[News] Black, Brown, and Invisible

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 11 11:31:58 EDT 2013


*Black, Brown, and Invisible 
<http://jacobinmag.com/2013/09/black-brown-and-invisible/> *

9.10.13

by Rafia Zakaria <http://jacobinmag.com/author/rafia-zakaria/>

*Just as mass incarceration uses the gloss of rehabilitation to hide the 
realities of social control, military intervention has appropriated the 
language of humanitarianism to disguise imperialist motives.*

On September 4, 2013, as the war drums beat loud in Washington and the 
crowds that had come to the city for the 50^th anniversary of the march 
on Washington had become a memory, /Nation/ columnist Michelle Alexander 
published an essay, "Breaking my Silence 
<http://www.thenation.com/article/176030/breaking-my-silence>." The 
piece owned up to the culpability of quiet that pervades the American 
Left when it comes to recognizing the connections between insidious 
racism at home and martial imperialism abroad. In the piece, Alexander, 
noted author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of 
Colorblindness," <http://newjimcrow.com/> takes personal ownership for 
"staying in her lane"; for failing to speak out on "the use of drones 
abroad in a "war on terror 
<http://www.thenation.com/article/176030/breaking-my-silence>" and to 
"connect the dots" between NSA spying on millions of Americans; for the 
labeling of mosques as "terrorist organizations"; and for the FBI and 
COINTELPRO programs of the 60s and 70s, which placed the Civil Rights 
Movement  under constant surveillance, infiltrated their organizations, 
and assassinated their leaders.

As a Pakistani American writer and human rights activist, inhabiting the 
intersection between American remote-controlled wars and uncounted 
Pakistani casualties, I am grateful for Michelle Alexander's words. The 
common connections between the dehumanization that allows for the 
incarceration of millions of African-American men and the new vocabulary 
of precision and humanitarianism that has been attached to imperial war 
are indeed many. Both use the weight of moral righteousness to create 
two-pronged chains of justification: the first insists that the practice 
is necessary, and the second pronounces it good for those on whom it is 
being inflicted. As per this recipe, the imprisonment of 
African-American men --- the lurking, drug peddling demons of peaceful 
American neighborhoods, it says --- is crucial to the safety of all but 
is also ultimately rehabilitative for these wayward men who have fallen 
into lives of crime.

Just as mass incarceration uses the gloss of rehabilitation to hide the 
realities of social control, military intervention has appropriated the 
language of humanitarianism to disguise imperialist motives. In 
Afghanistan it was the women being so sordidly oppressed by the Taliban, 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/18/us/a-nation-challenged-the-first-lady-mrs-bush-cites-women-s-plight-under-taliban.html>; 
in Iraq it was a the unstoppable bullying of a dictator; and now in 
Syria it is the rows of children so cruelly gassed by their own 
President. Just as an African-American man convicted by a crime and 
condemned to a sentence becomes invisible, so do the populations of 
these countries once interventions have actually happened and 
occupations are underway. The individuality of the African-American man 
ceases to exist post conviction, as does the plight of the Iraqi and the 
Afghani once their countries are occupied and attentions drift 
elsewhere. The cruelties that are perpetrated /before/ American 
interventions exist loud and blaring and demanding of moral outrage; the 
ones inflicted by American forces /after/ intervention do not exist at all.

In the case of mass incarceration, the moral imperative of "justice" 
stands as a foil against any critique pointing to the racist undertones 
of American criminal law. The pliant public, watching the system put 
away millions of young African-American men and boys, believes that they 
"deserve" their punishments. In recent cases of American intervention, 
the rhetoric of "precision" utilizes a similar mechanism. American 
drones in Pakistan and Yemen can pinpoint targets with tremendous 
exactitude, American military officials and war hawks purport from their 
pulpits. Figures are produced enumerating the "terrorist' leaders 
killed, the alleged firsts and seconds and fifths of Al-Qaeda and 
Taliban leadership, all decimated with the remote-controlled accuracy.

