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We Can’t Breathe

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‘We live in a post-racial society,’ Obama enthused, referring to his own victory, soon after entering the White House. It sounded hollow at the time, though many wanted to believe it. Nobody does today. Not even Toni Morrison. But the response of tens of thousands of young US citizens to the recent outrages in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York is much more important and interesting than the vapours being emitted in DC.

There is a vital energy to these protests. The scale, speed and intelligence of the protesters took the country by surprise. In New York they emerged unannounced at different locations avoiding the pitched battle scenario in Berkeley, created by the Bay Area cops whose penchant for rioting at the first possible opportunity is well known. Two miles outside Ferguson, white supremacists torched a black church while cops maintained order in the city. There is police-state talk of making the use of phone cameras illegal in these situations. In other words, mass arrests.

In Chicago, medicine and law students came out and lay down on the ground. It’s hardly a secret that they tend to be among the more conservative students on campus, eclipsed only by the engineering faculty and lavishly funded business studies departments. Their solidarity with the victims of state brutality against African-Americans is an impressive sight. Might it be more than a one-off?

Radical politics in the US was badly derailed by the destroyed hopes and betrayed illusions of the early Obama years (not a few of those who occupied squares in the 99 per cent movement voted to give him a second term, despite the wars and drones and a refusal to hold Bush, Cheney and gang responsible for manufactured lies and torture). Has the worm finally turned or will we see a similar outpouring of joy for Hillary Clinton, led this time by deluded feminists? If a mixed-race president could not move towards a post-racial society, what chance is there of another warmongering Clinton (with dodgy positions on almost everything including abortion rights) paving the way towards post-patriarchy? We need a break and perhaps this generation will provide one. Perhaps.

Dozens of black Americans have been killed by cops in recent years without exciting similar outrage. Most of the traditional black leaders capitulated without shame to the Obama White House. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are two of the better known names, the latter now trying to hustle a quick march on DC to regain at least one credential. The black caucus in Congress is loyal to White House and Wall Street alike. A similar situation exists for the rest of the country. People feel unrepresented. The anger over the recent deaths reflects, I think, a growing disgust with a system in which nothing changes regardless of who is elected.

The torture revelations, too, are bound to have an effect. The worst aspects are still hidden from public view, but it’s been going on for a long time. In 1975 the former CIA operative Philip Agee broke with his employers and published Inside the Company, an account of unremitting torture in South America. In Vietnam, US marines would disembowel one prisoner to scare another into revealing locations. We still do not have a full account of the way women prisoners were humiliated and tortured in Iraq. And everything since 9/11 happened with the collusion of the EU. Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband were all aware of what they had sanctioned. As were their French, German and Italian counterparts. The East Europeans, too, were more than happy to serve their new masters.

Perhaps the students and others protesting in America now will spark off something new and permanent to challenge the system on many levels. I hope.

Comments

  1. Ande Rychter says:

    Perhaps. Perhaps the American students today are more mature than the ones you had met in the Bay Area a couple of years ago, who responded to your question about their program with a determined intention “not to shop tomorrow”.
    Let’s hope for the best.
    Editor http://www.dailydetox.org

  2. John Richetti says:

    Tariq Ali doesn’t understand American politics; indeed, he may not understand politics in general. Who does he have in mind for the Democrats to run? He gives no names. If Clinton doesn’t run, it’s likely that the Republicans will win the presidential election, and Tariq Ali will be like Ralph Nader in 2000, who expressed no regrets for handing Bush the election in Florida and said in his utopian manner that there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. There is some very limited truth in that, but consider the Supreme Court. It is right-wing disaster we’re stuck with because of George W. Bush.

    • ManFromAtlan says:

      Tariq Ali (who’s British, BTW, your egregious reference to his country of birth is duly noted) might have felt, that as a non-American, he shouldn’t be saying who should run for office. It’s your job to decide, not his, and all he says is he hopes someone will rise to lead the country from the young who are finally waking up. I see this comment as hopeful, not anti-American.

