Archive for junio 2019

El panafricanismo y el nacionalismo negro no son temas ajenos a esta bitácora. En varias ocasiones hemos abordado ambos, especialmente al enfocar la figura de Marcus Garvey. Lo que no hemos atendido en la visión internacional y geopolítica de éstos. En este interesante ensayo publicado en JStor Daily, Mohammed Elnaiem, estudiante graduado de Sociología en la Universidad de Cambridge, analiza la compleja relación entre la intelectualidad negra estadounidense y el ascenso del Imperio Japonés.

September 1905. Japan had just become the first Asian power to defeat a European Empire with the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War. For more than a year, the Japanese Empire and Tsarist Russia had been vying for control over Korea and Manchuria. On September 5th, Japan forced a Russian retreat, sending shockwaves across the intellectual sphere of black America and the colonial world. As Bill V. Mullen of Purdue University eloquently notes in his 2016 book, W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line, Du Bois was so moved that he declared: “The magic of the word ‘white’ is already broken.” Du Bois was convinced that “the awakening of the yellow races is certain… the awakening of the brown and black races will follow in time.”

For anti-colonial intellectuals and black activists in the U.S., the Japanese victory presented a moment of realization: If, with the right strategy, European colonialists could be forced to retreat from far east Asia, why couldn’t they be forced to leave the Caribbean and Africa?

By the time World War I began, Du Bois would write a seminal essay, “The African Roots of War,” wherein he would ask why African workers and laborers would participate in a war they couldn’t understand. Why, he wondered, would “Africans, Indians and other colonial subjects” fight for the sole aim of “the exploitation of the wealth of the world mainly outside the European circle of nations?” He demanded that they take inspiration from “the awakened Japanese.” By the end of World War I, African American and Japanese intellectuals would develop a transpacific camaraderie.

For Du Bois and his contemporaries, the Japanese victory proved that the empire could be a fulcrum for the colored peoples of the world, a means by which European expansion could be dislodged. But what a paradox this was: The Japanese empire, which sought nothing but the occupation of Korea, Manchuria, and if possible, the whole Far East, was being cheered on by self-identified anti-colonial intellectuals.

Regardless, Japan cast its spell on black consciousness, and by the end of World War I, African American and Japanese intellectuals would develop a transpacific camaraderie. African Americans would praise Japanese diplomacy, and Japanese intellectuals—left-wing or right-wing—would condemn Jim Crow. To understand this relationship, one must look to Paris.

The Paris Peace Conference & the End of WWI

To conclude the first World War, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson laid out a structure that would inspire the UN decades later. In Paris, he announced his fourteen points for a new world order built on peace and self-determination of oppressed peoples. He called it the League of Nations.

 William Monroe Trotter
William Monroe Trotter

Meanwhile, in the States, the lynching of blacks went unanswered and segregation continued unabated. A liberal abroad, and a so-called pragmatist at home, Wilson was seen as hypocritical by many of the black-left intelligentsia. In fact, William Monroe Trotter—an eminent voice against segregation in the early twentieth century, and a man who once campaigned for Wilson’s presidency—became one of his greatest foes.

Trotter gained nationwide infamy after being kicked out of the White House for challenging Wilson. He had been invited to speak on civil rights issues, but challenged the president on racial segregation among federal employees. Trotter called this segregation humiliating. Wilson responded firmly, exclaiming, “Your tone, sir, offends me.” Trotter was subsequently expelled from the premises.

From then on, Trotter made it his mission to embarrass Wilson on the global stage. When Wilson declared his plan to espouse his “fourteen points” for a global, post-war order at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Trotter not only proposed a fifteenth point for racial equality, but travelled to Paris to protest and ensure its inclusion in the negotiations.

A. Phillip Randolph, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, sought to highlight the symbolism of Trotter’s actions. As Yuichiro Onishi, an African Americanist at the University of Minnesota notes, in a March 1919 issue of The Messenger, Randolph remarked that:

Trotter wanted to use his presence as a weapon to demonstrate Washington’s failure to reconcile Jim Crow laws with the liberal principles that Wilson espoused abroad. It was an ingenious, albeit unprepared, plan: Trotter arrived too late.

At the time, Japanese politicians seemed to be watching U.S. race relations closely. It could have been coincidental or it could it have been intentional, but Baron Nobuaki Makino, a senior diplomat in the Japanese government and the principal delegate for the Empire, proposed Japan’s “racial equality bill” at the meeting to found the League of Nations. Japan only said that all nations were equal, but this seemingly offended Wilson (and the leaders of Australia and the UK). The proposal was immediately struck down.Was it love? Solidarity? Or a pragmatic way to highlight the hypocrisy of the United States?

