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 He and I could easily have been blood brothers . . . We settled the historical and ethnic questions

over a pitcher of beer in a nearby bar. Why, I asked him, didn't he think I was a nigger?

"Because you don't talk like a nigger, man and you don't walk like a nigger."



 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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So Poor, So Black!

By John Maxwell  


“So Poor!”  he said in wonderment, “So Black!”  CNN’s Wolf Blitzer  was looking at some of the victims of Katrina, rudely uprooted from their Third World existence  in New Orleans by the hurricane. They were, of course, outside his experience.

For Wolf Blitzer and most other American journalists American poverty is a whole ‘nother country; So, most white American journalists are as bemused as the rest of the world, looking on in stupefied  disbelief as they are exposed to the reality of the American underclass.

On Thursday a group of more than a hundred Jamaicans returned to Jamaica from jobs on the US Gulf coast. They were ordinary workers, hotel maids, bellhops and the like, with no particularly rare skills. They’ve been working in the US because American hotels “can’t find” American workers to do these jobs.

They can’t find them because Americans, no matter how poor, refuse to work for the kind of pay Jamaicans will accept. The American workers are, in the words of the globalisers, not competitive.

To encourage them to be more competitive the United States has for generations, relied on imported labour, mainly illegal immigrants and some others who go to the United States with the full knowledge and complicity of the American authorities to work on American farms and factories.

“How can we compete?” the capitalists ask piteously, “Against the production of peasants in far away countries, impressed into industrial labour forces by agents of  other American capitalists and increasingly, by Chinese and other foreign businessmen?

Obeying the imperatives of capitalism, and the bottom line, Americans have been outsourcing production for a very long time. Within the last ten years the movement has accelerated  into a stampede.

Originally, the equation was simple. Industrialised countries “bought” primary products from former colonies and sold them at grossly inflated prices to their own markets and to the people they had bought the stuff from in the first place.

But as countries like Jamaica developed on the so-called "Puerto Rican" outsourcing model and others developed on the Japanese model, profits began to be shaved and markets began to be fragmented.

In the Far East where colonialism had not managed to do too much damage, people retained their culture, their language, and most of their ancient skills. The Chinese, who invented gunpowder, were producing steel in backyard furnaces in the 1960s.

The Japanese who had built the world's largest and most advanced battleshipthe YAMATO, 70 years agohad to endure the fairly benign occupation of the American Military after having been atom-bombed into subjection. But they got to keep their emperor and they got something infinitely more valuable, enormous amounts of US  military expenditure which helped fuel a new growth of industrialisation. The same thing happened in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and the effect spilled over into other southeast Asian countries. Europe got the Marshall Plan.

Starting from a lower level than Americans, these people soon began to outproduce Americans particularly in motor vehicles and electronics.

In Africa, where whole civilisations and cultures had been uprooted and obliterated, and in the former American colonies of the European powers, life was very different.

One major reason was  the colour of the skins of the peoples. For 500 years, in order to justify slavery, the world was told that blacks were shiftless, work-shy and undisciplined. They had to be forced to work "for their own good, you understand." They needed slavery. Long after slavery was officially abolished that same excuse allowed King Leopold to literally enslave and brutalise the Congo,  long after slavery was officially abolished and licenced the British, Dutch Portuguese and Spanish to enforce similar  forms of profit-extraction and productivity in  Africa, the Caribbean Latin America and in the southern United States. 

In Latin America there were lots of blacks, but they were not the majority, except in the Caribbean. In Latin America, the majorities were, as writer Inga Muscio was once described "less than white." 

Within the United States itself  the promised Reconstruction after slavery swiftly degenerated into white reaction and re-enslavement under other names.

The puritianical Americans emulated the ecclesiastics of the twelfth century, but instead of estimating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin they were more interested in  calculating how many Anglos could dance on the head of a peon.

Blacks in the Americas have always been ambivalent about their prospects on this side of the Atlantic. There were and are those, like Martin Luther King and Jean Bertrand Aristide, who  figured that their blood and suffering had bought them rights. There were others, like Marcus Garvey and the "Black Muslims," who could not believe that white man's justice would ever encompass them.

Being black in the US is not quite as dangerous as being openly homosexual in Jamaica, but it is close. A black man in the Bronx today "or in Haiti" has a lower life expectancy than a Bangladeshi of the same age.

Nearly fifty years ago, on my first visit to the United States I was challenged by a black shoemaker in Washington DC, literally within the shadow of the capitol. He  was puzzled by my accent and wanted to know where I came from. When I told him he asked me: "They got anybody like me where you come from?" I didn' t understand him. Yes, they had shoemakers in Jamaica, I said. "No man. They got any niggers there?"

I was totally flabbergasted. He and I could easily have been blood brothers; our hair was the same, our skin colour was the sameif anything he was a shade or two lighter skinned than I and I thought we looked a little bit alike. We settled the historical and ethnic questions over a pitcher of beer in a nearby bar. Why, I asked him, didn't he think I was a nigger?

