Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Complexities of Race & Class In the Age of Ferguson- Part 1

Ferguson, Racial Tropes and the Politics of Scarcity

Jonathan M. Feldman
December 1, 2014

    “In our view, an individual who loves Blacks is as ‘sick’ as someone who abhors them. Conversely, the black man who strives to whiten his race is as wretched as the one who preaches hatred of the white man.”

    “It remains, nevertheless, evident that for us the true disalienation of the black man implies a brutal awareness of the social and economic realities. The inferiority complex can be ascribed to a double process: First, economic. Then, internalization or rather epidermalization of this inferiority…Genuine disalienation will have been achieved only when things, in the most materialist sense, have resumed their rightful place.”

    “But once we have taken note of the situation, once we have understood it, we consider the job done. How can we possibly not hear that voice again tumbling down the steps of History: ‘It’s no longer a question of knowing the world, but transforming it.’”

   Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks [1], New York: Grove Press, 2008: xii, xiv-xv, 1.

New Left Lineage, Pseudo-criticism and Racial Tropes

A key factor projecting police violence is the absence of alternative sources of power to redesign police forces and rebuild communities that have become areas suffering from militarized shoot to kill patrols. Economic inequalities and the absence of such alternative power define the politics of scarcity in which statistical racism, stereotypes and other arbitrary systems are used by police.

The cultural elites, while sometimes recognizing problems of racism, fail to appreciate or address power imbalances in any coherent fashion. They usually prefer narratives and deconstruction over and above any honest assessment of comprehensive alternatives.   Even “white” members of the cultural elite will reproduce discourse that alienates other whites as they prefer identity politics as the lesser evil when compared to system change.

This course of developments represents an intellectual retrogression, a step backward, from aspects of the discourse of the 1960s and New Left period. Essentially, the language from that era is used to block a more systemic reconstruction or even alternatives proposed by radical groups like the Black Panthers.

Discourses about race have less to do with eliminating racism than a substitution of cultural politics for reconfiguring institutions. By leaving institutions as they are this discourse becomes a kind of phony outlet for dissent, i.e. pseudo-criticism (“ersatz radicalism”). This replicates a pattern found in how posited allegiances with the underprivileged are used to conceal more than they reveal (as noted by Les Black in his book, New Ethnicities and Urban Culture).

It’s certainly true that there is systemic racism in the United States, Europe, China, Japan, Australia and even a variant in post-apartheid South Africa (where immigrants have been treated badly and attacked, i.e. postcolonial racism by racist postcolonials). Violence by certain white persons against African Americans has a long legacy but the solutions to this violence will be blocked by the use of new tropes extending racial reductionism to whites. Any attempt to homogenize the African American or white population is a form of racial reductionism and racism.

Unfortunately, tropes about whites are now an accepted casualty of the larger racist dogma that permeates the United States. Videos where children use faux white accents to satirize white consciousness about African Americans (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXeWr9kQ4Kk [2]) or letters beginning, “Dear white people…,” (see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/28/white-people-ferguson-facebook-race [3]) might be reasonable if they were not really part of a project promoted by cultural elites to systematically displace issues of class and power. Thus, even when poll data is used to reveal differences among groups, it is rarely followed up with sophisticated questions about why some whites are more sophisticated than others about racial problems and how we might benefit from this enlightenment (see: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/self-segregation-why-its-hard-for-whites-to-understand-ferguson/378928/ [4]).

Many African Americans are systematically targeted by police, not just persons engaging in criminal activities but also those playing with toy guns in a park (see: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/cleveland-police-shooting-boy-with-fake-gun-dies-after-being-shot-by-ohio-officer-9878700.html [5]).   The larger context for this targeting are institutional practices adopted by police departments, institutional racism, and a society polarized by gross inequality in economic, political, media, and police power (defined by race and class) as well as systemic failures in integration.

From the Talking Cure to the Overvaluation of Race

Yet, cultural elites are unable to address these systemic problems and are largely concerned with intellectually recycling racism by using what Sigmund Freud called a “talking cure.” They believe that talking about things solves things, rather than an existential approach, i.e. doing things. It is not just journalists and the social media activists who advocate the idea that merely talking about racism solves the problem. Academics are also part of the discursive game whose structure is to combine the language of radical ideas with a totally diluted political substance. One example can be seen in an academic journal article by Amy Aldous Bergerson entitled:   “Critical race theory and white racism: is there room for white scholars in fighting racism in education?,” published by the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Vol. 16, Issue 1, 2003.

The very question posed by the article seems absurd on several grounds. First, everyone has the responsibility to fight racism, not just whites. We get this idea from existentialism, aspects of various religious teachings, and universalist themes which predate the post-New Left fixation on race divorced from other issues. Of course the retort is that universalism conceals racial inequalities, but another problem is how merely pointing out racism can’t combat racist structures. To fight these structures we need solutions involving far more complicated processes than merely referencing racism alone.

Second, Bergerson may be unaware that there are many nonwhites who are not only failing to fight racism, but promulgating it (even if whites hold a hegemonic position in many societies vis-à-vis the perpetuation of such racism). This is something that Fanon himself described in terms of ethnic hierarchies among non-whites. The whole New Left-era debate within the African American community about how to fight racism or whether existing approaches were working are lost to academic analysis that represents a rather diluted version of earlier understandings of race, class and other structures.

Bergerson describes something called “Critical Race Theory,” with the world “critical” apparently signifying something radical, but the word “theory” perhaps suggesting an academic coating. The abstract of the article reads in part: “Critical race theory (CRT) offers educational researchers a compelling way to view racism in education by centering issues of race and using counterstories to challenge dominant views in both research and practice…

The author argues that while CRT may not be fully open to white researchers, their strategic use of CRT can help legitimize its use in fighting racism in educational settings…the author suggests that white researchers must work to center race in their personal lives and work, engage in the strategic and sensitive use of CRT, and join in the effort to legitimize research that utilizes alternative methods such as CRT.” Of course, all researchers should try to figure out ways to raise problems of racism and (where appropriate) promote alternatives.

Some white persons even gain advantages based on their appearance, although this one potential advantage has often been fetishized by academics at the exclusion of others, e.g. class, being an academic, writing things that are politically innocuous and fashionable, etc. If only academics could write about “innocuous privilege” as opposed to just “white skin privilege” we might get somewhere.

CRT is based on exposing the idea of “neutrality” or “colorblindness,” as if whites use whiteness as their standard. Bergerson writes: “Neutrality is a problem because whites consider whiteness the norm; neutrality is perceived as equivalent to whiteness.” Yet, this very idea treats whites in a racist fashion as if all whites think the same and are not highly differentiated by their biographical trajectories, their class, their milieu, their ethnicity or other factors. In essence, while parts of the academic system trying to fight racism feel obligated to essentialize whites, we have authentic intellectuals like Fanon reminding us that of course non-whites don’t think the same and their differentiation explains outcomes.

The centering of race, or its inclusion in pedagogy is certainly important, but so is the centering of class, militarism, gender, existential trajectories, democracy and the like.

The problem, however, with race “centering” is that in practice race has been put in an exclusive domain among parts of academy because the system filters of cultural elites allows only a partial resolution of the underlying problems. The discussion of race without class, budget priorities, control over the media, and a host of related problems is good therapy for those engaged in it but ultimately a piecemeal intervention that won’t address the underlying problems. The turn to make the personal political ends with a politics of self-medication for academics, activists and journalists.

Given all the problems facing the United States, these discursive interventions about race have to sound just a bit radical, but not so radical as to disrupt the status quo.   Here we have a genre identified as “postmodern politics” by Stanley Aronowitz in his book Left Turn [6].

After Katrina, it should have apparent to many that the United States was experiencing something worse than racism (and in some ways slavery). In the slavery regime the slave is usually kept alive to gain the benefit of her or his labor power. In the Katrina regime we saw that large aspects of the population were rendered disposable. This idea of “disposability” articulated by Paul Goodman and Zygmunt Bauman (among others) is partially beyond race and class (or notions of discrimination and exploitation). The population that is disposed is viewed as superfluous.

There is no need to discriminate or exploit something you basically want to get rid of or extinguish. So the very notion of “racism” is not as radical as it first sounds, perhaps that is why some journalists and academics toss the word around and use that concept so freely. Of course, objectively disposability is based on racism and class, as poorer African Americans have been among the most vulnerable to this phenomena in a U.S. context. Yet, many working class white people are also being disposed of economically, together with large chunks of the middle class (albeit in less dramatic fashion).

