? Anyone?

As I mentioned in my last post, the privilege of deciding that the lives of others are easy to sacrifice, the privilege of deciding that certain civil rights are more important than human rights violations will backfire—This is nationalist privilege—American privilege, to be exact. And it has already backfired.  We are seeing the backlash in all kinds of cases—cases like that of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, Sami Al-Arian, and hundreds of others.

Ultimately, I don’t care who Democrats vote for because I accept the argument that “the structure is broken.”  If it’s broken, voting for the Democrats yet again isn’t going to fix it. Instead, it’s going to amplify the message that Democratic voters have sent for the last 20 years: Please, screw us again. Abandon your constituents for yet another 4 years. And we’ll reward you as you move even further to the right after every term—we’ll send you the message that “we like it, we love it, and we want more of it.” It’s a state-of-emergency politics: It’s an emergency, so we have to vote for the “lesser evil” of 2 states. And the cycle will continue.

If voting for the incumbent accords with your conscience, then by all means do so. If you, like me–despise the Democratic record on wars, drones, murders, assassinations, detention, torture, solitary confinement of foreign nationals without charges (and that includes migrants of various nationalities—since solitary confinement is used more and more widely), but still feel that this vote matters, voting for POTUS is a better option to other options, do what you need to do.

But don’t bake me a dungpie and tell me it’s my birthday. Just tell the truth. Tell the truth about the Democrats’ record on civil liberties issues, on NDAA 2012, on H.R. 347, on S.Comm, on detention policies, on migration policies, on deportation policies. Don’t tell me that the Democrats “care” more, or that “Obama’s heart is in the right place,” or “he would have done more if we didn’t have a GOP-led Congress (um—again, how did that stop the Dems from getting things done in the first two years under Obama?), or that he’s pro-union, or that innocent civilians aren’t getting killed, or that the Affordable Care Act involved actual health care reform, or that Obama’s not interested in cutting Social Security, or that the Dems “care” about civil liberties or human rights violations.

And by the way, how does one know whether Obama or the Dems “care”? Just because they say so? If POTUS is willing to lie about not wanting the U.S. government to be able to kill Americans (thanks, Sen. Carl Levin), then why wouldn’t he lie about whether he “cares” for you, me, or black and brown folk?

Why don’t the same folks who insist that we must vote for the Dems believe that the Republicans “care” just as much? Because of their track record, I hear. Ok, that’s my standard for the Democrats, too. For those who insist that POTUS/Dems cares about poor black and brown folks, I’ve explored the track record on “care” all over this site. For some examples, see here and here and here.

A friend whose political insights I respect tremendously suggested that she was voting for the incumbent precisely because there are racists who will vote against him because he’s black. I can respect that.  Others suggest that they’re voting Dem to “prevent GOP access to power.” Okay, I can live with that—but I don’t buy that this will increase the likelihood that poor folks, folks of color in the US and internationally will be less vulnerable to having social safety nets or economic structures decimated by Democrats.

Just do what you need to do, but stop insisting that folks who reject the false dichotomy between the lives of U.S. folks of color, black and brown, and the lives of international folks of color are “conservatives,” or libertarians.

And the day after the election, for those of you who feel like you had to vote for the Democrats as the least crappy option among crappy options, please, let’s start pursuing the viability of a third party. We need to change the conversation, we need to hold the Democrats accountable for abandoning voters, poor folks, black and brown folks—in the US and elsewhere. Only the threat of not being re-elected, of losing “winnable votes” will bring them around.

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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?

Guest Column by Marcellus Andrews: “About What is Coming Down the Road”

Today’s column is by one of Translation Exercises guest bloggers, Marcellus Andrews, who recently appeared on Up with Chris Hayes this past Saturday. Andrews raised some important questions of capital markets, plutocracy, dubious economic policies of the Oama Administration, and those of Mitt Romney.

In this column, Andrews continues to force us to address some serious questions about what the last few years portend.  Read on and do comment on his points. A friendly request: please keep your comments on the topics at hand, and refrain from directing us to your website or other personal essays.

