The World This Week: Baltimore Burns and Japan Says Sorry
Dominant narratives ignore African Americans, Germans, the weak and the meek.
Far too often, history is mythology and news is fiction. Dominant elites construct narratives in which they fight with honor and valor for truth and justice against devious and deadly foes to create a safe and just world. Like Mahabharat, the great Indian epic, reality is 100,000 shades of gray.
The World This Week has repeatedly highlighted the tragic plight of African Americans. It is now almost a cliché that one in three black men is likely to end up in jail in the United States. Yet the devastation of inner cities is not quite a feature of mainstream American narrative. For that matter, neither is the desolation of Native Americans in reservations accorded much attention. In popular culture, the US is a land where seductive cheerleaders have 1,000 watt smiles and brawny athletes have superhuman strength. In Robert Browning’s unforgettable words, “God’s in His heaven — All’s right with the world!”
It turns out God might be in heaven, but parts of the world have turned to hell. Baltimore is burning. Fox News is furious. CNN is concerned. How can such things happen in the US? As Jon Stewart, the man many Americans trust most for their news, points out, such things happen repeatedly in the land of the free and home of the brave. African Americans are the untouchables of their society, lacking access to decent education, nutrition and jobs. Every now and then, when someone like Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man, suffers from a spinal injury and dies a week after his arrest, the simmering volcano of resentment explodes.
The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation has been burnished by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who decided to wage a war on drugs and crime. The operating assumption was that a state based on the Old Testament would foster order and instill respect for the law. More police and tougher laws such as California’s “three strikes law” would keep troublemakers off the streets. Packing people off to prisons is indubitably more sensible than investing in schools or sports or any other activities for disaffected young men. Furthermore, taxing the poor through punitive fines and locking them up when they fail to pay is a fine idea. It creates the right incentives for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Unlike sub-Saharan Africa, no one in the US lacks bootstraps or goes barefoot. If there is no bread, those in the US can always eat cakes.
It is now an open secret that there are fewer jobs on offer in an increasingly unequal US. A service economy has created a generation of baristas. Those who serve have to be pleasant and non-threatening. So, a pretty white girl is more likely to be hired at Starbucks than a threatening black man. Statistics tell us that black men are more likely to commit crime and tend to lack respect or discipline. It is little surprise that even in Silicon Valley, black men who turn up to interview for top firms get stopped by white cops and are told to get out of town. Discrimination is a daily phenomenon, and black men who want to work “normal” jobs have to be more proper, dress better and smile incessantly to allay the suspicion that they might be angry gorillas capable of murder, rape and worse.
As per Fox News, if only African Americans did not have multiple sexual partners, had fewer illegitimate children, became more caring parents, valued respect and inculcated responsibility, they would get ahead like Indians and Koreans who are the living proof of meritocracy and social mobility in multiracial America. No one is trying to keep African Americans down. They themselves shoot themselves in both their knees because of their culture of criminality, consumption of crack cocaine and the ravaging rage of rap.
Like all narratives, the Fox News one has an element of truth. Africans often comment on how they cannot relate to African Americans. Black ghettos are prisoners of a culture that rip apart the souls of those who live there. Bling, anger and gratuitous violence make people turn on each other. Places like Inglewood and South Central in Los Angeles have “shoot ‘em up” gas stations, murderous gangs and “drive by shootings” on a regular basis. Yet what Fox News fails to note is that African Americans are traumatized by their past, scarred by incessant discrimination and underserved by institutions that favor a dominant elite that tends to be disproportionately white. This elite is afraid of its own shadow and fears both its dark-skinned underclass and foreigners who speak in strange cadences.
Anyone who arrives from Britain to the US cannot help but notice that the immigration official is wearing a fancy uniform and packing a gun. Why is that so? Those stepping off a plane are highly unlikely to be armed. An unarmed official could question visitors and get their fingerprints. Similarly, the police in the US always carry guns and are increasingly militarized. Far too often, they shoot first and ask questions later. As many black men say, the police “ride their ass,” and they have to be super polite to avoid getting locked up. The doctrine of using disproportionate force as a deterrence destroys trust in the police. Hence, many minority communities turn to the likes of Don Corleone instead of the police. Their narratives are not part of the one peddled by CNN or Fox News.
Outside the US, narratives are equally nonsensical. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turned up at the US Congress to express “deep repentance” for Japan’s actions in World War II and offer “eternal condolences” for all Americans who died during the war. Abe has not offered any apology to any Asian neighbor for enslavement, torture and rape. He fails to acknowledge the infamous Nanjing Massacre that justifiably stirs Chinese passions. Starting on December 13, 1937, the Japanese slaughtered an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 unarmed civilians and raped with a brutality that has few parallels in the 20th century. Japanese textbooks ignore this and Abe pays his respects at Yasukuni, a shrine that honors some of those responsible for the massacre.
Abe’s apology is a simple reflection of the fact that an aging Japan with a tottering economy is terrified of a rising China with growing economic heft. Hence, Japan is asking its “so big and so strong” lover “to come a little bit closer.” De facto a satellite state since the end of World War II, Japan has lived under US protection and, in many ways, is culturally a colony. When Richard Gere danced with Junichiro Koizumi, he insisted on playing the man and taking the lead. A pretty faced American actor reduced a powerful Japanese prime minister to the role of a woman in a society known for its chauvinism and atavistic attitudes toward women.
If Japan were to apologize to fellow Asians on whom it inflicted enormous suffering, Asia would be a more peaceful and harmonious place. But then fellow Asians did not drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, why should the Japanese apologize? Needless to say, the US has not apologized for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the US has yet to apologize for Agent Orange, napalm and Mỹ Lai Massacre. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is bang on the money when he says that the US “committed barbarous crimes” and slaughtered millions of innocents. Yet the United States has chosen to forget what it did in Vietnam whilst demanding apologies from others.