      It seems you are reacting to his body of work instead of reading what he says here. Or maybe out of a general thin-skinned Americanism which fails to see how criticisms of the failures of your country are somehow ‘knee-jerk anti-Americanism’.

      The rest of the world sees you blunder all around, like a child trying to create empire, lacking the pre frontal cortex which allows you to see how your actions affect others. Don’t like criticism? Well, deal with it.

      As a Pakistani-Canadian, I would accept any criticism of my country of birth or the country I have been a citizen of for 44 years as perhaps fair comment. I hope you will accept criticism of your country in that manner as well

  3. Ande Rychter says:

    The Republicans are beyond the pale, all right, but so is Hillary. If you have any doubts about, or need a refresher, read “Stop Hillary!” by Doug Henwood in the November issue of Harper’s.

  4. John Richetti says:

    Ande Rychter is as clueless about American politics at Mr. Ali. God knows that Hillary Clinton would not be my choice for the Democratic nomination for president, but to equate he with any conceivable Republican is just purely mindless polemic. I would remind you that it was thanks to the Republican nominated justices on the Supreme Court that we got George W, along with the Iraq war and lately Citizens United. This kind self-righteous purity about candidates will not work. It makes you and Ali feel good but that doesn’t matter to me.

    • During the George W. period, when Supreme Court Republican nominees were brought in the Senate, another reason we are stuck with them is that the allegedly liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy, long a member of the Judicial Committee, did not block all or even some of them. He is the one to blame for the Citizens United fiasco, among several others we are stuck with.

    • Ande Rychter says:

      John Richetti, America deserves being governed by the Republicans.
      (Thanks for putting me in the company of Tariq Ali.)

      • John Richetti says:

        The knee-jerk and thoughtlessly uninformed anti-Americanism of some British people always puzzles and depresses me. This is a big country and not all of it deserves being governed by the Republicans, a party that I loathe even more than you do. And here in New York City where I live we have a liberal mayor who makes the mayor of London look even more buffoonish by comparison. I suspect that Tariq Ali would not be pleased by anything an American president did.

        • Ande Rychter says:

          And what bugs me is the American habit of making unwarranted assumptions.

          For such a big country, it’s surprising how many small minds it’s got. Until you change it, the winner governs all.

          No one in America is what you call “liberal”. The country has gone reac across the board. This includes your Democrats. The difference is the degree.

          Why should Ali be pleased by anything American presidents do? His track record shows concern for the greatest good for the many. An American president’s marching orders are to make sure nothing bad comes to the rich.

          • John Richetti says:

            Well, Ande Rychter you should know about small minds. Your lot (not your of course, burt you’re holding me and other liberal and progressive Americans responsible for everything) elected Cameron and his co-conspirators, the Liberal Democrats. You might try reading something other than the LRofB (I have been a subscriber since it was launched (doubtless before you were born) and the Guardian, which I read on line and when I’m in London in print.So I am open to other points of view. Try reading the NEW YORK TIMES, well some of the columnist,s like Tim Egan and Nick Kristof and Paul Krugman. Your simplistic view of politics is truly depressing, as is Ali’s (that privileged Pakistani, full of moral superiority you might know that Obamacare is a great achievement, despite its shortcomings Yes, we would all have preferred a single payer system but we take what we can get, for now. Gradualism and concessions to political reality are not something I would guess you understand.. But there’s little point in arguing with you. I’m hoping someone, SOMEONE, with a slightly more open and flexible mind might read my small comments and think about what’s happening in America (and in Britain for that matter!).

      • John Cowan says:

        Imagine yourselves, Britons, with the certainty that the next election would be won either by UKIP or NF, and ask yourself whether you’d just sit it out with muttering about how your people “deserved it”.

    • grubbybest says:

      John Richetti has written that “to equate [Hillary Clinton] with any conceivable Republican is just purely mindless polemic.” However, there is no need to equate Ms Rodham Clinton with Republicans. She is a Republican on her own account. For that matter, labels are onerous as they mask all the devils in the details. Ms Rodham Clinton has a long, if not much distinguished, résumé which needs only be examined.