About What is Coming Down the Road

Prof. Marcellus Andrews, Barnard College, Columbia

With today’s unemployment report (June 1, 2012) — not good, though not as bad as the next few, I think — Obama is finished, and we can look forward (if that is the word) to a Romney presidency with a neo-fascist (sorry, Republican) House and Senate.  In a way, Romney’s win will be Obama’s own fault — he tried to form a national unity government to deal with a national emergency when the other side just wanted to kick his niggah behind.  He pursued a “conservative” economic policy approach in the specific sense of policies that could and have staved off complete collapse but that were also too small to really revive the system, because he was unwilling (or given the right-wing of his own party, unable) to push through the kind of structural reforms linked to sensible expenditure plans that could not just end the depression but begin the reconstruction of this country.  So, here we are, facing a Romney regime that is likely to be extremely bad news for lots of people, especially the working class white people who vote for him.

I have some thoughts on what this means for so-called “minority” American now that everyone realizes that the majority of babies and now the under 5’s are black, brown, yellow and mixed-up chillun.  The Romney years will be decisive for the future of what I will call the real “Colored” American majority (I think that old, nasty word should be revived as an alternative to “multicultural” and even “multi-racial”).  The austerity program that is destroying the British economy — savage budget cuts that are gutting the social safety net and ending redistributive economic policy, abandoning poor and working people to the untender ways of radical predatory capitalism combined with equally savage tax cuts for the wealthy, all with the assistance of the so-called Liberal Democrats — is just the UK version of the Ryan budget.  The Ryan program will be implemented here under Romney and will destroy the futures of young Colored America.  Policies aimed at promoting human development, particularly the capabilities of Colored young people at or near the bottom of society — nutrition, education, basic health care, basic public health, basic housing, even public safety — will be gutted in favor of reverse Robin Hood approaches that increase the well-being of the rich, and the old and white.  In essence, the Romney program, when you really look at it — to the extent that it has been announced — deliberately under-invests in the children of Colored America in favor of incumbent old white America.

I think it is time for Colored America to recognize that American conservatism seeks nothing less that the crippling of the our future, and that Obama’s failure — again, in trying to build a coalition government when the conservative program was nothing less than the restoration of white power, the modern version of the Redeemer governments in the post-Reconstruction South — signals the end of any prospects for conciliation in this country.  I also think that it is time for Colored America — of all colors, including those whites who seek to live in a decent place — to think carefully about how we build a good society when our white nationalist enemies control the White House, Congress, Wall Street, the Federal courts and too many states.

I think the Romney government will be a savage thing that lays waste to the economic lives of so many of our of children, perhaps at the cost of many premature deaths.  We have to think practically about how to educate our kids, how to keep them happy, healthy and safe, and how to keep ourselves fit and build some sort of prosperity, when our Redeemer foes implement their program. We have to think about how to raise and allocate resources to support human development when the states and Federal government deliberately crush opportunity for our children; we have to find ways to build a durable and effective political and cultural resistance to the attacks that white conservatism makes on our lives and liberties via the Supreme Court and state courts, where the rule of law is transformed into yet more iron cages to trap and limit our freedom; we have to build institutions — everything from schools to newspapers and ways to disseminate vital information to museums to forums for art in all its forms, both brick and mortar institutions and the virtual gatherings in cyberspace — that can escape the reach of white restorationism while feeding our souls (example: I see Arizona attacking Chicano intellectual and cultural life with Klan style glee and know that these attacks will widen, deepen and gain force under a Romney presidency).

I guess I am saying that I think it is high time for us to see this election, and, frankly, the trials and failures of Obama, as the opening phase in a low-level civil war about race and the future of the United States.  This “War About Race” is not a racial war in the usual sense — with whites on one side and everybody else on the other; no Turner Diaries craziness.  Instead, this “War About Race” is a fight between a dying but still rich and powerful old white republic that will never accept the plain fact that the future of the United States is Colored and so will instead deliberately create an economic partition between itself and that Other, disgusting America defined by either not-being-white or by being the wrong kind of white — whites who have rejected racism in personal and family life. So how do we go about preventing conservatism from killing the future of Colored America and thereby preserving, protecting and defending the future of the United States from the racial animosity of the white Right?  This, I think, is the most important question of our time, because the white Right is coming back into power and, if we are honest, seeks to cripple us.