The symbolic value of these actions nonetheless reignited African American intellectual admiration for Japan. Fumiko Sakashita, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, shows how Japanese intellectuals were humbled by this. One Pan-Asian, and self-described “right-wing literary,” Kametaro Mitsukawa, hyperbolically asked why “black people exhibit the portrait of our baron Nobuaki Makino alongside that of the liberator Abraham Lincoln on the walls of their houses?” A correspondent in Chicago, Sei Kawashima, told his readers that “Japan’s proposal of abolishing racial discrimination at the peace conference… gave black people a great psychological impact at that time.”

That it did. Marcus Garvey, a leading nationalist and Pan-Africanist who advocated for African Americans to return to Africa, was so impassioned that he believed that after the Great War, “the next war will be between the Negroes and the whites unless our demands for justice are recognized… With Japan to fight with us, we can win such a war.”

Marcus Garvey

Japan’s newfound interest in African American affairs only blossomed. As Sakashita notes, Fumimaro Konoe, a delegate at the Paris Peace Conference and future prime minister of Japan, wrote in his book that “black rage against white persecutions and insults” were at an all-time high. Fusae Ichikawa, a Japanese woman suffragist, wrote an article about the struggle of black women, which she saw first hand after touring the country with the NAACP. She called it a “disgrace to civilization.” It’s not entirely clear why Japanese thinkers glanced across the Pacific with such concern for the U.S.’s blacks. Was it love? Solidarity? Or a pragmatic way to highlight the hypocrisy of the United States?

Even in Paris, Onishi argues, Japan won German concessions in Shantung China, and demanded control in the Marshalls, the Marianas, and the Carolines. “Reference to lynching,” Onishi writes “served as one of the best rhetorical defences of Japan’s imperialist policy.” Whatever the intentions of Japanese intellectuals may have been, in other words, the Japanese government found this preoccupation useful and even promoted it.

Some black intellectuals caught on to this, and suspicion arose. “A word of warning, however, to the unsuspecting,” wrote A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen in 1919. “The smug and oily Japanese diplomats are no different from Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George or Orlando. They care nothing for even the Japanese people and at this very same moment are suppressing and oppressing mercilessly the people of Korea and forcing hard bargains upon unfortunate China.”

Garvey’s followers disagreed, seeing Japan as a source of messianic salvation.

Decades later, during World War II, when Japan began to steer towards the direction of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, an African American ambivalence would develop towards Tokyo. As described by Kenneth C. Barnes, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, there were on the one hand the Neo-Garveyites, those who infused his belief of an apocalyptic race war with religious, redemptive overtones. You could find them in the unlikeliest of places; as black sharecroppers in rural Mississippi County, Arkansas, for instance. On the other hand, there were the liberals, socialists, and mainstream black intellectuals who compared Jim Crow at home to Japanese repression abroad, reminding Washington that, at least in their view, the U.S. was the very monster it was fighting.

Japan in the Axis & a Divided Black Diaspora

In 1921, in the small community of Nodena in Misissippi County, Arkansas, a man was lynched. Henry Lowry was a forty-year-old black sharecropper. A mob of six hundred people poured gasoline over his body and set it ablaze atop a bonfire. Perhaps it was the only way to die with dignity, or maybe he wanted to end the misery, but Lowry grabbed the first pieces of hot coal he could find and swallowed them.

The event was traumatic for the blacks of Mississippi County. One in five residents of the county was black. Many of them were enraged, and many became susceptible to the oratory of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican immigrant who called for black self-reliance, economic independence, and a military alliance among blacks and Japanese against white power. Not long after Lowry was lynched, eight chapters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Garvey’s organization, were formed in Mississippi County.

By 1934, the influence of the UNIA had already made its mark on the sharecroppers, and many were devout followers. In that year, a Filipino man who was honourably discharged from the Navy showed up in Mississippi County, Arkansas, one day. He was a former member of the Pacific Movement of the Eastern World, an organisation linked to the UNIA that tried to organize blacks to commit treason and support Japan in the war effort.

