You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator… We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them Abigail Adams
Abigail Adams to my mind is one of the greatest heroines of all time, yet I bet the majority reading this post have never heard of her. When we think of the founders of the dream that was America and now is the greatest power on our planet I wonder we don’t study those around the founders more? Christopher Marshall was an apothecary (pharmacist) and a committed patriot (even though he was a Quaker), a friend of John Adams, said:
The rich, the poor, the high professor and the profane, seem all to be infected with their grievous disorder, so that the love of our neighbour seems to be quite banished, the love of self and opinions so far prevails… The [British/Tories] enemies of our present struggle… are grown even scurrilous to individuals, and treat all characters who differ from them with the most opprobrious language.
To paraphrase grotesquely: we are all so full of our egotistical selves, so pumped on the promotion of our feelings over reason and rationality that we have lost sight of our humanity. We are used by politicians to win their agendas, manipulating our realities at will.
Before I defend the dream and the reality of America I’d like to look at this asinine mud slinging from another viewpoint. Not the spoilt First World but from the Third World. Africa. That is after all the very epicentre of what is at issue here: correct? African Americans vs White Supremacists? So let’s take a journey to Africa and investigate how an African has fared in comparison to his African American brother.
In 1959, American anthropologist, George Murdock gathered data, analyzed and compiled what is now known as the Murdock Map of Ethnic Boundaries in Africa. Using that map (which is incomplete but likely one of the best ethnic maps we have to chart our way) you can see the “hot spots” and ethnic cleansings that have occurred in Africa in modern history. Ethnic.
What does Ethnic mean in Africa? Tribal for the most part, the conflicts tend to run along rivers and the natural borders of countries and are largely concentrated in the southern region of the Sub-Saharan Africa, spatially sparse in the west (mostly as a result of depopulation) with the largest events occurring in my homeland, Zimbabwe. The idea that racism is based entirely on skin colour is ignorant: ignorant in the old meaning of that word, “without knowledge”. Which racism do you speak of? That of the First World or the Rest of the World? I find this sense of “it’s all about me” in Canada and the USA, there is little understanding that we are spoilt brats.
Brian comments: There’s an interesting term when you look at the map offered here. Its called Balkanization. Its a new term, but a term non the less often used in the west that refers to the splitting up of territory (yugoslavia) along cultural lines. Thats a polite way of putting what occurred there. But it also highlights something unique to me; that is the fact that the world outside of the west has been forever drawing itself and carving itself up (almost always violently) along cultural lines, but only when it happened in a place close to the west did we even think to make a name for it. Aliens studying us might make the assumption that this was the first time it happened, but its really just the first time in terms of jargon that it registered.
Its much like how the first white folks came to North America and found it filled with aboriginals, yet still could claim to discover it.
Uganda: if you were unlucky enough to be born in Uganda in the time of Idi Amin who seized power in 1971 you’d be lucky to have survived unscathed. His name “The Butcher of Uganda” is well earned, responsible for killing in excess of 500,000 people he ethnically cleansed Uganda of the Acholi and Lango people. Today Uganda continues to suffer.
Libya: the wonderful Mummer Qaddafi 1969 to 2011, he ordered the indiscriminate killings of civilians, stockpiled chemical weapons, fought against Egypt, Chad and Tanzania. Massacres significantly under reported. Best little gem from this cupcake? He gave his soldiers viagra to assist them in the rape of women.
Liberia: 1996 to 2003 Charles Taylor won the bloody civil war, but he’d been busy since 1989 when he led an uprising from Cote d’Ivoire from where he fought a brutal war killing in excess of 200,000 people. He harboured members of Al Qaeda and is at the epicentre of the blood diamonds. Lovely chap really, I’m sure in comparison to America Liberia is first on one’s list of awesome places to be born.
Central African Republic: Jean-Bedel Bokassa known as “The Butcher of Bangui”. This lovely gentleman didn’t just murder, massacre and ethnically cleanse he also liked to eat his victims. Yes, this butcher was also a cannibal. In January 1979, a riot started because people were starving, food prices were out of control. He ordered his troops to massacre all. He later murdered 100 schoolchildren who refused to purchase expensive uniforms bearing his image. I’m certain that America by comparison is literally nowhere. Right?
Brian comments: So, this is a common theme in some circles of right wing thought. That is to correctly compare a situation in front of you to whats really happening on earth and show that its better, here. So essentially, instead of bitching you should thank your lucky stars that you aren’t x or y, or even the dreaded z. When people complain about treatment, they aren’t saying that its inconceivable to be worse. They are complaining that they want an equal shot at awesome, that good enough isn’t good enough, they don’t think they get a fair deal today, and they don’t like being offered something close. I use the argument in the feminist movement about equal pay. So the folks who think (wrongly, but they do believe this crap) that women get paid 90 cents to a mans dollar don’t want an argument about them having 3 cents in Uganda. They want 100, here. So while these points of african atrocities are true, they will bounce off the ears of those who still have an axe to grind here. Gay marriage was another example with the right essentially saying that civil union is good enough, but the left countering with wanting exactly what everyone else has. Not a hair less. I don’t think the point in the black suburbs of Chicago , that its worse in Mogadishu , will make them come around. I think the point needs to be made however that the white slums outside of Detriot don’t have it any better, and are still wondering where their bucket of privilege is hidden.
