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Essay - White Privilege
Thoughts on why the system of white privilege is wrong
by Prof. Robert W. Jensen
Essay - BREAKING THE CYCLE OF
A Call For Majority Self-Sufficiency
by Tim Wise
Essay - White Privilege
by Peggy McIntosh
The Moors of Spain
The Impact of the European Slave Trade on
Social, Cultural, and Psychological Life of Africans in the Americas
by Molefi Kete Asante
America's 'War On Drugs' Looks Unfairely
by Neal Peirce
African Holocaust / The Lessons of a
by Brent Staples
by Sterling A. Brown
Compensate the Forgotten Victims Of America's
by Randall Robinson
When the Holocaust Is Incomparable, It
by Henry Siegman
Let's Hear More About Leopold's Congo Holocaust
by Richard R. Hamilton
America, Too, Should Pay Reparations For
by Brent Staples
A Skull Stirs Up Prehistoric Debate
Fossilized Cranium Unearthed in Brazil Challenges Ideas on Peopling
by Larry Rother
Speech of the President of South Africa, Thabo
Mbeki, at the launch of the African Renaissance Institute
Pretoria, 11 October 1999
by Robert Earl Price
Just War Theory
by Alex Moseley, Ph.D.
Racism in Cuba and The Failure of the
by Sidney Brinkley
WHITE PRIVILEGE SHAPES THE U.S.
by Prof. Robert Jensen
Here's what white privilege sounds like:
I am sitting in my University of Texas
office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student
about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I
The student says he wants a level playing
field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he
thinks that in the United States being white has advantages. Have either
of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by
white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we
could call white privilege.
So, if we live in a world of white
privilege--unearned white privilege--how does that affect your notion of
a level playing field? I ask.
He paused for a moment and said, "That
really doesn't matter."
That statement, I suggested to him,
reveals the ultimate white privilege: the privilege to acknowledge that
you have unearned privilege, but ignore what it means.
That exchange led me to rethink the way I
talk about race and racism with students. It drove home to me the
importance of confronting the dirty secret that we white people carry
around with us everyday: In a world of white privilege, some of what we
have is unearned. I think much of both the fear and anger that comes up
around discussions of affirmative action has its roots in that secret.
So these days, my goal is to talk openly and honestly about white
supremacy and white privilege.
White privilege, like any social
phenomenon, is complex. In a white supremacist culture, all white people
have privilege, whether or not they are overtly racist themselves. There
are general patterns, but such privilege plays out differently depending
on context and other aspects of one's identity (in my case, being male
gives me other kinds of privilege). Rather than try to tell others how
white privilege has played out in their lives, I talk about how it has
I am as white as white gets in this
country. I am of northern European heritage and I was raised in North
Dakota, one of the whitest states in the country. I grew up in a
virtually all-white world surrounded by racism, both personal and
institutional. Because I didn't live near a reservation, I didn't even
have exposure to the state's only numerically significant non-white
population, American Indians.
I have struggled to resist that racist
training and the ongoing racism of my culture. I like to think I have
changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that
internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. But no
matter how much I "fix" myself, one thing never changes--I walk through
the world with white privilege.
What does that mean? Perhaps most
importantly, when I seek admission to a university, apply for a job, or
hunt for an apartment, I don't look threatening. Almost all of the
people evaluating me for those things look like me--they are white. They
see in me a reflection of themselves, and in a racist world that is an
advantage. I smile. I am white. I am one of them. I am not dangerous.
Even when I voice critical opinions, I am cut some slack. After all, I'm
My flaws also are more easily forgiven
because I am white. Some complain that affirmative action has meant the
university is saddled with mediocre minority professors. I have no doubt
there are minority faculty who are mediocre, though I don't know very
many. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. once pointed out, if affirmative action
policies were in place for the next hundred years, it's possible that at
the end of that time the university could have as many mediocre minority
professors as it has mediocre white professors. That isn't meant as an
insult to anyone, but is a simple observation that white privilege has
meant that scores of second-rate white professors have slid through the
system because their flaws were overlooked out of solidarity based on
race, as well as on gender, class and ideology.
Some people resist the assertions that
the United States is still a bitterly racist society and that the racism
has real effects on real people. But white folks have long cut other
white folks a break. I know, because I am one of them.
I am not a genius--as I like to say, I'm
not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have been teaching full-time for
six years, and I've published a reasonable amount of scholarship. Some
of it is the unexceptional stuff one churns out to get tenure, and some
of it, I would argue, actually is worth reading. I work hard, and I like
to think that I'm a fairly decent teacher. Every once in awhile, I leave
my office at the end of the day feeling like I really accomplished
something. When I cash my paycheck, I don't feel guilty.
But, all that said, I know I did not get
where I am by merit alone. I benefited from, among other things, white
privilege. That doesn't mean that I don't deserve my job, or that if I
weren't white I would never have gotten the job. It means simply that
all through my life, I have soaked up benefits for being white. I grew
up in fertile farm country taken by force from non-white indigenous
people. I was educated in a well-funded, virtually all-white public
school system in which I learned that white people like me made this
country great. There I also was taught a variety of skills, including
how to take standardized tests written by and for white people.
All my life I have been hired for jobs by
white people. I was accepted for graduate school by white people. And I
was hired for a teaching position at the predominantly white University
of Texas, which had a white president, in a college headed by a white
dean and in a department with a white chairman that at the time had one
non-white tenured professor.
There certainly is individual variation
in experience. Some white people have had it easier than me, probably
because they came from wealthy families that gave them even more
privilege. Some white people have had it tougher than me because they
came from poorer families. White women face discrimination I will never
know. But, in the end, white people all have drawn on white privilege
somewhere in their lives.
Like anyone, I have overcome certain
hardships in my life. I have worked hard to get where I am, and I work
hard to stay there. But to feel good about myself and my work, I do not
have to believe that "merit," as defined by white people in a white
country, alone got me here. I can acknowledge that in addition to all
that hard work, I got a significant boost from white privilege, which
continues to protect me every day of my life from certain hardships.
At one time in my life, I would not have
been able to say that, because I needed to believe that my success in
life was due solely to my individual talent and effort. I saw myself as
the heroic American, the rugged individualist. I was so deeply seduced
by the culture's mythology that I couldn't see the fear that was binding
me to those myths. Like all white Americans, I was living with the fear
that maybe I didn't really deserve my success, that maybe luck and
privilege had more to do with it than brains and hard work. I was afraid
I wasn't heroic or rugged, that I wasn't special.
I let go of some of that fear when I
realized that, indeed, I wasn't special, but that I was still me. What I
do well, I still can take pride in, even when I know that the rules
under which I work in are stacked in my benefit. I believe that until we
let go of the fiction that people have complete control over their
fate--that we can will ourselves to be anything we choose--then we will
live with that fear. Yes, we should all dream big and pursue our dreams
and not let anyone or anything stop us. But we all are the product both
of what we will ourselves to be and what the society in which we live
lets us be.
White privilege is not something I get to
decide whether or not I want to keep. Every time I walk into a store at
the same time as a black man and the security guard follows him and
leaves me alone to shop, I am benefiting from white privilege. There is
not space here to list all the ways in which white privilege plays out
in our daily lives, but it is clear that I will carry this privilege
with me until the day white supremacy is erased from this society.
Frankly, I don't think I will live to see
that day; I am realistic about the scope of the task. However, I
continue to have hope, to believe in the creative power of human beings
to engage the world honestly and act morally. A first step for white
people, I think, is to not be afraid to admit that we have benefited
from white privilege. It doesn't mean we are frauds who have no claim to
our success. It means we face a choice about what we do with our
By writing about the politics of white
listening to the folks who responded to that writing--I have
had to face one more way that privilege runs deep in my life,
and it makes me uncomfortable. The discomfort tells me I
might be on the right track.
Last year I published an article about
white privilege in the Baltimore Sun that then went out over a wire
service to other newspapers. Electronic copies proliferated and were
picked up on Internet discussion lists, and the article took on a life
of its own. As a result, every week over the past year I have received
at least a dozen letters from people who want to talk about race. I
learned not only more about my own privilege, but more about why many
white folks can't come to terms with the truism I offered in that
article: White people, whether overtly racist or not, benefit from
living in a world mostly run by white people that has been built on the
land and the backs of non-white people. The reactions varied from racist
rantings, to deeply felt expressions of pain and anger, to declarations
of solidarity. But probably the most important response I got was from
non-white folks, predominantly African-Americans, who said something
like this: "Of course there is white privilege. I've been pointing it
out to my white friends and co-workers for years. Isn't it funny that
almost no one listens to me, but everyone takes notice when a white guy
says it. "Those comments forced me again to ponder the privilege I live
with. Who really does know more about white privilege, me or the people
on the other side of that privilege? Me, or a black inner-city teenager
who is automatically labeled a gang member and feared by many white
folks? Me, or an American Indian on the streets of a U.S. city who is
invisible to many white folks? Whose voices should we be paying
My voice gets heard in large part because I am a white man with a
Ph.D. who holds a professional job with status. In most settings, I
speak with the assumption that people not only will listen, but will
take me seriously. I speak with the assumption that my motives will not
be challenged; I can rely on the perception of me as a neutral
authority, someone whose observations can be trusted. Every time I open
my mouth, I draw on, and in some ways reinforce, my privilege, which is
in large part tied to race. Right now, I want to use that privilege to
acknowledge the many non-white people who took the time to tell me about
the enduring realities of racism in the United States. And, I want to
talk to the white people who I think misread my essay and misunderstand
what's at stake.The responses of my white critics broke down into a few
basic categories, around the following claims: 1. White privilege
doesn't exist because affirmative action has made being white a
disadvantage. The simple response: Extremely limited attempts to combat
racism, such as affirmative action, do virtually nothing to erase the
white privilege built over 500 years that pervades our society. As a
friend of mine says, the only real disadvantage to being white is that
it so often prevents people from understanding racial issues. 2.
White privilege exists, but it can't be changed because it is natural
for any group to favor its own, and besides, the worst manifestations of
racism are over. Response: This approach makes human choices appear
outside of human control, which is a dodge to avoid moral and political
responsibility for the injustice we continue to live with. 3.
White privilege exists, and that's generally been a good thing because
white Europeans have civilized the world. Along the way some bad things
may have happened, and we should take care to be nice to non-whites to
make up for that. Response: These folks often argued the curiously
contradictory position that (1) non-whites and their cultures are not
inferior, but (2) white/European culture is superior. As for the
civilizing effect of Europe, we might consider five centuries of
inhuman, brutal colonialism and World Wars I and II, and then ask what
"civilized" means. 4. White privilege exists because whites are
inherently superior, and I am a weakling and a traitor for suggesting
otherwise. Response: The Klan isn't dead.
There is much to say beyond those short responses, but for now I am
more interested in one common assumption that all these correspondents
made,that my comments on race and affirmative action were motivated by
"white liberal guilt." The problem is, they got two out of the three
terms wrong. I am white,but I'm not a liberal. In political terms, I'm a
radical; I don't think liberalism offers real solutions because it
doesn't attack the systems of power and structures of illegitimate
authority that are the root cause of oppression, be it based on race,
gender, sexuality, or class. These systems of oppression, which are
enmeshed and interlocking, require radical solutions. And I don't feel
Guilt is appropriate when one has wronged another, when one has
something to feel quilty about. In my life I have felt guilty for racist
or sexist things I have said or done, even when they were done
unconsciously. But that is guilt I felt because of specific acts, not
for the color of my skin. Also, focusing on individual guilt feelings is
counterproductive when it leads us to ponder the issue from a
psychological point of view instead of a moral and political one. So, I
cannot, and indeed should not, feel either guilty or proud about being
white, because it is a state of being I have no control over.
However, as a member of a society--and especially as a privileged
member of society--I have an obligation not simply to enjoy that
privilege that comes with being white but to study and understand it,
and work toward a more just world in which such unearned privilege is
eliminated. Some of my critics said that such a goal is ridiculous;
after all, people have unearned privileges of all kinds. Several people
pointed out that, for example, tall people have unearned privilege in
basketball, and we don't ask tall people to stop playing basketball nor
do we eliminate their advantage. The obvious difference is that racial
categories are invented; they carry privilege or disadvantage only
because people with power create and maintain the privilege for
themselves at the expense of others. The privilege is rooted in violence
and is maintained through that violence as well as more subtle means. I
can't change the world so that everyone is the same height, so that
everyone has the same shot at being a pro basketball player. In fact, I
wouldn't want to; it would be a drab and boring world if we could erase
individual differences like that. But I can work with others to change
the world to erase the effects of differences that have been created by
one group to keep others down.
Not everyone who wrote to me understood this. In fact, the most
creative piece of mail I received in response to the essay also was the
most confused. In a padded envelope from Clement, Minn., came a
brand-new can of Kiwi Shoe Polish, black. Because there was no note or
letter, I have to guess at my correspondent's message, but I assume the
person was suggesting that if I felt so bad about being white, I might
want to make myself black. But, of course, I don't feel bad about being
white. The only motivation I might have to want to be black -- to be
something I am not -- would be pathological guilt over my privilege. In
these matters, guilt is a coward's way out, an attempt to avoid the
moral and political questions. As I made clear in the original essay,
there is no way to give up the privilege; the society we live in confers
it upon us, no matter what we want.
So, I don't feel guilty about being white in a white supremacist
society, but I feel an especially strong moral obligation to engage in
collective political activity to try to change the society because I
benefit from the injustice. I try to be reflective and accountable,
though I am human and I make mistakes. I think a lot about how I may be
expressing racism unconsciously, but I don't lay awake at night feeling
Guilt is not a particularly productive emotion, and I don't wallow in
it. What matters is what we decide to do with the privilege. For me,
that means speaking, knowing that I speak with a certain unearned
privilege that gives me advantages I cannot justify. It also means
learning to listen before I speak, and realizing that I am probably not
as smart as I sometimes like to think I am. It means listening when an
elderly black man who sees the original article tacked up on the
bulletin board outside my office while on a campus tour stops to chat.
