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Archives & Transparency

I talk the latest news from the National Archives blurred images from the 2017 Women’s March and the value of transparent narratives.

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The Centennial exhibit on the 19th amendment ratification in the National Archives, featuring the blurred image of the 2017 Women’s March. Image Credit to the National Archives Twitter.

Happy 2020. One of my New Years resolutions is more authenticity, which is a fancy way of saying “be up front about my opinions.” I say of this to bring up the moment where authenticity was jeopardized this past week. When the National Archives blurred an image from the 2017 Women’s March on exhibit for the centennial celebration of the 19th amendment ratification, the world of historians collectively lost their minds. Then the National Archives admitted their mistake on Twitter with a response that began “We made a mistake.”

I’m not here to rehash the exact play by play, you can google all of that. This moment, instead, reminded me of what happened over break while visiting the Richard Nixon Presidential Library (an opportunity I got to have thanks to the Georgia Southern Graduate Studies program). While there with my research partner, we listened to a member of the archive staff meet with high schoolers to discuss the crucial role of the National Archives in sustaining historical memory. The Nixon Library is very transparent in Nixon’s own faults and his surveillance in the White House and, credit to them, make the research experience extremely open and helpful for all visitors. You can get on a circa 1990s computer, handle the infamous White House tapes yourself, and listen to them (or just click on the links on the website and use your 2020 technology instead). Accessibility to the history is the goal. Somewhat ironic given that the archives focus is a President who was notoriously secretive.

The archivist continued to emphasize this transparency and all was going well. The students were attentive, nodding along, taking notes. Interested in history. One student eventually asked the question we all ask in our training: “How do archivists decide what to keep, display, or redact?” I think the archivist knew this question was going to come up because he responded first with “There’s no archive police.” A statement that has stuck with me since. There are standard procedures and they send documents to the big office in D.C.; but, in the end, your job is to provide open access to state documents for public consumption as you see fit. It’s a big job, full of regulations.

This is even further complicated when expected to create exhibit spaces for these collections, like the National Archives exhibit on the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment ratification or the exhibit on the White House tapes in the Nixon Library. It was Benedict Anderson who said that museums are an extension of the state’s public education and because of this, so much responsibility is place on curators.

In previous posts, I discussed the importance of new narratives, but I am reminded that all narratives need to be upfront with their biases and be open to critique. The same is true for museum narratives. As I continue this semester, I am taking a Museum Studies course and am lucky enough to go to a conference on museums (more to come on that later) where I’ll learn invaluable skills to carry with me. So a 2020 resolution on authenticity? This developing story adds another layer- not just authenticity in my opinions but in the work I do and in the narratives I tell.

-JPF

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Historical Agency and the Hesitation of a New Narrative

I talk about agency, the struggle to share power, and community stagnation.

Virginia marks 400 years since the first Africans landed as slaves
A sign commemorating the arrival of the first Africans is displayed at Chesapeake Bay, in Hampton, Virginia, U.S., August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy – RC189ADF5CF0. Image & caption taken from PBS News Hour.

Power can be defined as a multidimensional ability to get others to do what you want, to control or manipulate resources, and to convince others to want what you want. (Shoutout to the gender political powerhouse, Dr. Courtney Burns, for re-showing me Paxton and Hughes’ Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective, 2013).

Going from this definition, history too is the study of power and how it shifts between various agents of power. Agents of power, in this case, means people who possess the ability to get what they want. There’s no threshold to power, just simply some people have more of it than others. However, historians for so long have aggregated their attention to the most powerful.

The New York Times’ “1619 Project” (fully linked here), argues what many historians have done: addressing the power, no matter how minute, of minorities to change or survive in their situation. The 1619 Project recalls the stories of the first slaves coming to Virginia and the subsequent systemic racism and oppressive faced by black people and makes the argument that no part of US History is not affected by the years of slavery that came 400 years ago. For the last day of 2019, I thought it best to remember those 400 years and how, even today, historians and others continue to critique the seemingly acceptable thesis the 1619 project puts forth. Yes, even today there are historians (few they may be) and others who decry the 1619 Project as yet another propaganda piece that deliberately ignores facts that disprove the narrative it espouses. No work of scholarship is perfect. There is, however, a careful differentiation.

What the 1619 Project does is provide a mainstream, accessible, and readable (Thesaurus.com other worthy synonyms) US history for all. And yet, a few notable historians in the field do not accept it’s supposedly reductionist way of thought. However, in their response they highlight the very issue historians have encountered since the age of Hegel, Marx, and Aquinas. For so long, the “traditional” history was of white Anglo-Saxon males in power. It has not, as more and more historians point out, included minorities. Because, quite honestly, they were never seen to possess power.

The 1619 Project virtually reframes that narrative by acknowledging the systems in place to deliberately diminish the power of black people in the United States. This, for some, is a direct challenge to their line of work. Historians are a complex creature, with their own background, beliefs, bias, and whatever other b-word you can think of. When faced with a different narrative, even one supported by historical evidence, hesitation is the healthy practice we have been taught where we analyze that evidence, critique its claims, and offer our own counter points.

A different narrative, one espoused but the 1619 Project that the US’ history is rooted in slavery and its terrible consequences thereafter is worth the historical analysis. It is not, however, worth more critical analysis than any other narrative. I have often found that when minority-centered narratives are shared with the broader audience, they face more critical backlash than others. And yet, there is a rise of African, Latina, Gender, or Asian studies in universities. And yet, there are more and more historians joining the field that do not fit the traditional power model of white Anglo-Saxon males. The 1619 debate that so rages on #twitterstorians (the casual hangout of historians on Twitter) is in fact a discussion on power and the willingness to accept a narrative that expands power to black people in the United States.

New things are hard to accept. But there is also the overwhelming need to welcome newness into the field. Imagine studying the same thing for 50 years and being the same person you were when you started your studies. 50 years of stagnation. That does not even begin to address the 400 years of stagnation felt by the Black community in the United States to which the 1619 project provides one of the first models to do so with its essays on music, traffic, healthcare, academia, and many more. 400 years after the first slaves unwillingly came to the United States. The 401st year will be a test for historians, of all fields, ages, and identities to welcome new perspectives. Especially ones that long ago were not empowered to speak to their own agency.

-JPF

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Historians & Activism

I talk about monumental moments and what I’ve learned from observing them: past and present.

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One general question I, and a few of my other colleagues, had during this past semester was figuring out the role of the historian in the larger world. What I learned is something I thought was worth discussing here: the amazing power of activism- from small groups to mass movements, and where the individual person fits in.

Assuming you, reader, do not live under a rock then you likely know of the historical occasion we live in where the US House of Representatives will likely vote to impeach the President of the United States and send the trial to the US Senate. History is happening (as it always does) and assuming historians of future years will be around to write about the year 2019, they will write about this moment. But what of the historians living in 2019 witnessing this moment? Their observations (and others) will be the primary sources used (analyzed, discredited or acclaimed) by the future historians.