So here’s my question: Am I a bit premature in thinking that the white Right is just the modern version of the Redeemers?  Am I wrong to think that white conservatism will pursue a program of economic partition along racial lines as part of a white unity program in the same way that Southern elites managed to create white unity?

Progressives, Truth-telling, and Human Rights Issues

Revised version:

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald’s mentions of my Jan. 6 post on this site, and thanks to the readers who stopped by, as well as to those who left comments.  After watching the Greenwald-Pollitt bloggingheads clip that aired yesterday, my concerns from that post remain. I want to respond to a couple of points:

First, Greenwald asks for Pollitt’s response (19:24; Pollitt’s answer at 22:10) to my argument that the war on terror viscerally impacts men and women of color and their children. In fact, I argue that it has eviscerated significant segments of the Iraqi civilian population, the reproductive systems of women, and Afghan population, as well as citizens and foreign nationals who are Muslim/Middle Eastern/South Asian (MEMSA) in the United States. I insisted these were not insignificant side issues, and that progressives and Democrats have the privilege of not having to be affected by them.

Pollitt’s response: “If she is right, then Black people and people of color would be voting for Ron Paul in droves. Are they?” She clarifies that she said that “Leftish women and people of color” were silent, not that every person was silent. Fair enough to the second point. But to her first response—she assumes the very thing that is under question, namely whether folks –white or non-white—should vote for Paul.  I can be right without African-Americans or Latino Americans or other citizens of color deciding to vote for Ron Paul.  In fact, Ron Paul’s candidacy is a moot issue, and even if it weren’t, I do not  want to suggest that folks should vote for Ron Paul. What I would like, however, is to engage in some serious truth-telling of the variety that Arthur Brisbane and NYT might want to pursue one day:

President Obama didn’t offer a racist presidential campaign in 2008. But he did promise to expand the number of troops he sent to Afghanistan; he was on record as being against gay marriage; against the constitutional protections of privacy (signing up for the renewal of FISA while on the campaign trail, giving telecomm corporations immunity for collaborating with the government); in favor of the 2006 renewal of the USA Patriot Act (which he renewed again last year); in favor of the death penalty (although he wanted to reform it); in favor of immigration reform (on the order of a guest worker system), and in favor of closing Guantanamo (briefly creating the impression that he wanted to extend civilian trials to detainees), and in favor of the protection of reproductive rights–a promise that he’s broken.

Once in office, President Obama continued to send US troops to decimate Iraq and Afghanistan, even with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate until the mid-term elections. That is not a compromise; it is an assertive, decisive uncompromising action.  This Administration, the Department of Homeland Security worked actively to promote to deport nearly 400,000 migrants from the US annually for the past three years.* The claim that he is a feminist or liberal does not ring true when we examine the current President’s refusal to make the “morning after” pill available over the counter, or when we look at the abortion restrictions in the 2010 healthcare bill. The Healthcare program that was endorsed and passed under the current Administration is a spin-off of the Romney health-care plan in Massachusetts, and which includes a penalty against those citizens who are poor but not too poor.  These are not feminist acts. These are not anti-racist acts. These are not liberal acts.

I’m not sure that Pollitt understood the basis of my comments in my Jan. 6 post. My frustration emerged from what appears to be an accepted distinction between the rights of US nationals and those of “international Others.” Those Others include foreign nationals in our midst (from Gitmo detainees, the tortured, and undocumented migrants) and international populations who’ve been the victims of US-led wars. Not only does there appear to be divergence, but among progressives, there seems to be a prioritization of the rights of US nationals at the expense of international Others.

The war on terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (where we still have 15,000 “contractors”/troops), should be on every single feminist and liberal and progressive table where politics are being discussed (e.g., Democratic fundraisers, Occupy movements across the country, etc.).  The question of due process for US citizens (white, African American, Latinos or other populations), but also for foreign nationals are crucial—whether they are or aren’t MEMSA’s.