This man, who has lived with more kinds of racism than I can imagine
through more decades than I have been alive, says to me, "White
privilege, yes, good to keep an eye on that, son. Keep yourself honest.
But don't forget to pay attention to the folks who live without the
privilege." It doesn't take black shoe polish to pay attention. It takes
only a bit of empathy to listen, and a bit of courage to act.
Robert Jensen is a professor in the
Department of Journalism inthe University of Texas at Austin.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
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BREAKING THE CYCLE OF WHITE DEPENDENCE
A Call For Majority Self-Sufficiency
by Tim Wise
Article Dated 5/22/2001
I think it's called 'projection.' When
someone subconsciously realizes that a particular trait applies to them,
and then attempts to locate that trait in others, so as to alleviate the
stigma or self-doubt engendered by the trait in question.
It's a well-understood concept of
modern psychology, and explains much: like why men who are struggling with
their own sexuality are often the most outwardly homophobic. Or the way
whites during slavery typified black men as rapists, even though the
primary rapists were the white slave owners themselves, taking liberties
with their female property, or white men generally, raping their wives
I got to thinking about projection
recently, after receiving many an angry e-mail from folks who had read one
or another of my previous commentaries, and felt the need to inform me
that people of color are "looking for a handout," and are "dependent" on
government, and of course, whites.
Such claims are making the rounds these
days, especially as debate heats up about such issues as reparations for
enslavement, or affirmative action.
And this critique is a prime example of
projection, for in truth, no people have been as dependent on others
throughout history as white folks.
We depended on laws to defend slavery
and segregation so as to elevate us, politically, socially and
economically. We depended on the Naturalization Act of 1790, to make all
European immigrants eligible for nearly automatic citizenship, with rights
above all persons of color. We depended on land giveaways like the
Homestead Act, and housing subsidies that were essentially white-only for
many years, like FHA and VA loans. Even the GI Bill was largely for whites
only, and all of these government-sponsored efforts were instrumental in
creating the white middle class. But it goes deeper than that.
From the earliest days, "whites" were
dependent on the land and natural resources of the Americas, Africa, and
Asia. Since Europe offered no substantial natural riches from its soil,
European economic advance and expansion was entirely reliant on the taking
of other people's land by force, trickery or coercion. That, my friends,
Then these same Europeans relied on
slave labor to build a new nation and to create wealth for whites; wealth
that was instrumental to financing the American Revolution, as well as
allowing the textile and tobacco industries to emerge as international
powerhouses. From 1790 to 1860 alone, whites and the overall economy
reaped the benefits of as much as $40 billion in unpaid black labor. That,
my friends, is dependence.
Though apologists for black oppression
enjoy pointing out that Africans often sold other Africans into slavery,
this too indicates just how dependent whites have been on black people:
having to pay and bribe Africans to catch their own and deliver them to us
so as to fatten the profits of European elites. We couldn't even do that
Then whites were dependent on Native
peoples to teach us farming skills, as our complete ineptitude in this
realm left the earliest colonists starving to death and turning to
cannibalism when the winters came in order to survive.
We were dependent on Mexicans to teach
us how to extract gold from riverbeds and quartz--critical to the growth
of the national economy in the mid to late 1800's--and had we not taken
over half their nation in an unprovoked war, the emerging Pacific ports so
vital to the modern U.S. economy would not have been ours, but Mexico's.
That, my friends, is dependence. Then we were dependent on their labor in
the mid 20th century under the bracero program, through which over five
million Mexicans were brought into the country for cheap agricultural
work, and then sent back across the border.
And we were dependent on Asian labor to
build the railroads that made transcontinental travel and commerce
possible. 90% of the labor used to build the Central Pacific Railroad in
the 1860's were Chinese, imported for the purpose, and exploited because
the railroad bosses felt they could better control them than white
In fact, all throughout U.S. labor
history, whites have depended on the subordination of workers of color; by
the marking of black and brown peoples as the bottom rung on the ladder--a
rung below which they would not be allowed to fall. By virtue of this
racialized class system whites could receive the "psychological wage" of
whiteness, even if their real wages left them destitute. That too is
dependence, and a kind that has marked even the poorest whites.
The plantation owners in the South were
surely dependent on blacks, and for more than field labor. We relied on
black women to suckle and care for our children. We relied on blacks to
build the levees that kept rivers like the Mississippi from our doorstep.
We relied on black girls to fan our sleeping white ladies so as to ensure
their comfort. We relied on blacks to do everything from cooking, to
cleaning, to making our beds, to polishing our shoes, to chopping the wood
to heat our homes, to nursing us back to health when we fell ill. We
prided ourselves on being (or aspiring to be) men and women of leisure,
while black and brown folks did all the work. That, and a lot more, is
dependence; and yet we still insist they are the lazy ones.
And northern industrial capitalism
relied on black labor too, especially to break the labor militance of
white ethnics by playing off one group of workers against the other. That
also, is dependence.
During the civil war, the armies of the
Confederacy relied on blacks to cook for the troops and to make the
implements of war they would use in battle; and likewise, the Union relied
on black soldiers--around 200,000 of them--to ultimately win the war. That
too, is most assuredly dependence.
And white dependence on people of color
continues to this day. Each year, African Americans spend over $500
billion with white-owned companies: money that goes mostly into the
pockets of the white owners, white employees, white stockholders, and
white communities in which they live. And yet we say black people need us?
We think they are the dependent ones, relying as we assume they do on the
paltry scraps of an eviscerated welfare state? Now let's just cut the
crap. Who would be hurt more: black folks if all welfare programs were
shut down tomorrow, or white folks, if blacks decided they were through
transferring half-a-trillion dollars each year to white people and were
going to keep their money in their own communities?
Or what about the ongoing dependence of
white businesses on the exploitation of black labor? Each year, according
to estimates from the Urban Institute, over $120 billion in wages are lost
to African Americans thanks to discrimination in the labor market. That's
money that doesn't end up in the hands of the folks who earned it, but
rather remains in the bank accounts of owners. That my friends, is
Our dependence on people of color even
extends to our need to have them as spokespeople for our ideologies and
agendas: thus, the proliferation of high-profile conservatives of color
who bash their own people for us, so we don't have to do it alone. Ken
Hamblin, Clarence Thomas, Larry Elder, Walter Williams, Linda Chavez: all
of them, walking, talking, lawn jockeys, shining their lights for white
supremacy. And oh yes, our need for them is most certainly a form of
Then, we rely on still more people of
color to help further the agenda of white dominance: namely Asians, whom
we proclaim to be "model minorities."
"See how hard the Asians work,' whites
love to say, 'why can't blacks be more like them?" Of course, we fail to
mention the staggering poverty among Southeast Asians; or the fact that
the most successful Asian sub-groups came to this country with both
business experience and usually college educations; or the fact that
despite hard work, Asian Pacific Islanders still earn between 11-26% less
than their white counterparts, even when their qualifications are equal.
Never mind all that: the model minority myth has a power all its own, and
is one more way in which whites have become dependent on those who are
Indeed, I am beginning to think that
whites are so dependent on people of color that we wouldn't know what to
do without them. Oh sure, some neo-Nazis say they would love to try, but
in reality I doubt they could make it. If there were no black and brown
folks around then whites would have no one to blame but themselves for the
crime that occurred; no one to blame but themselves when they didn't get
the job they wanted; no one to blame but themselves when their lives
turned out to be less than they expected. In short, we need people of
color--especially in a ! subordinate role--as a way to build ourselves up,
and provide a sense of self-worth we otherwise lack.
To be sure, our very existence as white
people is dependent on a negative: to be white has meaning only in terms
of what it doesn't mean. To be white only has meaning in so far as it
means not to be black or brown. Whiteness has no intrinsic meaning
culturally: can anyone even articulate what "white culture" means? Not our
various European cultures mind you--which do have meaning but have been
largely lost to us in the mad dash to accept whiteness and the perks that
come with it--but white culture itself.
In workshops I have asked white folks
and people of color what they like about being black, white, or whatever
they in fact may be. For African-Americans the answers always have to do
with the pride they feel, coming from families who have struggled against
the odds, fought injustice, persevered, and maintained dignity in the face
of great obstacles. In other words, to be black has internal meaning,
derived from the positive actions and experiences of black people
themselves. Variations on the same theme tend to be expressed by Latinos,
Asians and Indigenous peoples as well.
But for whites, if they come up with
anything at all, it is typically something about how nice it is not to
have to worry about being racially profiled by police, or how nice it is
not to be presumed less competent by employers, or discriminated against
when applying for a loan, or looking for a home. In other words, for
whites, our self-definition is wrapped up entirely in terms of what and
who we aren't. What it means to be white is merely to not be "the other."
And for that to have any meaning whatsoever there first must be an "other"
against which to contrast oneself.
And that is the most significant
dependence of all.
Tim Wise is a Nashville-based
antiracist writer, lecturer and activist.
Back to Table of Contents
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a white person, I realized
I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a
disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects,
white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.
I think whites are carefully
taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to
recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what
it is like to have white privilege....
I have come to see white
privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on
cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious.
White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special
provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas,
clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks....
After frustration with men who
would not recognize male privilege, I decided to try to work on myself at
least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my
life....I have chosen those conditions which I think in my case attach
somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic
status, or geographical location, though of course all these other factors
are intricately intertwined. As far as I can see, My Afro-American
co-workers, friends, and acquaintances with whom I come into daily or
frequent contact in this particular time, place, and line of work cannot
count on most of these conditions.
- I can if I wish arrange to be in the
company of people of my race most of the time.
- I can avoid spending time with people
whom I was trained to mistrust and have learned to mistrust my kind or
- If I should need to move, I can be
pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can
afford and in which I would want to live.
- I can be pretty sure that my neighbors
in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
- I can go shopping most of the time,
pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
- I can turn on the television or open
to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely
- When I am told about our national
heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color
made it what it is.
- I can be sure that my children will be
given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their
- If I want to, I can be pretty sure of
finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
- I can be pretty sure of having my
voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
- I can be casual about whether or not
to listen to another woman's voice in a group in which she is the only
member of her race.
- I can go into a music shop and count
on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and
find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a
hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards, or
cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance
of financial reliability.
- I can arrange to protect my children
most of the time from people who might not like them.
- I do not have to educate my children
to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical
- I can be pretty sure that my
children's teacher and employers will tolerate them if they fit school
and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern
others' attitudes toward their race.
- I can talk with my mouth full and not
have people put this down to my color.
- I can swear, or dress in second hand
clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these
choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
- I can speak in public to a powerful
male group without putting my race on trial.
- I can do well in a challenging
situation without being called a credit to my race.
- I am never asked to speak for all the
people of my racial group.
- I can remain oblivious of the language
and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority
without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
- I can criticize our government and
talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being
seen as a cultural outsider.
- I can be pretty sure that if I ask to
talk to "the person in charge," I will be facing a person of my race.
- If a traffic cop pulls me over or if
the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out
because of my race.
- I can easily buy posters, post-cards,
picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines
featuring people of my race.
- I can go home from most meetings of
organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than
isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or
- I can be pretty sure that an argument
with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her
chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
- I can be pretty sure that if I argue
for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering
on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present
settings, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
- If I declare there is a racial issue
at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me
more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
- I can choose to ignore developments in
minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or
learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less
protected from the negative consequences of any of these choices.
- My culture gives me little fear about
ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
- I am not made acutely aware that my
shape, bearing, or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
- I can worry about racism without being
seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
- I can take a job with an affirmative
action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I
got it because of my race.
- If my day, week, or year is going
badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it
has racial overtones.
- I can be pretty sure of finding people
who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps
- I can think over many options, social,
political, imaginative, or professional, with asking whether a person
of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
- I can be late to a meeting without
having the lateness reflect on my race.
- I can choose public accommodation
without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be
mistreated in the places I have chosen.
- I can be sure that if I need legal or
medical help, my race will not work against me.
- I can arrange my activities so that I
will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
- If I have low credibility as a leader,
I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
- I can easily find academic courses and
institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
- I can expect figurative language and
imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
- I can choose blemish cover or bandages
in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
I repeatedly forgot each of
the realizations on this list until I wrote it down. For me, white
privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The
pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of
meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country;
one's life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people
through no virtues of their own. These perceptions mean also that my moral
condition is not what I had been led to believe. The appearance of being a
good citizen rather than a troublemaker comes in large part from having
all sorts of doors open automatically because of my color.
Excerpted from "White
Privilege and Male Privilege," by Peggy McIntosh, Working Paper No. 189,
Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, MA 02181,
from left: unknown, Joe Louis, Marian Anderson, Bill Robinson,
Paul Robeson, unknown, and Olivia De Havilland at a USO gathering.
Back to Table of Contents
The Moors of Spain
In the centuries following the demise
of Egypt and Kush, a new culture began to develop that would generate a
resurgence of activity in the arts and sciences, as well as the fiery
passion of a new religion. The religion was Islam, and those who carried
it to the corners of the East were the Moors.
The term Moor originated with
the Romans, who, in about 46 B.C., entered West Africa; there they
encountered black Africans, which they called "Maures" from the Greek
adjective mauros, meaning dark or black. To truly understand the
historical role played by the Moors, one must begin with the prophet
Mohamet and the Arab jihads, or crusades. Islamic historian and scholar Al
Jahiz wrote in A.D. 860 that "Mohamet’s grandfather Al Matilib was the
Grand Shariff of Mecca. He fathered ten sons, all of whom were ‘as black
as the night and magnificent.’ One of these ten was the father of
Mohamet." The two closest figures to Mohamet were both Moors. One was
Bilal-i-Habesh, Mohamet’s closest friend, who in the hereafter was chosen
by the prophet to protect him. The other was Zayd bin Harith, a great
Moorish general who led the conquest of Mohamet’s legions. Historian
Drusilla Houston states that Arabia itself had been first populated by
black people: "The Cushites (Ethiopians) were the original Arabians, for
Arabia was the oldest Ethiopian colony."