I bring all this up to call attention to the over 1500 historians who signed their support to  impeach the President of the United States. You can find the full list and statement here, on Medium. It’s an interesting time we live in. For a Georgia Southern University history graduate, it’s an even more interesting time.

Here’s just a few stories to give you some insight into the University’s own problems this past semester. Like our book burning incident. Like our inaction towards white supremacy. You know, things you don’t want your school to be known for on national news or on a quick Google search. So the History Department at Georgia Southern took steps to address this. Professors hosted several lectures, a teach-in on the history of book burning, a talk on free speech, and, from what I understand, are working on several other events to hold next semester. This is exactly what I, and my colleagues in the graduate cohort, needed to understand what the role for the historian is in this historical moment.

In seeing our mentors and professors respond to historical moments, we are learning the power each of us possess to address them ourselves. Historical activism has a deep history where historians like Howard Zinn and other took part in moments of mass activism like the anti-war movement, the American Indian movement, the Feminist movement, it goes on. Historical activism is unique because the past informs it and uses it to draw parallels and distinctions to the present.

There are other articles, more eloquently worded by others. Like this Roundtable. That talk more about historians and activism.

So when the graduate cohort heard of the steps taken by our Department, we ourselves discussed it. The discussion was filled with various opinions and views. It got tense. But, it got to the question I posed at the beginning of this post: what is our role, as developing historians? The cohort is mainly public history tracked students, each with their own individual aspirations and dreams. Each of whom will leave the department and go into the world as a historian and a product of our university. A university steeped in injustices, but also a university with historical activism.

This does not, I should specifically note, require all historians to take up the mantle of all Social Justice Warriors (SJWs), each working towards improving various social injustices. Nor does it require all peoples to be SJWs. This is unrealistic and overwhelming. A singular person cannot save the world from all its problems. However, it is the burden of all, within their individual capacities, to address a problem or problems, they see fit to offer a solution. Faced with cataclysmic climate change and social injustices in the world, it is imperative historians continue to at least address a problem that they can readily provide informed solutions for.

As we close 2019 and this decade, I hope you take with you this lesson I have continued to learn. We are living in a moment that will never exist again, with the tools to understand the moment of the past that, too, will never exist again. As a student of history, I analyze the past. As an activist, I observe the present and call attention to its injustices. But as a historian activist, I understand the two are not in a vacuum but exist in conjunction, just as the students of history before me did and shaped the history they lived in. I’m not the pinnacle of historical activism, no one is. I will probably make mistakes and learn from them. But I, and other historians, do so with the goal of continuing to analyze the past and present with the historical activism necessary to build a better world for tomorrow.

-JPF

 

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Awkward Table Reads & Imposter Syndrome

Goals are a weird thing. They’re supposed to be measurable, observable, and achievable (like student learning objectives) but sometimes they’re abstract (funnily enough, like some student learning objectives).

These were my goals for this semester:

  1. Survive;
  2. Learn a new skill;
  3. Do something that’s going to benefit me later down the road.

I left them fairly open because, honestly I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve done a decent enough job surviving and, looking back, I sort of did #2 and #3 at the same time: doing a table read at a conference and not making a complete fool of myself.

Doing a table read is a weird thing because you sit there with pages of text and read aloud. Doing that is easier said than done, especially when you are a first time conference attendee, only know your advisor, are the only Masters student there, oh, and it’s raining and you just so happen to forget an umbrella. It was the perfect storm.

Instead of going over the table read, I want to talk about the surprising thing I learned: that yes, you can blend into an academic crowd while also experiencing Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is the fancy phrase for when you feel like you don’t bring enough to the table and should move back to the kid table at family dinners.

And I had a bad case of it after my table read while answering questions. My paper was about Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy with apartheid South Africa. The first question I got whether or not Reagan was a racist. Being asked that by a professor with 20+ years of experience on you, a simple first year who just spent a few days in the Reagan Presidential archives, is intimidating. I can’t even remember my answer, just this feeling of inadequacy.

I thought to myself “you aren’t qualified enough to answer that question.” I’m not a Reagan expert. I’m not an expert in racial studies. So the Imposter Syndrome set in. It’s a funny thing because the questions after that I was able to answer fairly easily. I will always remember the first question, but never the few I got after.

I continued through the conference meeting people, learning about other programs, and pretending to know the answer to the Reagan-racist question. I drove home thinking about it. I continue to think about this question and my own qualifications to answer it.

Back to goals #2 and #3. My new skill was table reading? Check yes, I read aloud while keeping it interesting. My benefit down the road? Check yes, I can answer questions and share my research.

But am I qualified to do so? Looking back on this conference, I had that imposter moment and then went about my day. I ate lunch and talked African politics with new acquaintances. I laughed at a funny history joke. I was told to come back next year. You’re always going feel like the odd one out but I existed in a space I didn’t think I qualified to be in.

So while my goals were abstract, they were also measurable, observable, and, despite feeling like they weren’t at the time, achievable. Onto the next list of goals for the spring semester.

-JPF

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Elizabeth Kolbert & Grad School Existentialism

My take on The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

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Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York City: Picador, 2014). Image credit to Amazon.com

After a total of 14 weeks into graduate school I believe I can confidently confirm that it is an existential crisis for every single person who decides to do it (joking, well, only partly). During these 14 weeks, I’ve taken a course on macro-history, otherwise known as the massive undertaking to record and analyze the history of everything and anything throughout the ENTIRETY OF TIME.

Which is easier said than done. And the metaphorical (and sometimes realistic) round table discussion between historians, each with their own opinions on how to do and what qualifies as macro-history means that there’s no real firm theoretical framework on macro-history. Therefore there is no control over the historical narrative of deep time. Instead, we have the works of scholars like Yuvah Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind or James Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (both amazing and worth skimming through, like I did). However, non-historians have their own stake in the game like Jared Diamond’s famous Guns, Germs and Steel or, in this case, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Kolbert creates a work in less than 400 pages that is best described as motivating existentialism for anyone who reads it- and the world is better for it.

Kolbert centers her chapters on an animal. Sometimes it’s an extinct animal, other times it’s one on the brink of extinction. Either way, she traces its seemingly predetermined demise with the final chapter being us- Homo sapiens. This is just one species a part of the sixth extinction (There are five others and she touches on all of them). But this extinction event has a long history based on the human exploitation of the land and resources in this period known as the “Anthropocene.” There’s not enough space, time, or will power from myself to cover everything (having just written several thousand words on this book and its environmental historiography recently) so I will close this “book review” with a quote form Kolbert.

“Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.” p. 268-9

We are at a point in our present where history faces its most existential crisis. For some, it is a very real and understandable crisis; for others, it is a myth or alarmist. But when I think about this moment, I imagine what the historians in those 13 October days in 1962 thought when the world as we knew it was on the verge of nuclear winter. Or, I remember the existential crisis I went through when I walked into my first giant survey course in undergrad and knew no one. Crises happen all the time but the scale of the crisis matters more. My major freakout at not knowing anyone on the first day of class? It’s marginal- a singular atom in comparison to the scale of macro-history. Or, a bigger comparison, it is a small proton in the crisis of the sixth mass extinction.

& Now I will go back to my regularly schedule pre-Finals Week existential crisis that has a new layer to it: the full global perspective of the sixth impending extinction, thanks to the wonderful Elizabeth Kolbert.

-JPF

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Getting Back in the Game

Is This Thing On?

Wow! A year and a half hiatus and what do I have to say to defend myself? Absolutely nothing. There were many times when I saw or read something, thought, “That would be a cool thing to blog about” and then didn’t. Instead, I spent this long break going through all the wonders of the last year of undergrad, getting rejection letters, traveling, spending time with family, and starting my first semester of graduate school.
After multiple conversations where I repeated the same three things (I am doing great, school is good, and yes, I still have no idea where life is taking me), I decided that this blog could better answer those questions. And offer some questions for its readers.

So what comes next? For now, I will continue to develop myself as a historian. This means sharing with you the work I’ve done (like conference papers I’ve yet to revise), archival documents I’ve found (like the 6,000 US Presidents Reagan and Nixon documents I’m combing through right now), and dabbling in side projects (like GIS, museum exhibits, & various lectures I’ve done) along the way.

Lots of new material planned for, but not yet written. Like any good grad student. I’m sharing this journey because because I believe in the transparency of the intellectual process. So yes, there will be times where I don’t post because I’m working. There will also be times when I’m posting when I should be working.

A good friend said to me “the process is no one’s business,” when referring to how work in grad school gets done the last minute, but it gets done. I’m still of that opinion. But I’ll add to it, “the process is no one’s business unless they’re in or have been in the process themselves.” So here’s to all the Type A’s hard at work but feel like it’s not enough and to all others who wonder what the heck is the process of being a graduate Humanities student.

-JPF

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Springboks & Apartheid

I write on the latest news of the first black captain of the South African rugby team and what that says about the modern South African state.

(I apologize for the long hiatus, here’s a piece on sports history in South Africa and the latest news of the first black captain of the South African rugby team- the Springboks).

Captain Siya Kolsi has played rugby since 2007 and worked his way up into the national team, the Springboks in 2013. About a week ago, he was named the captain of the team. In any other circumstance, this would be unremarkable. He’s a talented player and a veteran of the sport. What makes Kolisi’s latest accomplishment so astounding is the timing. He is the first black captain of the team to play in an international match, against former colonizer the United Kingdom no less. That’s right, it’s 2018 and it took 24 years after the fall of apartheid to let a black man lead his team in a match.

I can’t detail you the intricacies of rugby, but from my own experience I only ever saw the games in crowded bars when they played France in a 3 series game in June of 2017 where they completed demolished the French. I didn’t really pay attention to how the game was played but rather how the fans were connecting with the team. Sports culture has always been interesting to me, growing up an Alabama Crimson Tide fan (Roll Tide!), going to football games, and playing sports in high school myself. Nothing quite explains that sweet feeling of victory or that heart breaking loss.

Kolisi represents a latest development in the South African state that’s currently plagued with youth-led demonstrations against the ANC in what forced Ramaphosa to leave England early. The ANC liberation party of 1994 is not the same ANC today and change is being demanded by South Africans. Kolisi captain appointment, while not this political tool, represents a long overdue change in a state where many changes are needed.

The Springboks during apartheid were a controversial team on the International Rugby Board. Prime Minister Verwoerd would not allow the New Zealand team’s Maori, an aboriginal people of New Zealand, players play against the all-Afrikaners team after a 1985 tour. For black South Africans, the Springboks were yet another example of apartheid-being the separation from sport, a universal cultural unifier. It would take long after the official fall of apartheid for black South Africans to rally behind the national team of the once oppressor. One cannot wonder though if this obstacle could have been defeated with the earlier appointment of a black Springbok captain.

Though I didn’t get a chance to catch the Springboks latest game against England, I was able to watch the highlights and in a crazy 21 point comeback, see the Springboks, led by Kolisi, defeat England.

 

For more reads:

Independent Article on Kolisi 

A biography on Kolisi by Africaisacountry.com 

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Recalling Apartheid #1: Sharpeville, 58 years later

On the 58th anniversary of the violent massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa, I introduce the history behind it and discuss its permanency in memory.

I write this on the 58th anniversary of the massacre at the South African township of Sharpeville where 69 people were shot dead by the South African police. When I first learned of the Sharpeville massacre, I was in the Johannesburg airport scrolling through the book that was a brief overview of South African history. From then on, I knew I was going to be spend the better part of my life looking into the events of apartheid violence. Needless to say, this blog post serves two purposes. First, an introduction to a longer series I’m creating titled: “Recalling Apartheid,” which will organize the blog posts relating to apartheid history. I suppose it’s time to introduce the current research I’ve done on my undergraduate thesis. Currently, it is a 2 tiered approach how apartheid politics and US foreign policy responded to the events of Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976. So begins the first post on the series of “Recalling Apartheid:” a brief introduction of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre.

Before 69 people were shot dead and 180 wounded, people gathered in the township of Sharpeville to protest in support of the Pan-African Congress (PAC) campaign against passbooks. Passbooks were documentations that Africans had to carry that classified their race, occupation, name of employer, and permitted locations. After the Natives Act of 1952 was passed, police were able to ask any African for their passbook and if they could not produce it or they were found to be not in a designated location, they could be arrested. These passbooks served as a constant reminder to Africans of their second-class citizenship. 

Fast forward to 1960 when the PAC met to finalize the details of the anti-pass campaign on March 18th then sent out branches of the organizations to inform the public via posters and letters hidden in mailboxes. This secrecy was not necessary because PAC leader Robert Sobukwe had already informed police leaders of South Africa, but nonetheless the protest against the passbooks was planned in a very short amount of time.

It is important to note the pass book protest occurred in places other than Sharpeville, but Sharpeville was the first place civilians faced violent reactions from police on March 21st, in Cape Town that same day, police would kill three and injury 26. The plan was for Africans to intentionally not go to work and show up to the police stations in their townships, without their passbooks. Completely in accordance with the law, these people would have to be arrested. The PAC rationalized that if enough people did this, there would be little workers doing critical work to sustain the state, and as such it would force the apartheid government to change their policies because of their dependency on African labor.