His real name was Policarpio Manansala, but he went by the name Ashima Takis. He was Filipino but faked a Japanese accent. Manansala had thousands of followers in the rural south. In his study on Mississipi county, Barnes recounts the story of how Takis attracted a Filipino-Mexican couple and a black man. They were arrested after giving a speech contending that “this country could be taken over entirely by the colored races” if they united with Japan. They did their time, but managed to evade the prosecutor’s recommendation that they be arrested for anarchy and an alleged plot to overthrow the government. They got off easier than most.

In fact, during the second world war, hundreds of African Americans were arrested on charges of sedition, including Elijah Muhammed, the mentor of Malcolm X and the spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. One article in the Times Daily, dated August 19, 1942, talked about Robert Jordan, a “West Indian negro,” and four others who were arrested on a sedition conspiracy indictment due to their role in an Ethiopian Pacific movement which envisioned “a coalition of Africa and Japan in an Axis-dominated world.” The four leaders in charge were arrested amid a lecture they gave to hundreds of African Americans in a Harlem hall.

But this approach was not the only one. Others sought to resist black oppression through another discourse. Particularly after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan became a rhetorical target for the African American elite, Sakashita notes. Insofar as Japan was an ally of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, it needed to be critiqued in the “war against Hitlerism at home, and Hitlerism abroad.” Just as liberals and socialists criticized the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps set up by the United States government—asking, as one George Schuyler did, if “this may be a prelude to our own fate”—they took the opportunity to remind the U.S. that its condemnations of Japan were warranted, although hypocritical.

One cartoon featured in the Baltimore Afro-American put this prevailing sentiment the best. As Sakashita reconstructs it, it shows “a grinning Hitler and smiling slant-eyes Japanese soldiers witness hanging and burning… [a] lynching.” The cartoon didn’t stop short of marshalling the very American patriotism that the U.S. used in its war effort to say that the U.S. was complicit in fascism at home. For some blacks, even in the latter half of the twentieth century, Japan remained as “leader of the darker races.” For others, it was a wartime enemy. What is for certain is that Imperial Japan was a preoccupation of the black radical imagination.



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El Dr. Mark Allan Jackson profesor de la Middle Tennessee State University, nos recuerda en este corto ensayo publicado en la revista Aeon, que la música country no siempre estuvo, como lo está ahora, asociada al conservadurismo. Por el contrario, este género musical estuvo enraizado en los movimientos progresistas de principios del siglo XX. 

When Donald Trump took the first international trip of his presidency to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, another US icon also travelled along as part of the celebration of the alliance between these two countries: the country-music star Toby Keith. For many observers, Keith was a surprise choice for an appearance in a Muslim country, as he rose to conservative prominence in the US through his post-9/11, jingoistic anthems in praise of intervention in the Middle East, such as The Taliban Song (2003) and Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (2002, with its signature warning: ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass. / It’s the American way.’)

Perhaps Keith’s appearance at the Trump inauguration urged the Saudis to make this unusual pick, with them hoping to curry favour by appealing to the new president’s tastes – although Trump has never been a country fan. Maybe the choice acknowledged Keith’s popularity with some members of Trump’s voter base. But, for whatever reason, the singer became pegged as a kind of cultural emissary as a result of this visit. What was he representing and to whom?

Alyssa Rosenberg, writing in The Washington Post in May 2017, speculated that Keith ‘sees himself as an ambassador for a certain version of American society, for cold beers and women in crop-tops and backyard poker games and the redeeming power of Christianity’. Although these positions (and others Keith has taken) do not fit Saudi Arabia’s particular brand of conservatism, they do play well in the US – at least to some voters and listeners. But at the same time, they misrepresent the whole of what country music stands for (or against).

This recent episode does not stand alone in how country music has often been presented to the world. Early on, it was deemed ‘hillbilly music’ by the very recording industry producing it, stereotypically linking it to a supposedly degenerate and backwards culture. We can see this image echoed on the front page of Variety in 1926, where the music critic Abel Green first defines the audience: ‘The “hill-billy” is a North Carolina or Tennessee and adjacent mountaineer type of illiterate white whose creed and allegiance are to the Bible … and the phonograph.’ Then the music got its lashing when Green described it as ‘the sing-song, nasal-twanging vocalising of a Vernon Dalhart or a Carson Robison … reciting the banal lyrics of a Prisoner’s Song or The Death of Floyd Collins …’

These kinds of negative projections of the people who have made country music, and have listened to it, linger even unto today. The stereotype is that they all harbour conservative political and social beliefs, setting them as sexist, racist, jingoistic and fundamentalist Christian by nature. But this image is a lie. For, right from the start, country music spoke up with a progressive voice.