It is because of the Moors that
Europe was catapulted from the Dark Ages into what came to be called the
Renaissance. The Moors embraced the sciences and arts of Egypt, Greece,
China, India, and Mesopotamia, which they brought to Europe via Spain.
They were the first to trace the curvilinear path of rays of light through
air. They not only enhanced the chemical composition of gunpowder, a
Chinese invention, but invented the rifle. From India they brought
astronomy, and they introduced the compass and astrolabe into Europe.
Their houses in Spain were air conditioned in summer by ingeniously
arranged drafts of fresh air drawn from the garden over beds of flowers;
they were warmed in winter by hot air conveyed through pipes embedded in
walls. Bathrooms supplied hot and cold running water, and libraries,
hospitals, and stores were abundant.
The genius exhibited by the Moors
seems all the more phenomenal when one realizes that these accomplishments
took place between the seventh and fourteenth centuries. The Moors ruled
Spain for eight hundred years. As one historian describes it, "the Moors
were a borrowed light; then came the eclipse, and in that darkness Spain
has groveled ever since."
A Journey into 366 Days of Black History, 1992 Calendar
Back to Table of Contents
The Impact of the European Slave Trade on the
Social, Cultural, and Psychological Life of
Africans in the Americas
Delivered for the UNESCO "Slave Routes Conference" at the Schomburg
Center for Research in African Culture, New York Public Library, Harlem,
October 7, 1999
Molefi Kete Asante
The five hundred years dismemberment
of the African body politic and the accompanying brutalities constitute
the most prolonged, violent, and invasive rape of the people in the
history of the world. Carried out, as David Walker understood, by the
white Christian world, the European rape of Africa left a continent and
its peoples, scattered throughout the Diaspora, with only a modicum of
dignity and a profound distrust in the white race.
Slavery like rape leaves the victim
traumatized, debilitated, second-guessing and debating self worth and
spending endless hours analyzing the nature of the perceived weakness
that gave the rapist the idea that he could rape and win, in the first
place. Our ancestors asked, "are we not men and women, too?" "Don't we
have the same affections and emotions of love and desire for our
children?" "Are not our children as precious to us as the rapist's
children to him?" Ad infinitum. We asked these questions and we gathered
our bitterness in a thousand ways, waiting until the brave and heroic
men and women came. We would not be permanent victims. But we were
violated in the most intimate ways, ripped from our Mother's womb, torn
from the belly of Africa, stripped naked before the world, dehumanized
in literature, liturgies, and litanies. WE were made to view our own
bodies as disfigured, vile, inferior, and dirty. We were accused of
causing our own rape, because we walked differently, held different
beliefs, trusted the traditions of our ancestors, and rejected offers of
voluntary bondage. What is King Kwame Ansah's history in 1482 when he
told the Portuguese that trade was permitted, but a permanent settlement
in Africa was not. The Portuguese razed his capital city and built El
Mina, inserting into Ghana what they had inserted into Ceuta in 1415, a
colony of whites bent on raiding and raping Africa. What was Haiti's sin
in the eyes of Europe? It was nothing more than the audacity of an
African people to say "we shall not be raped anymore and if you insist
on it we shall fight you to the very end." Why is it that Boukman is not
named among the great strategists of the world?
What is the impact of rape:
self-doubt, fear, tentativeness, self hatred, anger, and trauma. The
evidence is clear that we have not had collective therapy. No
therapeutic treatment has ever been offered to us nor could it be
offered by the rapist. We are responsible for repairing our psyches.
This is why the African nationalists politically and the Afrocentrists
theoretically, remain grounded in the organic cultural matter of our
African consciousness. It is the defiance in self-definition and
self-determination, the twin pillars of African nationalism, that gives
hope to the victims of this half a millennium rape. I cannot ask the
rapist to save me, to affirm me, to resurrect me: I can only ask the
rapist for reparations.
The impact of the Maafa was sheer
terror, raw, brutal, open terror orchestrated to maximize the
psychological damage and cultural disinheritance of Africans. The
slaughter of the kings, queens, priests, royals like the murder of the
rebels, the incorrigibles, and the militants was calculated to grind our
pride into the ground. Karl Peters, the German colonial officer in East
Africa, finding his source in the actions of his European predecessors,
took his pistol and went from village to village killing kings to
demonstrate that one white man with pistol could subdue an entire ethnic
group of Africans. The whole of the African continent is no different
than the whole of the Diaspora. From South Africa to Libya, from
Tanzania to Senegal, from Angola to Sudan, the story has been the same,
rape, pillage, distortion of history, assaults against our vanguard
forces, whether Nat Turner, Malcolm X, or Denmark Vesey. We see people
in Africa and in the Diaspora reaching deep into the pit of their lost
souls to find ways to bleach the blackness out of their skins, to marry
whites to improve the race, and to disavow the ancestors because they
are thought to be inferior to whites. They trample on the memories of
Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Edward Blyden,
Alexander Crummell, Ida B. Wells, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Our heroes
are the enemies of this rape. And when we no longer have heroes who will
stand with the interests of the people, we shall no longer be a people
and thus fulfill the rapist's intention in the first place, that is, to
reduce the victim to nothingness. Here in New York, Alton Maddox and Al
Sharpton must be honored and respected for the risks they take in the
cause of our psychological health. If they did not exist, we would have
to create them.
The terror of rape can cause amnesia,
historical amnesia or if not absolute forgetfulness, the wish to forget:
"I ain't left nothing in Africa," "I'm more concerned about getting my
piece of America than brining up the past." African people were so
traumatized through terror that our gods were left lying in the broken
shards of our broken hearts. Until we pray in public to African gods or
acknowledge that we are the children of the continent we cannot ever
hope to recover our memory, which is our sanity. To ask whose child you
are is not a rhetorical question, but an existential one. It is not a
matter of who is blacker than who, but rather who is down with black
people and who is against black people. If you are down with black
people, then you are up with humanity, but if your are against black
people you are definitely down on humanity. I know the loss of memory
when I look into your eyes.
Can the rapist be forgiven? No, not if
the rapist refuses to acknowledge his crime. This is why the act of
forgiveness must depend on the rapist, not the victim. He must
acknowledge, confess his actions, vow never to repeat them, and make
restitution to the victim. Only in this way as Ifa says, can balance
return. It is through sacrifice that this cleansing will come, no
sacrifice, no forgiveness, no healing.
The objective of the rape was to
obliterate our consciousness and prepare us to be raped forever. To
obliterate our consciousness we had to be reduced to nothing. This is
not easy. Slaves are not born; slaves are made and the process of
fabricating a slave is dangerous and treacherous. At any moment, the
person can turn on the perpetrator and create havoc. It is the nature of
our enslavement that we did not go easily to the slaughter. Our history,
like all human histories, had enough reference points to jolt us to
memory, to awaken fight and resistance. Ours was no acquiescence without
The obliteration of our consciousness
took two forms: (1) destruction of memory, and (2) cultural and social
disarmament. Since slaves are not born but made it is difficult to make
slaves without destroying history, a sense of memory, or continuity of
story. The rapist must disarm the victim. This must not only be
physically, but culturally and psychologically as well. It is to be
expected that someone will say, "I am not African, I'm Black Atlantic."
The memory is dead. This the victory of the rapist. Others will confuse
nationality with cultural origin and say that they are Jamaican,
Haitian, or Trinidadian. The process of destroying memory or obfuscation
memory is deliberate, willful, calculated. To maximize the effect of the
rape the victims must not remember anything valuable of the past. It
must be dirty, primal, degrading. One has to be exceedingly strong to
withstand the technical assault on memory. Every memory that reminds you
of personhood, peoplehood must be destroyed.
Diordorus says the Greeks stole cultural ideas from
Africa is the home of the human race.
Senusert, Thutmoses III, and Ramses were the
greatest conquerors in ancient history.
Africa gave the world the first names of God.
Writing started on the continent of Africa.
Ahmed Baba wrote 42 books while serving as
chancellor of the University of Sankore.
The basis of human science was laid in Africa.
Nubia had more queens than any country in ancient
Imhotep, an African, was the first personality in
Amadou Bamba was the most prolific writer in
Abubakari sent ships across the Atlantic in
The Ghana Empire lasted 1500 years making it longer
lasting than any European empire.
The European must claim that all of
these are lies. They must have Arnold Toynbee of Britain, say that there
was never any African civilization. They must have Hegel of Germany, the
greatest European intellectual except Plato, say that Africa is outside
of history. That is what the rapist must say in order to make a person
lose memory and become a slave. These anti-memory messages must be
delivered with brutality, violence, and sometimes with the participation
of the victim's own family.
The second technique is psychological
and cultural disarmament. Once history is gone you have no motifs,
songs, symbols, totems or cultural landmarks. The rapist must insist
that if you celebrate your culture you must be punished.
Have you heard the expression, to be
scared of one's shadow. That is the condition of the person stripped of
culture and psychological health. If we say, Africans do not need to be
slaves anymore, they say, "I would rather be a slave in America than a
free man in Africa." Didn't Keith Richburg say something like that in
his book, Out of Ameriaca?
In the end when we say we want freedom
we mean that we want to be free from the insertion of Europe into the
belly of our cultural and psychological lives. Freedom is not simply a
matter of economics or employment opportunities, nor is it going to
college with whites, and neither is it having the ability to express
frustrations and anger, but rather it is life free of the persistent
European assault on our spirits without our permission. Thus, from the
invading European hordes along the West Coast of Africa to the invasive
eyes up our noses and the penetrating attacks on our cultural forms,
institutions, organizations, and psyches, we have undergone a rape of
consciousness. It is this rape that causes the victim to cry aloud that
he or she is no different from the rapist, the victim thus wounded in
the soul, becomes in his own mind one and the same with the victimizer.
One can hear the victim saying, "Africans sold Africans into bondage so
anyone can be a rapist." The problem is, no African economy was ever
based on the dehumanization of human beings to the extent that they were
considered chattel property and no African economy based its production
on slave labor. We are here in the realm of the fantastic, when we hear
the victim using the arguments of the victimizer.
Fortunately for us we have had
enormous powers of resilience and it is this resilience that brings us,
as James Weldon Johnson understood, safely into harbor each time we
stray from the path. "Stony the we trod, bitter the chastening rod/felt
in the days when hope unborn had died/Yet with a steady beat, have not
our weary feet/Brought us to the place for which our parents sighed. We
have come over a way that with tears have been watered, we have come
treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out of the
gloomy past, till now we stand where white gleam of our bright star is
Dr. Molefi Kete Asante is Professor of
Africology, Temple University, Philadelphia, and author of 45 books on
various aspects of African culture on the continent and in the Diaspora.
His latest book, The Painful Demise of Eurocentrism, is published by
Africa World Press.
Back to Table of Contents
America's "War on Drugs" Looks Unfairly Warped
By Neal Peirce
The United States, rarely shy about
condemning other nations for human rights abuses, will get a dose of its
own medicine when the World Conference Against Racism opens in Durban,
South Africa, on Aug. 31. The Target will be America's "war on drugs," in
which black men are being imprisoned for drug offenses at 13 times the
rate of white men.
A team of American lawyers, clergy
and drug experts, organized as the Campaign to End Race Discrimination in
the War on Drugs, will assert that America's criminal justice system has
been turned into an "apartheid-like" device.
"We don't want to see the United
States continue to get off the hook on this," says Deborah Small of the
Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, one of the American delegates.
"There has been a lot more attention about racial profiling and to the
death penalty internationally than to the drug war. But there is no other
public policy in the U.S. that affects so many people detrimentally."
The campaign last week released a
letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on leaders in Africa and
the international community at large to speak out against the United
States for allegedly racist pursuit of its drug war.
What are we to make of this attempt
to make an international cause célèbre of U.S. drug and incarceration
policies? I would like to say it is based on exaggeration,
oversimplification and half-truths. But I can't.
The motivation behind America's drug
wars, its mandatory minimum sentences, its willingness to let the
incarceration rate balloon to the highest in the world, was not race but
"law and order" politics. Yet the impact of the policies has become
profoundly racist. People know it. They just do precious little to correct
According to the Washington-based
Sentencing Project, African-Americans are 13 percent of drug users but
represent 35 percent of arrests for drug possession, 55 percent of
convictions and 74 percent of prison sentences.
And there is little mystery why.
First,, there is location. Poor black city neighborhoods, not calm white
suburbs, are the scene of big street sweeps.
And then there is class. Jenni
Gainsborough of the Sentencing Project notes: "If you're white
middle-class and your kid is on drugs, you call the treatment center. In
the inner city there's no treatment. Your first port of call is the
criminal justice system - and it escalates. Once you have a record, every
interaction leads to stronger sanction."
States fed these fires with their
tough laws of recent years, and the federal government, if anything, is
worse. Under a 1986 federal law it takes only one-hundredth the amount of
crack cocaine (generally more popular in black neighborhoods) to trigger
the same mandatory minimum sentence as powder cocaine (more popular among
In many city neighborhoods, more than
half of young black men spend time in prison. Even those inclined to form
permanent relationships can't do so from behind bars. For ex-felons, jobs
are rare. Official policy, says James Compton, president of the Chicago
Urban League, is leading to "incapacitation of future generations ...
hopelessness and despair in the black community."