During the 1970s, we saw some persons linking police violence to ideas of disposability such that racism was viewed as part of a power structure rather than a mere narrative. Thomas Plate, in an article about the New York blackout, “Why the Cops Didn’t Shoot,” published in New York Magazine, August 1, 1977, wrote: “Is a police department nothing more than a police force, an occupation army in an otherwise alien society? Or is it a police service, an agency of help? Under the former conception, minority residents are viewed not as citizens, proper members of society, but as the enemy—the neighborhood gooks.

Under the occupation army school of policing, the cooperation of the neighborhood gooks, in an alliance with the police against the hard-core thugs, is regarded as nowhere near as clever as the total intimidation of everyone thrown together in one big lump of alleged undesirables. But we tried winning through intimidation in Vietnam. Is there any reason to believe this policy could work any better in our own ghetto enclaves?” The word “gook” is used to signify the disposable not just racism, with the expression “occupation army” signifying a shoot to kill mentality of disposability.

Departing from Plate we see that a key solution might be to not simply discuss racism but the very organizational design of police forces as opposed to potential police services. This kind of alternative framing was precisely the kind advanced by Paul Goodman who critiqued institutional designs and promoted alternative designs, i.e. Goodman didn’t simply deconstruct the narratives of persons working out of dysfunctional institutions. While the words “police racism” gets 115,000 hits in Google’s search engine, the words “redesigning police forces” gets only two hits and “redesigning police departments” gets one hit (search on November 30, 2014).

This is a perfect indicator for the superficiality of cultural elites who use seemingly “radical” or “progressive” discourse to displace problems by offering talking cures and self-medication.

The racial background of police has been noted as a key factor in the Ferguson case. As Christopher Moraff writes in The Next City blog (September 15, 20014): “municipal police forces in America suffer from a serious lack of racial diversity — with white officers significantly overrepresented in communities of color. Ferguson’s nearly all-white police force has a long legacy of alienating the city’s predominantly black residents.” Yet, Moraff also quotes Charlotte Gill, Deputy Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, who explains that: “Looking like the community can certainly be beneficial, but it’s not the key” because the way citizens perceive law enforcement is more greatly influenced by police behavior than the racial composition of police. So, here too we see how race itself may be secondary to institutional practice.

In fact, in contrast to the idea of “redesigning police forces,” the idea of “community policing” has become highly popular. Journalistic accounts and academic studies show that greater police involvement in communities can reduce tensions if not arbitrary violence by police, although the implementation of these programs is highly uneven (see: http://www.pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2013/05/Kessler-1999.pdf [7] and http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/community-policing-efforts-success-failure [8]). The unevenness is partially based on the self-deception that introducing a policy is unaffected by the structure that implements the policy.

So while “community policing” gets over 3,000,000 hits on Google, the expression “governance of police departments” gets only five hits. Thus, here too we see evidence of how popular discussions of “race” or “policy” themselves are the other side of an utterly superficial intellectual climate.

Polls or Political Consciousness?

Basically, we have a large subset of “white” Americans who have little political consciousness about racism in the United States. This lack of consciousness gets reframed by racial reductionism in which those objectively aligned with cultural elites use the media or academic discourse to convey a narrative about “how white people are.” 

In January 2014, a Gallup poll asked “nonwhites” and “whites” about their views of race relations. This poll revealed that “the gap between whites’ and nonwhites’ views of where the country stands is wider than at any point in recent history, with nonwhites now almost twice as likely as whites to view the nation’s situation positively.”

In 2014, 33% of whites viewed relations positively compared with 57% of nonwhites.

These developments are partially rooted in an obvious racial backlash against Obama by some segment of the white population: “More than half of whites (53%) were positive about the country’s current trajectory in January 2008 – 10 months before the presidential election. After President Barack Obama’s first year in office, that percentage fell to 35%. Four years later, that figure is roughly the same” (see: http://www.gallup.com/poll/167072/stark-racial-differences-views-status.aspx [9]).

Attitudes about race relations can tell us very little about certain material realities, depending on the poll, its interpretation and the actual problem being addressed. The above poll about “attitudes” are somewhat useless for understanding underlying economic realities. So one wonders why some element of the cultural elites consistently emphasizes attitudes over structures.

Over the last sixty years African Americans have consistently fared far worse than white Americans in the labor market: “In 1954, the earliest year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has consistent unemployment data by race, the white rate averaged 5% and the black rate averaged 9.9%.” In July 2013, “the jobless rate among whites was 6.6%; among blacks, 12.6%. Over that time, the unemployment rate for blacks has averaged about 2.2 times that for whites” (see: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/21/through-good-times-and-bad-black-unemployment-is-consistently-double-that-of-whites/ [10]).

More unemployment means less economic power and hence less political power, greater exposure to highly policed areas, and thus exposure to the occupation armies and the risks attached to disposability. Therefore, if some polls convey the idea that African Americans think more positively about race relations than whites do, this tells us very little.

This is not to say that attitudes are not significant for understanding other questions. An August Gallup poll found that “Combined 2011-2014 data measuring Americans’ confidence in the police shows that 59% of whites have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police, compared with 37% of blacks” (see: http://www.gallup.com/poll/175088/gallup-review-black-white-attitudes-toward-police.aspx [11]). A 2009 article by Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Patricia Warren revealed systemic racial biases tied to racial profiling, particularly in Missouri: “Missouri, which has been collecting data since 2000, still has large race disparities in searching “practices among its police officers.”

Data for 2007 “shows blacks were 78 percent more likely than whites to be searched” and “Hispanics were 118 percent more likely than whites to be searched.” Furthermore, “compared to searches of white drivers, contraband was found 25 percent less often among black drivers and 38 percent less often among Hispanic drivers” (see: http://contexts.org/articles/spring-2009/explaining-and-eliminating-racial-profiling/ [12]).

Another important study by Coramae Richey Mann, Unequal Justice: A Question of Color [13], published by Indiana University Press in 1993, investigated five different possibilities for the “discriminatory police attitude toward and treatment of minorities.” These possibilities involve whether or not the police are “racially prejudiced,” how police attitudes might “reflect the attitudes of the larger society,” whether “police response is related to the socioeconomic status, not the race, of the suspect,” and how “police differential response to minorities reflects cultural biases.” Mann concluded that while various studies offer some support for each proposition, “the preponderance of the literature suggests that racism or prejudice is the major reason for harsher treatment of minorities compared to whites.”

Nevertheless, the existence of racist police forces presents us with something of a dilemma. On the one hand, one can underestimate racism, but on the other hand one can overvalue racism in isolation as an explanatory tool. Michael D. Schlosser, in an article for the International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, discusses the former problem: “color-blind racial ideology is a way of overlooking racism and allowing current discriminatory practices of the dominant culture to continue…Color-blind talk is considered neutral and politically correct by most of the dominant culture…which perceives itself to be color-blind and asserts that there are no differences among citizens due to skin color.

However, this is unrealistic in the United States where racism is an issue in almost every facet of life.” Schlosser writes: “racism is arguably a defining characteristic of policing in the United States today” (see: http://www.sascv.org/ijcjs/pdfs/schlosserijcjs2013vol8issue2.pdf [14]).

Nevertheless, there are also problems in overvaluing a discourse that reveals how whites are racist. This discourse is potentially problematic on several grounds. First, if whites are as racist as they seem telling them they are racist is not necessarily going to help all that much. It will be helpful or even very helpful, depending upon how it is done.

A key principle is how whites (and nonwhites) gain the “cultural capital” (or critical interpretive capabilities) to process and act on information that whites are racist.

 Some academic studies show that the education of younger students about human rights and the like will reduce racist or discriminatory attitudes. Yet, the directed hierarchy or focus of an educational setting and education about racism and discrimination is a far cry from pleadings by journalists or social media. These pleadings are at best feel good exercises that will have minimal impact on the larger society. At its worst, how is telling a racist that they are a racist likely to change the racist’s views, especially in a milieu where the mass media and so much of contemporary education is superficial? The successes of the civil rights movement were hardly based on simply revealing the racism of the United States.

The Black Panthers and civil rights movements were about creating alternative bases of power, e.g. structures be they in law, mass mobilizations or community organizations that went beyond venting a narrative.