Such was not the case. As the people of Sharpeville gathered around the police station, beginning in the early morning, only key leaders were detained. Next, police leaders then cut most communication with protesters- thereby increasing tensions where communication could have eased them. Saracens were brought into perimeter of the police station, each facing significant portions of the protesting crowd. Then at around 1:30, it is reported that a small fight broke out between a police officer and a part of the crowd. Thus beginning the horrific end of a previously peaceful gathering. Prior to the violence, Tom Lodge, in his book Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, reports of hymnal singing by women in the crowd. Some of these women would die with bullets in their backs.

photo sharpeville
The aerial view of Sharpeville on the day of the massacre, at the center is the police station with the crowd surrounding it.

This event would elevate the issue of apartheid on the international stage, calling to question its legitimacy in this new world order of supposed “peace,” ironically during the Cold War and all its proxy wars.

The events of Sharpeville aren’t a new thing, sadly, for Americans in the 21st century. We have seen instances of police violence, of peaceful protests turned violence, and of militarized police on a civilian population. My questions to you are what if communication was made between protesters and the police on March 21, 1960? Would anything have changed if someone like Sobukwe was there?

This post was meant to serve as an introduction to the events of Sharpeville, specific details such as names were left out for purposes of concision, but the general understanding of what happened at Sharpeville are there: a peaceful protest of men, women, and children turned violent for no apparent reason and continued to create bloodshed for no rational reason.

After the massacre, with people still laying on the ground with bullet wounds, it started to rain, as if to wash away the pain. 58 years later, that pain is still there. Perhaps that may be because of the politicization of Sharpeville as a “turning point” of apartheid, Mandela signed the new Constitution of South Africa not far from the massacre site, and March 21st is Human Rights Day in South Africa. Heck, an undergraduate history student is writing a blog post on the 58th anniversary. Why does Sharpeville matter? Because it is one of many events were the state and society clashed and it turned violent.

My hope is that after learning more about the Sharpeville Massacre and Soweto Uprising, I can maybe help answer the question of why violence between these two actors happen- however that may take longer than a 40 page thesis.

Until then,

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Africans & Israel

I summarize what’s happening in Israel where African asylum seekers are seeking deportation for he first time since their arrival ten years ago.

Still staying on current events, I talk Israeli politics & Africa. Once the semester winds down, expect more historical analysis in the following posts. 

Israel has decided to make a bargain with thousands of African asylum seekers in their borders, many of them from Eritrea or Sudan because of the civil unrest in that region and who have been in Israel for over five years. Here’s what we know about the situation thus far: seven have been arrested indefinitely and the Israel government is justifying it by saying that many of them aren’t actually asylum seekers but rather infiltrators, the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But, the other part of this bargain is giving these “infiltrators” $3,500 and a plane ticket to either Uganda or Rwanda, because their home countries would not protect them. This begs the question, why pay infiltrators who threaten to “take over your country,” as one cab driver in Israel claims they will. In this cross-national analysis of a Middle Eastern versus an African state, the first question I had to grapple with is: why did these people flee?

 
In Eritrea, there is a military conscription that requires 18 months from young men, but is often extended by the orders of military commanders. President Isaias Afwerki maintains that people flee in seek of work but the government has also been criticized because supposed human rights violations. Many asylum seekers claim they cannot return, under threat of death. So that explains Israel’s idea to send them to nearby countries instead, but these asylum seekers claim they won’t have protection there either.

 
Tension are rising in Israel over what to do with the African refugees and it echoes the current refugee crisis in Europe where thousands arrive because of displacement from the Syrian war. There are those who staunchly believe these refugees are a threat to the security of Israel, like the previously mentioned cab driver, and then there are some, like Mutasim Ali, a Darfur asylum seeker reporting in the New African Journal 2015 edition, that says the government’s rhetoric has made the public think African refugees are a cancer that must be cut out. Another supporter of these African asylum seekers is journalist Josie Glausiusz, whose piece is titled “A state founded by refugees does not expel refugees,” where she outlines the lives and experiences of these asylum seekers and why Israel should help them, not expel them.

 
Here’s what we know about the term refugee or asylum seeker. The way UNESCO defines a refugee is someone who flees a country, crosses an international border, because of the threat of or present danger against their lives that has been permitted entrance into a host country. An asylum seeker is one in process of getting permission into or to stay in a host country. This limbo stage that current asylum seekers are in is often times for political reasons, the host country, in this case Israel, now decides that there’s too many African people seeking sanctuary and so they are portrayed as a cancer on Israeli society. Of course, this comes on the wake of an Israeli court deciding that the asylum seekers who fled because of the involuntary military service are, in fact, eligible for asylum.
This issue will not be settled for some time, especially with recent investigations into Netanyahu’s spending habits and corruption allegations. But the ongoing refugee crisis of people fleeing from the heart of Africa, Sudan, Eritrea, Congo region, and other states is something to watch for because the question should not be what to do with these refugees, but rather why are they fleeing their homes and how can we help them in their home states before they make the serious decision to leave? It’s not an easy answer, it’s steeped in political and social questions of diplomacy and humanitarianism, but perhaps preventive efforts is better than reactionary ones.

 

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Kenya & Democracy

I explain the current affairs of Kenya and how an alternative President vies for support and legitimacy.

I’m currently taking a class titled “Politics of the Global South,” which analyzes the various political systems of the countries that are categorized in this grouping known as the “Global South.” Other terms you may have heard would be Least Developed Countries, the Developing World, or Third World Countries. Essentially, what most of these countries have in common are weak political systems, compared to the “Western world,” and the economic inequality that exists within the state. Kenya falls under this category of Global South, as do all African States. I could argue the current affairs of the Global South is owed to the oppressive colonial regimes that occupied their lands, but that’s for a different time. Today, I want to discuss the legitimacy of institutions and law within a new democracy like Kenya, which as of right now is under critical threat that many Americans may have glanced over, just another “shithole” country, am I correct?
Kenya saw an armed guerilla resistance to British occupation known as the Mau Mau during the 1950’s which would directly influence the independence negotiations. The Mau Mau were formed in the 1940’s as a labor rights campaign but it quickly transformed into an armed fighter group. The Mau Mau were defeated in 1955 after several years of warring but this did inspire others to seek more peaceful reforms towards independence. The rise of Kenyan nationalism led to future leaders like Jomo Kenyatta to form the political party of Kenya African Union (KAU) to go into negotiations with the British government and diplomatically achieve independence in 1963. It is impossible to ignore the impact of the Mau Mau in the foundation for Kenyan independence and prompting the British to seek reform of their colonial administration.
Democracy was implemented in Kenya and faced a significant challenge in 2007. This introduces the main character in today’s discussion of Kenyan politics: Ralia Odinga and the former president Mwai Kibaki. Odinga, like he did in 2017, refused to accept the results by claiming election fraud. The supporters of Odinga took to the streets to protest the election and swearing-in and violence ensued by both sides. Spanning for months, Kenya was in a state of near civil war where different regions underwent protest rallies that turned violent, resulting in many deaths. Mediation was set by the UN and eventually the establishment of a coalition government created a fragile cooperative peace.
Fast forward to 2017 election where the grandson of Jomo, Uhuru Kenyatta won over rival Ralia Odinga who refused to accept the results and called for a new election from the Supreme Court and still lost. There is still much skepticism on the fairness of the second election. This did not stop Odinga as recently he was inaugurated as “The People’s President.” Now, we here at ForseeThePast have already discussed what a people’s person is. It is not someone who completely circumvents existing rule of law that is established during the democratization process. This however, does not mean that Uhuru is the best president Kenya has ever had. During Odinga’s inauguration ceremony, Kenya new stations were shut down if they aired the ceremony by the state. Former judges are calling this a blatant act of a police-state. When we discussed this in class, the professor asked what we predict to happen. At first, I said it will turn violent.