"Drug prohibition has become a
replacement system for segregation," says Ira Glazer, director of the
American Civil Liberties Union. "It has become a system of separating out,
subjugating, imprisoning ... substantial portions of a population based on
Few of the legislators who wrote
today's laws anticipated such outcomes. But the results give strong
credence to the charges of racist policy being leveled against the
The Washington Post
Back to Table of Contents
International Herald Tribune, August 22, 2001
The Lessons of a Graveyard
by Brent Staples
While New Yorkers celebrated
a new century, a team of biological anthropologists at Howard University
in Washington were intensely focused on a most grisly aspect of New York
Led by Dr. Michael
Blakey, the team has spent several years examining the skeletal remains of
more than 400 African slaves whose graves were accidentally uncovered
during the construction of a federal office tower in lower Manhattan nine
That the graves
existed at all surprised New Yorkers who grew up believing that theirs was
a "free" state where there had never been slavery. But a series of reports
from the Blakey team - the first due out early this year - will present
statistics to show that colonial New York was just as dependent on slavery
as many Southern cities, and in some cases even more so. In addition, the
brutality etched on these skeletons easily matches the worst of what we
know of slavery in the South.
The first slave ship
that sailed into Jamestown Harbor in Virginia in 1619 contained a handful
of captive Africans. But by the end of the Atlantic slave trade more than
two centuries later, somewhere between 8 million and 12 million Africans
had arrived in the New World in chains.
The historian Ira
Berlin, author of "Many Thousands Gone," estimates that one slave perished
for every one who survived capture in the African interior and made it
alive to the New World - meaning that as many as 12 million perished along
During the 16th
century, the massive outflow of slaves decimated countries like the
Kingdom of the Kongo, whose monarch, King Afonso I, wrote letters
imploring King Joao III of Portugal to cease the slave trade because it
was generating "depravity ...so widespread that our land is entirely
He said that "a
monstrous greed pushes our subjects, even Christians, to seize members of
their own families, and of ours, to do business by selling them as
Many of the stolen
Africans ended up in America, some of them in the Dutch colonial city of
New Amsterdam which later became New York City. The Dutch recruited
settlers with an advertisement that promised to provide them with slaves
who "would accomplish more work for their masters, at less expense than
(white) farm servants, who must be bribed to go thither by a great deal of
money and promises."
Integral to the colony
from the start, slaves helped build Trinity Church, the streets of the
city and the wall - from which Wall Street takes its name - that protected
the colony from military strikes.
In life, slaves lived
in attics, hallways and beneath porches, cheek to jowl with their masters
and mistresses. In death, these same slaves were banished to the Negro
Burial Ground, which lay a mile outside the city limits and contained
between 10,000 and 20,000 bodies by the time it was closed in 1794,
according to the historian Sherrill Wilson.
The graveyard was
paved over, built upon and forgotten - until 1991, when the General
Services Administration excavated the foundation for a new tower. After
protests from black New Yorkers, the agency agreed to finance research on
the skeletons, but failed to budget the necessary money and generally
dragged its feet, putting one of the most important archaeological
projects of the century years behind schedule.
The Howard team has
yet to identify among the skeletons the many Africans who are known to
have been burned at the stake during the rebellion-plot hysteria that
swept the colony in 1741. But what the researchers have found is brutal
enough on its own.
Of the 400 skeletons
taken to Howard, about 40 percent are of children under the age of 15, and
the most common cause of death was malnutrition. Most of the children had
rickets, scurvy, anemia or related diseases. About twice as many infant
girls seem to have died as boys, suggesting at least some infanticide.
As Mr. Blakey said,
"Women who gave birth in these conditions knew that they were bringing
their children into hell."
The adult skeletons
show that many of these people died of unrelenting hard labor. Strain on
the muscles and ligaments was so extreme that muscle attachments were
commonly ripped away from the skeleton - taking chunks of bone with them -
leaving the body in perpetual pain.
The highest mortality
rate is found among women ages 15 to 20. Mr. Blakey has concluded that
some died of illnesses acquired in the holds of slave ships or from a
first exposure to the cold - or from the trauma of being torn from their
families and shipped in chains halfway around the globe. But in many
cases, he said, "what we see is that these women were worked to death by
owners who could simply go out and buy a new slave."
The Blakey team will
conduct two sets of studies in an attempt to determine more closely where
the slaves were born. One study will analyze tooth enamel for trace
minerals that would mark the captives as having grown up in Africa, the
Caribbean or North America. If DNA research proceeds as planned, it will
further pin down the country of origin by comparing the dead with known
populations in Africa.
The skeletons will be
returned to their graves by 2002. By then the burial ground will have
rewritten the book on slavery in New York and given historians something
to talk about well into the next century.
Back to Table of Contents
Sterling A. Brown
The strong men keep coming on. -
They dragged you from the homeland,
They chained you in coffles,
They huddled you spoon-fashion in
They sold you to give a few
They broke you like oxen,
They scourged you,
They branded you,
They made your women breeders,
They swelled your numbers with
bastards . . . . .
They taught you the religion they
Keep a-inchin' along
Lak a po' inch worm . . .
By and bye
I'm gonna lay down this heaby load .
Walk togedder, chillin,
Dontcha gilt weary . . .
The strong men keep a-comin' on
The strong men get stronger.
They point with pride to the roads
you built for them,
They ride in comfort over the rails
you laid for them.
They put hammers in your hands
And said - Drive so much before
Ain't no hammah
In dis lan'
Strikes lak mine, bebby,
Strikes lak mine.
They cooped you in their kitchens,
The penned you in their factories,
They gave you the jobs that they
were too good for,
They tried to guarantee happiness to
By shunting dirt and misery to you.
Me an' muh baby gonna shine, shine
Me an' muh baby gonna shine.
The strong men keep a-comin' on
The strong men git stronger . . .
They bought offs some of your
You stumbled, as blind men will . .
They coaxed you, unwontedly
soft-voiced . . .
You followed a way.
Then laughed as usual.
They heard the laugh and wondered;
Unadmitting deeper terror . . .
The strong men keep a-comin' on
Gittin' stronger . . .
What, from the slums
Where they have hemmed you,
What, from the tiny huts
They could not keep from you-
What reaches them
Making them ill at ease, fearful?
Today they shout prohibition at you
"Thou shalt not this"
"Thou shalt not that"
"Reserved for whites only"
One thing they cannot prohibit-
The strong men . . . coming on
The strong men gittin' stronger.
Strong men . . .
Stronger . . .
Back to Table of Contents
Compensate the Forgotten Victims
Of America´s Slavery Holocaust
by Randall Robinson
LOS ANGELES - America owes
African-Americans a debt. It is an old debt. It has lain around in edgy
disregard for a century and a half.
Long-term neglect of it has
aggravated exponentially its original consequence, itself being
staggering. Its compounded interest can be measured in the social
disrepair of its contemporary victims: black youth who menace one another
and society in general; black mothers, weary and solitary beneath the
burden of bleak prospect; black fathers, shorn of manhood before becoming
These, the heirs of slavery´s
destructive promise, economically lag far behind whites as a group in
Almost no one, black or white,
expects blacks to close this gap in the forseeable future. So small is any
such expectation that the very question of it occurs only to a
statistically insignificant number of people, black or white.
About as motionless as China´s
ancient terra-cotta Qin dynasty soldiers, the two groups have known since
Jamestown where to find each other on the American economic ladder: whites
at the top, blacks at the bottom. Americans have been pretty much left to
figure out for themselves why this statistic verticality is so. Whites no
doubt (even liberals privately) ascribe it to their innate superiority.
Most blacks attribute it to contemporary racial discrimination, although
more than a few would harbor a lurking doubt or two about their relative
worth. Some blacks have simply come to hate themselves. It is the price of
long-term unexplained socio-economic bottomness.
Almost never discussed in the
United States is the seminal cause of what long ago cleaved us Americans
into two unequal, mutually hostile racial societies. It is not that
slavery is never discussed or publicly acknowledged, but simply that when
slavery is discussed its story is told to us as an academic recollection
of closed American chapter, as if the 246-year episode could be cordoned
off in a blameless rubric of America´s sanitized version of itself.
Slavery was, and remains, an
American holocaust. It lasted 20 times as long as the Nazi Holocaust. It
killed at least 10 times as many people. It extinguished on three
continents and a necklace of vegetal isles a people´s sustaining sense of
selfhood. It eviscerated whole cultures: languages, religions, mores,
It plundered. It raped. It
commodified human beings. It mercilessly crushed African social and
economic institutions in order to capitalize its own. It psychologically
hulled empty its victims. It wrenched from them their history, their
memory of what they had once meant to the world and to themselves, and
replaced their estimable story of their people with another, alien and
reproachful. All of this accomplished on a scale of human cruelty the
worldtherefore had never witnessed.
And when this monstrous
institution finally drained of energy a mere 135 years ago, America (which
had for two and a half centuries hosted, faciliated and materially
benefited from the forced labors of millions of uncompensated human
beings) would embrace for the next hundred years, racial segregation and
de jure racial discrimination, leaving a disproportionate number of
American descendants of slaves bottom-stuck in debilitating poverty.
And then, rubble stilled, dust
settled, silence. Even as around the world restitutions for less heinous
crimes of shorter duration had been made to Koreans, Poles, Aborigines,
first Canadians, even as the United States government made restitutions to
Japanese-Americans interned during World War II.
Even as the U.S.
undersecretary of state, Stuart Eizenstat, labored to make 16 German
companies compensate Jews used as slave laborers during the Nazi era.
Slaves had built the U.S.
Capitol, cast and hoisted the stature of freedom on top of its dome,
cleared the forest between the Capitol and its co-symbol of American
democracy, the White House.
Construction of the National
Museum of the American Indian will begin soon on the National Mall in
Washington. Plans have been laid to build near the mall a Japanese
memorial par to commemorate Japanese-American victims of World War II
internment. Daily, Americans queue in long ines to enter the Holocaust
Museum, where the Nazi terror is remembered in wrenching detail.
Yet nowhere on the mall can
anything be found - monument, memorial or stone tablet - to commemorate
the hundreds of millions of victims of the American holocaust. While
urging other nations to publicly atone for past misdeeds, the United
States schizophrenically has repressed its own.
The American government for
hundreds of years played a major role in deconstructing Africa and
millions of its issue. It abused them as beasts of burden and released
them uncompensated into a racial environment certain to hold them fast in
perpetuity to the economic bottom of American society.
It is now the United States´
turn to atone. To pay its debt. To materially compensate slavery´s living
victims. And to commemorate in its public architecture those tortured
souls who can no longer hear a simple apology.
The writer, executive
director of TransAfrica, is author of "The Debt: What America Owes to
He contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.
International Herald Tribune
Frankfurt, Friday, February 11, 2000
Back to Table of Contents
When the Holocaust Is Incomparable,
It Becomes Unworldly
by Henry Siegman
NEW YORK - Gatherings like the
high-level forum in Stockholm last week to ponder the lessons of the
Holocaust should not be an occasion for repetition of conventional
pieties, but an opportunity to look afresh, unblinkingly, at the lessons
that half a century since the Holocaust, has to teach us.
Distinguished participants in
Stockholm once again emphasized the uniqueness of the Holocaust, a
singular and unparalleled expression of man´s capacity for evil.
Celebrated Holocaust survivors and leading Holocaust historians have
devoted their lives to the preservation of the singularity of the
Holocaust in the hope that the memory would serve to prevent a repetition
of such evils.
Unfortunately, there is
nothing in the history of the past half-century to suggest that
remembrance has had such an effect. Indeed, what we see is a repetition of
large-scale and systematic destruction of human life in Europe, Africa and
Asia, even as an earnest symposia on the Holocaust and its lessons take
place within earshot of these more recent genocides.
I attended such a conference
sponsored by the French government in Lyon in 1992 entitled "Resistance
and Memory". Of the hundreds of speakers, very few even took note of the
massacre taking place in Bosnia at the time.
The recurrence of genocide so
soon after the Holocaust raises distressing questions about the effect of
Holocaust memorials and their impact, if any, on human behavior.
It is difficult to maintain
that the growing literature of the Holocaust, the witness of the survivors
and the proliferation of museums and memorials have mitigated the
cruelties of genocidal, ethnic and national conflicts in the world.
To make comparisons between
Auschwitz and tragedies like Bosnia invariably draws reflexive
condemnation by most, if not all, of those who have dedicated their lives
to teaching the world the meaning of the Holocaust and its uniqueness. Yet
it is difficult to escape the conclusion that this very emphasis on the
uniqueness of the Holocaust is part of the problem.
To insist on the
incomparability of the Holocaust is, in the end, to insist on its
Presumably, the purpose of
memory is not only to memorialize the victims. What gives memory of the
Holocaust its urgency and its sanctity is the expectation - indeed, the
desperate hope - that memory will make a repetition of such evil if not
impossible, at least less likely.
But to insist on the
Holocaust´s radical uniqueness, as those who tell its haunting story
inevitably do, and to condemn and scoff at those who see its echos in
Kosovo or in Rwanda, is to doom the memory of Auschwitz to irrelevance.
The keepers of the flame of
the Holocaust, by insisting on its difference, have paradoxically
contributed to its detachment from history, and therefore to public
indifference to subsequent genocides.
Despite arrogant claims by the
U.S. government and others that we did in fact respond to the tragedies in
Bosnia and Kosovo, the fact is that we did too little and too late.
Neither in Bosnia nor in Kosovo did the international community prevent
slaughter of hundreds or thousands, or the violent displacement of people
in the millions, not to speak of mass rape and other atrocities.
If the world´s indifference to
the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo suggest that the Holocaust
has made little if any real difference, perhaps that is, in part, because
the Holocaust "establishment" seems to react with greater anger at
comparisons between Auschwitz and subsequent genocides than at the awful
It is time to take stock of
how the Jewish community and the international community have dealt with
the Holocaust. For if the meaning of the systematic slaughter of 6 million
Jews will continue to have little impact on how the civilized world
responds to new threats of genocide, what is the purpose of memory so
carefully nourished by witnesses to the Holocaust?