Civil protections such as due process, habeas corpus, the right to a trial, right against warrantless search and seizure, are not only political safeguards: they are protections for folks who are vulnerable to violence or exploitation. When such states or organizations can act against vulnerable populations (whether US minority communities or Muslim foreign nationals) by removing these, then the extinguishing of civil protections becomes a human rights issue—regardless of national borders.  If so, then we have moral—not just political—but moral obligations to international populations. Greenwald, describes a similar mandate from Martin Luther King’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech:

King notably added another reason why he felt compelled to prioritize issues of war: “another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission.” As he put it: “ This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.” (my emphasis) If only that award were similarly understood today. His essential point was that nothing good could possibly happen in America so long as it continued on its path of warfare and bombing and invading foreign countries, and it was therefore necessary to prioritize protests against the war on at least equal footing with every other issue.

Like Martin Luther King in 1967, I don’t think we can trade in the human rights of foreign nationals for the rights of US nationals (and lucky for us, under the current Administration, we don’t really have to make this choice anymore)—not without a seriously blighted conscience about the fates into which we force international Muslim populations.  I’m going to end this post with a quote from Hannah Arendt, one of my favorite philosophers, but I will talk about this division in a new post tomorrow.

Once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth.” Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), ch. 9.

*The earlier version of this post incorrectly reported 46,000 deportations of migrants. In fact, 46k represents the number of parental deportations of migrants who had US born children, from the six month period of Jan-June 2011, according to Seth Wessler, who reported the original story in Colorlines.

Pollitt’s Perplexity about Pundits on Ron Paul

Revised:

It may be time to stop reading the Nation even earlier than March of this election year. Katha Pollitt engages in a serious distortion of Glenn Greenwald’s position (among others) that we need to pay attention to politicians such as Ron Paul, who are raising questions about President Obama’s continuation of the same policies as GW Bush. Somehow, despite Greenwald’s umpteen ad nauseam disavowals, this point is equated—no, identified –with “support for Ron Paul.” Pollitt also muses on the fact that she hasn’t seen a lot of “leftish white women and people of color” who have supported Paul, but if they do, they are staying pretty quiet about it.

Note, first of all, the old-school-lefty sweeping style of lumping all people of color with “leftish white women.” Women of color can’t have their own category–because they’re too complex and unruly with all their different identity-politic distinctions (y’know: Latina, African-American, Asian, Asian American, South Asian, African, Indigenous, Mestiza, etc.), and so at least “people of color” can address them all in one big sweep. Also, the unwieldiness of mentioning them distinctly will cut into the too-important and limited space of the Nation’s columns.

I can hear the talkback now: Q: What is it with those identity politics anyway? Can “they” just put them aside for the purposes of political solidarity? A: NO. No, “we” can’t. To be fair, that question was not articulated by Pollitt, but by plenty of other libs/progs NEVER in print but often in semi-private and casual conversations. That publicly unspoken question speaks to one of the problems with Pollitt’s post. She may not be speaking for “people of color,” but she’s certainly using “their” collective silence to make a point about the sycophancy of white male pundits in relation to other strange white men.

I wonder why Pollitt needed to point out “people of color” have not supported Ron Paul publicly. Does “their” absence on the Ron Paul platform somehow reaffirm her point about the (white?)“mancrush” for Ron Paul? It may appear to do so, but it’s a strawmancrush. People of color may not have spoken out because they have not reason to support Paul, true. Or they may not articulate support for his anti-war positions because they don’t want to be associated with Paul, given his questionable past positions on race. Or they may fear, as Glenn Greenwald points out repeatedly, that speaking in support of a stance will be CONFLATED with support for the politician. Still, a number of commentators, black and white, have pointed to the troubling policy decisions made or continued under the Obama Administration (and that are only being raised by one political candidate–a libertarian Republican–during this election season). Cornel West has been raising questions about Obama’s policies, as have Paul Krugman and Greenwald. Glenn Loury has recently raised some urgent questions about Ron Paul’s economic proposals to return to the gold standard and eliminating the Fed–EVEN as he points to the fact that Paul is our only anti-war candidate. As Corey Robin points out, a very sad fact for us on the left, because politicians on the left are not raising them.