Thus far, I have thankfully been proven wrong. Miguna Miguna, lawyer for Odinga was deported to Canada where he maintains dual citizenry. This, while still arguably an abuse of power by Kenyatta, shows at least a surface level respect for rule of law. There was no government sanction disappearance of Miguna that has happened in past African regimes. Furthermore, Miguna is also taking the legal route to come back to Kenya by suing the government. Arguably, one could assume Odinga lacks the backing of the military so it’s unlikely any violence will originate from his supporters. At this point, the world watches to see if Africa’s finest example of democracy will maintain its political stability. But as I’ve come to find this semester, democracy is a process and for many Global South states, it is long and will many detours. Perhaps this is one of Kenya’s.

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The People’s Person #2: King & Apartheid

In honor of today’s MLK day and my recent attention to US resistance to South African apartheid, I begin the 2018 year with my second figure in my People’s Person series with a visionary of racial equality: Martin Luther King, Jr. For my purposes, I will be looking at King in the African context- what did he do for help Africans at the time where new nations were forming and how did his opponents, specifically the South African apartheid government, take it.

King was invited by the new Ghana Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah to the country’s Independence celebrations in 1957. King went with his wife and later recalled the experience with “very deep emotional feeling,” in a radio interview. King would enjoy West African country; but never be allowed into South Africa. This, however, did not stop King from being a voice of anti-apartheid resistance in the US and abroad.

By the time US President Kennedy was in office, King was already on Kennedy’s foreign policy team’s radar. King, along with other prominent members in the black civil rights movement, formed the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa in 1962. Kennedy advisors like Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, and Chester Bowles paid close attention to how King influenced Black American views on US foreign policy in South Africa, however they were mostly concerned with how Kennedy’s action towards apartheid would appear to Blacks, not actual substantive reform. Multiple times, the ANLC countered the views of the US government, partially in their decisions in the UN resolutions: voting against sanctions or weapons embargo during Kennedy’s years.

Interestingly the only thing that King differed with in the South African struggle was the use of armed resistance but as he states in his speech in London the way to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo 1964, “We can understand how in that situation people felt so desperate that they turned to other methods, such as sabotage.” This is perhaps of the very important diametrically opposed views of King and US foreign policy to apartheid. King poses the already emerging idea of global sanctions to South Africa, notes that US President Johnson has ignored the calls of the ANLC to sanction the apartheid government, calls attention to Mandela and Sobukwe still imprisoned in Robben Island, and does so in the one of the most international stages.

King and many other American demands for sanctions would eventually be met in 1986, years after King’s murder. King never met Mandela but they both learned a great deal from one another. In a speech shortly after his inauguration in 1994, Mandela quotes King with “Free at last, free at last,” with Coretta Scott King as a guest.

King may not have seen the cities of Pretoria or Johannesburg but it’s no doubt that his name and ideas were rampant in the streets and minds of apartheid resistance.

Below are a few more links to check out:

King’s Letter to the South African Embassy 

The Making of an African American Foreign Policy Lobby 

From Selma to Soweto

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Zimbabwe Power Games

I describe what has happened in Zimbabwe and what that means for the people in a new age of power.

If you were to visit Zimbabwe over the summer, you’d see a nation with a crippling economy like currency being sold as souvenirs because of its laughable value. My experiences in Victoria Falls, I should preface, cannot accurately portray the story of the Zimbabwean people. I saw a city catered to non-African tourists. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, when I first saw Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya- The Smoke That Thunders in Tonga, I knew I had to find out more about this country. I wish I could have seen Harare, the capital city where much of the action over the past week took place. My experiences at customs, interacting with the staff of the hotel, and our tour guides hopefully shed some light on the situation prior to the change in political leadership, though again I preface with saying I, by no means, worked in an ethnographic capacity so take my word for what is it. Being in Zimbabwe was interesting. The news is State-sponsored, customs included talking to a border agent with some type of semi-automatic weapon across his chest, and the people might not have liked the economic situation there but they did speak highly of Robert Mugabe for getting Zimbabwe independent from the oppressive white government. I wanted to spend this post as a summary over the past weeks and how Zimbabwe got to where it is.

Mugabe led the guerrilla war for independence against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia for a free Zimbabwe with the ZANU party. Peace was negotiated in 1978 with the plan, like later South African negotiations, was to allow white farmers to keep control of their farms. Mugabe would not keep this part of the negotiations and soon in the 1980’s would also wipe out any opposing member to the ZANU, mostly the ZAPU party, who also were involved in guerrilla warfare for independence. New President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was key to this Gukurahundi, a series of massacres. Many refer to this as the beginning of the decline of Mugabe’s promising career.   

Slowly but surely, Mugabe redistributed the lands owned by white farmers and gave it to his own military supporters, leaving little for the rest of Zimbabweans. Add in the trade crisis with the rise of democratic South Africa, then the mass food shortages, staggering inflation caused by unnecessary printing of Zimbabwean dollar, the emigration patterns, circumventing the constitution and potentially allowing his wife, Grace, to succeed him, and you get a country in crisis.

So where is Zimbabwe now with President/Crocodile Mnangagwa in charge? There’s a lot of promise and confusion. Mnangagwa announced an unpopular cabinet and after Zimbabwean outcry, replaced them. Today, he swears in the new, new cabinet leaders. During this time of transition in Zimbabwe, I followed Trevor Ncube, a owner of several newspapers in Zimbabwe and has been actively relaying information to the mass 116k followers. He tweeted about the cabinet reshuffling.

From what I have gathered, there’s a renewed sense of hope in Zimbabwe. People changed about the promise of change, as stated in Mnangagwa’s speech. I am not expert on Zimbabwean political history, but Mnangagwa has a lot to achieve before Zimbabwe is a competitive and thriving African country. Yet he has something that Mugabe did not, the respect of the people. People honored Mugabe for leading Zimbabwean independence, but he made a better General than he did a President. Let us hope Mnangagwa makes a better President and can guide Zimbabwe into a new age of economic development and success.

As you can see there is a lot of information to understand what exactly happened in Zimbabwe, the links embedded in this posts, I hope clarify any confusion.