      • Ande Rychter says:

        Doug Henwood (see above) provides just such a CV. In a word, she’s worse than Bush.

        • John Richetti says:

          Worse than Bush? You mean George W I guess. On what basis do make that judgment? The ignorance of many of these comments about American politics is breathtaking. Hillary is no prize; she is not Elizabeth Warren nor even Barbara Boxer (they are progressive American senators, from Massachusetts and California respectively). But in the context of Republican right wingery (vide Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio), she is a moderate. The LRB is doing a lot of harm if it encourages aggressive ignorance and blanket condemnation rather than reasoned examination of people and issues.

  5. Tim Barker says:

    God knows Obama’s rhetoric is often glib, and his policy worse. But the opening quote here-“‘We live in a post-racial society”-has little in common with his usual way of speaking about race. In 2008, for instance, he said “I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle.” If Obama had said what Ali has him saying, it would be among his most famous lines; however, Google turns up no primary source. The quote is almost certainly apocryphal.

    As for Ali’s casual derision of Toni Morrison, readers might consult her take on the question here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nem5ynIMRMw

  6. Julia Atkins says:

    Tim Barker, have you read the Remnick bio of Obama? I’m pretty sure I read it in there or in a New Yorker interview. BO definitely talked about the US being post-racial. No doubt about thsat…As for Toni, I don’t know where Ali intended the derision but isn’t she the one who referred to Bill Clinton as ‘our first Black President?’ That was a laugh, wasn’t it. And Mrs C has not opened her mouth so far on the failure to prosecute in Ferguson, Cleveland or Brooklyn.
    Richetti’s something-jerk response is that of a typical Democrat liberal. Democrats are always the lesser evil. What might be true in dsome cases at home is not true abroad: Nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Truman, a Democrat. The war in Korea? Likewise. The war in Vietnam? Launched by Kennedy and carried on by Johnson, both of them Democrats. The sanctions against Iraq that led to at least a million children dying: Clinton/Albright–both Democrats. NATO wars in Yugoslavia and Libya: Clinton and Obama. Escalating the futile war in Afghanistan, now insisting on permanent basses to shore up a puppet government and then re-entering Iraq: Obama. Unconditional support of Israel: Everyone with the partial exception of Bush senior who threatened sanctions. Bailing out Wall Street and not prosecuting some of the big bankers: Bush and Obama. Defending the CIA and preventing prosecutions of those who ordered and those who carried out the torture: Obama.

    • Tim Barker says:

      From page 551 of Remnick’s biography: “Powell’s ‘happens to be black’ terminology was not quite in synch with how Obama saw his campaign, but, like Obama, he rejected the notion that victory would signal the rise of a “post-racial” period in American history.”

    • John Richetti says:

      Has Julia Atkins ever read about the atrocities perpetrated by the British empire in its vast colonies? Such moral superiority and such blanket judgments make me sick. One could draw up a bill of equally revolting particulars for all the European powers and later for the American empire. And the Japanese were not innocent either. Julia Atkins simply hates the US, and there’s a lot to hate. But that goes in a lot of different directions.

      • Harry Stopes says:

        As a reader of the LRB since before I was born, you’ll be aware that the magazine in general, its writers (including Tariq Ali), and all the readers that I’ve ever met, have plenty to say about the horrors of the British Empire. And the contemporary British state at home for that matter. But unless you think that every conversation on every subject has to begin with a ritual denunciation of the actions of the country one happened to be born in, then let’s stick to the subject at hand. Do you dispute anything Julia Atkins says above about American presidents in the 20th and 21st centuries?

