Friday, March 7, 2008

Bedfellows-Edited--Again!

I posted a previous version of this a little while ago and it was not a complete version. That's what happens when you try to write a meaningful blog with a toddler around.

Moving from micro to macro here....

One of the blogs I read every day is The Field Negro. A few days ago, Field posted a rebuttal and link to another blogger who had posted her thoughts on the existence (or lack thereof, really) of racism and what she, as a white woman, views as the problem with black people.

I checked out the woman's site and she has what I would call some angry views about the world. She's angry at blacks, Muslims, liberals, communists, socialists, etc. etc. I didn't see any posts about illegal immigrants, but I am sure they receive her wrath too. If you go look at it, make sure to read the comments and her responses to them. They are more telling, really, than the original post.

I don't want to try to repeat her beliefs here, because it would take awhile and they seem more hate-filled than well-reasoned. Let's just say she doesn't understand why African Americans harbor any feelings of oppression and doesn't get why they might be upset with American society. She also proclaims a hatred for the Muslim religion and its adherents. ALL Muslims, not just radical fundamental groups.

She has the two issues on the same page and in looking at her blog, I was reminded of the work of New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman. Friedman has studied and written extensively on terrorism and America's relationship with the Middle East. A few years ago, his work was featured in a news program documentary. I can't remember the specifics. I have a recording of it somewhere, but it is in one of my gazillion school boxes. In it, Friedman interviews young people in the Middle East and asks them what they think about America. It was riveting.

What you hear especially in the young men's replies and what Friedman also writes about in his essays on the subject, is that these young Muslim men feel oppressed. They feel shut out of economic opportunity and trapped in third world poverty. They feel they have no future. They are aware of the wealth we all enjoy in the US and they resent that they may never have the opportunity to enjoy such wealth because of the economic structure of their countries and lack of opportunities.

What struck me especially hard was that these young men feel emasculated by the U.S. and Western culture. The Arabian empire was once one of the greatest empires on earth. Our earliest civilizations sprung up in the Middle East. These young know the long and important history of their land and people and they resent that they no longer hold the power they once did.

When you combine these feelings of inferiority and oppression, you get rage and rebellion, hence the violence we know see being played out on the world stage.

I suggested to this blogger that perhaps she should read Friedman's work as it might inform her views of race in the US. Friedman's explanation for terrorism also holds true for the young male African American population in the US, albeit on a smaller scale. Thankfully, these feelings have not resulted in the horrific violence they have in Middle East, but they fall on the same spectrum.

I am a white female, but I think I can say without a doubt that African American men have also felt oppression and lack of economic opportunity. They also feel emasculated by white society. Isn't it the same basic feelings that Friedman asserts drive young Muslim terrorists?


This whole line of thought is not new theory. Anyone who has studied race and class knows that they are intertwined and in fact, inseparable. The ruling, monied class has always used racism as a way to control others and ensure their power and control over the economy. One of the most stark examples can be found in the history of the Belgian occupation of Rwanda. When the Belgians colonized Rwanda, they systematically and deliberately stoked tribal differences between Hutu and Tutsi, deeming one tribe superior over the other in part on the basis of skin tone and skull size, helping to ensure the Belgian control over the region. This social engineering resulted in a massacre fueled by those racial tensions. The portrayal of Africans as being beneath whites, dumb and savage helped justify slavery. Some would argue that the media's portrayal of "dangerous and armed" black men serve to keep African American men in their place today. And the reason for the tension between the African American community and the Hispanic community is based on economics but plays out as racism. The Hispanics compete with the African Americans for jobs. This is threatening, of course, to both sides and results in both communities exhibiting fear and dislike of the other.

And how about the example of all examples--the Holocaust? The German people resented the wealth of their Jewish compatriots in a time of economic crisis. If the economic crisis had not occured after WWI, the people may not have been as easy to convince of that the Jews were the "scourge of the earth."

Is radical Islam really that different from other race and class rebellions? Yes, it is nominally based on a religion, but isn't what really fuels it the economic and class issue? And yes, it is horrifically violent and many would say inhumane, but when you get down to the causes how is it really that different from revolutions in Cuba and Central America, the Black Panther movement, and, dare I say it, the American Revolution?