Does not such indifference,
even as we repeat the traditional pieties about the Holocaust and its
uniqueness, desecrate the memory of the 6 million?
I believe it does.
The writer, himself a
Holocaust survivor, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign
He contributed these personal views to the International Herald Tribune.
International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, February 1, 2000
Back to Table of
Let's Hear More About
By Richard F. Hamilton
In the years
from 1885 to 1908, some 10 million people died in the Congo Free State,
victims of one of the modern world's most terrible holocausts. This
enormous crime has scarcely penetrated the public consciousness - no
memorials, museums or cries of "Never again!"
The basic facts of the tragedy
are well known to most historians and scholars, but textbooks and
encyclopedias offer only a few bland sentences about it. This neglect
dishonors the memories of the millions of innocent people who died as a
result of a king's greed.
Adam Hochschild's 1998 book
"King Leopold's Ghost provides an excellent account of what happened. The
so-called Congo Free State was anything but.
It was a giant forced labor
camp, personal possessions of Leopold II, king of Belgium. For nearly 30
years his armed thugs forced the Congolese to extract ivory, hardwoods and
wild rubber from their homeland.
Many were beaten to death for
failing to meet strict quotas, while millions more died from physical
exhaustion, famine or infectious disease. In all, roughly half the
region's people lost their lives.
International outrage finally
forced King Leopold to give up his hold on the land. What followed,
however, was what Mr. Hochschild called "the great forgetting."
Forgetting was easy because
the Congolese were a poor, mostly illiterate people lacking the
technologies needed to disseminate the fact of their suffering. Leopold
ran an effective public relations campaign, helping to bury the extent of
his crime for many years. It took the work of several dedicated activist
researchers to uncover the truth of the holocaust.
Yet the forgetting continues.
Curious about what today's
university students in America might learn about the Congo holocaust, I
reviewed nine of the most frequently used history textbooks dealing with
modern times. None provided more than a paragraph on the Congo holocaust.
Most offered only a few indifferent sentences.
One book describes the
holocaust by saying that the Congo's people "were treated with inhuman
severity and compulsion." The account does not use the words "murder,"
"killing" or "atrocities." Nothing is said about the number of human
beings who were killed.
Unfortunately, most other
history books do not better. The interested student turning to the
Encyclopedia Americana account would find only a vague single sentence
suggesting the problems: "financial difficulties led to harsh economic
exploitation, and mounting international criticism finally prodded Belgium
to take over."
The current edition of the
Encyclopaedia Britannica is slightly better, in that it contains a brief
but frank description of the Congo holocaust. But the encyclopedia's entry
under Leopold only hints at the atrocities he committed.
Students today might get some
hint of the Congo holocaust through English literature classes, in courses
that include reading Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." The 1899 novella
provides a grim atmospheric portrait of persons and events in the Congo
during this period.
Where is moral outrage at this
holocaust? Why aren't students learning the full extent of the outrage?
The Congo holocaust is not ancient history. Much of it occurred in the
20th century, a decade before the next catastrophe, World War I with its
attendant Armenian holocaust, and just a few decades before the holocaust
of World War II.
Three holocausts occurring
within a few generations should be a sobering reminder of our
civilization's fragility, of how close we are to barbarism. We need to be
reminded - and often - of the extent of human cruelty in order to ensure
that such things do not happen again.
We can start by making sure
that textbooks and encyclopedias reveal to students the full tragedy of
the Congo holocaust. The great forgetting must end.
The writer, professor emeritus
of sociology and political science at Ohio State University, contributed
this co mment to The Washington Post.
Back to Table of
America, Too, Should Pay
Reparations for Its Past
by Brent Staples
New York - The German
Parliament hoped to discourage a wave of lawsuits - and close the door on
an ugly past - when it voted to support a fund through which corporations
would compensate people who worked as slave laborers in Germany during
World War II.
But by agreeing to pay
reparations, corporations like DaimlerChrysler, Deutsche Bank, Siemens and
Volkswagen are tacitly admitting that German corporate wealth rests at
least partly on slave labor extracted from Jews subjected to crimes
This has been a big year for
institutional contrition, with the Vatican apologizing for misdeeds of the
past and Swiss banks seeking atonement for appropriating the accounts of
Holocaust victims. But in the U.S. Congress, a bill that would bring about
a similar reckoning with regard to two and a half centuries of slavery may
never see the light of day. Legislation sponsored by Representative John
Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, calling for a study of reparations has
failed to reach the House floor, even after being submitted to Congress
every year for more than a decade.
The failure of Congress to
take this bill seriously reflects the sense among Americans as a whole
that slavery has no economic bearing on the nation as it exists today. But
if a 34-year-old lawyer named Deadria Farmer-Paellmann has her way, a
broader debate about reparations and the links between modern corporations
and the slave economy may be on the way.
A part-time musician and
amateur historian, Ms. Farmer-Paellmann attended law school solely to
develop a legal argument for reparations. After scouring corporate
archives, she has turned up connections between modern corporations and
predecessor companies that seem clearly to have profited from the slave
trade, in some cases obliquely but often quite directly.
Inspired by the German case,
Ms. Farmer-Paellmann is planning to sue a dozen corporations for "unjustly
enriching" themselves, and she has begun distributing archival records
that provide provocative examples of corporate involvement in the trade.
The planned lawsuits are
novel. But the news articles about her first few discoveries have already
broadened public awareness of the extent to which the United States
depended on slaves to build the national as well as the Southern economy.
Charles Ogletree, a professor
at Harvard Law School, is among those paying attention. He says he is
considering both litigation and legislation and is helping to plan a
conference scheduled this fall on the reparations issue.
Modern-day Northerners tend to
view slavery as confined to the Confederacy, thinking of the Northeast as
having been made up of "free states." Americans are for the most part
unaware that slavery covered all of the original colonies and their
successor states and began to loosen its grip in the North only in the
early 1800s, when personal liberty laws went into effect. New York City
was a capital of human bondage, with more slaves than any other city with
the possible exception of Charleston, South Carolina.
New England survives in the
history books as the hotbed of abolitionism and the home of the crusading
anti-slavery novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. But Ms. Farmer-Paellmann has
turned up documents revealing a different New England, one in which
corporate founders and respected businessmen trafficked in slaves, even
after aspects of the slave trade were made illegal.
One of the most serious
offenders was the Rhode Island businessman John Brown, who founded
Providence Bank, an early predecessor of the modern FleetBoston Financial
The Fleet corporate history
portrays Brown as a "respected merchant." Ms Farmer-Paellmann has
unearthed records showing that Brown owned ships that embarked on several
slaving voyages and that he was prosecuted in federal court for
participating in the international slave trade after it had become illegal
under federal law.
Records show that Providence
Bank lent substantial sums to Brown, and Ms. Farmer-Paellmann suspects
that the bank both financed and profited from the founder's illegal slave
trading. For its part, FleetBoston contends that incomplete records make a
The most disturbing document
to emerge so far reveals that Aetna Insurance Co. Of Hartford actually
insured slave owners against the loss of their human chattel. That Aetna
knew the horrors of slave life is evident in a rider through which the
company declined to pay the premium for slaves who were lynched or worked
to death or who committed suicide. Aetna says that incomplete records
forbid its knowing how many such policies were written.
After the policy came to
light, the company apologized for having been involved in the slave trade.
Ms. Farmer-Paellmann claims
too have found similar documents concerning more than a dozen corporations
still doing business in the United States and has promised to file several
lawsuits charging these companies with unjustly enriching themselves at
the expense of slaves.
Whether the lawsuits succeed
is almost beside the point. This exercise will have done its job if it
reveals to the public the role of slavery in shaping American life. More
than a few modern fortunes rest on the suffering of human beings who once
accounted for a large portion of American wealth and lied in chains here
for 250 years.
July 25, 2000
Back to Table of Contents
A Skull Stirs Up
Cranium Unearthed in Brazil
Challenges Ideas on
Peopling of Americas
By Larry Rother
RIO DE JANEIRO
A human skull
that is prominently displayed at the National Museum here has been
attracting crowds and controversy since it was first unveiled this month.
After two decades in storage, the fossilized cranium has now been
identified by Brazilian scientists as the oldest human remains ever
recovered in the Western Hemisphere.
The skull is that of a
young woman, nicknamed Luzia, who is believed to have roamed the savannah
of south-central Brazil some 11,500 years ago. Even more startling, a
reconstruction of her cranium undertaken in Britain this year indicates
that her features appear to be Negroid rather than Mongoloid, suggesting
that the Western Hemisphere may have initially been settled not only
earlier than thought, but also by a people distinct from the ancestors of
today's South American Indians.
"We can no longer say
that the first colonizers of the Americas came from the north of Asia, as
previous models have proposed," said Walter Neves, an anthropologist at
the University of Sao Paulo who made the initial discovery along with an
Argentine Colleague, Hector Pucciarelli. "This skeleton in nearly 2,000
years older than any skeleton ever found in the Americas, and it does not
look like those of Amerindians or North Asians." If the date is confirmed,
the find could transform thinking about the peopling of the Americas. It
may be some time before that work is completed, but archaeologists say the
find is potentially very important.
named as a playful homage to Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor
found in Africa, the oldest known human remains recovered in the Western
Hemisphere were those of a woman found in Buhl, Idaho, and repatriated to
the Shoshone tribe in 1991. Radiocarbon dating tests have established the
age of that skeleton as a bit more than 10,000 years old.
Luzia's discovery at a
location in the state of Minas Gerais called Lapa Vermelha is consistent,
however, with recent findings made at the celebrated Monte Verde site in
southern Chile. There, evidence of human habitation as early as 12,500
years ago - stone tools and a footprint - has been uncovered though no
human remains have been found.
The finds, along with
recent discoveries in North America like those of the so-called Kennewick
Man and Spirit Cave Man, are forcing a reassessment of long-established
theories as to the settling of the Americas.
Based on such evidence,
Mr. Neves suggests that Luzia belonged to a nomadic people who began
arriving in the New World as early as 15,000 years ago. Luzia's Negroid
features notwithstanding, Mr. Neves is not arguing that her ancestors came
to Brazil from Africa in an early trans-Atlantic migration. Instead, he
believes they originated in Southeast Asia, "migrating from there in two
directions, south to Australia, where today's aboriginal peoples may be
their descendants, and navigating northward along the coast and across the
Bering Straits until they reached the Americas."
About one-third of
Luzia's skeleton has been recovered, enough to indicate that she appears
to have perished in an accident or perhaps even from an animal attack. She
was in her twenties when she died and was part of a group of
hunter-gatherers who appear to have subsisted largely on whatever fruits,
nuts and berries they came across in their meanderings, plus the
occasional piece of meat. "This is intriguing and interesting and I want
to know more," said David Meltzer, a professor of anthropology at Southern
Methodist University and an expert on the paleo-Indian populations of
North America. "Skeletal material of this age is extraordinarily rare,
both here and in South America, so I am delighted to know that something
of this antiquity is popping up."
The region where Mr.
Neves and his associates are working has been the focus of archaeological
inquiry since the mid-19th century, when Peter Wilhelm Lund, A Danish
naturalist first encountered human skeletal remains there. Many of the
specimens he uncovered are now stored at the University of Copenhagen, but
if Mr. Neves went to examine them, he found that the material had not been
catalogued by geological strata and therefore could not be used for his
Luzia herself was
originally discovered in 1975 in a rock shelter by a joint
French-Brazilian expedition that was working not far from Belo Horizonte,
Brazil's third-largest city. The skull was buried under more than 40 feet
of mineral deposits and debris, separated from the rest of the skeleton
but otherwise in remarkably good condition.
"This is a site where
the soil was high in limestone content, which helped to preserve these
remains for so long," explained Andre Prous, a French archaeologist at the
federal University of Minas Gerais, who was part of the initial team and
continues to work in the area. "In other places, the bones disappear after
a short time."
Mr. Neves bases his
estimate of Luzia's age on the fact that the skull was found in a
geological strata where the age of other organic material has been
established through radiocarbon dating. The same procedure would
ordinarily have been done with Luzia, but the specimen does not have
enough collagen, the protein that gives bone its resiliency, to allow that
technique to be used.
Health and Science
International Herald Tribune, Frankfurt,
Monday, November 1, 1999
Back to Table of Contents
SPEECH OF THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA,
THABO MBEKI, AT THE LAUNCH OF THE AFRICAN RENAISSANCE INSTITUTE
PRETORIA, 11 OCTOBER 1999
Elders of Africa, Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity,
Your Excellencies Ministers, Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Distinguished participants, Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased indeed to
welcome you to the launch of the African Renaissance Institute. I
sincerely thank you for giving us, as South Africans, the opportunity to
host this launch and for me to speak at this Opening Session.
I would also like to welcome
to our country those of our brothers and sisters who come from beyond our
Once more, we would like to
express our profound appreciation to you all for the contribution that you
made to our own struggle for liberation.
Liberated South Africa is
therefore your home, not merely because it is an African country, but
because without your determined struggles, perhaps we would not be a free
The sacrifices the peoples of
our Continent made to end the apartheid crime against humanity, which
denied the very humanity of everybody who was African, were many and
Among other things, the
countries of Southern Africa also paid a very high price in human lives
lost, as well as property and infrastructure destroyed, as they withstood
the campaign of aggression and destabilization conducted by the apartheid
Undoubtedly, Angola and
Mozambique paid the highest price in this regard.
I would like to take this
opportunity, once more, to reiterate our profound appreciation to their
governments and peoples for their extraordinary solidarity, which our
people will never forget.
I am also very pleased to make
special mention and pay tribute to our elders who are here, of whom we are
justly proud and whose wisdom and African patriotism will make an
important contribution to our common quest for an African Renaissance.