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American Perspective on Africa

This past week I had the privilege of being a part of the 21st Southeast Model African Union (SEMAU) hosted by Georgia Southern University. In this, I was head of state for Guinea which basically meant I spent the first two days taking an observer position, moving in and out of different Committee rooms watching delegates work towards resolutions on the topics of Agenda 2063. Perhaps most enlightening of the conference was getting to meet His Excellency Carlos Dos Santos, the ambassador from Mozambique to the United States. On Thursday morning, in a coffee induced haze I shook his hands & made small talk. In the afternoon, he spoke at the opening remarks of the simulation and I learned more about his life while growing up during the Mozambique Civil War, his emergence into politics, and an overview of inter workings of the African Union. To put it simply, His Excellency knows a lot about a lot.
He discussed how to improve the narrative of Africa in terms of American perspective. The quick answer was to just talk to Africans, learn about their home and culture. He joked that many Americans still think that Africa is just a place of jungles, big game, and tribes. His Excellency did acknowledge that a number of Americans that do know a great deal about the political climate across different regions, but then credited the small number to the fact that our own political game takes up much of our attention. This is where he discussed the problem of racism in America, particularly in police-civilian relationship. He went back to his own experiences in Mozambique, when after the Civil War was over there was a period of reconciliation, where rebels and newly elected people in power, had an open dialogue about how to improve their relationship for the betterment of the country. He claimed, “it’s part of our history, we don’t want to repeat it,” that could be utilized by Americans; asking questions like, “why is this issue recurring all the time,” makes a difference in the end. Political activists often refer to dialogue as a key factor in improve police-civilian relations, especially amongst Black Americans, but how successful can it be if one party still sees the other as lesser?
In His Excellency’s opening remarks at SEMAU, he quoted Martin Luther King , Jr. “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward,” and then stated, “Let’s keep Africa moving.” Perhaps this is the same sentiment that Americans must take as well to reflect on their own progression towards equality.

 

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The Sounds of the Rumbling Jungle

Since it’s been awhile since my last post, I thought it best to talk about something totally not in my area of interest: sports history. Today, as many might know is the anniversary of the famous heavyweight championship game “The Rumble in the Jungle,” that took place on October 30, 1974 between the late Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. I learned of this event last Spring in my Recent American history class (S/o to Dr. Hall!) and it was presented to me through a sports history lens, something I never got from past classes.
I could go on about the fine details of the fight, but I know I can’t do it justice so to sum it up Ali won the fight in the 8th round by a KO (for all my non-sports readers, that’s a knockout, I had to look that up myself). The Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, sought to have the fight hosted in his country to get publicity and money, despite the fact this was the start of tense relations with the US. What I found interesting, however, is the event that built up to the fight.
In a 3 day music festival in Zaire (modern day Democratic Republic of Congo), there was this celebration of Black Power, black solidarity in a time when blacks in America and many African were developing their own States. The festival, Zaire 74, took place in September when the fight was originally scheduled. 31 artists came and performed in front of the Zairian crowd , some based in Zaire, others who flew in from the States. Famous artist Lloyd Price, who co-produced the festival with shady businessman Don King, was quoted by the NYTimes stating Zaire 74 was an opportunity to”
“Combine [sports and music] and help blacks in America, stranger in an alien land, to grasp the strand of the motherland- the musical beat,”

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Despite the lack of economic success, the festival achieved something much more valuable- bringing together people with African descent in celebrating their cultural roots. At a time when blacks still were not equal in the eyes of the American laws, many tuned in to watch the festival unfold and then on October 30th, technically 10 pm on October 29th in America, to watch two powerhouses fight for a championship.
This can be a textbook example of the role model effect, where young people see in the media people that look like them being successful, despite the odds against them.
In closing, it brings to question the power sports and music have in bringing people together. As we have seen with the #TakeAKnee movement, many inequalities still exist in America. No one voiced against James Brown singing, “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” while he was in Zaire but a young man choosing to take a knee during the National Anthem while wearing a sports uniform warrants for him to be fired. Many might say sports is a place where politics don’t have a voice, but it does when the players see themselves or their fans marginalized because of something as simple as skin color. As I write this post, I’ve been listening to the album of the Zaire 74 songs and the lyrics from Miriam Makeba’s West Wind call to “unify my precious land,” and remarks on the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. As I continue in my studies of African history, I am reminded of the calls for Pan-Africanism and justice can be seen even in music, on the wrestling ring, on the football field, and on the streets of a newly formed African state.

 

Attached here is a link to an NPR interview with Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, with an audio link to hear the full conversation. I encourage everyone to look at the Zaire 74 album on anywhere you get your music too, I find it’s now my top-most played album over this past weekend.

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The People’s Person #1: Amandla to the People

Amandla- the Zulu & Xhosa word for power. As the first of my brief biographical series called “The People’s Person,” I introduce a rebel who gave power to black South Africans.

So I’m starting a new biographical series as a part of Forsee the Past, I want to highlight the lives of people who sought to change society and the power dynamic to work for the people. I begin with a man who sough racial equality for millions of people in South Africa.

For most of my readers, we probably don’t remember or were even born when South African political history was made. It was in 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after serving a 27 year sentence for conspiring against the state. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar with Mandela and his work until his death in 2013. I remember reading the transcript of President Obama’s funeral speech where I learned of the phrase “Ubuntu” meaning we are who we are based on the people around us and how they impact our lives. Mandela knew the power of Ubuntu, he knew that positive interactions with people was paramount to improving the human condition.

I wanted to share with you this week a few newspaper articles that describe that February day in 1990 when the Axis of Power in South Africa shifted from white supremacists to the people. A reminder to us all in America that while we may kneel today in protest, we may rise soon to power.

Atlanta Home Journal press release on day of Mandela’s release

NY Times Abroad At Home article

NY Times Opinion piece on US sanctions & South Africa

In the weeks leading up to Mandela’s release, the Nationalist Party government was negotiating with Mandela on how to bring about change in South Africa. Amongst these changes were the end of executive rule over the cities and townships, legalize the ANC party that had been banned since the 1960’s, and release all other political prisoner- even those convicted of violent crimes. At the time of his release, South African President F. W. de Klerk only granted the legalization of ANC and other anti-apartheid parties. So with Mandela’s release, he used his platform and rediscovered rights to speak to the global community of the injustices facing black South Africans. Even encouraging the global powers not to lift the economic sanctions against the government until all of its people were equal in the eyes of the law. In the City Hall of Cape Town, Mandela was surrounded by his people, people he had no contact with for 27 years. Greeted by signs, held by blacks and whites, saying “Welcome Home,” Mandela then told the world that these times they are a changin’. And the world changed.