Second, given that racist attitudes come from somewhere, one might want to develop strategies that reform the institutions promoting these attitudes, be they police forces, government agencies, schools, corporations, or the mass media. Here racism is a “dependent variable,” i.e. its dependent upon changes in institutions rather than just providing a narrative that people are racists or that whites behave in a certain way as a rule.

Yet, almost no one engaging in symbolic politics around race talks about creating community organizing schools to build cooperatives, consciousness about racism and alternatives to inequality, or skills in political tactics on the Highlander folk high school model. No one playing these deconstructive race games talks about developing new community-based radio stations to promote a political agenda to advance economic and political democracy and citizen control over police forces or the creation of a special civil rights department to monitor and limit police abuses. Very few talk about divesting from Ferguson or any community in which police arbitrarily murder unarmed civilians.

Third, one could try to gain community control over police forces where racism takes place. This approach, adopted by the Black Panthers, has the merit of at least problematizing and making a power question out of the ability to project violence against often innocent persons. Even though the Black Panthers as a social movement were far from perfect, the level of sophistication in their analysis makes the contemporary discourse cited earlier look very superficial in comparison.

The “progressive” reaction to Ferguson is yet another way in which the Left gets to show us how much we have been pedaling backwards. The reader is invited to review these historical documents around the earlier community control debate and reach their own conclusions (see: http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/Community_Control/Community_Control_Police_index.html [15]). The approach of African American self-organization in response to violence as one solution is at least 100 years old (see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/filmmore/ps_riots.html [16]). At the very least the approach promoted by Marcus Garvey teaches us that the mobilization of a community’s capacities is a starting point for creating a counter-pole to racist violence. Yet, this is a far cry from simply deconstructing white racism.

Fourth, one could assume that a significant portion of whites are sophisticated about racism and inequality or would benefit from an alternative politics. Robert P. Jones in his essay, “Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson,” published in The Atlantic, August 21, 2014 (cited earlier) shows us rather clearly how cultural elites basically diffuse this understanding by engaging in glass half empty arguments. He shows that “more than three-quarters (76 percent) of black respondents say that the shooting [of Michael Brown] is part of a broader pattern, nearly double the number of whites who agree (40 percent).”

Rather than focus on the 40 percent and the political implications of mobilizing them differently, Jones’s mission is simply to deconstruct the 60 percent who think the wrong way. Jones relates the following data: “Black Americans were, on average, nearly 20 percentage points more likely than white Americans to say a range of issues were major problems in their community: lack of good jobs (20 points), lack of opportunities for young people (16 points), lack of funding for public schools (19 points), crime (23 points), and racial tensions (18 points).”

What Jones fails to analyze is the political implications of the following data he shows: 60 percent of whites say that the lack of good jobs is a major problem in their community, 52 percent of white persons say that the lack of opportunities for young persons is a problem, and that only 31 percent of black persons say that racial tensions are a major problem in their community (using September 2012 polling data). The very data Jones cites but does not interpret fully reveals how trans-ethnic coalitions focusing on the lack of good jobs and the lack of opportunities for young persons could be a way to galvanize social movements and political organizing.

Writers like Jones, in contrast to Fanon, tell us nothing about “disalienation,” an idea displaced by racial tropes and deconstruction of white consciousness.

One of the underlying problems which police violence is part of is the economic fallout of the politics of scarcity. In July of 1917, the City of East St. Louis erupted into a race riot after African Americans were hired by the Aluminum Ore Company to help break a strike by trade unions and migrated to gain needed employment: “The violence started on May 28th, 1917, shortly after a city council meeting was called.

Angry white workers lodged formal complaints against black migrations to the Mayor of East St. Louis. After the meeting had ended, news of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man began to circulate through the city.  As a result of this news, white mobs formed and rampaged through downtown, beating all African Americans who were found.  The mobs also stopped trolleys and streetcars, pulling black passengers out and beating them on the streets and sidewalks.” Just as now, a major crisis was followed by very few structural reforms: “After the May 28th riots, little was done to prevent any further problems.

No precautions were taken to ensure white job security or to grant union recognition.  This further increased the already-high level of hostilities towards African Americans.

 No reforms were made in police force which did little to quell the violence in May” (see:   http://www.blackpast.org/aah/east-st-louis-race-riot-july-2-1917 [17]).   Today, scarcity exists in the form of mass unemployment tied to outsourcing, automation, imports and joint failures by corporations and politicians, and established media to advance solutions. In East St. Louis, African American unemployment is about 30%, so the basic problem remains unchanged about a hundred years later (see: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business-jan-june09-stlouisjobs_05-08/ [18]).

The solution to the politics of scarcity requires at least five things. First, a discourse and practice that recognizes that many citizens, regardless of their race or ethnic background, would benefit from coalitions that gain control over the organization of work. This control depends on the integration of:

(a) technology, 
(b) cooperative forms of ownership and decision making, and 
(c) networks of companies, perhaps even organized in franchises. 

At the very least such alternatives could take the form of African American cooperatives, a policy solution advocated by various African Americans like W. E. B. du Bois and chronicled in a new book by Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Collective Courage (see: http://www.amazon.com/Collective-Courage-American-Cooperative-Economic/dp/0271062177/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417290001&sr=1-1 [19] and http://community-wealth.org/_pdfs/articles-publications/coops/paper-nembhard04.pdf [20]).

Second, the politicization of procurement streams supported by local technical support systems such that local businesses can gain a larger share of work generated by university, hospital, local government and other institutional purchases. This idea has been championed by Gar Alperovitz, Steve Dubb, the Democracy Collaborative and the “Cleveland Project” (see: http://democracycollaborative.org/ [21]).

Third, social movements (including trade unions and civil rights organizations) could further promote initiatives to develop alternative, community controlled utilities and banks to gain a foothold in the economic system. This control can build upon and help promote the accumulation of political capital (see: http://www.globalteachin.com/turn-on-tune-in-drop-in-the-new-economy-virtuous-cycle [22]).  Yes! magazine regularly describes such efforts (see: http://www.yesmagazine.org/ [23]) and alternative models exist in the Modragon Corporation in Spain, the JAK bank in Sweden, and the ICA Group in Brookline, Massachusetts (see: http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/eng/ [24], https://www.jak.se/international [25] and http://ica-group.org/ [26]).

Fourth, as a defense measure, citizens must mobilize civil rights, religious, and other organizations to create citizen review panels and alternative training systems to monitor and regulate police forces. Without systemic changes to economic, political and media institutions, this is at best a reactive measure. We can build upon and develop earlier proposals developed by various radical groups in the 1960s (see above). Coalitions could even include dialogue groups among various actors, even police unions, who would benefit from a greater understanding of the very communities they police.   New initiatives should analyze how to create police services and change the decision-making structures in police departments.

Finally, we must overcome the barriers created by superficial identity politicians who simply promote their own symbolic capital in the media by deconstructing race rather than reconstructing society.

One related problem is the way both whites and black communities are treated as homogenous identities. A study of the limits to certain forms of multiculturalism by Kenan Malik addresses this issue by referring to a report by the municipal council in the Birmingham in the U.K. In his book, Multiculturalism and its Discontents, Malik gives us a clue about how cultural elites use notions of ethnic homogenization as an intellectual focal point that actually blocks comprehensive solutions.

Malik quotes a council report which says: “The perceived notion of the homogeneity of minority ethnic communities has informed a great deal of race equality work to date. The effect of this, amongst others, has been to place an over-reliance on individuals who are seen to represent the needs or views of the whole community and resulted in simplistic approaches toward tackling community needs” (Seagull Books, 2013, page 61).

Class differences are ignored because of this racial homogenization where the language of class becomes a potential bridge to discussions of alternative economic models. In contrast, Fanon noted in Black Skin, White Masks, how even some Afro-Caribbeans would attempt to promote a racial hierarchy with respect to persons from Africa, i.e. the most profound forms of racial solidarity might have something to do with overcoming class and other differences.