You will notice that I have chosen examples from Northern Africa because the Sub-Saharan and Zimbabwe conflicts I can share my own person experience with you. Every single African country you wish to pick, I can give you details of the massacres, ethnic genocides and ongoing ethnically motivated conflicts. To live in Africa today is to know that each day is precious. If you are a black African you cannot assume that the black African beside you is your friend, you will have to check his clothes, his mannerisms, listen to his dialect and tone to know if you are safe or not.
An estimated 5.9 million children under the age of five died in 2015, that’s 16,000 every day, around the globe. The risk of a child dying before the age of five remains highest in … the African Region. In the USA the risk of a child dying before the age of five has dramatically declined since 1966 from 26.99 deaths per 1,000 to 6.53 in 2015 per 1,000 live births. You can go country by African country and depress the hell out of yourself if you like. The numbers go in the opposite direction.
Education? In the Sub-Saharan Africa of my birth more than 1 in 3 adults cannot read. 182 million adults are unable to read or write. 48 million youths (ages 15-24) are illiterate. 22% of primary aged children are NOT in school (that’s 30 million kids not getting the chance to go to school). Compare this to America? CIA Fact sheet is my friend, in that they identify 21% to 23% of American adults being unable to locate information in text; further, they studied this group and found that 41% to 44% of those adults unable to read were living in poverty. The connection between education and poverty then is a sound one. Given this, which country would you choose?
Brian comments: This was a big deal in Afghanistan. The push for schools was not just a feel good motion of hearts and minds. It was a tactical decision to change the map. In a country where less than half the people can read and write, you get concentrations of folks in the capital who can juxtaposed to the swaths of people in the suburbs and rural areas that can’t . Its not fluke that the only tactic tried by the Taliban in urban areas was terror, but in the rural it was more polite, even friendly. Then you go to the next phase which was literacy in Arabic, or otherwise put; how many of you can actually read the bible. And when you got to that answer , you realized that while few in a rural area could read of write Pashtun or Dhari, even less could read arabic. So the Quran didn’t need to be delivered by fact. It simply contained whatever the hell that guy who can read said it did.
Whilst America struggles to find its way to a universal health care system, Africans are dying because they have zero access to any. Why is healthcare so important?
A weak national health system can be viewed as an important contributor to poverty and inequity in the African Region… The health system can directly address inequities not only by improving equitable access to care… is also capable of ensuring that health problems do not lead to a further deterioration of people’s social status and of facilitating sick people’s social reintegration. Luis Gomes Sambo Regional Director WHO Africa
In other words, medical care is important for society. Without it people are locked in a cycle of poverty and are unable to improve their lot in life, or that of their family. To compare American Health Care to African health care is just too awful a joke: so I’m not going to. Even at its worst, America has a long way to fall before it hits the African ceiling.
I have written a fair bit about my own experiences of African war and how it destroyed my mental and physical health. But I am white. Instead I shall tell you what happened to the Ndebele (Matabele is how I say it) people when Mugabe took over Zimbabwe in 1980. Mugabe had a brutal force called the Fifth Brigade, brutal even by Rhodesian Bush War standards. In 1983 he ordered them to ethnically cleanse Zimbabwe of the Ndebele people. Gukurahundi massacres (Gukurahundi is shona for spring rains) are little known in the western world because nobody cares about yet another African genocide. Mugabe held a grudge against the Ndebele people as his rival Joshua Nkomo’s party Zapu was overwhelmingly supported by the Ndebele. In his own words, Mugabe stated that, “the people of Matabeleland needed to be re-educated”. The use of ethnic cleansing as a strategy of ruling is one that every African despot has fully invested in.
Today Zimbabweans starve. As do so many across the African continent. In America, 41 million struggle with hunger, with 40.6 million living in poverty based on a median annual household income of $9,175 (from Feeding America). According to University of California, Davis the numbers 43.1 million Americans living in poverty in 2015 which equates to 14.3%. That poverty level fluctuates from year to year but there is what they call “deep poverty” which is 19.4million people: that have zero or no chance of ever scraping their way out of the misery. When we look at the demographic make up of those living in poverty (by race) the highest national poverty rates were for American Natives and Alaska Natives (27%) and Blacks or African Americans (25.8%). (See Census.Gov American Survey Briefs by Suzanne Macartney, Alemayehu Bishaw and Kayla Fontenot Feb 2013.)
Starving is not the same as poverty.
In Africa it is pretty simple. There is no food. None. Zip. Nada. You either have or you have not.
In America it is far more complex with what has become known as “food deserts”. These are poor neighbourhoods where one finds endless tobacco and alcohol billboards, no pharmacies, no supermarkets and no access to healthy food options, only fast food joints and convenience stores.
Slavery you say? Ah yes, slavery.