Never mentioned is that no independent casualty counts are permitted or 
that the self-styled rules that govern the CIA drone program label most 
killed by drones to be combatants 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>. 
Nor is the fact that after nearly five years of aggressive drone bombing 
and the supposed killing off of terrorist leaderships, Pakistan still 
experienced 652 terrorist attacks in 2012 and 426 so far in 2013 
<http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/bombblast2012.htm>. 
Hence juxtaposed, just as the imprisonment of every black man convicted 
is imagined just, all those killed by drones are terrorists.  As 
Alexander has pointed out in her book, the point of the "War on Drugs" 
is not to end drug crimes but to create a thriving industry of 
enforcement around them. Similarly, the "War on Terror," aims not to 
eliminate terrorism but merely to posit it as a loose category for 
"enemy" in which a changing number of targets can be interposed and then 
righteously eliminated.

Incarceration and interventionist wars impose their own regimes of who 
can and who cannot be considered victimized. In the equation of 
visibility and invisibility coined by modern American imperialism, the 
faces of children gassed by the Syrian military draw tears from 
Congressional leaders, but the faces of the nearly 200 children 
<http://www.livingunderdrones.org/> killed by American drone strikes in 
Pakistan do not exist at all.  Unsurprisingly, then, this selection of 
the seen and unseen, the long-term radiation poisoning and varied 
cancers inflicted on Iraqis by American bombing of Tomahawk missiles, 
whose depleted uranium tips have poisoned groundwater 
<http://users.physics.harvard.edu/%7Ewilson/soundscience/Al-Azzawi.pdf>, 
are erased from collective memory or never discussed at all.

The industrial prison complex takes in millions of African-American men. 
When they emerge they face severe limitations of their rights --- to 
vote, to work, to participate in society. Maimed by a combination of 
denied opportunities and the reframed architecture of exclusion so 
astutely described by Michelle Alexander, they remain forever outsiders. 
The condition of post-conflict societies that have faced the brunt of 
American interventions is the same.

As the United States mulls war over Syria, the war weary citizens of 
Iraq, a few years into the American withdrawal, have seen nearly 4,000 
deaths <http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201308132107-0022975>from 
terrorist attacks this year. In Afghanistan, as the months before 
President Obama's announced withdrawal next year roll by, the country 
remains wracked by violence, massive corruption, and decrepit 
institutions. Just like systems of mass incarceration sentence 
African-American men to be perpetual misfits, unwanted and discriminated 
against, America's millennial imperialism keeps the countries it invades 
and leaves forever debilitated and aid-dependent, unable to rise to 
self-sufficiency, condemned to a marginal existence based on begging 
rents from former invaders.

Undergirding Michelle Alexander's thesis and unifying the slew of wars 
unleashed by the United States in the past decade is the issue of race. 
The millions of men duly incarcerated with such methodical diligence by 
a criminal justice system functioning as a proxy for perpetuating 
prejudice can be ignored away because they are black. The millions 
cowering in fear as American drones watch from the sky, as American 
missiles rain into cities and American tanks roll into towns, are all 
brown. So successful is the cumulative propaganda of "justice" and 
"precision," of "redemption" and "humanitarianism," that the misery of 
their bodies, the colors of their faces, the particularities of their 
perspectives are all erased before the power of whiteness to define what 
is worthy, right, just, and deserved.

Brown and black then are the American colors for the unwanted, the 
prisoners at home and the targets abroad.

- See more at: 
http://jacobinmag.com/2013/09/black-brown-and-invisible/#sthash.PPUKn8De.kjqSkYQh.dpuf

Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN, Pakistan's largest English 
newspaper. She is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History 
of Pakistan, forthcoming from Beacon Press. - See more at: 
http://jacobinmag.com/2013/09/black-brown-and-invisible/#sthash.PPUKn8De.kjqSkYQh.dpuf

-- 
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