'I Can’t Breathe’: Racism and war in America and beyond
America’s ruling elites are blatant in their intentions of maintaining “white privilege” at home and economic dominance by military means abroad.
Their “democracy” in both of these regions is a ruse, and it is yet to deliver any degree of social justice and equality to the millions of disadvantaged Americans which are comprised mostly of black and Latino communities. The unequal distribution of wealth in the United States is simply staggering. In fact, 75.4% of all wealth in the US is owned by the richest 10 percent, according to the authoritative Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook (2013).
This influx of wealth comes at the heels of a major economic recession, of which rich bankers were mostly to blame, but were never held accountable. Instead, millions of lower-middle class and poor Americans became even poorer. And since America’s political and economic classes largely overlap and feed upon the privileges of one another, millions of Americans lost their homes and savings, while the rich got richer.
Good branding aside, the “land of opportunity” has always been overrated, as has American democracy, which has been rigged for generations to produce more or less similar results. The media - with overt and covert racial supremacy displayed by the likes of Fox News - is there to ensure that consent is manufactured in such a clever way, so that ordinary Americans constantly feel trapped between a ruling class of two strands, Republicans and Democrats, all vying for votes with the ultimate goal of maintaining their privilege.
Considering low presidential ratings, and the ever decreasing credibility of Congress, most Americans are not impressed by the ongoing political charade. However, as most Americans are held in bondage to debt, constantly striving to pay bills, incessantly working to remain financially afloat, many feel disempowered - thus politically disorganised.
After the deadly attacks of 11 September, 2001, the government grew even bolder in manufacturing, perhaps coercing, political consent by playing on real or imagined fears. Under George W. Bush the “global war on terrorism” became a tool in which Americans found themselves losing fundamental rights, herded, shoes in hand, in line to strip naked at airport scanning rooms. All in the name of “national security”.
The “see something say something” mentality, empowered by unconstitutional and divisive PATRIOT act laws, has turned communities against one another. Whatever tolerance that existed prior to 11 Sep has vanished thanks to the constant stream of hateful media propaganda, phony experts on Islam, or brown people in general.
Thus, it was no surprise that a month after the attacks, an ABC poll indicated that 47 percent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam. 13 years after the deadly events, and despite the killing and maiming of millions of Muslims so that Bush could tap into greater oil wealth in the name of fighting terrorism, only 27 percent of Americans carry the same view today. And why should anyone be surprised when around-the-clock news networks continue to dish out the ever selective news of Islamic terrorism from Nigeria’s Boko Haram to the Middle East's ISIS, and so on.
But this matter hardly concerns the media and the ruling class alone. The American sense of “manifest destiny”, accompanied by the “white man’s burden”, never truly faded into mere historical references. They are real notions that continue to exist and define “white privilege” at home, and military crusades outside.
Indeed, “democracy”, coupled by the upholding of “human rights” have been injected time and again to justify all sorts of undemocratic measures and numerous wars and military interventions, which have mostly victimised - let’s face it - brown nations across the globe.
Long before Muslims served as a rally cry for America’s malign “war on terror”, other “people of colour” paid a price too heavy to bear. John Pilger, Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky and others wrote many books detailing such atrocities. But, they have been designated or dismissed as “leftist nut jobs” by mainstream think-tank and pro-establishment “experts”, who, would insist on the infallibility of Washington no matter what the price of its mischievous behaviour.
These are not random thoughts compelled by the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East -resulting from American interventionism and its complete failure to take responsibility for its own actions. Yes, they are partly due to that, but they are also on account of the Grand Jury verdict not to indict a New York police officer who choked to death an economically disadvantaged black man named Eric Garner. This only days succeeding the refusal to indict the officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and after 12-year-old Tamir Rice faced the same fate by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. Both also happened to be of African descent.
And in case you are wondering, yes, there is a clear link between racism at home and war abroad.
US media insists on reducing the highly involved issue to simple terminology and sound bites, barely scratching the surface of a deep and long existing racial divide. Fox News is finally taking some intermittent breaks from demonising Muslims, to demonising blacks, as if they have not been victims of systematic and historic discrimination that extends centuries into the past.
Some liberals and progressives - who enjoy basking in the glory of appearing liberal and progressive - are quick to protest the moral outrage of their country’s historically rigged social and economic system, of which many of them benefited, at the expense of others. They are outraged as if the news of Garner’s and Brown’s fate are anomalies in an otherwise harmonious system.
Yet, the system has always been rigged, and none of it was ever a secret. It was designed that way so that the privileged remain wealthy and protected by laws that were enshrined for that specific purpose: protecting wealth.
As for police violence targeting black communities, a report in 2012 indicated that a black person is killed every 28 hours in the United States. Rarely do such killings call for mobilisation or any kind of collective soul searching on the part of the white majority.
While the killing of three Americans by ISIS was enough to take the nation to another useless war that has already killed thousands, the routine killing of unarmed black men and children fails to yield even proper trials, needless to say indictments. The moral inconsistency is not difficult to spot.
One recalls Bush’s insistence that American soldiers, no matter how hideous their crimes were aboard, were never to face a trial before an international criminal court.
The message was simple: those who serve power will not be disowned. This remains the case whether the victim is an unarmed black American child, an Iraqi man or an Afghani woman.
The Washington elite refuse to take responsibility. The onus, instead, is always on the victim to do some soul searching to improve their chances for living better lives; blacks simply need to behave themselves, and Iraqis need to appreciate the perks bestowed on them by “American values” and democracy. The US, however, is free to carry out the very violent policies that yield terrorism in the first place.
But how does one quit being the colour of their own skin? Black people didn’t choose to be slaves; didn’t devise the Jim Crow laws; didn’t construct the insurmountable system of social and economic inequality and apartheid that has been set in place for too many generations to count; they didn’t design the unfair tax system that keeps the poor poor forever; or the prison system that disproportionately incarcerates black men.
All of this has been the work of a well-devised system that has access to wealth and a monopoly on power that is protected by willing goons who don’t hesitate to choke an ill black man to death because he was “caught” selling cigarettes to feed his now fatherless 6 children.
“I cannot breathe,” were Eric Garner’s last words.
He died, but many millions from New York to Missouri, to Kabul and elsewhere are still gasping for air.
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Protesters hold banners during a protest after a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in New York city on 7 December