When I was in South Africa, but particularly in JoBurg, there were references to Mandela everywhere. Interestingly enough, I saw a poster that said “Fuck Zuma” right next to a sign for the Nelson Mandela Foundation driving down the highway. Mandela was this mythical figure during his imprisonment, every black South African knew his name, knew his struggle. Now, even in his death, Mandela has achieved a power few ever could- the power and love of the people. I walked into Mandela’s home on Vilakazi Street, close to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s own home, and felt the power. I talked to people who were taking their children through Soweto who remember that February 11, 1990, they wanted to teach their children about the man who helped give them equality in their own country, after years of oppression, decades of struggles, centuries of persecution.

Times are definitely a changin’ in South Africa, it’s slow, the cities are still faced with high unemployment and crime, but the people have this innate sense of peace with them. It’s so easy for me, a middle-class white American woman to say this, as I have never been systematically oppressed based on my race. In no way am I saying all’s well in S.A., because like any nation there is still much to be done. But perhaps it is often necessary to remind ourselves of the heroes over struggle while we ourselves are still struggling. Hope can be a powerful thing.

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The view from inside Mandela’s cell on Robben Island
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Shaka Zulu & European Perception of Africa

If you ever played Sid Meier’s Civilization 5, you probably encountered a man named Shaka Zulu. This guy probably pissed you off because he always had you conquering his enemies, but would turn around and wage war against you. When it comes to the historical record, Meier is not entirely wrong in his portrayal of Shaka: he’s a total BA who’s empire was founded on perpetual war. But he did miss an important fact: Shaka created a developed African state- Zululand, enough to defeat the British in battle. This allowed for the missed opportunity of demonstrating that Africa had developed civilizations just like Europe. Meier chose, instead, to depict Shaka as a simplified bloodthirsty military leader.

 

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Shaka Zulu depicted in Sid Meier’s Civilization 5 video game

I’m taking a course this semester titled History of Africa Since 1800 and was introduced to Shaka this past Tuesday. So obviously, instead of doing other time sensitive tasks, I have sent my time learning about Shaka. One thing that stuck out with me is the modern day perception of Shaka. When people think of Africa they typically think of 3 things: wild animals, tribal stereotypes, and Shaka. Why is that? This marks yet another time where I cannot answer my own question yet I can tell you that Shaka has become an increasingly interesting person to me, enough to warrant a spot on my ever-growing potential thesis list.
Shaka is depicted in the tv series “Shaka Zulu” in 1986, a film that demonstrates not only the bad filmography of the 80’s but the offensive depiction of a great African state prior to European takeover. Keeping in mind that South Africa was still under the oppressive apartheid regime, “Shaka Zulu,” shows a world of savagery, violence, and immoral principles that fit seemingly well into the European narrative and motivation for colonialism in the 19th century in the Scramble For Africa. An LA Times review on the series even shows the connection between the South African apartheid government and the film production

“Of course, we, as Europeans, must save the African populations from themselves by suppressing their true beastly nature!”- Said a White European, probably at some point.

If that “quote” doesn’t convince perhaps this one might:

“Africa has no history and did not contribute anything that mankind enjoyed.”

German Philosopher Hegel is right in his quote, if you do not count the African slave labor, oil, diamonds, gold, rubber, crops, and other goods that actually impacted the international economy, and some commodities like oil, rubber, and crops are still utilized across the world.
Africa also gave the world Shaka, a leader of a developed African state who centralized administration, military, and created the national Zulu identity. But, according to Hegel, that does not really contribute to mankind. Despite the fact, Shaka is studied by military strategists to this day.
In closing, I wanted to draw attention to way in which different African ethnic groups are depicted by Europeans because it influences how Africa is seen on the world stage. As I said before, when people think of Africa they typically don’t think of the fastest growing GDP in the world, they think of nature and tribal groups. After I came back from Southern Africa this past summer, my grandmother asked me if I saw any Bushmen. A term that is actually quite derogatory because it assumes all Africans living in the bush are the same ethnic group- which, as I found out, is from the truth. I was also asked if I was scared to talk to them. These are questions of latent racism, though I know my grandmother is a nice lady, I was reminded that the white view of Africa is itself primitive. And it may because we (the collective “we” being as white people of European descent) have ignored and exploited them for far too long.

 

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Eclipse Edition

So in less than a few hours, the United States will experience a total solar eclipse, a time when darkness shrouds our world- so basically a typical day in a history class. All jokes aside, this is going to be quite a sight to see (though don’t look at the Sun for too long).

I’d like to give a quick crash course on the man who taught us not to be afraid of this rare scientific occasion, but rather stand in amazement- a Greek philosopher and scientist named Anaxagoras, who’s picture is above. A 5th century BCE Greek, Anaxagoras was like any other Pre-Socratic, or natural philosopher in Greece: ahead of his time, put on trial for his “crazy” thoughts, and a critical key in the history of science as we know it today. His book of musings and theories has mostly been lost to history as little remain today.

Anaxagoras was the first to accurately describe what exactly is a solar eclipse, not as some omen from the gods but rather a position wherein the moon crosses in front of the sun’s orbital path. Described as ‘the Einstein of his age,” by Daniel Graham in his book Science Before Socrates: Parmenides, Anaxagoras, and the New Astronomy, Anaxagoras also dabbled in philosophy, like most other Pre-Socratic scientists. The concept of Mind over Matter can be traced to him as he sought to show the separation between physical matter and inward thoughts.

Described in Gore Vidal’s Creation by the character Cyrus Spitama, who explained the importance of the Greek

“When Anaxagoras was very young, he predicted that sooner or later a piece of the sun would break off and fall to earth. Twenty years ago, he was proved right. The whole world saw a fragment of the sun fall in a fiery arc through the sky, landing near Aegospotami in Thrace. When the fiery fragment cooled, it proved to be nothing more than a chunk of brown rock. Overnight Anaxagoras was famous. Today his book is read everywhere. You can buy a secondhand copy in the Agora for a drachma.”

In closing, I hope when you see this solar eclipse today that you think about the man, who was crazy enough to believe in science, and is the reason why we won’t think the world is ending due to total darkness- well at least not because of a solar eclipse.

Here is a CNN article that overviews the history of solar eclipses.

Here is a Youtube video that overviews Anaxagoras’ philosophy.

 

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Fear-Influenced White Supremacy

Over the weekend, we saw hate in its physical form in Charlottesville, VA. This rise of white supremacy and this so-called alt-right, who are in plainest terms Nazis puzzles me. In history, we are taught that everything that happens has a significant effect. The classic cause and effect scenario. So what is the cause of the re-emergence of white supremacy, or racial hate–or did it never go away? I cannot, with scholarly evidence, provide an in-depth answer at this time. I could go on a personal rant as to why this hate still exist, but that benefits no one. But I can discuss white supremacy in the past such as European imperialism on native peoples- “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling comes to mind- Hitler’s Third Reich, the American slave system, and the KKK who sought to suppress Black civil rights leaders.