[1] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN0802143008/counterpunchmaga
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXeWr9kQ4Kk
[3] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/28/white-people-ferguson-facebook-race
[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/self-segregation-why-its-hard-for-whites-to-understand-ferguson/378928/
[5] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/cleveland-police-shooting-boy-with-fake-gun-dies-after-being-shot-by-ohio-officer-9878700.html
[6] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1594513112/counterpunchmaga
[7] http://www.pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2013/05/Kessler-1999.pdf
[8] http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/community-policing-efforts-success-failure
[9] http://www.gallup.com/poll/167072/stark-racial-differences-views-status.aspx
[10] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/21/through-good-times-and-bad-black-unemployment-is-consistently-double-that-of-whites/
[11] http://www.gallup.com/poll/175088/gallup-review-black-white-attitudes-toward-police.aspx
[12] http://contexts.org/articles/spring-2009/explaining-and-eliminating-racial-profiling/
[13] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0253207835/counterpunchmaga
[14] http://www.sascv.org/ijcjs/pdfs/schlosserijcjs2013vol8issue2.pdf
[15] http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/Community_Control/Community_Control_Police_index.html
[16] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/garvey/filmmore/ps_riots.html
[17] http://www.blackpast.org/aah/east-st-louis-race-riot-july-2-1917
[18] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business-jan-june09-stlouisjobs_05-08/
[19] http://www.amazon.com/Collective-Courage-American-Cooperative-Economic/dp/0271062177/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417290001&sr=1-1
[20] http://community-wealth.org/_pdfs/articles-publications/coops/paper-nembhard04.pdf
[21] http://democracycollaborative.org/
[22] http://www.globalteachin.com/turn-on-tune-in-drop-in-the-new-economy-virtuous-cycle
[23] http://www.yesmagazine.org/
[24] http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/eng/
[25] https://www.jak.se/international
[26] http://ica-group.org/

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Assata: The FBI’s most wanted woman

A new (2014) introduction to her autobiography

William Gumede

Pambazuka.org-- 2014-12-04, Issue 705

In this edited version of a new introduction to Assata Shakur’s autobiography, Prof Gumede points out that centuries of colonialism, slavery and apartheid have left a legacy of institutional racism, whereby dark skins are often instinctively prejudiced in societies across the globe. Racism is also endemic in global relations between nations.
Official racism may been long abolished in South Africa and the US since anti-race activists such as Assata Shakur in the 1970s US, and anti-apartheid activists in South Africa launched their resistance, yet it’s terrible legacy persists for long thereafter.

The challenge for both SA and the US is how to overcome the legacy of both individual and institutional racism long after official racism had been scrapped from the statue books.

Centuries of colonialism, slavery and apartheid have left a legacy of institutional racism, whereby dark skins are often instinctively prejudiced in societies across the globe [1]. Racism is also endemic in global relations between nations: nations seen as ‘white’ are invariably higher in the pecking order than black ones.

‘White privilege’, the special benefits, which Peggy McIntosh describes as an “invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks”[2], which accrues benefits to a person purely on their ‘whiteness’, is a fact of life in country and international institutions across the globe.

It could be as small as a shop assistant giving special attention to a white shopper and ignoring a black one. Or the stigmatisation of black women, who are not “passive, servile, non-threatening, and invisible”, by talking out loudly against injustices, as “Angry Black Women” [3]. Assata Shakur would have been labelled as an “Angry Black Woman”.

‘White privilege’ also means growing up with the implacable assumption that one’s view of the world, social understanding and ways of looking is the ‘normal’ – which is also replicated in companies, international culture – whether in films or thought, quality universities and global media. Those of colour have to adapt to ‘whiteness’, or play by ‘whiteness’ rules.

In both the US and South Africa racism has infused the DNA of almost every institution in society and racist practices have often become so part and parcel of habits and routine, and social and professional interaction that it is often not even recognized as such.

In South Africa incidents of government corruption are sometimes often broadly viewed by some white South Africans as a general failure of all blacks, rather than seen in their specific contexts, of a corrupt individual, whatever the colour, politics or class.

Racism has a terrifying impact on individuals. The US-based Institute for Peace Justice described some aspects of racism as a “rejection or neglect as well as attack -- a denial of needs, a reduction of persons to the status of objects to be broken, manipulated, or ignored. The violence of bombs can cripple bodies; the violence of miseducation can cripple minds. The violence of unemployment can murder self-esteem and hope. The violence of a chronic insecurity can disfigure personalities as well as persons”.

Johan Galtung points that victims of racism are often “depicted as being poor ‘by choice,’ as a result of their own actions and faults.

Part of the SA 1994 democratic project and the US post-segregation project was to undo the racism which is embedded in institutions and social life, and build human rights’ based societies.

Institutionalised racism and apartheid have left both black South Africans and African Americans, with massive ‘existential insecurity’. Their cultures were under attack, they were physically dislocated, they were deprived materially, they were deprived from equitable access to public goods such as education and healthcare. Chronic insecurity caused by humiliation scars the individual sense of self. Interpersonal relationships were broken, whether through migrant labour or because of harmed sense of self.

Slavery, colonialism and apartheid have caused ‘dislocation’ of “familiar and trusted social benchmarks”– whether cultural, individual or social. This leaves a void within many individuals. The challenge for both the US and SA is how to help broken individuals fill that void.

Frantz Fanon [4] points out how institutional racism scars the black “psyche”: causing inferiority complexes, low self-esteem, aggression, anxiety, depression, and often “a defensive romanticisation of indigenous culture”, whether emphasising fundamentalist Zulu-ness or Africanness, or nostalgic African communal development ideologies.

In our globalised world individual self-esteem, identity and value are increasingly measured in how much an individual possess in material possessions. Since a big part of the legacy of institutional racism is that blacks in both countries are invariably mostly poorer off, reinforces ‘existential insecurity’, among the poor blacks.

To overcome such scarring to the black psyche, governments need to govern in a more socially conscious way, with a greater sense of public duty, empathy, and solidarity with society’s black vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Some blacks would overcompensate for white racist attitudes towards blacks: over-asserting their ‘blackness’, always seeing the world only between black and white, and nothing in-between, as if reality is not sometimes a mosaic of different colours.

Many white South Africans and Americans appear to be ignorant of the continuing legacy of “white privilege”. Some argue poor blacks are in their predicament because of their own doing. Others say affirmative action is now privileging blacks. Yet others again fundamentalistically call for merit appointments to in effect continue ‘white privilege’.

If white, to just glibly dismiss the continuing legacy of racism and apartheid policies – the education, jobs and property bar, and long sustained attack on black self-image is deeply offensive. To argue that achievement is only a white preserve – if blacks do well, it must be somehow to do with their ‘political connectivity’ is outrageous. White instances of incompetence should not be ignored.

Some white South Africans and Americans have argued for “colour-blindness” [5], arguing race does not matter. Yet, as the African-American psychologist, Monnica Williams argues, “colour-blindness” has helped make race into a taboo topic that polite people cannot openly discuss. And if you can't talk about it, you can't understand it; much less fix the racial problems that plague our society.”

Without an open, honest and sober conversation on race in the SA and the US, we cannot understand the extent of the continuing legacy of apartheid and racial segregation, and over the policies to be pursued to rectify it.

One danger is that institutional racism at country and global levels may plunge black people into perpetual victimhood, never taking accountability for their own individual and country failures, forever blaming racism, apartheid and colonialism, and therefore not being able to actively take control of their own individual and country destinies.

Furthermore, the temptation is often to hide behind racial solidarity to support often very undemocratic practices, by our black leaders or organisations, merely because they are black and antiracists. Appeals to black (or white) ‘authenticity’ often demands closing ranks behind very dubious and corruption, personalities, sometimes undemocratic politics and (black) government neglect of its (black) citizens.

In South Africa, many black and white judges and magistrates still astonishingly blame the victims of rapes for being responsible for being raped. Surely, in such these cases, a black magistrate and judge cannot be supported merely on the basis of his or her blackness.

The American scholar of race, Cornel West, rightly argues we must “replace racial reasoning with moral reasoning, to understand the black-freedom struggle not as an affair of skin pigmentation and racial phenotype but rather as a matter of ethical principles and wise politics” .[6]

What we should not do is in our bid to debunk outrageous racial generalizations defend individual incompetence, wrong-doing and even corruption, just because of the person is black or white.

Assata Shakur left the Black Panther Party, because its leader Huey Newton, used the fight against racism to create leadership centred on himself, calling himself "Supreme Commander", and "Supreme Servant", and the organisation discouraged internal criticism.

Black liberation movements turned governments should not, after decrying discrimination by former colonial and apartheid governments, practice discrimination by appointing ethnic, regional and family and friends, to positions in their governments, rather than appointing the best talents.

Poor governance, corruption and lack of accountability, by South African or African country governments, only reinforce deeply held racial stereotypes of black – therefor better governance is crucially in slaying the racism dragon.

