By Jonathan Farley
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Racism: The soft underbelly of America

This article is over 22 years, 6 months old
Shortly after the 'Guardian' published my essay on why blacks should fight against the war, someone e-mailed me.
Issue 259

‘Dear Swine,’ he politely began, ‘you will be exterminated.’ The message was anonymously signed, ‘An American.’ The fact that the man’s full name and address appeared in the e-mail header tells us two things about this war–namely that it is founded on both ignorance and racism. To stop the war we will need to counter both. I would like to suggest how.

The first main myth about the American peace movement is that there is one. Fahd, a former student of mine in New York City (and a socialist of Pakistani descent), wrote to me saying, ‘Since 11 September public dissent has been almost nil.’ The absence of an American opposition is so acute that people think it is anti-American to be anti-war. Chelsea Clinton went so far as to say that, because of the anti-war sentiment in England, she no longer wants to have non-Americans as friends – no doubt disappointing most readers of Socialist Review. An American Guardian reader even told me to ‘go back to Africa’. As it happens, I do come from the Third World – a place where, if you question the government, you could lose your job, get bomb threats and be arrested without charge – a place called Nashville, Tennessee.

Some of the victims’ relatives oppose the war, and demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington have drawn thousands. A peace movement can be built, but we need to know where to start and how to do it.

The second main myth about the war on terror is that it is one. In fact, Americans care little about terrorism when the victims are black and the terrorists white.

Only three years ago a statue honouring the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was erected in Nashville. There is even a state park named after him. In the 1960s J Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI and an avowed white supremacist, fashioned a secret programme called Cointelpro to ‘neutralise’ black leaders. His targets were Martin Luther King (a Communist taking orders from Beijing, apparently), Malcolm X (especially after his move towards socialism), and the Marxist-Leninist Black Panther Party. Hoover spent $100 million to accomplish this task, using methods ranging from frameups to assassination. Yet the FBI headquarters are named after him.

The greatest act of domestic terrorism before 11 September took place in Oklahoma, but not in 1995 – in 1921. Jealous over the economic success of local blacks, whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma, razed ‘Black Wall Street’ to the ground, bombarding it by air and killing hundreds, perhaps thousands.

Similarly, in 1985 police in Philadelphia dropped a bomb on a house belonging to some local black political activists. Six adults and five children who lived in the house died. Some 60 neighbourhood buildings went up in flames, and hundreds lost their homes. The police and fire commissioners were held responsible and fined $11. When the victims of terror are black there are no cries for retaliation, no calls for vengeance, only the silence of smouldering ashes.

So why, then, is the war being fought? Wiser heads than mine talk of the Caspian Sea and oil. Maybe they’re right. But the men prosecuting this war are not wise – their reasons may be simpler. They like to bomb brown people.

My suggestion for how we can begin to turn the war around is simple, and involves both individuals and organisations. Each of you as an individual can find your favorite American newspaper – -the New York Times, USA Today, the Tennessean – and write a letter to the editor, saying, ‘We will take your war on terror seriously when you crack down on the KKK, when you jail policemen who murder innocent blacks, when you give reparations to the terror victims of slavery and segregation.’ Americans will then be forced to defend their domestic policies, whereas right now they feel no need to justify anything. America with one arm tied behind its back would at least have only one arm free with which to bludgeon the rest of the world. If the militarists now claim the high ground, then let us drive them off it with lightning.

Organisations need to make contacts at local and national level with African-Americans. The Socialist Alliance should have high profile meetings with Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, Jesse Jackson, and Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Cynthia McKinney. Discussions should focus on the war, Cointelpro, and reparations for slavery and segregation. Contacts should also be made with hip-hop artists and magazines like the Source, and with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a consortium of 200 black newspapers. If groups here in Britain can work to remind African-Americans that we have been victims of 200 years of terror, for which Uncle Sam has not shed a tear, then we can build an anti-war movement 40 million strong.

Racism, to borrow a phrase from Churchill, is the soft underbelly of America. It cannot be defended, and there are millions who are willing to assail it there if they are roused to action. African-Americans are willing to fight against terror–the terror of the KKK, the police and the FBI. We are willing to combat religious fundamentalists and their unelected leaders – like George Bush. While most African-Americans now support the bombing, it is still significant that a black woman was the sole member of Congress to vote against Bush on the war.

Bush says that we are either with him or against him. African-Americans, if prompted, will agree. We are against him.

Jonathan Farley

Dr Jonathan Farley is a Distinguished Scholar at Oxford University and a Green Party candidate for the US congress

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