Yet the example that is often not talked about this the German Second Reich and their German South-West colony in what is now modern-day Namibia. I am in the process of reading The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide by David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen, a book arguing that Second Reich leaders and their actions against the Herero and Nama peoples of Namibia attributed to Hitler’s Nazi regime. This version of white supremacy of the Namibian Genocide, beginning in 1904 and until Germany lost control of their colony due to the fallout of World War I, is founded on primitive beliefs in scientific racism, power, and control of resources like living space. Men like General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha and Friedrich von Lindequist, who oversaw and conspired to starve and slaughter over eighty thousands of Africans. Power, over  diplomacy, won out in terms of German colonial rule.

Here is an excerpt from The Kaiser’s Holocaust where German citizens debated the topic of harsh punishments being used on natives, this statement was later sent to the German Colonial Department:

“From Time immemorial our natives have been used to laziness, brutality and stupidity. the dirtier they are the more they feel at ease. Any white men who have lived among natives find it almost impossible to regard them as human beings at all in any European sense. They need centuries of training as human beings; with endless patience, strictness and justice,” -Kaiser’s Holocaust pg. 116, quoted in Klaus Dierks’ Chronology of Namibian History

In simplest form, fear underlies white supremacists. These people are afraid that other peoples’ advancements- personal, civil, or financial- correlates to a setback of their own lives. Equality, for white supremacists, does not exist because everything to them is a power game. Someone’s gain is another person’s loss to them. That just is not the case, but many people don’t quite understand that. Maybe an increased understanding of past examples of white supremacy is the why to teach compassion and simple respect for humanity.

Here is a link to the New Yorker’s Charles Bethea reporting on witness reporting of the events in Charlottesville.

I hope this weekend has brought to light that the racial hate in America is still very much a problem, that equality does not exist quite yet and those who fear equality have the very real capability to inflict harm on others.

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Silent March 100th Anniversary

If you were on Google on Friday, you probably saw this logo:

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It commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Silent March, or Silent Protest Parade on July 28, 1917 through 5th Avenue New York City. This is the first parade by Black Americans, demanding equal civil rights. Brought forth by the horrific East St. Louis Riots, this Silent March represents a beginning in 20th century civil rights activism.

As I continued about my weekend, I came to realize that if it hadn’t been for Google, I never would have known about the Silent March. In high school, we are taught a white-washed version of the Civil Rights. That Martin Luther King, Jr. single-handedly led Black Americans to full civil freedom- a statement which given the recent media attention to police brutality against minorities and resurgences in the War on Crime/Drugs needs to be revisited.

The NAACP, led by James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois, called Black Americans together, in solidarity for their brothers and sisters who had been persecuted by the hands of white supremacy, all because of the color of their skin. Tens of thousands of black men, women, and children walked down 5th Avenue together, asserting their right to live without fear. At a time when US was entrenched in World War I, claiming to be saving the world and spread democracy, huge portions of its own citizenry were dying because of their race. The story of the Silent March is inspiring, yet it would be a long journey towards freedom for blacks. Several anti-lynching laws would be proposed to Congress, but fail due to Southern Democrat filibustering. No anti-lynching law would ever become law, even after thousands of deaths.

On the Silent Protest, Johnson had this to say in his autobiography, The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson:

“The streets of New York have witnessed many strange sites, but I judge, never one stranger than this; among the watchers were those with tears in their eyes.”

Many more marches would take place during the following decades, each one demanding the rights, health, and safety of Black Americans be met and respected. Their struggle still exists today, taking on a different form of oppression that still exists- prison chains.

Below, I have some useful links:

The NAACP in 1917 released leaflets to its branches throughout the US to suggest protest sign mottoes, some of which still resonate today.

silent march list of mottos

Here is an interactive Google and Equal Justice Initiative partnered website detailing the history of lynching in America.

Here is D. L. Chandler’s article on the Silent March and the late inaction of President Wilson and the US Senate in passing anti-lynching laws.

Here is Fiza Pirani’s article that provides an excellent summary of the Silent March, complete with a 20 minute archival video of the Silent March and later Civil Rights activism.

Here is the Bowery Boys History, a blog on the history of New York City, that did a piece on the Silent March 100th anniversary as well. 

 

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Martin Meredith & Southern Africa Study Abroad

My take on Diamonds, Gold, and War

I decided to start my blog with a reaction of the first South African history book I read, which was about 3 weeks ago. Understanding I am late to the game and typically book reviews are done on books within weeks and months of their publication, I stand by my decision to review a book that influenced my decision to pursue African history.

In reviewing Martin Meredith’s 2007 Diamonds, Gold, and War: The Making of South Africa, it gets 4/5 stars. He carefully crafts a concise (570 pages) book on the early imperialism history of South Africa, exposes British political intrigue, and attempts to set up a dualistic look at the great titans of British imperialism.

In each chapter, Meredith continuously proves the idea that those who control the resources, have the power, and these resources perpetuate war, coups, and forced removal of natives. Yet what is not fully developed, albeit understanding the focus is on British imperialism, is the African response and resistance during this time. He does provide great primary sources of African leaders resisting the white imperialists, one sticks out particularly in my mind from King Mbandzeni of Swaziland, an area that would soon become a British protectorate:

“I have white men all round me. By force they have taken the countries of all my neighbours. If I do not give them rights, they will take them. There fore I give them when they pay. Why should we not eat before we die?”

Page 240 of Diamonds, Gold, and War

Meredith paints a picture of white domination over the region, and when the different groups of whites (British, Boers, Dutch) now live together they cannot coexist, so war begins.

I was lucky enough to read Diamonds, Gold, and War while on my study abroad trip through Southern Africa whereby I traveled to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. I bought this book in a small German family’s bookshop in Swakopmund, Namibia mostly because I was also buying David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen’s The Kaiser’s Holocaust and saw this big book sitting right next to it. During the next week of traveling on the bumpy dirt roads of Namibia, reading in my tent using my head lamp, pausing every now and then to discuss the book with friends on the truck, I learned the history of South African imperialism, from the white perspective.

I enjoyed reading Meredith, his style is to the point yet does not skimp on setting up the story: getting to know the characters of Cecil Rhodes, Paul Kruger, Joseph Chamberlain, and Jan Smuts to name a few. That I appreciated more than anything, because I had heard the names, know the basics- all were terrible colonizers, but never knew the story of why, how they came to power, and what made them lose power? The answer is resources. Diamonds. Gold. Rubber. It is an answer that, to my best knowledge as of now, explains 19th century imperialism.

Here is an NYTimes review of Diamonds, Gold, and War by Janet Maslin whose reaction to the book is similar to mine, put more eloquently.

Here is the Amazon link to purchase Diamonds, Gold, and War. Please know I get no rewards by giving this review, except my own personal reward of pride for posting my first blog post.