All of us are greatly
distressed that that great son of all Africa, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, is
unable to be here, owing to a difficult health condition. I am certain
that we would all agree that we should send him a heartfelt message of
support and our wishes for his speedy recovery.
We have also received the
apologies of another great son of our Continent, Ahmed Ben Bella, who
could not joint us owing to prior commitments.
As you are aware, the movement
of our own struggle for national liberation is the ANC, the African
Brought up as we were by this
movement and led by it, throughout the entirety of our political lives we
have been exposed to the inspiring perspective of African unity and
solidarity and the renewal of our Continent.
Beyond this, the struggle for
our own liberation led to the development of perhaps the largest and most
determined Pan-African movement of solidarity our continent has ever seen,
involving both governments and all sections of the population, in every
We are therefore pleased and
moved that some of our fellow Africans took the initiative to establish
the Institute that we are launching today.
I am convinced that all of us
present here share a common vision in favour of African unity and
solidarity, African development and renewal and an end to the
marginalization of our Continent in world affairs and development
It would seem to us vitally
necessary that whereas, for some time, the achievement of these objectives
has been left to our governments, it is necessary that we return this
vision to the people.
We are therefore of the firm
view that there is a critically important and urgent need to develop a
Popular Movement for the African Renaissance.
Accordingly, we believe that
political organizations and governments in all African countries should be
mobilized to act in furtherance of the objectives of the African
Equally, the masses and their
organizations in all African countries should similarly be mobilized and
drawn into action.
We must also pay attention to
the intelligentsia, the professionals, the trade unions, business people,
women and the youth, the traditional leaders, cultural workers, the media
and so on, to bring them into the popular struggle for Africa's rebirth.
The question has been posed
repeatedly as to what we mean when we speak of an African Renaissance.
As all of us know, the word
"renaissance" means rebirth, renewal, springing up anew. Therefore, when
we speak of an African Renaissance, we speak of the rebirth and renewal of
This idea is not new to the
struggles of the people of our continent for genuine emancipation. It has
been propagated before by other activists for liberation, drawn from many
But is has been suggested that
when this perspective was advanced in earlier periods, the conditions did
not exist for its realization.
Accordingly, what is new about
it today is that the conditions exist for the process to be enhanced,
throughout the continent, leading to the transformation of the idea from a
dream dreamt by visionaries to a practical program of action for
What, then, are these
conditions? These are:
- the completion of the continental
process of the liquidation of the colonial system in Africa, attained
as a result of the liberation of South Africa;
- the recognition of the bankruptcy of
neo-colonialism by the masses of the people throughout the continent,
including the majority of the middle strata;
- the weakening of the struggle among
the major powers for spheres of influence on our continent, as a
consequence of the end of the Cold War; and,
- the acceleration of the process of
As we take advantage of these
changed circumstances, we must move from the fundamental proposition that
the peoples of Africa share a common destiny.
Each one of our countries is
constrained in its ability to achieve peace, stability, sustained
development and a better life for the people, except in the context of the
accomplishment of these objectives in other sister African countries as
Accordingly, it is objectively
in the interest of all Africans to encourage the realization of these
goals throughout our Continent, at the same time as we pursue their
attainment in each of our countries.
We speak of a continent which,
while it led in the very evolution of human life and was a leading center
of learning, technology and the arts in ancient times, has experienced
various traumatic epochs; each one of which has pushed her peoples deeper
into poverty and backwardness.
We refer here to the three
- slavery, which robbed the continent of
millions of her healthiest and most productive inhabitants and
reinforced the racist and criminal notion that, as Africans, we are
- imperialism and colonialism, which
resulted in the rape of raw materials, the destruction of traditional
agriculture and domestic food security, and the integration of Africa
into the world economy as a subservient participant; and,
- neo-colonialism, which perpetuated
this economic system, while creating the possibility for the emergence
of new national elite in independent states, themselves destined to
join the dominant global forces in oppressing and exploiting the
masses of the people.
During this latter periods,
our continent has experienced:
- unstable political systems in which
one-party states and military rule have occupied pride of place,
leading to conflict, civil wars, genocide and the emergence of
millions of displaced and refugee populations;
- the formation of predatory elite that
have thrived on the basis of the looting of national wealth and the
entrenchment of corruption;
- the growth of the international debt
burden to the extent that, in some countries, combined with
unfavourable terms of trade, it makes negative growth in national per
capita income inevitable; and,
- actual declines in the standard of
living and the quality of life for hundreds of millions of Africans.
The task of the African
Renaissance derive from this experience, covering the entire period from
slavery to date. They include:
- the establishment of democratic
political systems to ensure the accomplishment of the goal that "the
people shall govern";
- ensuring that these systems take into
account African specifics so that, while being truly democratic and
protecting human rights, they are nevertheless designed in ways which
really ensure that political and, therefore, peaceful means can be
used to address the competing interests of different social groups in
- establishing the institutions and
procedures which would enable continent collectively to deal with
questions of democracy, peace and stability;
- achieving sustainable economic
development that results in the continuous improvement of the
standards of living and the quality of life of the masses of the
- qualitatively changing Africa's place
in the world economy so that it is free of the yoke of the
international debt burden and no longer supplier of raw materials and
an importer of manufactured goods;
- ensuring the emancipation of the women
- successfully confronting the scourge
- the rediscovery of Africa's creative
past to recapture the peoples' culture, encourage artistic creativity
and restore popular involvement in both accessing and advancing
science and technology;
- strengthening the genuine independence
of African countries and continent in their relations with the major
powers and enhancing their role in the determination of the global
system of governance in all fields, including politics, the economy,
security, information and intellectual property, the environment and
science and technology.
These goals can only be
achieved through a genuinely popular and protracted struggle involving not
only governments and political parties, but also the people themselves in
all their formations.
Such a popular movement for
the fundamental renewal of Africa would also have to take into account the
multi-faceted reality that:
- it is engaged in an extremely complex
struggle which would be opposed by forces of reaction from both within
and without the continent;
- it would achieve both forward movement
and suffer occasional setbacks;
- the continental offensive can only be
sustained of the active populations of all countries are confident
that none of the countries of the continent, regardless of the extent
of its contribution to the renaissance, seeks to impose itself on the
rest as a new imperialist power; and,
- the forces for change have to be built
up and consolidated within each country, without ignoring or
underestimating the imperative and the potential for an increasing
coordinated trans-national offensive for the mutually beneficial
renewal of the continent.
From all this, it is clear
that the achievement of the historically vital African Renaissance
requires that the peoples of our continent should adopt a realist program
of action that will actually move Africa toward its real renewal.
Accordingly, ways have to be
found to ensure that:
- the OAU is further strengthened so
that in its work, it focuses on the strategic objective of the
realization of the African Renaissance;
- links are built across Africa's
borders among all social sectors to increase the levels of cooperation
- steps are taken to ensure that both
Africa and the rest of the world define the new (21st)
century as an "African Century", in furtherance of the objective of
the mobilization of the peoples of the world to support the offensive
for an African Renaissance; and,
- work is done to persuade the rest of
the world, including such important institutions as the UN, the IMF,
the World Bank, the WTO, NAFTA, the EU, MERCOSUR, ASEAN and others, to
the point of view that we share with them the strategic view that it
is obligatory that we all support the vision of an African Renaissance
and that they should lend support to this process, guided by what the
peoples of Africa themselves want.
The difficulty we will face
with regard to the accomplishment of the last of these tasks is
illustrated by the problem we are facing even as we stand here, of
arriving at the point when we can conclude the bilateral agreement between
our country and the European Union.
Stripped of all pretence, what
has raised the question whether the agreement can be signed today or not,
is the reality that many among the developed countries of the North have
lost all sense of the noble idea of human solidarity.
What seems to predominate is
the question, in its narrowest and most naked meaning - what is in it for
me? What is in it for me? - and all this with absolutely no apology and no
sense of shame.
None of us were present when
the slaves were forced into the dungeons on the Isle of Goree in Senegal
and on the island of Zanzibar.
But we would not be wrong if
we came to the conclusion that those who survived these dungeons as well
as their transportation across the oceans, did so because of a strong will
None of us were present when
the people of the Congo were slaughtered in their millions, to satisfy the
rapacious and insatiable greed of a Belgian monarch.
But we would not be wrong if
we came to the conclusion that the Congolese people did not resort to mass
suicide to escape the horror, because of a firm conviction that, in the
end, as a people they were indestructible.
We were present when the
colonial and racist powers put up the most determined resistance to deny
the people of Algeria, Kenya, the Portuguese colonies, Zimbabwe, Namibia
and South Africa their freedom.
We know that the peoples of
these countries and our Continent as a whole were not discouraged by what
seemed to be overwhelming odds against them, because they were determined
that the people's cause for national emancipation could never be defeated.
We bore witness to the
unspeakable genocide that descended on the people of Rwanda in 1994.
We know that, in the end,
these extraordinary Africans ended the slaughter themselves because they
took it upon themselves to make the determination that Africa will not
perish at the hands of her own sons and daughters.
That same spirit of optimism
and commitment to overcome must inform all of us now as we build on the
victories we have scored, to engage what will clearly be a titanic
struggle to achieve Africa's Renaissance.
What will decide the outcome
is not the strength of our opponents but our own determination to succeed.
Stretching through the mists,
for a millennium, our common African history is replete with great feats
of courage, demonstrated by the heroes and heroines and the heroic
peoples, without whose loyal attachment to hope and the vision of a bright
future for Africa, her people would long have perished.
The moment is upon us when we
should draw on this deep well of human nobility to make this statement in
action - that Africa's time has come!
We, in all our millions,
including those of us who are in the Diaspora, will ensure that Africa
will not be denied what is due to her!
The African century will not
be proclaimed! It will come to be through struggle!
The struggle continues!
Victory is certain!
We wish the African
renaissance Institute success in the historic mission we are all called
upon to carry out, to end a long and dark night without whose ending no
human being anywhere in the world can claim to be fulfilled as a human
- The only ailment that has no cure is
the spawn of a curse.
I thank you for your
The United Nations
Conference against Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
and Related Intolerance
Durban, South Africa
Thabo Mbeki opened the conference
with a speech painting a bleak picture of a world split between rich
whites and poor blacks. He said that it was necessary to convene the
conference "because, together, we recognized the fact that there are
many in our common world who suffer indignity and humiliation because
they are not white. Their cultures and traditions are despised as savage
and primitive and their identities denied. They are not white and are
deeply immersed in poverty. Of them it is said that they are human but
black, whereas others are described as human and white. I speak in these
terms, which some may think are too harsh and stark, because I come from
a people that have known the bitter experience of slavery, colonialism
International Herald Tribune,
September 1, 2001
Die Konferenz der
Vereinten Nationen gegen Rassismus,
und damit verbundene Intoleranz
Thabo Mbeki eröffnete die Konferenz
mit einer Rede, die ein trübes Bild einer Welt zeichnete, die zerissen
ist zwischen reichen Weißen und armen Schwarzen. Er sagte, dass es
notwendig war, diese Konferenz einzuberufen, "weil wir zusammen
feststellten, dass es viele in unserer gemeinsamen Welt gibt, die unter
unwürdigen Zuständen und Erniedrigung leiden, weil sie nicht weiß sind.
Ihre Kulturen und Traditionen werden als unzivilisiert und primitiv
verachtet und ihre Identität verleugnet. Sie sind nicht weiß und sie
sind tief versunken in Armut. Man spricht von ihnen als Menschen aber
schwarz, wohingegen andere als Menschen und weiß beschrieben werden. Ich
benutze diese Ausdrucksweise, von der manche denken, sie sei zu schroff
und zu krass, weil ich aus einem Volk komme, das die bittere Erfahrung
von Sklaverei, Kolonialismus und Rassismus kennt."
Back to Table of
By Robert Earl Price
Georgia January pale sunlight
streaking pink polished marble
demarking the designated demonstration stage
as deaf, dumb and docile media creations
and self-elected grand potentates
follow the perpetual widow around
and around the empty grave
pausing for photo opportunities
before their postcard crypt
While the guileless and
glean garbage for their feast
and celebrate in cardboard castles
certain that Martin is not on holiday
because they have seen him
huddled under a viaduct
sharing the warmth of a rusty barrel
listening to a drunken quartet sing
What has gone wrong
What has gone wrong
Ain't had no loving
since he been gone
On bitter sweet Auburn Avenue
from inside Ebenezer Baptist
hollow bells herald
a poseurs' pilgrimage
to the theatre of greed and guilt
produced by Coors and Seagrams
written by Jesse Helms
and starring the US president
a morality play
to remind us
that the dead stay dead
but our fallen brother
our martyred Martin
shuns these heathen rites
where the ghoulish and the glib
bicker over recording rights
to we shall overcome
and turn this shared dream
into a fried chicken commercial
St Martin walks with
along bloody boulevards
burdened with his name
where crack crazed women sing
Where you been so long
Where you been so long
We ain't had no loving
since he been gone
Smiling and waving
pretend protesters parade
deceit on their lips
stumbling through vagrant-free zones
tone deaf amnesia victims
and corporate systemazoids
Frolicking under cement
the unwelcome and uninvited
recognize their scam
because we know the difference
between parading and marching
Our dreaming drum major
taught us the difference
between parody and protest
the difference between
nonviolence and nonsense
between compromise and capitulation
we search their powdered faces
for rhythm or blues
but they shuffle out of sight
in time for action news
so we can be eye witnesses
to pigs that don tail coats
to hats and walk upright
While on winter's
wind bayonetted streets
a red eyed ragman
rummages through the refuse
and sings his holiday song
What has gone wrong
What has gone wrong
We ain't had no justice
since he been gone
Ain't had no justice
since he been gone
Back to Table of Contents
Table of Contents
(Clicking on the links below will take you to that part of this
Just war theory deals with the justification of how and
why wars are fought. The justification can be either theoretical or
historical. The theoretical aspect is concerned with ethically justifying
war and forms of warfare. The historical aspect, or the "just war
tradition" deals with the historical body of rules or agreements applied
(or at least existing) in various wars across the ages. For instance
international agreements such as the Geneva and Hague conventions are
historical rules aimed at limiting certain kinds of warfare. It is the
role of ethics to examine these institutional agreements for their
philosophical coherence as well as to inquire into whether aspects of the
conventions ought to be changed.
