Wilberne Persuad, Guest Columnist
Three weeks ago, The Sunday Gleaner published 'Race and politics in the US' in the In Focus section of the newspaper. The piece attempted to make sense of the ongoing discomfort of white people and black people occasioned by recall of the history of those former North American colonies of France and Britain now the United States (US).
That history includes what today we define as genocide: native Indians decimated and eventually relegated in minuscule numbers to reservations. Exploitation of enslaved black Africans to create wealth for white Europeans and the ongoing discrimination and inhuman treatment meted out to blacks for centuries provide the second backdrop.
No attempt was made to demonise anything or anyone. Mine was an effort to place some ugly historical facts in perspective, to make some sense of attitudes underlying the race question in the US. The piece elicited comments, two of which - diametric opposites - it is worthwhile to explore:
"I know that you like history, since your op-eds reflect a deep knowledge and understanding of the subject. Congratulations on a beautiful summary of the last 500 years of world history in today's column. It might even be called a précis of 'Guns, Germs, and Steel', written from the perspective of an economist.
"However, history does not explain everything, like DNA does, and important and influential facts are often deliberately left out of the official register in order to protect powerful people, or to make them seem more benevolent than they really are. It seems to me that historical novelists often have greater understanding of things which happen on the other side of the blanket, since they rarely have the illusion that human behaviour can be subjected to the rules of Occam like historians do."
This is interesting. For indeed novels, some rendered in film, tell fascinating, if troubling, stories of the travails of blacks in the US. In Driving Miss Daisy, some discern a benign perspective of mental slavery amid uncommon folk wisdom in the driver 'Hoke' (Morgan Freeman), while two Alabama patrolmen utter openly racist comments against both blacks and Jews, even as change is about to come as Martin Luther King Jr speaks at a dinner.
To Kill a Mocking Bird, continuously in print since 1960, is rated as having sold 30 million copies. The novel, made into a film, tells a story of racial inequality, its association with rape and unashamed use of the judicial system in perpetration of rank, open injustice based entirely on racial prejudice. Atticus, a white lawyer, despite threatening resentment of his peers and others, represents and defends the black man Tom Robinson, accused of rape. Robinson, nevertheless, is ultimately wrongfully convicted.
In the realm of history, economy, sociology and social psychology, Douglas Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II and Khalil Gibran Muhammad's The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America both tell a tale many prefer not to confront.
Better for documents, copies of legislation, accounting books, diaries, etc., upon which these narratives and analysis are based, to have remained among the archives, preferably to gather dust rather than having been made accessible to readers by the work of the authors who unearthed them. There are indeed some school districts in the US in which politics determines the content of required reading in history texts. Some downplay Martin Luther King Jr and emphasise Ronald Reagan.
The second comment is different. It comes in the form of an email with a slew of documents from a source calling itself 'John Anthony'. I had been receiving emails with this name a few years ago and managed to block it. Recently, it has defeated the block. Addressed to me this time, I had to read it.
The primary recipient is 'DEMOCRATIC PARTISAN wilberne persaud'. This is followed by 14 lines of recipients each containing at least three names for an estimated minimum of 42. These represent people, mainly journalists writing in Jamaican newspapers. The subject line reads: "Willbe Persaud of the Gleaner slams Republican racist jokes BUT fails to mention the Actual Racist History, of the Democratic Party! Here in all its glory are the facts they ERASED from the J'can history books and which this partisan journalist omit." Superb propaganda language!
The mail then documents particular aspects of US history related to racial issues connected to the Democratic Party and its supporters. The material I did glance through appears of valid source. But who, or rather what, is John Anthony? Most likely a propaganda machine funded to work in the cause of the Republican Party.
The fact is, race was an organising principle in America for longer than we wish to remember. The politics of race permeated the parties. Indeed, elements of the Ku Klux Klan in the South were, at one time not so long ago, part of the Democratic Party. No one denies these facts. The issue highlighted in the column is the current attitude of the Romney campaign to race and chances of winning the presidency.
As Barack Obama took the oath becoming president, the world harboured the thought, for a moment, a brief moment, that America was finally transcending its historically and extant ugly pox. But from that moment of inauguration, the Republican Party set out to nuke this fragile, worthy, fledgling new reality. There would be no cooperation; any idea, even if previously championed by Republicans for a decade, once adopted for implementation by Obama, would be opposed.
GOAL: BOOT OBAMA
Their official goal belatedly admitted by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." The filibuster became a way of life. Governing with an ordinary majority became impossible.
The Republican playbook casts Barack Obama as 'angry', the 'food stamp president', the most 'divisive president ever', destroying the 'work' in welfare, robbing Medicare of more than US$600 billion, and the list goes on. These are all lies, self-conscious and deliberate, unadulterated lies, so identified by reputable, non-partisan institutions and commentators.
But they are calculated, by experts in the field of persuasion, to appeal to racial prejudice, to deflect animosity from the one per cent and Romney's secret tax returns, towards 'lazy blacks' allergic to work but taking welfare from toiling white working-class folk. Plus, use Republican-controlled state legislatures to deny the vote to African Americans, Hispanics and other Democratic-leaning parts of the population. What would the Carter Center say should it participate as an observer in the upcoming US elections? Perhaps Jamaica's Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections might play a useful role. This is the ugly reality of today's American politics.
The economic consequences of a Romney victory are dire. Mid-2015: Class warfare predicted by Marx and Engels finally threatens as the true historic material conditions for bourgeoisie vs proletariat emerge. The world economy stutters as the housing and unemployment crises intensify, and social services deteriorate. Orwellian 'Right-to-Work Law' proliferates across the states, causing the working poor to multiply as health status of women, children and retirees worsens.
Rambo-style assault weapons, bazookas, stinger missiles, mega ammo clips, concealed gun-carry and 'stand-your-ground' laws are now ubiquitous in a Romney presidency. Predictions of hunger, food riots, police repression and brutality in the USA and some of the more bizarre prognostications of conspiracy theorists about the economy and currency don't seem so 'other-worldly' after all.
Wilberne Persaud is author of 'Jamaica Meltdown: Indigenous Financial Sector Crash 1996'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.