* Prof William Gumede is chairperson, Democracy Works Foundation. He is author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times, Tafelberg


[1] Macpherson, W. (1999), The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Report of an Inquiry by Sir William
[2] Macpherson of Cluny, Cm4262–1, London: Home Office; Waddington, P. A. J., Stenson, K. and Don, D. (2004), ‘In proportion: race, and police stop and search’, British Journal of Criminology, 44: 6, 889–914; Sveinsson, K. (2008), A Tale of Two Englands: ‘Race’ and Violent Crime in the Media, London: The Runnymede Trust.
[3] McIntosh, P. 1988. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, MA
[4] Fanon, F. (1967). Black Faces, White Masks. New York: Grove Publishers; Rajab, D. (2012). Zuma out of touch with reality in South Africa. The Mercury, Durban, January 10
[5] Tarca, K. (2005). Colorblind in Control: The Risks of Resisting Difference Amid Demographic Change. Educational Studies, 38(2), 99-120.
[6] West, C. (1994). Race Matters. New York: Vintage



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Effective Class Discussions with Black Students

How Rich Is Your Classroom Discourse?

Effective class discussions focus on critical thinking rather than right answers.

By: Jelani Jabari

You ask the students, “What is the main idea of the passage?”
Joseph responds, “Always persevere,” to which you reply, “Very good, Joseph.”
In the average classroom, as much as 70% of instructional time consists of these kinds of verbal exchanges between you and students or among students: teacher initiation, student response, teacher evaluation of the response/feedback. Classroom discussion, dialogue, and discourse are the principal means of exchanging ideas, evaluating mastery, developing thinking processes, and reflecting on content and shared thoughts.
Engaging students in effective classroom talk begins by creating a discourse-rich classroom culture. Begin the year by discussing what rich discourse is, the rationale for it, and answering the What’s In It for Me question by specifying ways students benefit.
Another key element of building a discourse-rich culture is embedding the spirit of collaboration versus competition. Classroom talk is not only a means of students supporting each other, but also of holding each other accountable by helping clarify, restate, and challenge ideas.
Students may not participate if their thoughts are ridiculed, devalued, or ignored. To that end, establishing norms of discourse helps develop safe spaces, establishes boundaries, and moves the discussion forward.
In my classroom, the norms included specifics on how to engage in active listening, address ideas versus individuals, and respectfully disagree/question. Role-playing appropriate and inappropriate actions can give students a better understanding of their expected role during classroom talk.
A third central element of developing a culture that fosters rich discourse is helping students appreciate the processes to get there versus simply the production of right answers. Make it clear that you value students strategically thinking about, discussing, clarifying, and elaborating on ideas rather than having someone simply state the correct answer in order to save time.

Complex Thinking Processes

Does most of your classroom talk consist of students recalling or reproducing facts? Or, do they often use complex thinking strategies such as making claims supported with evidence and reasoning, discerning the author’s purpose and its effect on the interpretation of text, and applying models to tasks? As you begin to reshape and enrich your classroom discourse, planning for and assessing complex thinking processes is essential.
To begin to engage students in more complex thinking processes, be clear about the distinction between difficult and complex. I ask teachers in my professional learning sessions whether the task of spelling a word such asantidisestablishmentarianism is difficult or complex. Many say it’s complex. However, if students have a good grasp of phonemic awareness (sounds that build words), spelling long words may be difficult, but not complex.
Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) model (recall, skill/concept, strategic thinking, extended thinking) can be used to plan and assess the complexity of thinking as well as the presence of rigor. This tool may help you plan for the type of discourse that evokes deeper cognitive processes. You might use it to:
  • Prompt students to describe and analyze the characteristics of texts written during the modernism period.
  • Identify and explain misconceptions around the discovery of America.
  • Justify solutions for mathematical tasks involving equations with more than one solution.
  • Cite evidence and use reasoning to support the claim that an unknown liquid is a mixture.
Webb’s DOK is a powerful tool that can help you evoke complex thinking processes during discourse. You’ll find a comprehensive graphic athttp://static.pdesas.org/content/documents/M1-Slide_19_DOK_Wheel_Slide.pdf

Engage Reluctant Students

You probably have a few students who need their mouths physically pried open before they will contribute. Some are fearful of being critiqued in the courtroom of classmate opinion and find solace in silence. Others are disinterested and prefer to think about everything else except what’s going on in your room. Here are a few suggestions for bringing such reticent students into the fold of rich discourse:
  • Invite them to discuss a topic that is important to them. Interest inventories, heart maps, and informal conversation can help you uncover such topics.
  • Engage them in partner talk (e.g., pair-share, turn-and-talk) or small group before whole group. More students participate in whole-group talk if first allowed to articulate, clarify, and reorganize thoughts with
  • a partner.
  • Appreciate wait-time. When you want to know how to repair that leaky faucet in your kitchen or where your favorite retailer is located, you want the best answer in the shortest amount of time. Similarly, in the classroom, you may be guilty of wanting the best answer in the shortest time, given the pressure of staying on target with the pacing guide. Hardly novel but wholly effective, wait-time has been shown to improve not only the proportion of students who respond but the quality of the responses as well.
  • Name the strategy after a student. For instance, when a student provides a substantive contribution, call it the Johnathan way,Maureen method, or Sharon technique.
Releasing the instructional reins to your students can make you uneasy. Fear of letting go may conjure thoughts of less learning taking place, increasing disorder, and the discomfort of not driving the wheels of learning. However, when students lead discourse, they clarify their own ideas and increase their levels of cognitive and behavioral engagement. It makes their thinking visible and helps you determine the most effective subsequent instructional moves.
To introduce student-led discourse, explicitly model the talk. Have them lead discourse about a topic many are passionate about, such as social media rights for young people, as a way to get them more comfortable and familiar with leading discourse.
Moving from Conventional Discourse to Rich Discourse
Conventional Classroom DiscourseRich Classroom Discourse
Convergent responsesDivergent responses
Known answer questions atypically posedMultiple answers/explanations possible
Predominantly teacher-driven and ledStudents co-construct, drive, and often lead discourse
Students rarely afforded latitude to build on peers’ thoughtsStudents build on, challenge, revoice, and share ideas with peers
Teacher relies on a few students to carry talkMany students eagerly participate
Aim is to have correct answer given in shortest timeGoal is to have students articulate strategic thinking

Self-Checking Discourse Quality

A few questions may help you self-assess the quality of discourse in your class:
  • Is the emphasis on giving the right answers rather than processes and strategies?
  • Do the verbal interactions follow the teacher-dominated initiation-response-evaluation pattern?
  • Is discourse carried by the voices of a few where the others are reluctant to contribute?
  • Do you often provide opportunities for students to lead the discourse?
  • Do you model and insist wait-time be used as a key component of dialogue?
  • Do you send non-verbal signals to students based on your perception of their ability to give a quick or correct response?
  • Does your lack of comfort with content lead you to pose more close-ended questions?
When you create a classroom culture rife with intellectually safe spaces and emphases on processes of strategic thinking versus production of right answers, you invite instructional episodes of rich discourse. Student-led discourse is a powerful way to let students take ownership of their own learning.
Jelani Jabari is president of Pedagogical Solutions, LLC, in Detroit, Michigan.  jabari@pdlsolutions.com
Published in AMLE Magazine, November 2014.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Black Mother's Ode to Her Black Son

I Am The Mother of a Black Son

 Sista Medina Jackson recites her poem "I am the Mother of a Black Son" at the July 2013 Rally Seeking Justice for Trayvon Martin and victims of racial profiling in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Alliance for Police Accountability is calling all COMMUNITY MEMBERS (ESPECIALLY THE YOUTH), politicians, community organizations, faith based institutions, and community groups to stand together. Stand with us as we send the right one!! We will not stand for any victims of profiling to be criminalized and go without getting justice.

This case has reminded us of the grave injustices and the many Trayvon Martin's that we have right here at home in Pittsburgh! Let's make a resounding noise and presence and make it clear that WE WANT AN END TO RACIAL PROFILING AND THE PROFILING OF ANY ONE IN OUR CITY!! No one should be subjected to such prejudice whether it be for the way that they dress, their race, religion and/or sexual orientation.




BlackBrit HipHop For Education

Why I hate School but Love Education

A Spoken Word Video from Suli Breaks.