But HERE FOLKS! I am a brown woman (in case my bio didn’t clue you into that), and I am downright livid at policies passed during the Obama administration (which a number of folks will attest that I anticipated before the 2008 election), which are even worse than expected. I am as livid with progressives who affect a casual? studied? indifference to the Administration’s repeated support for warrantless wiretapping (remember Obama’s vote during the 2008 election season when he took a break in campaigning to return to Washington to vote for the renewal of FISA; for his support of the Justice Department’s withholding of evidence (and even habeas corpus) from detainees on grounds of national security; his commitment to indefinite detention (NDAA was not the first time it’s arisen. We saw his support in the gesture to move Gitmo detainees to a federal prison in Illinois—with only a casual suggestion that they might receive civilian trials—only to watch it die quickly under even modest resistance. Guantanamo is still open with detainees languishing); the expansion of troops into Afghanistan in the first part of his term; the unceasing drone attacks in Pakistan, etc.

Does that mean that I am a fan of Ron Paul? No. Do I admire the fact that he’s articulating an anti-war platform? Yes, but very cautiously and very sadly, given his other questionable positions. As Corey Robin points out, folks who are anti-war have only Paul to look to. And in part, we have only Paul to look to, because of “white leftish women” like Katha Pollitt, who says,

“I, too, would love to see the end of the “war on drugs” and our other wars. I, too, am shocked by the curtailment of civil liberties in pursuit of the “war on terror,” most recently the provision in the NDAA permitting the indefinite detention, without charge, of US citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. But these are a handful of cherries on a blighted tree.”

Really? Half a million Iraqi civilians dead? Dozens of Pakistani children dead because of drones (or more. We are not allowed to know)? The reproductive systems of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women decimated by decades of US-led chemical warfare ? The curtailment of civil liberties of legal residents (and not merely citizens) in the US? The indefinite detention of tens of thousands of migrants, documented or otherwise? Those migrants include Latinos, South Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims from other parts of the world–detained not just for migrating without papers, but for merely being suspected of terrorism and held without charges, without lawyers, without family knowing, without judicial review–without a way out. These are what an anti-war position would resist. Seriously? Pollitt believes these are cherries on a blighted tree?

Apparently the last time Pollitt checked, women were half the population in the United States. Last time I checked, women were half the population in the parts of the world that the US is decimating. I’m going out on a limb, but I’m guessing that they care about their reproductive systems being trashed. They probably also care about their children dying. I’m wondering what Pollitt thinks about the ripping apart of migrant parents from their children–by deporting at least 46,000 of them* under the Obama Administration? My understanding is that these children all had parents. And apparently those parents cared about them.

This is what Pollitt thinks are trivialities to neglect in the 2012 elections? Pollitt is extremely worried about the world of Ron Paul, in which “there would be no environmental protection, no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no public education, no civil rights laws, no anti-discrimination law, no Americans With Disabilities Act, no laws ensuring the safety of food or drugs or consumer products, no workers’ rights.”

How does Pollitt feel about Obama’s initial support of the Tar Sands Pipeline? About helping bailing out Wall Street bankers using the millions of dollars that could have been spent to keep poor folks from losing their houses through robo-signings of foreclosure papers, or helping save the pensions of long time auto workers? About Democrats voting to spend trillions of dollars to send US men and women to war in which they lose their minds, if not also their limbs, and then come home to inadquate medical care, if any, and to perpetual unemployment? Is she really trustful of an FDA that can barely regulate pharmaceutical drugs?

I expect much more of presidents who dismiss their constituencies’ outcries for a return of constitutional safeguards such as habeas corpus, due process, judicial review, congressional approval before engaging in invasions, who want an end to the drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. I expect much more from folks who claim to be progressive and engaged in these outcries during the reign of George II, but have no interest in speaking publicly about the continuation of these same outrages under Obama’s rule (Let’s face it: that’s what it is: a move to increasing autocratic rule, and the most recent signing of NDAA can make no other point).

But like Ross Perot in 1991 (whose third-party candidacy created the space to challenge NAFTA) and Ralph Nader in 2000 (who raised questions about corporate politics and party complicity), the presence of Paul is raising serious questions about some elephants in the room. How do we expect solidarity among folks of color when the cost-benefit analysis is played out by pitting the issues that concern white folks and some US folks of color against issues affecting international populations or other US folks of color, as Pollit does in her column?

