In the USA racism is the collateral damage caused by social inequality and injustice, and a history of slavery, segregation and discrimination.
By Phil Hall
‘Killer Mike’ in his emotional response compared the killing of George Floyd by a policeman in Minnesota to the killing of a zebra by a lion. What level of hate must the policeman have had to murder George Floyd that way? How shocking to Europeans – butter wouldn’t melt in our mouths – that a representative of the state could murder someone with such utter brutality, and that it should not be an isolated occurrence, but a regular pattern. A few weeks earlier, a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, out for his regular morning jog was shot dead by two white rednecks driving a pick up truck.
USA, your problem is racism. But most of all it is social inequality. You will see, if you tax the wealthy and the corporations, if, regardless of race, you give everyone a good health service, good unemployment benefit, a decent job and a good pension – all of which they so deserve – then all your citizens will gentle down and be friends.
When Obama was elected the feeling of liberal self congratulation was overpowering, the USA was on the way to being a post racial capitalist society. But with the same bastard oligarchs in the driving seat.
I wrote an article praising Jesse Jackson and calling Obama, Black-wash, an Uncle Tom. Then Jesse Jackson was overheard talking about that fraud, that representative of US neo-liberalism, Obama. He said:
‘Obama is talking down to black people.’ and Jackson said he’d like to castrate Obama.
Of course Jackson apologised later, but every worst fear was later realised. Hope is the cruelest thing.
Obama went to war in Libya. Obama worked tirelessly for the likes of Goldman Sachs. Obama was to the right of Clinton. Obama proved black Americans could give the finger to the poor just like any white political corporate whore.
the USA was on the way to being a post racial capitalist society. But with the same bastard oligarchs in the driving seat.
When people voted for Obama they were not really voting for his race, they were voting for radical change and they didn’t get it. Of course the failure of Obama to make radical change lead directly to Trump’s victory.
Perhaps Obama, the smooth talking, quipping, cat-got-the-cream president, the handsome new friend of Richard Branson and any number of billionaires and millionaire celebrities really irritated the US electorate when he sniggered at Trump, regularly making fun of him at the White House Foreign Correspondents’ Dinner.
After Obama had failed to deliver jobs and social justice at almost every level and after he continued with US aggressive neo-imperialist policies across the globe. Basically, after Obama had failed to do what it said on his tin, he turned around to Trump and said something like:
‘One thing we can be sure of is that Donald Trump will never be president.’
Well, Trump was elected after that and it wasn’t because he was a racist, a recidivist who represented the worst in US society (whatever you may have come to believe in the interim) it was for the same reason that Obama was elected: the people of the USA wanted economic nationalism. They wanted their companies and jobs back from China, Mexico and Vietnam. They wanted to stop the flow of migrants that destroyed pay and conditions for whole sectors. They wanted government to whip the financial corporations into line.
Of course the failure of Obama to make radical change lead directly to Trump’s victory.
For God’s sake who are these fools who say immigration doesn’t affect pay and conditions? Do they drink their coffee with salt because to them it tastes sweet? Do they fly to work on bumble bees? Do they do their best thinking stoned? While there may be net benefits from migration, of course migration is used by bosses to undercut pay and conditions. Look at the history of the Chicago Stockyards.
The US electorate voted Trump in because they wanted radical change and, because the American story for so long has been a song with the title:
‘If we only had a businessman president.’
Well they got a businessman president. They got a sleazeball, a misogynist, a lazy golfer, an uneducated fool out for his own good, a wheeler dealer with no morals. They got him.
It turns out guys, surprise! A businessman makes a terrible president. We could have told you that, but you wouldn’t listen. Too much Ayn Rand rots your brains.
Anyway, Trump is a man with no scruples. He’ll take support from where he can get it. From the white, from the ultra-right, from the Cuban exiles, from the born again Christians, from the black bourgeoisie. Whatever, it’s all the same to him. And because he is completely uninterested in the structural problems of racism and inequality in any real way, he sees only to the surface of things.
I doubt if Trump has watched The Wire. I doubt if Trump has laughed at George Carlin’s jokes or read Howard Zinn. He’s a simpleton, a TV showman, an I’m-alright-Jack, utterly superficial, utterly ruthless money grabber. And if he is a right wing populist now that is simply because that is who he thinks supports him.
These are my observations, from the viewpoint of my ignorance as a foreigner. In fact, from the viewpoint of someone who has had the US viewpoint shoved down him in huge quantities his whole life, allow me to spit.
I doubt if Trump has watched The Wire.
To me, the USA is a complex place. It is not monolithic. I’d have to go there to understand it better. Racism is endemic and systematic, but not everywhere and not to the same degree. If the black community is disproportionately engaged in crime and incarcerated it is because after slavery there was segregation and after segregation there was discrimination. When there is no alternative, people go for making money illegally.
But the USA is not like Britain. I’ve been told that if you end up in Hollywood or the wrong side of Miami then you will be robbed or murdered, probably by black American or Latino gangs. I have heard that there are places like this in Chicago. One of my Mexican colleagues described how he saw from his window as his nephew was shot dead.
Now gang warfare over drugs and street crime is not morally equivalent to standing on anyone’s neck for nine minutes. Deaths caused by criminals are not equivalent morally to the racism that drives a lynch mob. Deaths caused by criminality are not morally equivalent to the terrible harm caused by Southern segregation to millions of black US citizens. By no means whatsoever are the actions of criminals, who happen to be black, morally comparable to the enormous historical crime of slavery. George Floyd was a completely innocent man. The anger about George Floyd harks back to historical crimes, it is not just about present day discrimination.
But imagine living in a society so crazy that you can’t get out of your car or walk down the street without being robbed and killed. Imagine that the person who will do it to you is probably going to be black or Latino. What goes through your mind as you are being robbed and stabbed if you yourself are not black or Latino?
‘Why are you happy?’ ‘Because I thought I was a racist, but I am not a racist.’
‘Oh, this is simply because of the historical roots of oppression and I shouldn’t take it personally. I shouldn’t become a racist just because the guy who fucked me over was black.’
My friend Paxton was from Oregon. He came with his parents to Nairobi and after three months in Nairobi he came to me and said:
‘I am so happy Phil.’
‘Why are you happy?’
‘Because I thought I was a racist, but I am not a racist.’
He explained how there were gangs in his school and that if he ever came across a group of black or Latino teenagers alone he was in severe danger and he hated them for making him constantly fear for his safety – for his life. But now that he was in Nairobi he found it easy to make friends with everyone regardless of colour.’
Racism is the collateral damage caused by social inequality and by a history of slavery, segregation and discrimination. USA your problem is social inequality and racism. But you will see, if you give everyone a good health service, good unemployment benefit, a decent job a good pension and equal opportunities – all of which they deserve – then the people will gentle down and be friends. Maybe then, like Obama, you could all chuckle together about racism as if it were a thing of the past.
People of the USA, maybe when you get your own comfortable, brand new air-conditioned, social democracy with all the safety features you’ll all be too cool for racism.
Phil Hall is a university lecturer working in the Middle East. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain and Mexico. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.