Obviously there are other factors at play in the Middle East, but I think it is interesting to compare the two. Don't we, the US, have reasons to attempt to control economics in the Middle East, just as we have had in the past in attempting to control slave labor? Aren't the results the same?

Thoughts?

And please know that I am in NO way defending radical Islam. I find their tatics reprehensible and grotesque. I think their actions are evil. There is NO excuse for the violence and extreme hatred toward the west and Israel.
I am just looking, very detachedly, at the reasons behind it.

9 comments:

Red Flashlight said...

Totally.

Dis-empowerment works. It has self-reinforcing properties. Like peanut butter on cashmere, if you get it on you it's only going to get worse. If you look like a disempowered person, angry-views-woman types will respond by venting hate and accelerating the cycle where they can.

And of course, if one speaks up about how his needs are not being met, he advertises his dis-empowerment.

The alternative is to be silent and make use of the powers he already has.

That's where the media steps in to counter that silence with bad news about "the others." The United States has achieved expert status in the dis-empowerment game. It doesn't matter whether "the other" lives at home or abroad - the same automatic, knee-jerk reaction will be there as long as dis-empowerment works to create a super-empowered class.

Of course angry-views-woman doesn't believe racism is real. It's really not to her advantage to do anything but spread the bad news.

Red Flashlight said...

Red here again, after the revision. All good points. Something I've often pondered is that I didn't hear much about the economics of race and class until I was well into college. Since then, when I bring up this topic in conversation I get a lot of vacant stares, angry denials, and a (very) few people who want to know more.

The topic itself is prone to be touchy, and I get that. But why aren't we, as a nation, asking these questions more often? Self-censorship? Getting along to get along?

Great post.

Molly said...

Thanks. I have often wondered the same thing.
The only reason I had some knowledge of the issue before college was because my father is fairly radical in his poltical beliefs and he and almost my entire extended family is in academia and dinner table debate was common. I majored in Political Science and the more I learned, the more interested I was and I ended up focusing my coursework and reading on it. Even then, though, there were very few other students focusing on the same area, which surprised me.

slouching mom said...

This is fascinating and thought-provoking. I'd known about the economic underpinnings to the Holocaust, but the Belgian control of Rwanda and manipulation of its groups? New to me.

Thank you!

jennifer h said...

This is all very interesting. Right after 9/11 you would have been shunned for opening a discussion this sort of thing (ask Bill Maher), but how can we not talk about it?

The alternative our country has chosen, under the leadership *cough* of the Current Occupant is definitely shoot first, never ask questions later. Fortunately, a good number of us aren't satisfied with that.

We have to ask, and pursue the answers, as you have done here.

richgold said...

Hate gives people energy and the feeling of power.

I think the comparison of control of the middle east and that of the enslaved south is a bit simplistic, though I like the idea that you've raised economics as a motivation for comparison.

What gets me in all of this is how skin color is the first factor of segregation – not height, or eye color, or other elements of genetic make-up, but color. I've read about how there's segregation of color within colored groups (the darker you are, the fewer opportunities you get). It's disappointing that people do judge others by their looks (and books by their covers too). In our great strides to be different, we really do want every one to be the same.

jennifer h said...

Through an odd coincidence, I found this article from February on a website that linked to it. It addresses how the young men (and some women) in Egypt are turning to Islam because they are unable to find jobs, and therefore can't earn enough money to marry. Which leaves a lot of young people, men especially in that society, with nothing to do and nowhere to turn but to religion. The article states that they are not, in general, extremists, but because of the pressures they face in their circumstances, it's not as hard to pull them over the line.

Here's the link (I hope it's okay to paste it here, but delete it if you need to):
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/world/middleeast/17youth.html?pagewanted=all

Molly said...

Thanks Jennifer.

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Mr Lady said...

Ugh. This is a great post, and I am so angry at the woman who inspired it. Some people, man.

Maybe if we all work REALLY hard to raise our kids to love people rather than shades, maybe their generation will have less of those (expletive) people in it. God, I hope.