Historically, the just war tradition--a set of
mutually agreed rules of combat--commonly evolves between two similar
enemies. When enemies differ greatly because of different religious
beliefs, race, or language, war conventions have rarely been applied. It
is only when the enemy is seen to be a people with whom one will do
business in the following peace that tacit or explicit rules are formed
for how wars should be fought and who they should involve. In part the
motivation is seen to be mutually beneficial--it is preferable to remove
any underhand tactics or weapons that may provoke an indefinite series of
vengeance acts. Nonetheless, it has been the concern of the majority of
just war theorists that such asymmetrical morality should be denounced,
and that the rules of war should apply to all equally. That is just war
theory should be universal.
The just war tradition is as old as warfare itself.
Early records of collective fighting indicate that some moral
considerations were used by warriors. They may have involved consideration
of women and children or the treatment of prisoners. Commonly they invoked
considerations of honour: some acts in war have always been deemed
dishonourable, whilst others have been deemed honourable. Whilst the
specifics of what is honourable differ with time and place, the very fact
of one moral virtue has been sufficient to infuse warfare with moral
The just war theory also has a long history. Whilst
parts of the Bible hint at ethical behavior in war and concepts of just
cause, the most systematic exposition is given by Saint Thomas Aquinas. In
the Summa Theologicae Aquinas presents the general outline of what
becomes the just war theory. He discusses not only the justification of
war, but also the kinds of activity that are permissible in war. Aquinas's
thoughts become the model for later Scholastics and Jurists to expand. The
most important of these are: Francisco de Vitoria (1548-1617), Francisco
Suarez (1548-1617), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Samuel Pufendorf
(1632-1704), Christian Wolff (1679-1754), and Emerich de Vattel
(1714-1767). In the twentieth century it has undergone a revival mainly in
response to the invention of nuclear weaponry and American involvement in
the Vietnam war. The most important contemporary texts include Michael
Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars (1977), Barrie Paskins and Michael
Dockrill The Ethics of War (1979), Richard Norman Ethics,
Killing, and War
(1995), as well as seminal articles by Thomas Nagel "War and Massacre",
Elizabeth Anscombe "War and Murder", and a host of others, commonly found
in the journals Ethics or The Journal of Philosophy and Public
Against the just war (justum bellum) are those
of a skeptical persuasion who do not believe that morality can or should
exist in war. There are various positions against the need or the
possibility of morality in war. Generally, consequentialists and act
utilitarians may claim that if victory is sought then all methods should
be employed to ensure it is gained at a minimum of expense and time.
Arguments from 'military necessity' are of this type: for example, to
defeat Germany in World War II, it was deemed necessary to bomb civilian
centers, or in the US Civil War, for General Sherman to burn Atlanta.
However, intrinsicists may also decree that no morality can exist in the
state of war, for they may claim it can only exist in a peaceful situation
in which recourse exists to conflict resolving institutions. Or
intrinsicists may claim that possessing a just cause (the argument from
righteousness) is a sufficient condition for pursuing whatever means are
necessary to gain a victory or to punish an enemy. A different skeptical
argument, one advanced by Michael Walzer, is that the invention of nuclear
weapons alter war so much that our notions of morality--and hence just war
theories--become redundant. However, against Walzer, it can be reasonably
argued that although such weapons change the nature of warfare they do not
dissolve the need to consider their use within a moral framework.
Whilst sceptical positions may be derived from
consequentialist and intrinsicist positions, they need not be.
Consequentialists can argue that there are long term benefits to having a
war convention. For example, by fighting cleanly, both sides can be sure
that the war does not escalate, thus reducing the probability of creating
an incessant war of counter-revenges. Intrinsicists can argue that certain
spheres of life ought never to be targeted in war: for example, hospitals
and densely populated suburbs. The inherent problem with both ethical
models is that they become either vague or restrictive when it comes to
war. Consequentialism is an open-ended model, highly vulnerable to
pressing military needs to adhere to any code of conduct in war: if more
will be gained from breaking the rules than will be lost, the
consequentialist cannot but demur to military necessity. On the other
hand, intrinsicism can be so restrictive that it permits no flexibility in
war: whether it entails a Kantian thesis of respecting others or a
classical rights position, intrinsicism produces an inflexible model that
would restrain warrior's actions to the targeting of permissible targets
only. In principle such a prescription is commendable, yet the nature of
war is not so clean cut when military targets can be hidden amongst
Against these two ethical positions, just war theory
offers a series of principles that aim to retain a plausible moral
framework for war. From the just war (justum bellum) tradition,
theorists distinguish between the rules that govern the justice of war (jus
ad bellum) from those that govern just and fair conduct in war (jus
in bello). The two are by no means mutually exclusive, but they offer
a set of moral guidelines for waging war that are neither unrestricted nor
too restrictive. The problem for ethics involves expounding the guidelines
in particular wars or situations.
The Jus Ad Bellem Convention
The principles of the justice of war are commonly held
to be: having just cause, being declared by a proper authority, possessing
right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being
proportional to the means used. One can immediately detect that the
principles are not wholly intrinsicist nor consequentialist--they invoke
the concerns of both models. Whilst this provides just war theory with the
advantage of flexibility, the lack of a strict ethical framework means
that the principles themselves are open to broad interpretations.
Examining each in turn draws attention to the relevant problems.
Possessing just cause is the first and arguably the
most important condition of jus ad bellum. Most theorists hold that
initiating acts of aggression is unjust and gives a group a just cause to
defend itself. But unless 'aggression' is defined, this proscription
rather open-ended. For example, just cause resulting from an act of
aggression can ostensibly be responses to a physical injury (e.g., a
violation of territory), an insult (an aggression against national honor),
a trade embargo (an aggression against economic activity), or even to a
neighbor’s prosperity (a violation of social justice). The onus is then on
the just war theorist to provide a consistent and sound account of what is
meant by just cause. Whilst not going into the reasons of why the other
explanations do not offer a useful condition of just cause, the consensus
is that an initiation of physical force is wrong and may justly be
resisted. Self-defense against physical aggression, therefore, is
putatively the only sufficient reason for just cause. Nonetheless, the
principle of self-defense can be extrapolated to anticipate probable acts
of aggression, as well as in assisting others against an oppressive
government or from another external threat (interventionism). Therefore,
it is commonly held that aggressive war is only permissible if its purpose
is to retaliate against a wrong already committed (e.g., to pursue and
punish an aggressor), or to pre-empt an anticipated attack.
The notion of proper authority seems to be resolved
for most of the theorists, who claim it obviously resides in the sovereign
power of the state. But the concept of sovereignty raises a plethora of
issues to consider here. If a government is just, i.e., it is accountable
and does not rule arbitrarily, then giving the officers of the state the
right to declare war is reasonable. However, the more removed from a
proper and just form a government is, the more reasonable it is that its
sovereignty disintegrates. A historical example can elucidate the problem:
when Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940 it set up the Vichy puppet
regime. What allegiance did the people of France under its rule owe to its
precepts and rules? A Hobbesian rendition of almost absolute allegiance to
the state entails that resistance is wrong; whereas a Lockean or
instrumentalist conception of the state entails that a poorly accountable,
inept, or corrupt regime possesses no sovereignty, and the right of
declaring war (to defend themselves against the government or from a
foreign power) is wholly justifiable. The notion of proper authority
therefore requires thinking about what is meant by sovereignty, what is
meant by the state, and what is the proper relationship between a people
and its government.
The possession of right intention is ostensibly less
problematic. The general thrust of the concept being that a nation waging
a just war should be doing so for the cause of justice and not for reasons
of self-interest or aggrandizement. Putatively, a just war cannot be
considered to be just if reasons of national interest are paramount or
overwhelm the pretext of fighting aggression. However, possessing right
intention masks many philosophical problems. According to Kant, possessing
good intent constitutes the only condition of moral activity, regardless
of the consequences envisioned or caused, and regardless, or even in
spite, of any self interest in the action the agent may have. The extreme
intrinsicism of Kant can be criticized on various grounds, the most
pertinent here being the value of self-interest itself. At what point does
right intention separate itself from self-interest? On the one hand, if
the only method to secure peace is to annex a belligerent neighbor’s
territory, political aggrandizement is intimately connected with the
proper intention of maintaining the peace. On the other hand, a nation may
possess just cause to defend an oppressed group, and may rightly argue
that the proper intention is to secure their freedom, yet such a war may
justly be deemed too expensive or too difficult to wage; i.e., it is not
ultimately in their self-interest to fight the just war. On that account,
some may demand that national interest is paramount: only if waging war on
behalf of freedom is also complemented by the securing of economic or
other military interests should a nation commit its troops. The issue of
intention raises the concern of practicalities as well as consequences,
both of which should be considered before declaring war.
The next principle is that of reasonable success. This
is another necessary condition for waging just war, but again is
insufficient by itself. Given just cause and right intention, the just war
theory asserts that there must be a reasonable probability of success. The
principle of reasonable success is consequentialist in that the costs and
benefits of a campaign must be calculated. However, the concept of
weighing benefits poses moral as well as practical problems as evinced in
the following questions. Should one not go to the aid of a people or
declare war if there is no conceivable chance of success? Is it right to
comply with aggression because the costs of not complying are too
prohibitive? Is it not sometimes morally necessary to stand up to a
bullying larger force, as the Finns did when Russia invaded in 1940, for
the sake of national self-esteem? Besides, posturing for defense may
sometimes make aggression itself too costly, even for a much stronger
side. However, the thrust of the principle of reasonable success
emphasizes that human life and economic resources should not be wasted in
what would obviously be an uneven match. For a nation threatened by
invasion, other forms of retaliation or defense may be available, such as
civil disobedience, or even forming alliances with other small nations to
equalize the odds. Historically, many nations have overcome the
probability of defeat: the fight may seem hopeless, but a charismatic
leader or rousing speech can sometimes be enough to stir a people into
fighting with all their will. Winston Churchill offered the British nation
some of the finest of war's rhetoric when it was threatened with defeat
and invasion by Nazi Germany in 1940. For example: "Let us therefore brace
ourselves to do our duty, and so bear ourselves that, if the British
Commonwealth and its Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still
say, 'This was their finest hour.'" …And "What is our aim?…Victory,
victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however
long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."
(Speeches to Parliament, 1940).
The final guide of jus ad bellum, is that the
desired end should be proportional to the means used. This principle
overlaps into the moral guidelines of how a war should be fought, namely
the principles of jus in bello. With regards to just cause, a
policy of war requires a goal, and that goal must be proportional to the
other principles of just cause. Whilst this commonly entails the
minimizing of war's destruction, it can also invoke general balance of
power considerations. For example, if nation A invades a land belonging to
the people of nation B, then B has just cause to take the land back.
According to the principle of proportionality, B's counter-attack must not
invoke a disproportionate response: it should aim to retrieve its land.
That goal may be tempered with attaining assurances that no further
invasion will take place. But for B to invade and annex regions of A is
nominally a disproportionate response, unless (controversially) that is
the only method for securing guarantees of no future reprisals. For B to
invade and annex A and then to continue to invade neutral neighboring
nations on the grounds that their territory would provide a useful defense
against other threats is even more unsustainable.
On the whole the principles offered by jus ad
are useful guidelines. Philosophically however they invoke a plethora of
problems by either their independent vagueness or by mutually inconsistent
results. They are nonetheless a useful starting point for ethics and
remain a pressing concern for statesmen and women.
The Principles Of Jus In Bello
The rules of just conduct fall under the two broad
principles of discrimination and proportionality. The principle of
discrimination concerns who are legitimate targets in war, whilst the
principle of proportionality concerns how much force is morally
appropriate. One strong implication of being a separate topic of analysis
for just war theorists, is that a nation fighting an unjust cause may
still fight justly, or vice verse. A third principle can be added to the
traditional two, namely the principle of responsibility, which demands an
examination of where responsibility lies in war.
In waging war it is considered unfair and unjust to
attack indiscriminately, since non-combatants or innocents are deemed to
stand outside the field of war proper. Immunity from war can be reasoned
from the fact that their existence and activity is not part of the essence
of war, which is killing combatants. Since killing itself is highly
problematic, the just war theorist has to proffer a reason why combatants
become legitimate targets in the first place, and whether their status
alters if they are fighting a just or unjust war. Firstly, a theorist may
hold that being trained and/or armed constitutes a sufficient threat to
combatants on the other side. Voluntarists may invoke the boxing ring
analogy: punching another individual is not morally supportable in a
civilized community, but those who voluntarily enter the boxing ring
renounce their right not to be hit. Similarly, those who join an army
renounce their rights not to be targeted in war; the rights of
non-combatants (civilians, or 'innocents') remain intact and therefore
they cannot be justly attacked. Others, avoiding a rights analysis, may
argue that those who join the army (or who have even been pressed into
conscription) come to terms with being a target, and hence their own
deaths. This is argued for example by Barrie Paskins and Michael Dockrill
in The Ethics of War (1979). However, since civilians can just as
readily come to terms with their own deaths, their argument is not
sufficient to defend the principle of discrimination. Rights based
analyses are more productive, especially those that focus on the
renouncing of rights by combatants by virtue of their war status, leaving
a sphere of immunity for civilians.
Warfare sometimes unavoidably involves civilians.
Whilst the principle of discrimination argues for their immunity from war,
the practicalities of war provoke the need for a different model. The
doctrine of double effect offers a justification for killing civilians in
war, so long as their deaths are not intended but are accidental.