One early example of this is from Blind Alfred Reed, who crafted How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? (1929). The song takes on the unjust practices of groups in power, such as in the lines: ‘preachers preach for gold and not for souls’ and ‘Officers kill without a cause.’ It presents the entirety of the working class as being victimised at the very dawn of the Great Depression. But Reed also wrote the religious song There’ll Be No Distinction There (1929), which illustrated an egalitarian afterlife in the lines: ‘We’ll all sit together in the same kind of pews, / The whites and the coloured folks, the gentiles and the Jews.’ But Reed was not alone in expressing sympathy for the working class or in calling out for a more equitable society: others from this early era – such as Uncle Dave Macon, Fiddlin’ John Carson and Henry Whitter – expressed similar sentiments, just as Johnny Cash, Steve Earle and John Rich have done in later decades.

Country music has also spoken out on women’s issues, such as in Loretta Lynn’s hit The Pill (1975). The song celebrates freedom from pregnancy, with the narrator noting how her husband has always been carefree and unfaithful while she was tied down with ‘a couple [babies] in my arms’ and another one on the way. Lynn’s message here is clear – she despises this kind of unequitable relationship, as she bluntly states in her autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter (1976): ‘Well, shoot, I don’t believe in double standards, where men can get away with things that women can’t.’ In the country-music market, this song stands out as an unabashed and rather radical call for sexual liberation and biological control, challenging the man’s past sexual prerogative and presenting a situation where the woman may also enjoy a variety of sexual liaisons without the social/economic restrictions that come with pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. Lynn rejoices both in the song and in her own overall personal belief that the contraceptive pill will allow women greater control of their own lives: ‘I really believe in those words. It’s all about how the man keeps the woman barefoot and pregnant over the years. I think it’s great that women have a way of protecting themselves now, without worrying about the man.’ And Lynn has not been alone in advocating for women’s rights, joining others, from Kitty Wells to Margo Price, in pointing out gender prejudices and abuses.

Performers have also taken up racial issues throughout the history of country music. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Merle Haggard recorded Go Home and Irma Jackson, which both centre on interracial love affairs, with the lyrics siding with the couple, not the prejudice. Both of these songs appeared in the era of Loving v Virginia (1967), the US Supreme Court decision that overturned several states’ laws against miscegenation. Thus, Haggard repeatedly took an explicitly progressive stand at a time when interracial relationships remained contentious, especially in the South. More recently, Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley and Jason Isbell have taken bold stands on race relations in the US.

Country music, from its very beginnings to its latest hits, has ranged about, speaking out on any number of issues and not just with one voice. Many have explored its sonic landscape. Yet when figures such as Keith strut out onto the political stage – whether it be in Washington, DC or Riyadh – too often the mainstream media, Right-wing politicians and others ignorant of the rich and varied history of this essential American music point to them and try to paint it as a conservative-only expression. To counter this false impression, country music deserves better cultural ambassadors, artists who can and have voiced the full range of views that have always been part of the tradition, the full truth of country music.

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Los comentarios de la Representante Alexandria Ocasio Cortez calificando como campos de concentración los centros donde han sido ubicados los migrantes detenidos por las autoridades estadounidenses, han causado revuelo y críticas, especialmente, de la derecha vinculada con la administración Trump. En este corto escrito, el profesor David M. Perry nos recuerda la antigua y siniestra presencia de campos de concentración en la historia de Estados Unidos. Desde el genocidio contra los naciones nativas hasta la conquista de las Filipinas, los campos de concentración han estado presentes en el desarrollo histórico de los Estados Unidos.


Yes, Tump´s Detention Centers are Concentration Camps

Pacific Standard June 20, 2019


Every time I drive from my home to the airport, I pass the ruins of a concentration camp. I live in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, where the Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport sits next to Fort Snelling. In the 1860s, United States soldiers imprisoned over 1,600 Dakota people in Fort Snelling, keeping them in horrible conditions as part of what the Minnesota Historical Society now acknowledges was a set of «genocidal policies pursued against Indigenous people throughout the U.S. … a campaign calculated to make them stop being Dakota.» Between 130 and 300 people died of cold and disease before the survivors were eventually forcibly expelled from the region, exiled from their lands, and driven to reservations further west.

Fort Snelling, built on the beautiful spot where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers flow together, a place the Dakota called Bdote, is the concentration camp next door.

