The logic of racism in the age of US imperialism
By Luciana Bohne
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Oct 6, 2005, 19:42
Reports of a reign
of civilian terror�general and massive looting, rapes, and other sado-masochistic
fantasies�in Katrina's New Orleans turn out to have been false. So says the New
Orleans Times-Picayune on 26 September: �the vast majority of reported
atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least
unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement,
medical and civilian officials in positions to know.�
"natives" did not go berserk, after all.
I wonder, however,
what the media will do to erase the lurid racist images of sex and violence
they have implanted in television viewers' minds. Absolutely nothing is my
guess. When the sympathy of ordinary Americans threatened to become seditious
outrage at the government's criminal irresponsibility, the plan to demonize the
victims went into effect, tapping into long-established myths of black people
as rapists and murderers.
Is the media
racist? I would guess not at the vulgar, knee-jerk level of pathological
racism, but "racialist," yes�processing reality through the
unscientific prism of "race." "Racialism" is to racism what
"paternalism" is to sexism: it views the Other as either a victim
needing protection or a menace requiring suppression. The racialist paradigm
does not permit regarding the Other as equal. Pity or fear are the emotional
byproducts of racialist thinking, and both went into effect in New Orleans, but
the fear mode won out. It concocted fantasies of murderous anarchy, which
stifled the immediate impulse of pity.
Yes, the rule of
law during this time of Bush's catastrophic capitalism is in decline (illegal
and unconstitutional war against Iraq, Guantanamo detention of
"stateless" people, torture by proxy via renditions, suspension of
domestic civil rights by USA PATRIOT Act, stacking courts with neo-fascist
liberticides, corruption in high places, etc.), but the symptoms of this
decline are not to be found among unruly citizens in New Orleans but among a
greedy business class, misgoverning through an authoritarian-styled management
as though the state were just another corporation, strictly responsible to
investors who funded the selection of the CEO of the nation.
Bush rules but does
not govern. That's what it means to have government off our backs in right-wing
parlance: the government administers our treasury, but it does not do so for our
happiness or our safety. It's government off the corporations' backs.
administrative management for the benefit of the few is in the ascendancy,
while the rule of law is in decline. This was evidenced by the Katrina
disaster. Confronted with proof of the absence of order in emergency
situations�relief, rescue, prevention�the managers in this managerial
administration simply winked at the hegemonic organs (the media, the pundits,
the right-wing demagogues on "talk" blather waves�in short, the
industrial priests of mass deception) and local and state officials to
manufacture a phantasmagoric theatre
of cruelty in which largely black citizens were portrayed as reverting to the
law of the jungle from whence they once supposedly hailed.
media sicced the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde paradigm on the compassionate viewers,
anguished by images of old people in wheelchairs overcome by thirst and
fatigue. They sicced the images of the primitive beast�the looter, the rapist,
the sadistic child-murderer�to erase from viewers' minds the image of the
pitiful sign, "Help Us Please," held up by people, standing in water
on top of cars. They sicced the fear of primitivism, of potency in the wrong
pants, of rituals of blood not sanctioned by Rumsfeld, Pentagon, Congress, and
the rest of the vultures of war.
They had New
Orleans "go native."
And then the
government militarized the devastated Gulf Coast, re-establishing "freedom
and democracy" at the point of a gun. Blackwater mercenaries shooting US
citizens in their own land! Sound familiar? And, of course, there will be
"reconstruction" for no-bid contracts for government cronies. Sound
even more familiar? What goes around, comes around. Logic of empire.
Rice says racism is not the issue! No, but it sure is a manipulative ploy to
scare the populace back into ancestral fears of the different, the darker, the
When states embark
on criminal projects, such as the conquest of the world, scapegoats are
essential to scaring people into consenting to mass slaughter abroad. Hitler
had the Jews, the Slavs, the gypsies, the homosexuals, the
"Asiatics," and anyone else around whom he could weave myths of
conspiracy intending to subvert his blond Christian nation's messianic mission
for rescueing the world from the debilitating influences of impure races and
"criminal" groups. We had the Indians, the blacks, the Filipinos, the
Germans, the Japanese, the Communists (the list is long and opportunistic), and
now the Muslims.
To embrace the
paradoxical administration of the absence of order and increase in legal
regulation (more terror, less freedom), the populace must be made to fear an
enemy�to learn to live with hatred of Him, seeking the state's protection
against Him in exchange for the surrender of freedoms to enslave Him. In an
empire, no one is free, not even the emperor, who must walk naked among the
people in order to convince them he's clothed. The important thing is to be
able to define oneself in opposition to Him�the generic enemy du jour. The
logic of empire is unforgiving: you're either with us or you are with the
"terrorists." And to be someone other than Him and to be rid of Him,
you have to erase your freedom�you have to allow your retina to be scanned so
His arm may be tattoed with a number. That's the logic of conquest. "The
conquest of the earth," wrote novelist Joseph Conrad, at the beginning of
the decline of the British Empire in 1900, "is not a pretty thing when you
look at it up close" ("Heart of Darkness").