Here’s another question: why must I make this claim as a woman of color? As a South Asian woman? As a migrant? Why can’t I make this claim as a US citizen, pure and simple? Why can’t I make this claim simply as a progressive? Somehow that pisses me off. The collective indifference of thousands of progressives, even in OWS, to the minute attention paid to those foreign policies that don’t take an enormous leap of imagination to see the deaths, the bodily and psychic harm, the mutations that result from chemical warfare, that have affected hundreds of thousands of PEOPLE of COLOR. Yes. And I am a “People of color” making this point. For better or worse, Ron Paul is noticing it. I don’t care what his motivations are (again, I AM NOT SUPPORTING HIS CANDIDACY. Glenn: maybe you should have put your alerts in all-caps, like I did). He is raising the questions.

In general, I tend to agree with old-fashioned Southern liberals (Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Jim “armadillo guy” Hightower), etc. Southern libertarians or anything elses, less so. So, I’m not surprised by Paul’s primitive and bass-ackwards views on affirmative action, race, gay rights, women. But then again, I don’t expect much of libertarians, in the same way that I expect little of conservatives or neo-liberals. And I am pleased when they raise an issue to which I am sympathetic.

For other pundits who insist that holding Obama to such difficult standards is racist, since after all Bill Clinton was a neo-liberal white president who engaged in some pretty dubious domestic and foreign policy in the first term and still got re-elected by Democrats: I have news. I was pissed in 1996. And there was the same lesser-of-2-evils guilt tripping that revolved around gathering support for the “centrist” incumbent. The Clinton Administration was the harbinger of some pretty serious human rights violations, as I see it: The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996 Welfare Reform Act (PRWORA), and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsiblity Act (IIRIRA), the “3 Strikes” (1994 Crime Act). All of those are crucial pieces of the road to indefinite detention and the eradication of civil liberties for US people of color. But we had the same guilt-trip in 1996 that we had in 2000, 2004, 2008, and again today: We have to do a cost-benefit analysis to see how “we” (read White Leftish Women and Men, and some segment of “People of Color”) stand to lose more personal benefits if we vote for the “worse” of 2 evils than for the “lesser” of 2 evils. It is always interesting to see how “we” couch the vote for the lesser of 2 evils in terms of how it will help “Other people” (even as it mostly helps us assuage our consciences and ensures that our status quo will not get worse.

Essentially, Pollitt’s column comes down to this: We want solidarity among liberals and progressives—but only on terms determined by WHITE leftish women and a segment of white men and some people of color. So it’s fine to be critical of President Obama and other Democrats. But DON’T suggest that a Republican–a conservative Libertarian–might raise a substantial issue that puts the libs/progs in an awkward spot. Especially NOT during Election Year. We can forgive a Democrat who’s continued a war that has killed and maimed Arabs, Muslims, poor folks of color who are NOT citizens of this mighty White-serving country (and killed and maimed thousands of US soldiers, too), but don’t funk with Pollitt’s reproductive rights. Certainly Obama has not expanded access to reproductive options to women without healthcare. I’m completely in support of the rights of middle- & upper-class white women to have abortions, but I’m also in support of the ability of US poor women & women of color, along with international women of color (poor or otherwise) to have access to reproductive health as well. Drones in Pakistan and chemical warfare in Iraq (yes, I know—Obama has “withdrawn” US troops from there—but only b/c Iraq wouldn’t let the US stay), and remaining in Afghanistan doesn’t exactly enhance access to reproductive rights for women. Nor does it facilitate clean air, water, or an unpolluted environment.

Here’s my other question: Why does this have to turn into a “guilt by association” debate? Why can’t we discuss the questions that are being raised as serious and important questions, rather than referendums on voters’ or pundits’ moral character? I don’t have to like Ron Paul (and why do we need to LIKE our politicians?). I don’t have to have dinner with him. He doesn’t need to be a friend. He is raising the questions that every other liberal and progressive and feminist (yes, including you, Katha) should be raising and forcing the Democrats to address. As Greenwald has pointed out, these issues only become outrage-worthy when the Republicans are spearheading human rights violations, because it gives the libs and progs a lever by which to claim political superiority. The silence on the Democrats’ record of human rights violations is deafening. And they’re more than cherries on a blighted tree. They’re dead bodies on the blighted conscience of Americans.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported 46,000 deportations of migrants. In fact, 46k represents the number of parental deportations of migrants who had US born children, from the six month period of Jan-June 2011, according to journalist Seth Wessler, who reported the original story in Colorlines.