Targeting a military establishment in the middle of a city is permissible
according to the doctrine of double effect, for the target is legitimate.
Civilian casualties are a foreseeable but accidental effect. Whilst the
doctrine provides a useful justification of 'collateral damage' to
civilians, it raises a number of issues concerning the justification of
foreseeable breaches of immunity, as well as the balance to strike between
military objectives and civilian casualties.
Another problem arises in defining who is a combatant
and who is not. Usually combatants carry arms openly, but guerrillas
disguise themselves as civilians. Michael Walzer, in his Just and
(1977) claims that the lack of identification does not give a government
the right to kill indiscriminately--the onus is on the government to
identify the combatants. Others have argued that the nature of modern
warfare dissolves the possibility of discrimination. Civilians are just as
necessary causal conditions for the war machine as are combatants,
therefore, they claim, there is no moral distinction in targeting an armed
combatant and a civilian involved in arming or feeding the combatant. The
distinction is, however, not closed by the nature of modern economies,
since a combatant still remains a very different entity from a
non-combatant, if not for the simple reason that the former is presently
armed (and hence has renounced rights or is prepared to die, or is a
threat), whilst the civilian is not. On the other hand, it can be argued
that being a civilian does not necessarily mean that one is not a threat
and hence not a legitimate target. If Mr Smith is the only individual in
the nation to possess the correct combination that will detonate a device,
then he becomes not only causally efficacious in the firing of a weapon of
war, but also morally responsible; reasonably he also becomes a legitimate
military target. His job effectively militarizes his status. The
underlying issues that ethical analysis must deal with involve the logical
nature of an individual's complicity, or aiding and abetting the war
machine, with greater weight being imposed on those logically closer than
those logically further from the war machine in their work. At a deeper
level, one can consider the role that civilians play in supporting an
unjust war; to what extent are they morally culpable, and if they are
culpable to some extent, does that mean they may become legitimate
targets? This invokes the issue of collective versus individuality
responsibility that is in itself a complex topic.
The second principle of just conduct is that any
offence should remain strictly proportional to the objective desired. This
principle overlaps with the proportionality principle of just cause, but
it is distinct enough to consider it in its own light. Proportionality for
jus in bello requires tempering the extent and violence of warfare to
minimise destruction and casualties. It is broadly utilitarian in that it
seeks to minimize overall suffering, but it can also be understood from
other moral perspectives, for instance, from harboring good will to all
(Kantian ethics), or acting virtuously (Aristotelian ethics). Whilst the
consideration of discrimination focuses on who is a legitimate target of
war, the principle of proportionality deals with what kind of force is
morally permissible. In fighting a just war in which only military targets
are attacked, it is still possible to breach morality by employing
disproportionate force against an enemy. Whilst the earlier theoreticians,
such as Thomas Aquinas, invoked the Christian concepts of charity and
mercy, modern theorists may invoke either consequentialist or intrinsicist
prescriptions, both are which remain problematic as the foregoing
discussions have noted. However, it does not seem morally reasonable to
completely gun down a barely armed belligerent tribe. At the battle of
Omdurman in the Sudan, six machine gunners killed thousands of
dervishes--the gunners may have been in the right to defend themselves,
but the principle of proportionality demands that a battle ends before it
becomes a massacre. Similarly, following the battle of Culloden,
Cumberland ordered "No Quarter", which was not only a breach of the
principle of discrimination, for his troops were permitted to kill the
wounded as well as supporting civilians, but also a breach of the
principle of proportionality, since the battle had been won, and the
Jacobite cause effectively defeated on the battle field.
The principles of proportionality and discrimination
aim to temper war's violence and range. They are complemented by other
considerations that are not taken up in the traditional exposition of
jus in bello, especially the issue of responsibility.
Jus in bello requires that the agents of war be held
responsible for their actions. This ties in their actions to morality
generally. Some, such as Saint Augustine argues against this assertion:
"who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself
responsible for the death he deals." Those who act according to a divine
command, or even God's laws as enacted by the state and who put wicked men
to death "have by no means violated the commandment, 'Thou shalt not
kill.'" Whilst this issue is connected to the concepts of just cause, it
does not follow that individuals waging a just, or unjust war, should be
absolved of breaching the principles of just conduct. Readily it can be
accepted that soldiers killing other soldiers is part of the nature of
warfare, but when soldiers turn their weapons against non-combatants, or
pursue their enemy beyond what is reasonable, then they are no longer
committing legitimate acts of war but acts of murder. The principle of
responsibility re-asserts the burden of abiding by rules in times of peace
on those acting in war. The issues that arise from this principle include
the morality of obeying orders (for example, when one knows those orders
to be immoral), as well as the status of ignorance (not knowing of the
effects of one's actions).
The foregoing has described the main tenets of the
just war theory, as well as some of the problems that it entails. The
theory bridges theoretical and applied ethics, since it demands an
adherence, or at least a consideration of meta-ethical conditions and
models, as well as prompting concern for the practicalities of war. A few
of those practicalities have been mentioned here. Other areas of interest
are: hostages, innocent threats, international blockades, sieges, the use
of weapons of mass destruction or of anti-personnel weapons (e.g., land
mines), and interventionism.
by Alex Moseley, Ph.D.
Racism in Cuba and The Failure of the American Left
by Sidney Brinkley
"All citizens have equal rights and are subject to equal duties.
Discrimination because of race, color, sex or national origin is forbidden
and will be punished by law."
-The Cuban Constitution 1959
"I think we should see more black representation in the higher positions
of leadership now. In the middle leadership, for example, in the youth
organizations. This is a social problem we have not resolved. But there
are economic problems that are critical at the moment, so it's difficult."
-Fidel Castro, "Crossroads," October 1993
What impressed me the most [about the meeting with President Fidel Castro]
was the way in which his grounding in the history and reality of
Afro-Cubans informs his view of Cuba; the sense of personal outrage he has
over racial discrimination; and his willingness to be critical of how the
revolution has not done all that must be done about racism and therefore
the resolve to figure out what must be done.
-Dr. Johnnetta Cole, "The Cuba Report," TransAfrica
Forum January, 1999
The TransAfrica Forum delegation, comprised of fifteen prominent
African-Americans, arrived in Havana on January 2, 1999, to begin a five
day "fact-finding" visit which concluded with a three hour meeting with
Cuban president Fidel Castro. In addition to Dr. Cole, the delegation
included Drs. Alvin and Tina Poussaint, author Walter Mosley, actor Danny
Glover and Randall Robinson, president of TransAfrica Forum. The visit was
described as a "watershed" event.
It's no surprise the Dr. Cole would be "impressed" by her meeting with
Castro. The American Left are overwhelmingly impressed by Castro,
sometimes to a fault. In the Cuba Report that followed the visit,
TransAfrica praised the Cuban government for it educational system, its
universal health care, its low infant mortality rate.
Following close on the heels of the TransAfrica visit, a six member
delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus, led by CBC chair Rep.
Maxine Waters (D-CA) arrived in Cuba on February 17, for its own five day
fact finding tour. "We have come with our minds open to study the impact
of the embargo on the Cuban population," Waters said. "We hope to exercise
some leadership, even a modest amount, in the future debates on a
resolution about U.S.-Cuban relations."
On February 19, the CBC delegation met with Castro for six hours. As with
TransAfrica, the CBC delegation saw what Castro wanted them to see, talked
with whom Castro wanted them to talk and came away with the "facts" that
Castro wanted them to know.
In the July 1999 issue of "Essence" magazine Randall Robinson authored a
simplistic article titled "Why Black Cuba Is Suffering." He lambasted the
U.S. government embargo, saying it was the sole blame for the plight of
Afro Cubans. There was no mention of the role the Cuban government plays
in that suffering, and they do indeed play a part. Castro is invariably
portrayed as victim but Castro is also victimizer but that's a fact that
Robinson and most of the Left prefer not to acknowledge.
Robinson offered a qualified criticism of Castro's Cuba. "While Cuba has a
one-party system and suppresses dissent, it still has a better record with
respect to human rights than many Latin American governments the United
States has steadfastly supported," Robinson wrote. What kind of reasoning
is that? I would imagine the political prisoners languishing in Cuban
jails would find little comfort in that statement. The same people that go
ballistic over human rights abuses in China, go mute when it comes to
Castro's human rights abuses in Cuba.
Cuba has a population of over 11 million people. Approximately 60% are
Black. However, while the Cuban constitution declares everyone equal,
Cuban society is stratified by race and color of skin. Viewed as a
pyramid, White Cubans are at the apex, mulattos or mixed race are in the
middle and Afro-Cubans are at the bottom. The same position they occupied
before the revolution.
There are virtually no Afro-Cubans found in the hierarchy of the Cuban
government. And they are not found anywhere else in anything close to
their numbers in the population. When it comes to addressing Cuba's
entrenched racism Castro plays the American Left like a fiddle. He knows
that all he has to do is acknowledge the sorry fact and that will be
enough to impress the Left. That Castro has done nothing to correct it is
The truth is, the Black majority is being ruled by the White minority. If
that wasn't acceptable in South Africa, why is it acceptable in Cuba?
Indeed, that's one reason the Castro regime is so strongly opposed to
democracy. There's the very real possibility, indeed probability, that for
the first time in the history of Cuba, White Cubans would no longer be in
In 1994 I spent seven days in Havana with the U.S. based organization
"Queers For Cuba." I was not a member of the group but went as a reporter
and later wrote a series of articles about the trip that ran in several
U.S. newspapers, both Gay and straight. QFC was the official guest of the
Federation of Cuban Women (Federacion De Mujeres Cubanas). We stayed in
the Federation's guest house in Vedado, one of Havana's nicer
The Federation had arranged meetings and outings for the group but we also
had a lot free time to explore Havana on our own. I went to a restaurant
inside one of the hotels. It was not at all busy, perhaps four or five
other people in the room, including a trio of Afro-Cubans, two men and one
woman, sitting a couple tables away from me.
There were three White Cuban waiters on the other side of the room. After
waiting several minutes I thought the service was slow but I wasn't paying
much attention at that point. Several more minutes passed. Then, a
European couple walked in and sat down. The waiters immediately rushed
over with menus, water, napkins. The works. I remember saying to myself,
"What's this?" Then it occurred to me, I was being deliberately ignored. I
was furious. I walked over to the waiter station and said, "I was here
before them," and pointed at the European couple, "why are they being
served before me?" I didn't shout but I spoke loud enough to turn heads.
At that point the waiter realized I was not Afro-Cuban. There was an
immediate change of attitude. "I'm sorry," he said apologetically, "have a
seat. Someone will be right over."
Now, they were so solicitous. They couldn't do enough. I was not
mollified. When he returned with my order I asked about the trio of
Afro-Cubans who were still sitting there, unserved. "Why haven't they been
served?" I asked. "They were here before me." It was only then the waiter
went to their table. That was first but not the last time I would see
racism in Cuba.
The hotels are entirely staffed by White Cubans. I saw no Afro-Cuban
workers in the hotels. When I asked one official why was that the case,
his response was, the hotels were European owned and they did the hiring.
He said [the government] did not oversee the hiring practices of the
hotels. I was incredulous. He was telling me Europeans could come to Cuba
and discriminate against Afro-Cubans and the government couldn't do
anything about it. Obviously, one of the reasons Black Cubans are
suffering is the jobs are going to the White Cubans.
It was then I began to ask the types of questions that Cuban officials,
and the members of Queers For Cuba, found uncomfortable. Such as: What
percentage of those 64,000 doctors in Cuba are Afro-Cuban? What percentage
of the students at the University of Havana are Afro-Cuban? What
percentage of the employed population are Afro-Cuban? What percentage of
government officials are Afro-Cuban? What percentage of the prison
population are Afro-Cuban? What percentage of the residents of Havana's
poorest neighborhoods are Afro-Cuban?
The next time TransAfrica Forum, the Congressional Black Caucus, or anyone
else, goes to Cuba for a "fact finding" excursion, ask Castro those
questions. Bypass the Castro sponsored tour and go to the Black barrios of
Havana and talk to the Afro-Cubans. Then come back and tell the rest of us
The American Left correctly castigates the United States government for
its misguided policy towards Cuba. But they wrongly turn a blind eye and
deaf ear to the blatant inequities between Black and White Cubans,
inequities the U.S. government did not create and does not sustain.
By the time I Left Cuba I was disappointed and disillusioned. I thought
that, except for the U.S. embargo, Cuba was a success story. There are
people who have told me that I was viewing Cuba through an African
American perspective. I see how that's true and colors my perceptions but
I only allow that argument but so far. It's the same old racism wherever
it is found and no one knows that better than the darker of us.
In every way, by whatever standard, White Cubans are better off than Black
Cubans. If everyone is subject to the same embargo how can that be? The
people whom the revolution benefited the most are White Cubans and given
the present social structure of Cuba, if the embargo was halted tomorrow,
it would be White Cubans who would benefit first and foremost.
I am not anti-Castro. I am pro-Black. Cuba is but a variation of the same
old theme, White people getting over on Black people and that is the
failure of the American Left. They stand by in silence and let it happen.
They are so in "awe" of Castro. They are so "impressed" by Castro. After
forty years they need to get over it and get on his case. The honeymoon is
over. Until they are willing to do that, the Left are complicit in
whatever the suffering of the Afro-Cubans.
"I may not make it if I try, but I damn sure won't if I don't..." -
Oscar Brown Jr.
"Mankind will either find a way or make one." - C.P. Snow
"Whatever you do..., be cool!" - Joseph Louis Turner
"Yes, I can...!" - Sammy Davis Jr.
"Yes, We can...!" - Barack Hussein Obama
"Yes, we can and Yes, we better...!" - Barack Hussein Obama and Donald
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Revised: September 23, 2018