The continent of Africa is the most problematic regions in terms of contemporary slavery. I can direct you to the world organizations fighting Slavery Today: yes, today. They are not bitching about an ancestor who they think might once have been a slave, they are bitching about their OWN experiences of it and that of others they have rescued in Africa. I shall instead give you some random examples from the list of the horrendous crimes against children, women and men across every single country in the African continent. Chad: a long history of slavery going back to the Arab slave trade in the Swahilian kingdoms, the IRIN report children sold to Arab herdsmen by their own parents (today). Mahider Bitew is fighting slavery, in particular child trafficking in Ethiopia, and has written widely on this subject. Catch her up. Mauritania banned slave ownership however “hereditary slavery” continues, those activists like Biram Dah Abeid who have fought it are arrested and held in jail for speaking out against the established and sovereign support for slavery. South Africa is a “Tier 2 Watch List” for human trafficking.
Brian Comments: Have a read about the living conditions in the middle east for the Chinese and Indian labourers building the facilities to host the 2022 world cup in Qatar. Qatar; the land of the extremely progressive Doha Debates ( I love the Doha debates by the way.) There is no other word for it .
It makes depressing reading.
So slavery? In America? Yeah. There’s laws and whole swathes of police both state and federal who fight that shit. You bandy around “slavery” because you’ve read some books on it, get off your ass and go see it first-hand. It exists today.
When Abigail Adams’ husband, Thomas Jefferson, Washington and Franklin fought, pushed, cajoled and negotiated their way to a free United States of America they did so believing in their dream but also fully cognizant of the dangers it would face. Jefferson joked that the US should have a revolution every 20 or so years to keep it honest. It was a carefully crafted constitution that ensured the President is NOT a King. It makes me smile when the media both social and network run around like headless chickens as if he was. He is not. The power of the state lies with the Senate and Congress. The State is a Federation, not a Republic. I find it infuriatingly ignorant when I read a post by somebody who hasn’t picked up a book and studied the difference.
Brian Comments: This is an interesting one. Federal system versus republic. I imagine with a REPUBLICAN party and REPUBLIC in the oath of allegiance, one could think that its a republic. In the true sense of the word, it is only in so much as making the point of not being British. Its a federal system, just like every other country of large land mass, and for some odd reason Germany. In most republics, there may be provincial or county governments but that is there to deliver and administer the ways dictated by the capital. In federations, the smaller parts control some of their own matters and come together only on terms of national importance. They also can be trickier to hold together and there are few successes. But there are successes and those come either by an iron fist, or reinforcing the ties that bind. I personally think that we need more ties that bind; more things that unify us. So if you had shitty parents that didn’t teach you that the flag means more than just what you think, but it represents all of us you should get mad at them and tell them they failed you. It matters. Its a thing. Its more important that you . Yup. I said it here. The newer generations advanced past us in many ways, but they need to be reminded that some things are more important than them. Stand up for the anthem. Respect that flag. Just accept that some folks weren’t raised as well as you so they may not know what it means.
Men and women have died under the flag of the United States.
At no point in American History has anybody suffered from ethnic cleansing other than the Native American people. They suffered massacre after massacre. Genocide after genocide. If anybody has a right to see the American flag as one of a colonial power, it is they. They remain the most deprived demographic in America today.
The asinine act of disrespecting the American ideal whilst respecting the British in an act of defiance against white supremacy left me speechless. I literally didn’t know how to put words to my utter disgust. The British during the Boer War were the first to create a concentration camp. The British Empire ransacked, ravaged and colonized more of the African continent that any other. And THEY are the ideal bastion of freedom against white supremacy?
No, they are not.
America as it was founded and dreamed of from the beginning. Go back to your books. Go back to your quiet space and think about the immense difference between being born black in America and being born black in Africa. I was born white in Africa and I barely survive today as a result. I am an immigrant to Canada. I believe in freedom for people, regardless of race, sex or religion. I however expect you to respect my freedoms and that includes not ramming your views down my throat or those of my children. Keep politics out of sports and if you are a wive abusing, spoilt millionaire get up and thank your gods you were born in America, the land of the free and not Uganda.
Brian comments: America has its failings. It certainly has people that want to bomb north korea but don’t know where it is. There’s folks that will argue about how much healthier burger king is too McDonalds. But every country has their clowns. I’ve met canadians that thing Regina is bigger than new york and don’t know that toronto isn’t the capital. Or that we are a constitutional monarchy. Or that the name of our country is actually the DOMINION OF CANADA. America has faults. America also has two little jeeps rolling around Mars right now. America makes over half of the worlds vaccines. If you were starving in Africa a while ago, but recently got food, chances are you love George W Bush who created the program. Or if AIDS treatment helped your family, your a Bill Clinton fan. Who sorted Ebola two years ago? We sent 100 dudes…. to help the thousands of americans risking their lives for people they don’t know. So the stars and stripes are not my flag, but when their anthem is played I shut my cake hole, remove my canucks hat, put the nachos down, and stand because now is not the time for anything other than respect.
Universal Health Care and a robust Education System have to be the goals of America now. They are the tools needed to provide avenues out of poverty and ignorance (and I will be straight with you: anybody who sees the colour of somebody’s skin as proof of anything other than an ability to sit in the sun or a propensity to sun burn is an idiot).