"Because you don't talk like a nigger, man and you don't walk like a nigger."

Passing for Creole

New Orleans  was on the surface, a swinging, cosmopolitan city, multicultural, multi-ethnic, in which "black culture" was the defining flavour. In reality it was cross-dressingpassing for Creole while underneath it was the archetypical Southern United States city, a kind of human zoo or theme park in which the majority of the population are allowed to flourish as long as they are of good behaviour.

Beneath the export-only black culture there was another layer of black poverty and misery, largely invisible to the Blitzers and the kibitzers.

Apart from being so poor and so black, the Afro American minority is also dismissed as  criminal and diseased. In the name of law and order, about half a million blacks are currently warehoused in prisons which are really universities of crime, sources of cheap commercial labour and focal points for spreading HIV/AIDS throughout the black communities.  

The American black prison population alone is larger than the total prison population of any country other than perhaps China .  Almost one third of young black American men are either in jail or under some sort of state  supervision, because the laws of the United States, as exemplified by such as Trent Lott,, Jesse Helms, and the media, believe that blacks prefer a life of crime to fulfilling the American dream.

As Herrnstein and Murray boldly  say in The Bell Curve, "Clearly something about getting seriously involved in crime competes with staying in school." The Bell Curve, accepted "by an overwhelming cross section of the US media" as a sane and sensible book, postulated a "Custodial state," a high tech and more lavish version of the Indian reservations for some substantial minority of the nation's population while the rest of America tries to go about its business?

Its authors,  Herrnstein and Murray say that such a state "will not only be tolerated but actively supported by a consensus of the cognitive elite" and they claimed that they were not theorising but "reporting." 

Instead of a custodial state Herrnstein and Murray suggested "cognitive partitioning" supported by a return to Individualism. That is, the cognitive elite will formally continue to select out its Colin Powells, Condoleezza Rices and Clarence Thomases (but obviously  not Serena Williams or Cynthia McKinney) to serve them as Harry Belafonte described Powellas house slaves.  

The problem is not only ethnic, although ethnicity is involved. The Central Europeans who are the largest ethnic bloc in the United States outside of Hispanics, have always had  their Serbs, Slavs and Gypsies (Egyptians) to hew wood and draw water.

To that underclass we could, perhaps, add the Irishuntil they were all supplanted by the blacks.

Nor is discrimination simply ethnic, but it provides a convenient means to classify an economic underclass because so many wear an instantly recognisable uniform. Blacks are only one section of the American underclass. Their white compatriots are usually ignored, as if they are simply passing through a phase.

But since many become visible because of their homelessness, or joblessness or some dysfunctionality which makes them stand out, all of these characteristics (welfare abusers etc.) are typically ascribed to all  poor people, particularly to blacks.

Black is black and white is white and never the twain shall mate. That at least is the theory of Hollywood myth-makers and of much of the media that is now part of the Hollywood entertainment-industrial-financial  complex. The rest of the world looks nonplussed at an America in which "Guess who's coming to dinner" after forty years, is still the Hollywood paradigm for race relations, as if the mating of white and black were as experimental as the union of gorillas and chimpanzees.  The result is a case like O.J. Simpson's,  who, having been acquitted of murder, was still found guilty, essentially of marrying a white woman. While no one can explain how Simpson could have sanitised himself and his house in the hour or two between the murders and his journey to Chicago, most white Americans thought he should pay punitive damages to the families of his murdered wife and her friend.  NEWSWEEK made the point. O.J.  tried to live like a white man: "He even played golf."

TIME magazine  confessed to painting Simpson blacker than he wasas they did more recently to Hugo Chavez, no doubt for good and sufficient geopolitical reasons.

When, forty years ago, movie star Kim Novak was rumoured to be having an affair with Sammy Davis Jr. it more or less meant the end of her career. "Inter-racial" mating is seen by the media as terminally dangerous not just to  the morals of their audiences but more subversively, to the class system. There can be no miscegenation without representation, and where would that leave the working class and its necessary underclass?

Barbara Bush had it right.. Refugees in Texas must be better off than at home in New Orleans. And more hygenic and less sinful to boot. 

Meanwhile, if one examines the real USA, away from the ersatz gentility of the media, one discovers that not only are the really poor getting poorer, but the middle class is going nowhere fast.

In real economic terms, in constant dollar terms, the Middle classes are almost exactly where they were when Jimmy Carter was president. Meanwhile,  according to the US Census Bureau, the rich have become immeasurably wealthier. If the appearance of  social peace is to be maintained, globalisation must provide the answer: That means  providing  cheaper and cheaper goods to disguise the static economic position of the majority of Americans. 

That requires not only a real Third World outside the boundaries of the United States; it also  requires one within those boundaries.

Copyright ©2005 John Maxwell

posted 10 September 2005

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Heart of Darkness

By Joseph Conrad

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

By Adam Hochschild

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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

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The Price of Civilization

Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 26 February 2012




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