Who Isn't Involved in "Politics" ?
They go around like ghosts, this must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists, because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it. - Jose Saramago, Blindness
“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons.” This is the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, speaking before the world at a session of the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. America, according to Powell’s “evidence,” was justified in its decision to invade Iraq, scheduled for the following month.
Powell is effective. The “Black Hawks” are ready. The US invades. The “Shock and Awe” campaign that begins in a grand-scale lie, proclaiming to bring “freedom” to the Iraqis, becomes a windfall of profit for the likes of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing.
I remember the world, including citizens in the US, in the streets protesting the idea of invading Iraq - and protesting, most of all, the loss of lives for the sake of profits for warmongering-manufacturers.
I didn’t hear General Powell’s words or see him behind that table with his charts and graphs defending the war until sometime later when I returned home from a year of teaching in Ethiopia. When the vote to invade Iraq occurred in September 2002, I was just days from boarding the first plane to Europe, on the way to Addis Ababa. I knew from hearing the human buzz that the world was protesting, and I never expected the war would take place. Although I should have realized that opposition to mass murder would mean little to the corporations depending on war for their survival.
In Ethiopia, the US Embassy’s ambassador ordered Americans to stay home. At least four days! Stay home! The Iraqi War had become a reality. There were weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on full display for the world to see. But for me, all the events leading up to the first bomb to dropped over Baghdad on the first night of “Shock and Awe” were and still represent a blind spot.
It’s the closest I’ve come to living without knowing what was happening beyond the four walls of my home within a privately-own family compound. For four days, I listened to the women outside my door cleaning and cooking for the older couple owners of the compound, not understanding a word of their conversation. On the fifth day, I took my chances in a country divided between Orthodox Christians and Muslims, with the latter outnumbering the former by a small margin at the time, and took a bus about ten blocks to an Ethiopian hotel on Haile Selassie Boulevard that tended to cater to expatriates from everywhere, visitors from everywhere, and middle-classed Ethiopians.
The hotel would have a television set.
The average American taxpayer has funded the incarceration of Black people for decades, but - oh, please do hush up about “politics”!
And it would also have visitors to Addis Ababa, expatriates working in the city, and Ethiopians all with the same idea of catching the news for a view of the war, in this case, presented by CNN INTERNATIONAL. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought the presentation was that of aircraft companies competing to sell us, gathered in that small hotel lobby, fancy weapon-packed helicopters and drones, given the animation, itself crafted to support an authoritarian voice in the business of assuring potential buyers that these flying weapons were quite capable of annihilating whatever its “smart-tech” targeted.
I was the only American in the room. I doubt if anyone in the crowd of mostly men surrounding the television screen noticed me. It was quiet, except for an all-too-familiar authoritarian male voice selling what dominated the screen. Maybe I had coffee. Whatever it was, I decided I had had enough. As a fifty-year-old Black woman at the time, I knew without having experienced it all first hand, the capabilities of the US’s law and military forces. I left the hotel as quietly as I had entered. Nothing about that moment I stepped back out onto Haile Selassie Boulevard seemed normal. Everyone seemed to go about their business, but I felt invisible to the living beings around me. I was walking, having decided to forgo a crowd shoulder-to-shoulder bus ride. I was watching and seeing women and men, most in their traditional Christian white and others in their colorful head and face covering.
I could hear them as usual and not recognize anything that had become familiar by then six months in-county; and yet, I felt as if I had never seen anything walking beside and ahead of me.
Today, I think of the blind spot covering some very significant events and that feeling of being out of it, and I wonder, who are these people who inform me that they have no interests in “politics”? They don’t “talk politics.” And they mean that they don’t even watch the Foxhole news (no offense to foxes). People don’t watch the news. They don’t read the newspapers.
I don’t get involved in politics!
And yet, every American is involved in politics! Taxes, in part, paid for the war in Iraq, It’s still paying for the destruction of land and resources, homes, and wedding receptions where women and children reside, most with no interest in finding themselves dead for sleeping or for marrying someone. There are children here in the US with no interest in going to bed having only drunk juice and eaten a slice of bread if they are lucky. There are children here in the US with no interest in playing on ground that is covered in shards of glass.
And that’s all “politics” - as in politically determined as to what group of people are granted privilege and what other groups are understood to be less than, who is designated as “immigrant” in a country of immigrants unless an Indigenous or a descendant of enslaved African Americans. How many have died within US borders and without in the time it takes for someone to inform me, always smugly, that they had no interests in keeping up with politics? Many of these dead were annihilated in the name of the people, that is, the American people, with made-in-America weapons sold to the Saudi or Israeli governments? The no-involvement-with-politics American paid for the murder of someone’s husband, wife, or child. Some schoolchildren in Palestine or Yemen.
Knowing a little something about American imperialism is equivalent to knowing about the self. Sitting one day among expatriate faculty from Nigeria, I was asked why I was “picking on Saddam Hussein.” As a Black American, I tried to defend myself, but I understood. You are the history of your nation!
There should be no excuse if you are alive.
I was “alive” when Barbara Lee cast the only voted against the Iraqi war; I was “alive” when General Powell gave that speech at the UN; I was “alive” when the American WMDs lit up the Iraqi night. But I was “alive” and present when astronaut Alan Shepard traveled to space, the first human to do so. I was “alive” and present when JFK was assassinated, followed by Rev. Martin L. King and RFK. I was “alive” and present for the police killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
To relinquish responsibility for what happens in “the name of the people,” is to already burden those victims of the history of American violence, those already demonized as “leftists” or “enemy” and to continue fueling that history of violence.