Like the US, Russia is yet to apologize for mass rapes that its soldiers committed in Germany at the end of World War II. Diaries like A Woman in Berlin are unknown in countries that won the war. Russian troops raped an estimated 2 million German women. About 100,000 were raped in Berlin alone. Neukolln, just one of Berlin’s 24 districts, approved 995 pleas of abortion between June 1945 and June 1946. At that time abortions were illegal in Germany, but a special provision was made in the light of mass rapes. Today, no one sees the Germans as victims. In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a recent law makes denigration of Russia’s record in World War II an offence. Authorities can throw those who talk about the country’s war crimes into jail for up to five years.
The dominant narrative is that most Germans were evil Nazis who gassed innocent Jews. Winston Churchill is celebrated as a champion of freedom, despite the fact he locked up Mahatma Gandhi and aimed to perpetuate British imperial rule over those with more melanin in their skin. The aptly named “Butcher” Harris bombed Dresden in 1945 when it became clear that the war had already been won because he did not “regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.” Yet he remains a war hero and, in 1992, Queen Elizabeth, the last Empress of India and mother to the current British queen, unveiled his statue outside the RAF Church of St. Clement Danes in London. It seems the Germans are the sole villains of Europe because they slaughtered white people on European soil instead of colored people overseas. And, of course, they lost.
Perhaps, the Bible did not quite get it right when it claimed that “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” To paraphrase an old saying, God lies on the side of those who have more guns and gold.
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Death of African American Burns Baltimore
Baltimore has become the latest focus of African American anger over policing and deeper race relations.
It was only a matter of time before Baltimore erupted into racial violence. The city epitomizes urban deprivation and underdevelopment. In decline since World War II, when its population peaked at just under a million people, the city now has 600,000 residents — and two-thirds are African Americans.
Unemployment is around 9%, but it is twice that in Baltimore’s black community. The city has a history of troubled race relations going back more than 100 years to the development of segregated housing developments, which effectively “ghettoized” Baltimore’s African American communities in poorly serviced and cramped communities.
Now, Baltimore is the focus of violence with protests over the death — in police custody — of Freddie Gray, a young African American male, who died on April 19 of spinal injuries after being arrested and found in possession of a knife. Gray’s death is just the latest in a recent spate of… Read more
Iraq is a Model Example of “Unfinished Business”
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Aleksander Kwasniewski is a respected name in Polish politics. He served as the president of Poland from 1995 to 2005. He is known for negotiating the accession of Poland to the European Union (EU) and NATO.
Kwasniewski was a critic of the Iraq War in 2003. However, he now says the early withdrawal of US troops from the country was not the correct decision, and that Iraq is a model example of “unfinished business,” in terms of ill-prepared stabilization plans.
The veteran politician says the United States is Poland’s “strongest and the most reliable ally.” He also believes that US plans for installing a missile defense shield in Poland is a necessity, given the unstable and turbulent situation in the Middle East and Iran’s “lack of transparency” in its nuclear activities.
Kwasniewski was appointed as the European Parliament’s envoy to Ukraine to investigate criminal charges against former… Read more
If You Agree With UKIP’s Policies, Are You Racist?
To dismiss UKIP as racist is to mischaracterize not just the party, but Britons as a whole.
The titular question was asked of Fair Observer, so Fair Observer asked me, at which point I realized how little the public knows about the real policies offered by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), other than cheap accusations of “racism.”
Google reports that the two most common searches related to UKIP include: “Are UKIP racist?” and “Why should I not vote for UKIP?” Yet Britons use Google to search for UKIP’s policies more than any other British party’s.
Clearly, people in Britain are not being informed adequately by the traditional news media. UKIP complains about bias at the BBC and Channel 4 — the Office of Communication (OFCOM) is investigating the latter.
Meanwhile, other parties are guilty of prejudicial reductionism of UKIP to “racism,” as epitomized by a recent talk from the Labour Party’s Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, about “a virus of racism which runs through that party.” Read more
Lessons on Disaster Preparedness From the Nepal Earthquake
The recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal left a wide swath of devastation, and the death toll keeps rising. As the Nepalese cope with the tragedy, there are lessons for the United States and other countries to learn when it comes to disaster preparedness.
To discuss this topic, Knowledge@Wharton sat down with Howard Kunreuther, co-director of Wharton’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center and professor of operations and information management.
In the interview, Kunreuther notes that Nepal is not alone when it comes to being taken off guard by such disasters. Even developed countries such as the US have seen their fair share of events that have stressed the limits of their own preparedness, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“What happened in Nepal is something that happens everywhere in the world. If something doesn’t happen for a long…” Read more
Australia Wages War On Its Own People
John Pilger argues that indigenous rights are once again being exploited in Australia.
Australia has again declared war on its indigenous people, reminiscent of the brutality that brought universal condemnation on apartheid South Africa. Aboriginal people are to be driven from homelands where their communities have lived for thousands of years. In Western Australia, where mining companies make billion dollar profits exploiting Aboriginal land, the state government says it can no longer afford to “support” the homelands.
Vulnerable populations, already denied the basic services most Australians take for granted, are on notice of dispossession without consultation, and eviction at gunpoint. Yet again, Aboriginal leaders have warned of “a new generation of displaced people” and “cultural genocide.”
Genocide is a word Australians hate to hear. Genocide happens in other countries, not the “lucky” society that per capita is the second richest on earth. When “act of genocide” was used in the 1997 landmark report Bringing Them Home — which revealed that thousands of indigenous children… Read more
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.