As the cyclical and seemingly never ending debate about education rages on, the topic - somewhat ironically, often poses more questions than it provides answers.

But what is the value of mainstream schooling? Why is it that some of the most high profile and successful figures within the Western world openly admit to never having completed any form of higher learning?

Paying homage to Jefferson Bethke's "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus", a piece that received 22 million views in the space of a week, I address a number of these issues in my offering "Why I Hate School, but Love Education".

With scores of school leavers wanting to further their education with no guarantee of their dream job at the end of it, we should ask ourselves whether qualifications still hold the same value now as they did in previous years?

Does success in the school system correlate to success in life? Or is the school system simply geared towards fact retention and regurgitation?

What is true education?

PURCHASE ON ITUNES: http://goo.gl/ZhqVl
SUBSCRIBE: http://goo.gl/6mf0j
TWITTER: http://www.twitter.com/sulibreaks
FACEBOOK: http://goo.gl/z9Lys

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Racist/Capitalist Truth Behind the Ebola Crisis

 Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2013.

Source: TeleSUR English

As the Ebola outbreak rages, and there are projections of more than 1.4 million persons infected in the next few months, the African Union and ECOWAS has taken a back seat as the international media uses this virus to stigmatize Africa and Africans. Pious statements have been made by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the World Bank warns that Ebola could have “catastrophic” economic costs on the region of Western Africa. This same World Bank has not yet accepted any reasonability for its role in promoting neo-liberal politics that degraded the health care facilities of Africa. 

This degradation will be called in this statement, economic warfare. Bioeconomic warfare is the combination of economic warfare and biological warfare. In the midst of this tragedy, Britain, France and the United States use the deaths of thousands to remilitarize West Africa. 

Characteristically, this militaristic intervention with the division of the three societies between USA (Liberia) France (Guinea) and the United Kingdom (Sierra Leone) ensures that the media attention is placed on the military deployments of the western states and not on measures for public education.

The kind of international response that will be needed for countering bioeconomic warfare requires a different kind of public education and mobilization than what the African Union and ECOWAS has so far called for. Liberia, Sierra Leona and Guinea are the societies that are at the epicenter of the outbreak of (Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) that some writers have said has spun out of control. (i) These three territories are members of the Economic Community for West Africa (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is one of the five regional organizations that make up the African Union (AU). Six months after it was clear that this epidemic was widespread, in August 2014, there was a meeting of ECOWAS held in Ghana to address the outbreak. In this meeting, it was stressed that the best approach to curbing the spread of and bringing the disease under control remains effective quarantine, isolation and public education. 

There is no indication that either the AU or ECOWAS is working at their maximum effort to bring this disease under control. In the same month of August, the Director General of the World Health Organization stated that, the outbreak is “the largest and most severe and most complex that we’ve ever seen in the nearly 40-year history of this disease.”

One of the priorities of public education is for citizens to have a fuller understanding of the source or sources of Ebola and the kind of responses that can bring this pandemic under control. Citizens need to understand everywhere that Ebola is not particularly contagious. There should be the clarification that there is no cure for Ebola. All of the therapies and vaccines being used so far are experimental. 

The simple requirements of control are robust public health infrastructures, clean water facilities with sanitation and a clean environment. In short, Ebola can only be contained with robust health facilities. The very same institutions and organizations that have been at the forefront of bioeconomic warfare in Africa cannot lead the mobilization against Ebola. 

This mobilization requires nonmilitary, civilian medical leadership. Ebola presents one more challenge for a new kind of leadership in Africa that can value the lives of the producers.

Ebola: Where did it come from?

From the varying press reports this current strain of Ebola broke out in Guinea at the end of 2013 and was brought to international attention by the time it had spread across West Africa by March 2013. The symptoms of Ebola haemorrhagic fever begin 4 to 16 days after infection. Persons develop fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, sore throat and chest pain can occur. The blood clot and the patient may bleed from injection sites as well as into the gastrointestinal tract, skin and internal organs. The mortality rate is usually very high. 

This virus is not spread through the air via coughs or sneezes like the common cold. It is spread through frequent contact with bodily fluids and can be spread only by someone who is showing symptoms.

It should be stated from the outset that Ebola is not one of those illnesses which is known to the majority of healers and doctors in Africa. Scientific journals of all continents attest to the profound ignorance about this virus. Fifteen years ago the internationally respected International Journal of Infectious Diseases stated that “Filoviridae is the only known virus family about which we have such profound ignorance.” (ii) What accounts for this profound ignorance on the part of the top researchers in the West?

Inside Africa, the most experienced, the traditional healers have no experience in dealing with this illness. The reports in the mainstream media place the first outbreak of Ebola in Africa in 1976. This virus was named for a river in Zaire, Africa, where Ebola was allegedly first detected.” Then, according to information released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta,” Ebola is a member of a family of RNA viruses known as filoviruses. When magnified several thousand times by electron microscope, these viruses have the appearance of long filaments of threads. Although the CDC places the first outbreak of Ebola in Zaire in 1976, the leading scientific journals such the Lancet and the New EnglanJournal of Medicine placed the first outbreak in Marburg Germany.

One of the most profound requirements of public education is to diminish the racialization of Ebola to clarify that the first recognized outbreak took place not in Africa, but in Marburg Germany, hence the name given to Ebola as Marburg Virus. In 1967 an outbreak of haemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany.

Thirty-one people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them. Seven deaths were reported.

The Evolution of Ebola

According to the CDC, the first Outbreak of Ebola was in 1976 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In their website, the CDC stated the first Outbreak of Ebola, “occurred in Yambuku and surrounding area. Disease was spread by close personal contact and by use of contaminated needles and syringes in hospitals/clinics. This outbreak was the first recognition of the disease. (iii) Why is it necessary for the CDC to place the evolution of disease in Africa? (iv) The website of the CDC differs from the Journal of Infectious Diseases that stated, “Biomedical science first encountered the virus family Filoviridae when Marburg virus appeared in1967.”

The reporting on the number of deaths in the Zaire outbreak differs according to differing sources. One fact is indisputable. This was the largest number of deaths at that time in 1976. There were 550 cases and 340 deaths.

In the third outbreak in 1979, in Sudan, there were 34 cases and 22 fatalities.

The fourth outbreak of Ebola was in Reston Virginia in the United States. The strain of Ebola Reston is so called because of an outbreak which occurred in Reston, Virginia in late 1989. Very few following the present outbreak of Ebola know that there was an outbreak of Ebola in the Washington Suburb of Reston, Virginia in 1989 less than 20 miles from the United States Capitol. There were two other small incidents of the Reston outbreak after 1989.

The Kitwit Outbreak
Six years after the first Reston Outbreak there was a major outbreak of Ebola at Kitwit in Zaire. There were over 200 fatalities. Up to then, the Kitwit Ebola outbreak had been the deadliest. The outbreaks are usually controlled when appropriate medical supplies and equipment were made available and quarantine procedures were used.
Since those days there have been periodic outbreaks in Uganda, Angola, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and other parts of Africa, but nothing compared to the scale and depth of the present pandemic in West Africa.

In the most popular book on this virus published over twenty years ago by Richard Preston, The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus(v) readers are exposed to the twenty years of research by the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) on a family of viruses that are lethal. This book came out before the Kitwit Outbreak but we know from press reports that the USAMRID, the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other international research organizations used the Kitwit outbreak to study this virus. 

The book concentrated on the three ways which the scientific community attempts to deal with a virus, vaccines, drugs and bio containment. This book by Preston came out in a moment when the tabloid press was making great claims about the airborne possibilities of Ebola and was whipping up anti-African hysteria.

It was in the same period when Robert Kaplan had written his celebrated article, “The Coming Anarchy. “ It was this sensationalism that set the tone about the so called failed and fragile states in Africa. Robert Kaplan wrote extensively on how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism, and disease were rapidly destroying the social fabric of our African societies. (vi) Kaplan’s work was part of the psychological warfare against Africa and Africans at the moment when the peoples of world were celebrating the victory over apartheid.

USAMRID -The US Military and Biological warfare research- one arm of bioeconomic warfare

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland is supposed to be the frontline research institution for the USA in its bioshield preparations, which is the preparedness of the US government to fight against biological threats. President Richard Nixon had ended the offensive biological warfare program of the USA with his “Statement on Chemical and Biological Defense Policies and Programs” on November 25, 1969 in a speech from Fort Detrick. The statement was supposed to put an end, unconditionally, to all U.S. offensive biological weapons programs. 