On January 2, 2021, I watch in real-time as a few at first become hundreds assemble and then break into the Capitol in Washington DC. Brandishing clubs, sticks, guns, many are men, but there are women among them. Many have Trump flags and Confederate flags. As this increasingly violent crowd breaks windows and pushes beyond police enforcement, overturning furniture, a shout goes up: they want the Vice President for their makeshift gallows. They want to put a bullet in the House Speaker’s head!
As a Black American, I can identify with the disorientation and terror experienced by Congressional members such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Rashida Tlaib. Having known insurrectionists historically or personally, Black Americans could imagine the danger these and other Congressional members of color faced in those hours as the angry mob stormed the Capitol and roamed the hallways. Groups of them had already used clubs to seriously injure police. One police officer died the following day after his head was bashed in by a maddened white male wielding a fire extinguisher.
Those Americans who have informed me that they don’t get involved in politics would be baffled if I, in turn, informed them that any good totalitarian want-to-be-dictator would love the opportunity to control a nation of like-minded people - along with the vanguard of insurrections like those folks who showed up after organizing themselves around the battle cry of their want-to-be-despot in the White House at the time!
According to a report in The Atlantic, a good many of the insurrectionists, average age of 40 years old, committed “acts of political violence.” This wasn’t an “exercise in vandalism or trespassing amid a disorderly protest.” There were the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters, but according to the report, some “89 % had no apparent affiliation with militia organizations.” They were Americans.
A good many Americans share the same concerns that the country is open to too many immigrants and too many Blacks are too visible. Too many Muslims. Too many Latinx. Too many protesting Indigenous people.
Only 9% of the insurrectionists were unemployed, and most didn’t come from the “deep-red strongholds” either. “They worked as CEOs, shop owners, and doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, and accountants.”
A couple of years ago, when some Americans were pulling for Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to live, at least beyond the former president’s term in office, I remember talking with a postal worker, mentioning Ginsburg…
The Supreme Court? Ginsburg?
I knew by the look, she didn’t have to say it, but she did!
I don’t get involved in politics!
Who was alive and present among the don’t-get-involved-in-politics Americans on January 6, 2020? If not in March, 2003?
And so many won’t see the racism even if one of the insurrections drove up to their home and, waving an assault rifle in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other, shouted, “n----r!” or “Jew!” or “I’m coming for all Muslims!”
Because they walk about refusing to be in the world, they can’t see, refuse to see. I-don’t-get-involved-in-politics helps legitimize those blinders worn like so many Nazi amulets on the clothing of the insurrectionists. These are the same Americans who can warn you about “looters” during the Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Look, see the “looters,” as if a video on a cell phone is proof of anything. But then, if the video is meant to do a disservice to Black grief, Black anger; if the video is meant to demonize Black Lives Matter as a movement, and thereby discredit Black protests altogether, then it’s as “real” as the former president’s insistence that he’s still the president of the US.
Those Americans who don’t talk politics attempt to silence dissent.
In the meantime, whose taxes fund law enforcement? Who pays for the bullets and the armor? Who paid for the gear that knocked down Breonna Taylor’s door? The average American taxpayer has funded the incarceration of Black people for decades, but - oh, please do hush up about “politics”!
Who allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to kill two people and wound another, and get back in his mommy’s car and drive off with mommy back to Illinois? What entity allows this white young man to “disappear” and “appear” in hiding - for his protection - after he has killed?
Black people die with only cell phones in their hands!
Black people sleeping in their beds, die!
Rittenhouse is like the insurrectionists, treated as “gentlemen” and gentle ladies, sent home to mothers, even if fully grown adults, to wait for court dates. Little 12-year-old Tamir Rice didn’t have a chance to say anything in his defense because the police officer mistook the child’s play gun for a real gun.
What the Turtle, Mitch McConnell, has to say matters in that his use of power is a practice in violence. He’s proven he is completely indifferent towards the lives of people of color and is quite willing to destroy our lives rather than make our lives worth living. McConnell is not alone; he and others like him in Congress have bred whole generations of American zombies who are then voted into Congress by, in turn, indifferent Americans who drop off the map of the living, intentionally! A Trump gave them room to replicate themselves, but this characteristic of indifference is an American go-to staple when a crisis seems pending. And a pending crisis always has the blurring of racial difference at its core. It’s no accident that we are hearing the old antebellum term, “miscegenation” again! Some fears, the more irrational, never die!
It matters that I’m paying for the Saudis and the Israelis to murder populations of Yemenis while leaving millions without shelter, clean water, or food. Does it anger me? Yes, as it should. As it should any American.
What does it mean when we say - US-supported war? It means this: that Boeing received, according to the June 2019 issue of In These Times,some 21+ billion dollars, Lockheed Martin, 7.2+ billion, Raytheon, 1.8+ billion, General Electric, 1.2+ billion, and General Dynamics, 124+ million, and all that money assists the Saudis in their practice of violence against the Yemenis.
Smart surveillance is usually included in these huge packages of American money handed off to another nation that, in turn, monitors its “enemies” just as the US spends so many tax-paying dollars monitoring Black Lives activists or any Black who advocates for social justice and democratic values. Somehow, red flags are flying all over the Internet, held up by white Americans proclaiming their allegiance to “Hitler,” to Trump, to “Q,” to anything that smacks of violence, particularly violence against people of color.
The law enforcement agencies aren’t only to blame; American indifference has become the easy out for many who don’t want to acknowledge their role in the white supremacist history of this nation. Just say, “no politics,” and free oneself from responsibility.
Pretty sad state of being in the world among the living!
I can’t afford to wear blinders and talk nonsense about not wanting to talk about “politics” given that my ancestors were kidnapped, sold, and owned as property, allowable and enforced by laws legislated in the US. The violence used against those ancestors and against Blacks ever since is the result of political indifference toward Black lives.
The personal is political and the political is personal.