      • gotnotruck says:

        CAPS FOR BAD EYES. I HAD A POST- RACIAL EXPERIENCE SEEING GWEN IFFIL, AN AFRICAN AMERICAN CO- ANCHOR OF PBS NEWS, AND HER OWN SHOW, “WASHINGTON WEEK”. FELT IRATE SHE HAD NO AFRICAN AMERICAN ON HER SHOW. OF COURSE NO ONE MENTIONS DEMOS IN DURHAM OR CHAPEL HILL, NC, AFTER FERGUSON, WHERE EVERY STOP SIGN USED TO HAVE SPRAYED BENEATH THE ”STOP” “WAR”. NOW THERE’S BEEN A KILLING OF THREE MUSLIMS AND ANOTHER HUGE DEMO AGAIN IN CHAPEL HILL. I AND OTHER SOUTHERNERS WERE IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. ISABEL WILKERSON WHO WROTE “THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS” ABOUT THE GREAT MIGRATION OF BLACKS TO THE NORTH, RECENTLY PUBLISHED “NYTIMES.COM/RACISM ISN’T ONLY IN THE SOUTH”. BECAUSE OF HER STATURE THEY HAD TO PUBLISH IT, BUT IT’S BEEN FOLLOWED BY A HISSY FIT AT THE NYT, WITH ARTICLES ON LYNCHINGS IN THE SOUTH. NO MENTION OF LYNCHINGS DURING THE CIVIL WAR DRAFT RIOTS, IN WHICH A SHIP WITH BLACK ORPHANS ON IT, WAS INVADED AND CHILDREN KILLED, UNTIL THE SHIP WAS MOVED TO THE MIDDLE OF THE EAST RIVER. PERSONALLY I KNOW ABOUT THE KKK AND LYNCHINGS BECAUSE OF BEING IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT DURING WHICH I FELL IN LOVE WITH AN AFRICAN DUKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT AT A PARTY IN CHAPEL HILL. WE TALKED A LONG WHILE, THEN JUST LOOKED IN EACH OTHER’S SOULS, BOTH THINKING OF WHETHER I SHOULD GIVE HIM MY PHONE NUMBER OR HE SHOULD ASK ME FOR IT. AWARE OF THE KKK OUTSIDE TOWN, WISELY, NEITHER OF US DID, AND WE NEVER MET AGAIN.

        SO TO BE SARCASTIC WHICH HIDES BRITISH HATRED OF AMERICA IS ANNOYING. AMERICA HAS NO EMPIRE. WE JUST GO IN, SCREW THINGS UP, AND LEAVE. YOU HATE US MORE THAN ANY OTHER COUNTRY BECAUSE AS CHURCHILL SAID, “I DIDN’T FIGHT THIS WAR TO LOSE THE BRITISH EMPIRE”. ALSO SAYING “I DON’T WANT [DARKIES?] IN BRITAIN”. THE LAST TIME, AND I DO MEAN THE LAST, I WAS IN YOUR BLESSED REALM, I TOLD A BRITISH WOMAN “AMERICA’S PRISONS ARE FULL OF AFRICAN AMERICANS AND LATINOS. WHAT ABOUT YOURS?” “BLACKS AND IRISH,” SHE REPLIED. ODDLY, THE GUARDIAN SEEMS TO BE TRYING TO FIND OUT FOR CERTAIN AND AREN’T ALLOWED. YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO SEARCH THE BBC AND GUARDIAN FOR “STORMFRONT”, A NEO NAZI PARTY. ON VARIOUS BBC “MASTERDRIVELS” NEO NAZIS ARE ALWAYS IN NORWAY OR DENMARK. YOU’LL FIND STORMFRONT AND REGRETS THE SITE IS NO LONGER ACTIVE. WHO CLOSED IT DOWN? THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER IN MISSISSIPPI. MR COHEN WHO NOW RUNS IT, (MORRIS DEES HAVING RETIRED), WAS ASKED BY NPR, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, “WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE LATEST RACIST INCIDENT IN THIS TROUBLED STATE?” “AND THE REST OF THE COUNTRY,” HE REPLIED.

