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This War and Racism
A mong the millions of words that have appeared since late April about abuse and torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, one has been notably missing: racism.
Overall, when it comes to racial aspects, the news coverage is quite Pentagon Correct. The outlook is “apple pie” egalitarian, with the media picture including high-profile officers who are African American and Latino. Meanwhile, inside the policy arena, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are frequently in front of cameras to personify Uncle Sam in blackface.
The U.S. government doesn’t drop bombs on people because of their race. Washington’s geo-po litical agendas lead to military actions. But racial biases make the war process easier when the people being killed and maimed aren’t white people. An oversize elephant in the U.S. media’s living room is a reality that few journalists talk about in public: The U.S. keeps waging war on countries where the victims resemble people who often experience personal and institutional racism in the United States.
In the U.S. media coverage of the uproar after release of the Abu Ghraib photos, one of the only references to race was fleeting and dismissive, midway through a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on May 3: “So far the alleged grotesqueries are more analogous to the nightmares that occur occasionally at American prisons, when rogue and jaded guards freelance to intimidate and humiliate inmates. The crime, then, first appears not so much a product of endemic ethnic, racial, or religious hatred, as the unfortunate cargo of penal institutions, albeit exacerbated by the conditions of war, the world over.”
That essay, by the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson, typifies media denial about what’s happening in 0U.S. cells populated so disproportionately by low-income blacks and Latinos. In the world of the Journal editorial page’s convenient fantasy, guards “occasionally” choose to “freelance to intimidate and humiliate inmates.” In the world of prisoners’ inconvenient reality, guards frequently intimidate, humiliate—and brutalize.
denial lets the U.S. military—and the U.S. incarceration industry—off
the hook. Yet, it’s significant that a man implicated as a
ringleader in the Abu Ghraib crimes, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick,
“had also worked for six years as a guard for the Virginia
Department of Corrections,” according to Seymour Hersh’s
article in the May 10 edition of the
. A special
agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, Scott
Bobeck, testified that Sgt. Frederick and a corporal apparently
“were put in charge because they were civilian prison guards
and had knowledge of how things were supposed to be run.”
That knowledge came from working as guards in a U.S. prison system that now has 2,033,000 people behind bars—63 percent of them black or Latino. With racial minorities vastly over-represented in federal and state prisons and local jails, such numbers reflect profound institutional biases that converge at the intersection of racism and unequal justice based on economic class.
A public-interest group, the Sentencing Project, notes that “black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a 6 percent chance.”
Many prisoners must cope with violence and duress. At the Stop Prisoner Rape organization, executive director Lara Stemple points out: “For women, whose abusers are often corrections officers, the rates of sexual assault are as high as one in four in some facilities.”
The same government that runs this prison system also conducts foreign policy that during the past four decades has resulted in bombing and invading the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq. More circumscribed Pentagon missions landed in Somalia and Haiti. In 1999, a major U.S.- led bombing campaign caused enormous suffering among civilians in Yugoslavia. Sudden missile strikes hit Libya and Sudan. U.S.-funded military forces on several continents—from Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala to Angola to Indonesia—took many lives.
Generally, with the exception of Serbs, the victims of Pentagon firepower have been people of color who’ve looked different than the U.S.’s white majority and power structure.
We may want to view the large number of Latino and black GIs as reassurance that U.S. warfare is race-neutral. But the decision to launch a war is hardly democratic. Soldiers, by definition, follow orders that result from a political process: skewed by the inequities of power and the effects of prejudice.
For troops on the ground, racial bias—objectification of “the other” —can have magnified impacts in an environment of high stress and danger. As author Iris Chang has documented in The Rape of Nanking , when Japan’s troops committed atrocities on a massive scale against civilians in 1937, those crimes were fueled by virulent anti-Chinese racism and indoctrination touting Japanese racial superiority.
We might prefer to believe that racism plays no part in the politics and media coverage of U.S. foreign policy. But that’s about as plausible as the claim that racism plays no part in U.S. society.
Trying to calm outrage by speaking to viewers of Arabic-language television on May 5, George W. Bush said the people of Iraq “must understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.” But as governor and president, he has rebuffed every plea to ameliorate the flagrant injustices and brutalities inside Texas courtrooms and prisons, and the entire country.
During the few minutes allotted to him as a guest on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” program, the executive director of Amnesty International USA explained that efforts had been made to alert top Washington officials to barbaric treatment of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody. During the May 3 broadcast, William Schulz said: “Close to a year ago, human rights groups went to the Pentagon, to the National Security Council; the president himself issued a statement in which he indicated that this kind of behavior was utterly inappropriate and, of course, it is seen to have continued long after that statement was issued. And one of the reasons, I’m afraid, is because those who undertake this kind of activity, whether they be the prison guards themselves or military intelligence or higher-ups, are able to get away with it.”
A minute later, a caller—identified as Steve from Minneapolis—made an insightful comment on the air.“I point out one other failing, in addition to the other ones that Mr. Schulz has eloquently listed, and that’s the media,” he said. “I mean, a year ago, you could have been interviewing Mr. Schulz instead of today and maybe that would have prevented, you know, this recent scandal of torture.”
While the Bush administration did little but yawn about evidence of torture and other abuses of Iraqi people at the hands of U.S. occupiers, such disinterest was largely replicated in the U.S. news media. “Ever since the war began, Amnesty International has been receiving reports of Iraqis who have been taken into detention by Coalition Forces and whose rights have been violated,” said an Amnesty International press release dated March 18. “Some have been held without charge for months. A number of detainees have been tortured and ill-treated. Virtually none has had prompt access to a lawyer, their family or judicial review of their detention.”
A statement from an independent credible source that some of the U.S. military’s prisoners “have been tortured” would seem to cry out for a quick response in the form of journalistic exploration. But the statement conflicted with thousands of news stories that—one way or another—portrayed U.S. troops as heroic and humane.
Hersh, who gained extensive access to official documents, writes that the 372nd Military Police Company’s “abuse of prisoners seemed almost routine—a fact of Army life that the soldiers felt no need to hide.” Unlike the U.S. mainstream press, some British daily newspapers have explored the racist aspects of that abuse.
In the daily Independent , the longtime Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk wrote that American and British soldiers who were involved came from “towns and cities where race hatred has a home.” He alluded to the pernicious role of some mass media entertainment—“the poisonous, racial dribble of a hundred Hollywood movies that depict Arabs as dirty, lecherous, untrustworthy and violent people.”
In the Arab world, the photographs “have strengthened the feeling that there is a deep racism underlying the occupiers’ attitudes to Arabs, Muslims and the Third World generally,” Ahdaf Soueif wrote in a Guardian article (May 5). She contended, “the acts in the photos being flashed across the networks would not have taken place but for the profound racism that infects the American and British establishments.”
Soueif added: “There have been reports of U.S. troops outside Fallujah talking of the fun of being a sniper, of the different ways to kill people, of the ‘rat’s nest’ that needs cleaning out. Some will say soldiers will be soldiers. But that language has been used by neocons at the heart of the U.S. administration; both Kenneth Adelman and Paul Wolfowitz have spoken of ‘snakes’ and ‘draining the swamps’ in the ‘uncivilized parts of the world.’ It is implicit in the U.S. administration’s position that anyone who does not agree that all of history has been moving towards a glorious pinnacle expressed in the U.S. political, ideological and economic system has ‘rejected modernity’; that it is America’s mission to civilize and to punish.”
That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about when he said in 1968: “The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’”
Norman Solomon is co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.