The United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction was signed in 1972. Even after the signing of this International Convention a number of countries including the USA continued research on designer viruses.

Although the United Nations Convention on Biological Warfare and the stockpiling of Toxin agents was passed in 1972, the explosion of scientific research on genetically modified organisms gave a boost to the research being carried out by both military and civilian agencies that were chasing profits from developing dual use pathogens. Biological agents that were being experimented with as bioweapons accelerated and the one bioweapon from this school of dual use pathogens that has come to light has been the experimentation on anthrax.

Characteristically, the use of anthrax on civilians by the military was in the case of the racist Rhodesian military who unleashed anthrax spores in feed cakes for animals killing over 80 Africans in what was then Rhodesia. Years later Dir. Timothy Stamps, the Minister of Health in Zimbabwe, drew a connection between the anthrax outbreak in Rhodesia, the Ebola outbreaks and the experimentation that had been carried out under South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) program.

This South African apartheid (CBW) program has now received international notoriety through Project Coast where the apartheid regime was experimenting with biological agents that could be specifically targeted at Africans. The government of the United States has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the experimentation of Project Coast even though at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC of South Africa), Dr. Wouter Basson testified how he was warmly embraced by US intelligence elements. The full implication of the work of Wouter Basson and Daan Goosen is still to come to light. (vii)

The attractiveness of the weaponization of biological agents increased in the era of genetically modified organisms. Because Africa was the space of the most diverse genetic materials, scientists and bio anthropologists from the West traversed the rural countryside in Africa looking for plants with unique characteristics. In the era of massive research in the Life Sciences, many Universities became involved in dual use research.

Dual use research

Dual use research (DURC) is life sciences research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misused to pose a significant threat with broad consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, or national security. In short dual use research was research that could be used to assist in advancing human health and security or at the same time used for biological warfare.

We have learnt from research carried out by UNESCO that “military interest, in harnessing genetic engineering and DNA recombinant technology for updating and devising effective lethal bioweapons is spurred on by the easy availability of funding, even in times of economic regression, for contractual research leading to the development of bioweapons.” (viii)

This is the research environment to grasp the present outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
On the day before President Barack Obama spoke to the world on the Ebola Pandemic, the White House on Wednesday September 24, 2014 issued new guidelines intended to strengthen the oversight of federally funded biology research that could inadvertently produce bioweapons. According to the report in the New York Times carried on Thursday September 25, “The new policy shifts the burden of finding and disclosing the dangerous aspects of research from the funding agency — usually the National Institutes of Health — to the scientists who receive the grants and the universities or other institutions where they work.” 

On the same day, the National Public Radio (NPR) was more specific that the ruling related to dual use pathogens and research being carried in government funded laboratories. This report came three years after the controversies about bird flu research that was being carried out for bioterror purposes. In 2011, there had been a fierce debate in the media about the use of biological research for terror, in short bioterrorism. Then as NPR reported, “Scientists and security specialists are in the midst of a fierce debate over recent experiments on a strain of bird flu virus that made it more contagious weapons. 

In September of 2011 at a scientific conference in Malta, one scientist made a stunning announcement at a flu conference “he’d done a lab experiment that resulted in bird flu virus becoming highly contagious between ferrets — the animal model used to study human flu infection. It seemed that just five mutations did the trick.” This report on NPR in November 2011 did not reappear but in the same broadcast one noted bioterrorism expert and director of the Center for Biosecurity at a national University stated that, “It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it.”

So far no expert or whistle-blower has come forward to speak openly about experimentation with viral haemorrhagic fevers which are now lumped under the name of Ebola. Today as a vital component of prevention and public education there is the need for scientists and researchers to speak out about the laboratories in the West or elsewhere that have been experimenting with dual use pathogens. It is also necessary for the international community to know whether any of these research teams or University personnel associated with dual use pathogens has been active in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea or Nigeria before the present outbreak of Ebola. At the minimum, ECOWAS and the African Union should pressure the UN Ebola Fund to focus not only on fund raising but to also make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to fully develop the measures to properly organize against outbreaks of the current type.

From the reports coming in on the numbers of people who have been left to die without attention or decent burial, the figures on the number of deaths in West Africa from theWorld Health Organization (WHO) have been a clear undercount to minimize the extent of the devastation being created by Ebola. In contrast to the numbers being broadcast by WHO, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported on Tuesday September 23 that “Ebola cases could increase to between 550,000 and 1.4 million in four months, based on several factors including how many people are infected by Ebola carriers. 

The report questioned whether the official number of deaths recorded by WHO, 2,800 out of at least 5,800 Ebola cases, has been underreported. CDC has said it is likely that 2.5 times as many cases, or nearly 20,000, have occurred so far.” (ix) On the same Tuesday that the CDC issued its dire warning of the prospect of 1.4 million persons dying, the New England Journal of Medicine also weighed in and stated that in an article entitles, “Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa —The First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections,” “if the disease isn’t adequately contained, it could become endemic among the populations in countries hardest hit by the outbreak — Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. …. “Without drastic improvements in control measures,” researchers say, “the numbers and cases and deaths from [Ebola] are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in coming months.” (x)

According to the WHO, “Extensive, immediate actions – such as those already started – can bring the epidemic to… a rapid decline in cases.”

Beyond the Militarization of the response to Ebola
The extensive and immediate action referred to by the World Health Organization refers to the deployment of military forces by the United States, Britain and France to the countries most affected. The United States has deployed over 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to assist in the fight against Ebola. The fight against Ebola cannot be a military effort. It must be an effort that is based on seeking to bring back the health and safety of the peoples whose communities have been destroyed with hundreds of families losing loved ones. 

The United States plans to quickly increase its presence in Liberia, where military personnel are deploying to help the people halt the advance of the worst Ebola epidemic on record but we also need to know what the private security contractors have been doing in Liberia over the past ten years. President Obama has stated that the military is required to set up the medical and transportation infrastructure needed to deploy health workers. Why could this infrastructure work not be carried out by civilian agencies?

From India, Dir. Sreeram Chaulia noted correctly in an article entitled Foreign Pulse: Viral Politics, that “As the Ebola epidemic ravages West Africa, a familiar act with troublesome connotations is playing out. The international response to the conjoined public health crises in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is following imperial patterns of tutelage and patronage, wherein each of these three countries has been exclusively taken over by its respective former master from America and Europe through targeted humanitarian aid…….An erstwhile colony established by American citizens freed from slavery, Liberia is back to being literally a ward of the US, which faces no competition from any other Western donor there. Washington is deploying up to 4,000 military personnel to set up hospitals, medical laboratories and treatment centres on a war footing. This mission, codenamed “Operation United Assistance”, is being overseen by the controversial US Africa Command (AFRICOM).” (xi)

In a context where the international news media is dominated by the western news agencies, ECOWAS has also called for military mobilization to respond to EBOLA. In the opinion of this author, ECOWAS and the African Union has dropped the ball because the militarization of the international response will make it difficult for countries such as China, Cuba, India, South Korea and other societies to properly harmonize the medical response to this Ebola outbreak. The African Union and ECOWAS need a new kind of medical diplomacy which is rooted in the valuation of black bodies. 

Chaulia noted that “if the US, UK and France were driven by humanitarian motives, why did they not contribute to the multilateral UN Ebola response fund that would have distributed the funds more equitably among the three worst-hit West African countries? Thus far, only India and Australia have made sizeable donations of $10 million each to the UN Ebola fund that is woefully 

Project 112
In North America, the Fox news Organization and its affiliates have been at the forefront of the racialization of the present outbreak of Ebola. When the Liberian national was hospitalized and later succumbed to Ebola, the conservative media whipped up an unprecedented hysteria about the possibilities of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. (This patient, Thomas Eric Duncan has since passed away). Within this hysteria, there are questions in the media whether this virus could go airborne. 

Some readers will remember that the possibility of the airborne transmission of Ebola was the theme of the Film Outbreak that was produced by Hollywood. What has not been in the public domain was the fact that it was the US government that from 1962 to 1973 carried out a biological and chemical weapon experimentation project called Project 112.

This was specifically conducted so that those who were being experimented with did not know that they were guinea pigs. In 2000 when US Television Network CBS made known the existence of this biological warfare program, it was also revealed that apart from testing on individuals in the USA there were tests carried out in countries where “The US Department of Defense (DoD) conducted testing of agents in other countries that were considered too unethical to perform within the continental United States.”