Is it fair to use the phrase «concentration camp» to describe the Trump administration’s string of prison camps, detention facilities, and other installations meant to incarcerate immigrants in highly concentrated numbers? That question has been a subject of national debate since at least the summer of 2018. Thanks to President Donald Trump’s new plan this week to expand the prison camp system, including the repurposing of a former Japanese internment site, the debate over semantics has arisen once more.

Addressing constituents on Instagram Live on Monday night, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did not mince words: «The U.S. is running concentration camps on our Southern border, and that is exactly what they are: They are concentration camps.»

Conservatives predictably pushed back against this language, alleged that Ocasio-Cortez was appropriating the history of the Holocaust, and claimed therefore that her word choice was offensive to Jewish people. One of Ocasio-Cortez’s most vocal detractors was Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

New Tent Camps Go Up In West Texas For Migrant Children Separated From Parents

Right-wing gentiles like Cheney are not credible advocates for Jewish Americans; their invocation of the Holocaust is a bad-faith ploy to distract Americans from the horrors of the current camps. But it’s a bad-faith attack that can easily find fertile ground in the American imagination because of a fundamental, and apparently widespread, misconception that the phrase «concentration camps» somehow belongs solely to the history of the Holocaust. It’s true that the Nazi regime built a particularly substantial network of prison camps and then slowly morphed them into factories for genocide in ways that were, and remain, unique. But concentration camps are disturbingly normal in this modern era. They have a global history that long predates the specific horrors of Nazi Germany. They also have a national history in the U.S. that is indelibly bound up in the formation and modern history of this nation.

The horrors of Trump’s prison camps have been clear since at least 2018, when The New Yorker published images of the prison for children in Tornillo, TexasSearing reporting from ProPublica included recordings of children screaming and an exposé of secret detention facilities. This past fall, the New York Times broke the news that the Trump administration was secretly deporting immigrant children to the Tornillo camp. At least 24 immigrants have died in Trump camps. Journalist Jonathan Katz catalogued the intentional savagery at these border camps, including torture through sleep deprivation, freezing-cold conditions, children stuck in vans for over 37 hours, detainees confined to dog kennels, starvation, and a lack of basic medicine.

Even if these camps were less hellish, Katz writes, there is still no such thing as a good concentration camp. Katz reminds us that international journalists deemed Dachau a nicely run facility in 1933. We all know how that escalated.

These conditions have led experts in the history of concentration camps to defend the use of that label in the current American context. Historian Andrea Pitzer, author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Campsdefines concentration camps as facilities used for the «detention of civilians without trial based on group identity.» She traces the emergence of such camps to those erected by imperial Spain during the Cuban rebellion of 1896, by the U.S. not long after in the Philippines, and by the British in South Africa during the Boer War and beyond. These were not death camps per se, but vast numbers of people died in each by design, as governments tried to crush, expel, and isolate specific populations.

The same thing seems to be happening along the American Southern border. Pitzer writes that, in the face of a president openly expressing «animosity toward those interned [and under circumstances] in which a government detains people and harms them by separating children from their parents or deliberately putting them in danger,» we need to acknowledge the border camps as the latest entry in this terrible history. These are concentration camps, and denying as much merely prepares the way for worse atrocities to come.

There’s a specifically North American story here as well. Concentration camps were built whenever and wherever American soldiers concentrated and interned Native peoples before expelling them from their lands. The goal of these sites, as historian John Legg writes, using the example of Fort Snelling, was «to separate Dakota from white society following the U.S.–Dakota War,» and to transform Dakota land into «a white agricultural landscape.» These camps may have lacked the ovens of Auschwitz, but they were nonetheless an intentional tool of destruction. During the 20th century, Germans were interned during World War I in North Carolina and Georgia. Sites of Japanese internment during World War II—as well as camps that held German, Italian, and Native Alaskan populations—stretch from California to New England. Historian Kevin Kruse notes that the organizers of Japanese internment explicitly called their facilities «concentration camps

Conservatives would do well to remember, and acknowledge, that concentration camps are a standard feature of American history. If you live in North America, there’s almost certainly the site of a former camp not far from where you’re sitting as you read this essay. If you’re near the Southern border, alas, there’s also probably a camp operating somewhere close to you right now. The question isn’t whether it’s appropriate to characterize the Trump prison centers as «concentration camps,» but whether concentration camps will be as much a part of the future of the U.S. as they were part of our past.





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La revista Huellas de Estados Unidos recibirá artículos para su edición número 17 hasta el día 15 de agosto de 2019.

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