        IN REGARDS TO COLOR IN BRITAIN, I AM A MASTER PAINTER. THE BBC HAD ONLY ONE BLACK ANCHOR, THE ONE FOR AFRICA, MAKES SENSE RIGHT? NOT BY AMERICAN STANDARDS. I COMPLAINED. VIOLA! MS. ARAB NAME BEGAN TO GRADUALLY GET DARKER. AT FIRST I THOUGHT THEY WERE MAKING HER UP WHITE AND NOW A LITTLE DARKER. NOW SHE’S ALMOST BLACK. PERHAPS TAN FROM A VACATION. NOW I’LL MOVE ON TO FRANCE24. TO ASK THEM IF THEY KNOW ABOUT THE DRONE BASE IN BURKINA FASSO WE SHARE AND TELL THEM TO HIRE A FEW MORE BLACKS. JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE. BUT THE FRENCH DON’T HATE US. AS MUCH, BEING REALISTIC. IF YOU QUESTION YOUR HATE CHECKOUT WWI AND II ON THE BEEB PODCAST SITE AND A DVD I HAVE OF WWII WITH LAURENCE OLIVER GUY POINTING OU,T AS WE CROSS THE POND, “THERE BE A NAZI”. YET IN NO BRITISH PUBLICATION WOT CROSSED THE POND, WAS THERE MENTION OF THE PASSING OF THE DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE. SAD.

        I VOTED FOR OBAMA BECAUSE HE VOTED AGAINST THE IRAQ WAR. HE STILL IS SMART, AND RATIONAL. NOT “A BAD PRESIDENT.Z” AND IF WE CAN’T MAKE ELIZABETH WARREN RUN, I’LL VOTE FOR HILLARY FOR LEGAL ABORTION WHICH WILL THE REPUBLICAN POSITION. I WANT TO PRESERVE ROE V WADE. I HAD A GAWD AWFUL ILLLEGAL ONE PRE ROE V WADE. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO GO THROUGH THAT AGAIN.

        OBAMA HAS BEEN CRITICIZED BY EVERY REPUBLICAN FOR EVERY THING HE’S DONE OR TRIED TO DO. THE ECONOMIST HAD A COVER “WHAT IF ROMNEY HAD WON?” I SUGGESTED “WHAT IF OBAMA’D GOTTEN WHAT HE WANTED?” THEY ALSO REFUSE TO COVER WOMAN SCIENTISTS. AS BBC WORLD ONLY COVERS BRITISH SCIENTISTS. I WROTE THEM TO REMIND THEM AN IRANIAN AMERICAN WOMAN JUST WON THE FIELDS PRIZE, HIGHEST IN MATHEMATICS, AND A DANISH/AMERICAN? WOMAN AT HARVARD HAD STOPPED LIGHT. (DON’T ASK.) WINNING A PHYSICS PRIZE. HOW COULD THEY NEGLECT MY ANCESTOR, MARIA MITCHELL, THE FIRST WOMAN ADMITTED TO THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, WHO TAUGHT ASTRONOMY AT VASSAR WHERE THE PLANETARIUM IS NAMED FOR HER.

        WHAT’S WRONG WITH IDENTITY POLITICS? FOR A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS, IT GOES WITH THE TERRITORY. I’M A THIRD GENERATION WHITE ANGLO SAXON ATHEIST MYSTIC, AND LATINOS WILL BE THE MAJORITY IN 2044. GREW UP LOVING ENGLAND, BUT LEARNED TO HATE IT THE HARD WAY. WITH YOUR HELP.

        YOU’D BETTER START LEARNING ESPAGNOL.

  7. Julia Atkins says:

    Tariq Ali obviously misread the quote and got it wrong, but in the euphoria of BO’s triumph the feeling among Obama liberals definitely was that corner had been turned as far as race was concerned. Things were getting better. And this was also Obama’s view:
    “Let me just leave you with a final thought: that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.

    It doesn’t mean that we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

    And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union. Not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.”

    How does that stand up[?

  8. Julia Atkins says:

    Fair enough.


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