Project Bioshield
We are yet to know which African societies were considered ripe for the testing of toxins by the US Department of Defense. After the anthrax scare in the USA in 2001 and the war against the people of Iraq in 2003, the US Congress passed the Project Bioshield Act in 2004 calling for U.S. $5 billion for purchasing vaccines that would be used in the event of a bioterrorist attack. There has been a ten year program to put money into the same forces that were experimenting with dual use pathogens. In the words of the Congress Project Bio shield was a ten-year program to acquire medical countermeasures to biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear agents for civilian use. The US government has been working on countermeasures against biological warfare. Is it by accident that the top three threats that the Bioshield program is meant to defend the citizens of the US from are Anthrax, Ebola and Bird Flu?

Africa and bioterrorism
Africans have faced bioterrorism from the time of colonialism and apartheid and this is well documented in the book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet Washington went into great details about the bioterrorism against black people. The Tuskegee experiment is now the most well-known case of using black bodies as guinea pigs for medical experimentation. The book on Hela Cells (Henrietta Lacks) is another devastating account of the use of black bodies. (xii)
Harriet Washington placed chemical and biological warfare under the larger category of “bioterrorism,” which “employs chemical or biological agents such as microbes and poisons in the service of terrorism…weapons often consist of disease-causing organisms, usually microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or derivatives from humans, animals or plants.” (xiii) Another important aspect of biological warfare that Harriet Washington brings forth is the fact that it can be both direct and indirect when used against populations. In other words, chemical agents can be used to kill people directly by physically harming them with something such as nerve gas, or biological warfare can be used to pollute the environment in which someone lives in order to cut off their source of food (plants, livestock), water, or both.

Cuba is one society outside of Africa that has been forced to develop the medical and biosafety capabilities after the outbreak of Dengue fever in 1977. We now know from the new book, Back Channel to Cuba, that Henry Kissinger had organized a plan to ‘smash’ Cuba. (xiv) This was because Kissinger was angry about the Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975-1976 to beat back the racist South African Incursion into Angola. Henry Kissinger who had overseen the authorship of the National Security Memorandum 39 of 1969 which predicted that whites were destined to stay and rule in Southern Africa was upset that a small island committed to an alternative mode of economic organization could ruin his plans for Africa. It was reported in the recent New York Times article that in the discussions between Henry Kissinger (then Secretary of State) and President Gerald Ford, Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.” (xv)

The Cubans have exposed that the experiences of Dengue fever which broke out in Cuba in 1977 was linked to biological warfare by the US government. This has been corroborated by press reports from the United States based media organizations. At that time the United States government blocked efforts by the Cuban government to purchase fumigators and chemicals to control the dengue spread.

As a small island, Cuba has been able to develop quarantine measures but more importantly develop the scientific capacity to research the root of outbreaks such as Dengue.

The African Union and ECOWAS must take the lead to respond to this lethal virus

In August the President of the USA called the First US Africa Summit in Washington. Although the Ebola pandemic was already killing more persons than the four episodes discussed in the website of the CDC, the White House was not focused on the devastation that was being wrought on West Africa. In Africa, Ebola has exposed the porousness of the so called borders. 

The African Union has so far failed to take the lead in mobilizing to fight this pandemic. Does the African Union have in place any kind of bioshield preparation? 

At the time of the outbreak of the HIV AIDS pandemic it was significant that western pharmaceuticals placed their profits before human lives. It took the massive organizing of a grassroots movement such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) of South Africa to pressure the pharmaceuticals to allow for the production of generic drugs to treat AIDS patients in Africa. This TAC campaign influenced the cooperation between India, Brazil and South Africa which later merged into BRICS.

The African Union and the African Union must be pushed to act more decisively
A similar grassroots mobilization is now needed in West Africa to break the slow and lackadaisical response of ECOWAS and the AU. ECOWAS has been able in the past to intervene in Liberia and Sierra Leone to bring peace. Collectively, ECOWAS and the AU possess the technical and medical capabilities to be more vigorous in response to Ebola. There is the mistaken perception abroad that Africa does not have the medical personnel to fight this epidemic. However, the ability to mobilize the resources in Africa for a more robust response depends on political will. Nigeria alone has over 40,000 doctors with thousands having experience in infectious diseases. In the economic warfare against Africa the medical profession of Africa was assaulted and there was a massive brain drain of African medical personnel to Europe and North America. 

African governments have been very clear about their objections to the wholesale migration of their physicians to rich countries. Despite these objections there are more than 10,000 international medical graduates from Africa in the USA and Western Europe. The US received more than 7,000 doctors from three countries: Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Progressive Africans will have to mobilize for a change of course so that the AU and the United Nations can demilitarize the response to Ebola.

Already it has been demonstrated in Liberia that the pandemic can be contained. 

Nigeria and Senegal have been able to contain the virus. The western media has drawn attention the fact that Firestone Company in Liberia was able to contain and control the virus on its rubber plantation. (xvi) This author is no fan of Firestone. At the recent Empowered Africa Dialogue in Washington during August, workers at Firestone spoke of the low wage and exploitative working conditions on the rubber plantation. Thus this company cannot be held up as an example, but the important point is that Ebola can be controlled and there was no need for the pandemic to spin out of control. The Firestone story also demonstrates that the military is not needed to organize the medical and transport infrastructure to contain the escalation of the deaths.

This author has been critical of saviours from outside but this Ebola pandemic provides an opportunity for the true humanitarian doctors to separate themselves from the militarized response to the Ebola outbreak. The African Union must take the lead so that those medical responders can find a non-military infrastructure to work with. 

There is the need for full scale mobilization in all of the countries where health workers, traditional doctors, scientists, civilian agencies and the military will be crucial in the fight against bio-economic warfare. Global health experts have declared the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach.

Although the media has racialized the Ebola pandemic, there is urgent need for the international community to come together for this coordinated global approach. The Ebola virus presented a real challenge to Africa and the deployment of scientists, community health workers, volunteers and health brigades to combat this virus is one of the most important tasks of reconstruction in Africa.


i 1. Evan Horowitz, “How the Ebola Virus Spun Out of Control,” Boston Globe, October 8, 2014. http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2014/10/08/how-this-ebola-outbreak-spun-out-control/b3Fea51l1oRs4c0gjN36EM/story.html
ii 2. C. J. Peters, J. W. LeDuc, “An Introduction to Ebola: The Virus and the Disease,” The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 179, Supplement 1. Ebola: The Virus and the Disease (Feb., 1999), pp. ix-xvi
iii Outbreaks Chronology: Ebola Virus Disease, CDC, Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease, in Chronological Order: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/history/chronology.html
iv See Centers for Disease Control, “Known Cases and Outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease, in Chronological Order:” http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/history/chronology.html
v Richard Preston, The HotZone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus,” Anchor books, 1995.
vi Robert Kaplan, “The Coming Anarchy,” The Atlantic, February, 1994 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/02/the-coming-anarchy/304670/
vii Helen E. Pruitt, Stephen F. Burgess: South Africa’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2005
viii Edgar J. DaSilva,” Biological warfare, bioterrorism, biodefence and the biological and toxin weapons convention,” Electronic Journal of Biotechnology,Volume 2, No 3, December 1999. See also Wright, S. (1985). “The military and the new biology. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41:10-16.
ix “Estimating the Future Number of Cases in the Ebola Epidemic—Liberia and Sierra Leone, 2014–2015,” http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/qa-mmwr-estimating-future-cases.html
x Bruce et al, B. p.-M. “Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa —The First 9 Months of the Epidemic and Forward Projections.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 2014.
xi Sreeram Chaulia, “Viral Politics, Foreign Pulse, October 8, 2014.”http://www.asianage.com/columnists/foreign-pulse-viral-politics-226
xii Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Broadway Books, New York 2011
xiii Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Anchor Books, New York 2008 page 365
xiv William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh, Back Channel to Cuba, University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2014.
xv Frances Robles, “Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show,” New York Times, September 30, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/world/americas/kissinger-drew-up-plans-to-attack-cuba-records-show.html
xvi National Public Radio, “Firestone Did What Governments Have Not: Stopped Ebola In Its Tracks.” http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/10/06/354054915/firestone-did-what-governments-have-not-stopped-ebola-in-its-tracks