Published on Monday, September 24, 2001
Race-ing for Peace
by Seth Sandronsky
Elites such as the owner of Fox TV have billions of reasons to encourage the
stance that being anti-war is anti-American. War brings more of our
taxpayer money to the pockets of his class—corporate America. In my view,
non-elites in part echo such jingoism from the TV screen because an
alternative view doesn't reach them. That’s not the whole story, to be
sure, but it’s a part that bears attention as the peace movement confronts
the war fever of the Bush administration.
The definition of who is and isn't an American brings up the issue of skin color. It’s central to the economic system. To paraphrase W.E.B. Du Bois, the color line is still the main question of the day in the U.S.
The idea of collective punishment for the crimes of Sept. 11 flows from the current and past dehumanization of nonwhite people, here and abroad. What foreign people get bombed by the U.S. and their British and Israeli allies? People of color in the Third World. Cambodia, Iraq, Korea, Libya, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Sudan and Vietnam. This is a partial list.
On a related note, the ideology of white supremacy emerged, then dominated, in the U.S. as it enslaved Africans for centuries, murdered and maimed the indigenous inhabitants nearly out of existence, then waged war against the nonwhite peoples of the former colonies of the European empires. Thus it’s no surprise that in America some white men are now killing and wounding Afghani, Arabic, Egyptian, Pakistani and Sikh people in revenge for Sept. 11.
Recall that there was no violence based on skin color directed against the men who looked like Timothy McVeigh after the disaster in Oklahoma City. What does it means to be a white American as the president plans for war? This question needs to be addressed openly and honestly by the U.S. peace movement.
No nation is an island. No American can live apart from history.
Late last year ago I participated in a teach-in on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We focused on ending injustice in occupied Palestine. A young man suggested that concerned Americans should speak out and urge their countrymen to walk in the shoes of Palestinians.
Yes, I said. That’s a great idea. There’s just one problem. I don’t think a majority of white Americans will walk in the shoes of nonwhite Americans. So how in the world can we expect them to walk in the shoes of nonwhite Palestinians?
Consider the indifference white America has had (with honorable exceptions) to racial profiling—living while black and brown. This discrimination is connected with the current violence against Afghanis, Arabs, Egyptians, Pakistanis and Sikhs in America. As the war drums beat faster and louder, the conversation about whiteness and patriotism needs to grow.
Why, for instance, is America’s substandard treatment of nonwhite citizens the rule, not the exception? As Malcom X said, don't talk about the South, (as in) the South being the only location of skin-color discrimination. If you're south of Canada you're in the South, he said. We do well to heed this great man’s words.
How? Peace-loving Americans can redefine patriotism as including opposition to the oppression of nonwhite people, nationally and globally. This is happening, but is being largely ignored by the mainstream news media, which is underreporting people’s push for peace and focusing on Washington’s call for war. “When,” not “if” U.S. armed forces should attack those responsible—directly or indirectly—for Sept. 11 is the official story, repeated again and again by politicians and pundits.
To counter this momentum, let’s continue to remove our blinders about skin color relations here and worldwide. This will, I think, help interest the most oppressed people in the U.S. They are America’s people of color, the last hired, first fired, and the first fired upon in wartime. Their experiences must move from the margins to the center of the U.S. peace movement.
On one hand, an appeal to class is no substitute for a ruthless criticism of skin color relations. To be sure, however, white racism can (and does) flourish during an economic downturn. I see America’s record debt bubble having the potential to make the stock market swoon look like a day at the beach. More bankruptcies and job cuts certainly threaten to increase skin color violence in America.
On the other hand, where there is life people hunger for liberation. The effects are wide-reaching. Case in point is the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It helped to strengthen the anti-Vietnam War movement. Significantly, both took place when the U.S. economy was much stronger.
The opposite economic conditions prevail today. The “boom” of the 1990s bypassed many. Currently, the U.S. slowdown is worsening the global downturn. Circles of power have weakened America’s meager social safety net. The never-ending class war of the few against the many is really on a roll. In this situation, economic desperation can breed alienation.
What happens when people don’t understand current events? Some seek out new information, while others fall back on their assumptions. Meanwhile, the mainstream misinforms. As war casts its lethal shadow on us all, much hangs in the balance for the American peace movement and its response to elites’ deformed view of skin color and patriotism.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org