No it's not. At its
center lie propaganda thoughts that come to regard human beings as masses of
disposable utilities or irksome encumbrances. But, to dispose of them when
cumbersome, you first have to be made to dehumanize them�to turn them into
"objects," because you cannot be reasonably expected to kill someone
who looks and feels just like you�human. You have to ascribe to the non-human
object in your crosshairs the ills that your rulers foisted on society, with
your silence or complicity, authorizing the destabilization of order and
security, the looting of public wealth, and the severing of the ties that bind
you in solidarity to one another and to the world. You are given a designated
enemy, and then you blame Him for the consequences of the crimes you have been
deceived into committing.
In America, the
traditional domestic enemy is and has been since time immemorial (which in US
terms amounts to under 400 years) the black man. A few days ago, William
Bennett, former US Secretary of Education and author of the best-selling
right-wing screed "The Book of Virtues," commenting on the decline of
crime as a possible result of abortion on his radio program, said that,
reprehensible as abortion might be, he could not help but observe this: "I
do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that
were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and
your crime rate would go down."
something logical from being immoral, and Bennett's logic is that�immoral. It
is also deceptive logic. He alludes, I assume, to the fact that one in every 20
black men is imprisoned as opposed to one in every 180 white men. Among blacks
in prison, 57 percent are imprisoned for drug offenses as opposed to 23 percent
of whites. White drug users outnumber blacks by a five to one margin, yet 30
percent of black Americans will eventually serve time in prison compared to 5
percent of whites. Draconian drug laws that disproportionately criminalize the
black sector of the population? A distinct possibility, especially since the
"war on drugs" is helping to jail people but not to rid society of
And, of course, the
prison-industrial complex is lucrative, securing some $50 billion per year in
federal and state funds to keep two million people in jail, one million waiting
for trial, and three million monitored through the parole system. An inmate
costs us, taxpayers, $37,000 per year. If we spent that much on a poor child's
education per year, we might get more productive youngsters and fewer drug
users, but then we would win the "war on drugs" and lose the
profitable prison business.
border on the virulent or pathological kind of racism: he flirts with the idea
of aborting black fetuses by ascribing to them the feature of genetic
criminality. The White House rightly denounced his repulsive playfulness, but
it did not do so categorically. They called Bennett's remarks
"inappropriate." So when are remarks like these
imagine what would have happened to a radio host in Bush's America if he/she
had made a similar remark on the abortion of potential neocon fetuses?
Arguably, global crime would decline! The Bush administration�and Laura Bush in
particular�found charges of racism, made in the wake of Bush's laissez-faire
attitude toward poor blacks in New Orleans, "disgusting," and I'm
prepared to say that Bush is not a racist, but he sure enables policies that
It is the covering
up of racism itself that is inappropriate. Katrina caused the natural disaster
in New Orleans, but it did not cause the levees not to be fortified for the
protection of low-lying, poor, mostly black neighborhoods, the evacuation of
the indigent and car-less not to be organized, the medical and security relief
of the most vulnerable poor not to be planned, the global warming data that
promised increased frequency of category-5-force hurricanes not to be heeded.
That disaster was man-made, and the responsibility for that disaster is called
Instead of focusing
on this disaster, the media focused on "looters," thereby shifting
It is a wonder that
government-embedded media in New Orleans, just as surely as it is militarily
embedded in Iraq, didn't report a string of heads on pikes, lining some New
Orleans white boulevard, but, then, no one can accuse the media of being
literate. Thrill-seekers they may be, but not because they read Conrad's
"Heart of Darkness." If they had, they might have actually
articulated the thought lurking behind their indiscriminate scavenging in the
sewers of the penny-dreadful imagination. If they had been literate, they might
have put Conrad's criminal, imperialist character's final, mad judgment of
Africans in print: "Exterminate all the brutes." But, then, if they
were literate, they would quit their jobs�or commit suicide for the wrong they
have done to democracy, to humanity, to their profession.
They will say that
they merely repeated the stories they were told, which is, after all, what they
do on a regular basis: transcribe to newsprint the obscenities the White House
invents�enemy WMD that do not exist, global warming that can be ignored, a
worldwide torture system that is ascribed to a "few bad apples," you
name it and they uncritically "report" it. Analyze? Not their job!
Perfectly objective folks; stories choose them�not the other way around.
Passive stenographers to power, it is not their fault if they live in a
journalism culture that rewards the professional integrity of plague rats.
Doesn't Rush Limbaugh make $32 million a year?
I'm glad I didn't
watch national television during that paroxysm of "hurricane Katrina
reporting," which in a jiffy morphed into "Katrina: looter-and-rapist
reporting." But my students did. And I wonder if some of those who will
end up in Iraq will exchange pictures of dead Iraqis for a chance to watch
naked ladies on a Florida porno website.
After all, they
watched the media exchange Katrina's tragedy for shock entertainment; they
heard officials proclaim that the suffering was intensified by a rampage of
looters rather than admitting the failure of government to organize society;
they heard that dark-skinned people are incapable of saving themselves and that
they prey on one another.
Why wouldn't the
logic of racism at home be exported abroad?
Luciana Bohne teaches film and literature at
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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