Evil Spiral

Evil Spiral

indiaharassmentafricansSurrounded by security officials and police, two (later proved) innocent Kenyan immigrants to India are unfairly detained, then harassed by police in Greater Noida, India.

“India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s hypernationalistic “Hindutva” ideology has found common cause with Trumpism,” writes a Kenyan commentator today. “Ultranationalism and hatred of the ‘other’ are being associated with patriotism in both India and the US.”

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Artsy Fartsy

Artsy Fartsy

fuck white peopleCan a piece of art be hate speech? A year-long furor in South Africa blew up yesterday when a gang of white men calmly entered Cape Town’s prestigious National Art Museum and plastered a large sticker reading “Love Thy Neighbour” over a “F**k White People” pop-art canvas.

What’s illegal here? The vigilantes believed South Africa’s strict hate speech laws weren’t being enforced, but were they breaking laws protecting the artist’s freedom of speech?

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Their Fault

Their Fault

their-faultXenophobia infects, kills and spreads like any biological virus: “Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba … speaks loudly about illegal foreigners and tells them to leave his city … because of the right-wing frenzy whipped up by Trump.”

A pandemic spreads until it dies out: It’s not reversible. Trump may have softened his xenophobic rhetoric in the U.S., but it’s only growing in South Africa.

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farawayplaceFrom the outside a big place looks small. From the inside a small place looks big.

The Dallas police shootings, the massacre of protestors in Zimbabwe, the shooting of Alton Sterling, the kidnaping of British tourists in Somalia … what really is the difference?

Last night I collapsed on the couch and flipped on the TV. “Breaking News” about more shootings and … I turned it off. That was wrong. If we blindly run away from troubling things, troubling things will take us down.

Americans concerned with the security of traveling abroad have to realize this morning that foreigners feel more threatened traveling here than Americans feel traveling there.

The more important issue – a heartbreaking one – is why all this happens, anyway, not something as seemingly incidental as whether violence should alter your vacation plans. But violence isn’t usually willy nilly. It certainly wasn’t in Dallas last night or for that matter inside the car of Philando Castile several nights before. It takes organization to place snipers in the right spot or to snatch a tourist from a market in Lamu.

After centuries of discussion it seems that most violence is linked to inequity. Violence would be immeasurably reduced, in my view, if the wealth of the world were spread around little bit more.

Violence wouldn’t end, just as greed and lust for power will never end. But if hunger and want is even just a little bit reduced, if we take the butter knife and just spread that hunk of wealth a little bit more around, violence will subside. Everywhere. This is as certain for Kenya as Baltimore.

So that’s not going to happen tomorrow.

But you can read the news. You don’t have to – as I did – turn off the bad news on TV. Tomorrow you can get on a plane and fly to Paris.

The need for all of us to leave our shells is greater than ever before. It’s the only way we can begin to understand the barriers of difference which keep us from reaching equitable compromises with one another.

It’s the only way we can learn to tolerate differences and to recognize that our schema for living is no better or worse than a thousand others. With a little bit of travel outside your comfort zone you’ll discover that the similarities with those you considered foreign are much greater than the differences. Everyone wants to be happy. No one enjoys being hungry or sick.

Most of all everybody reacts to someone else’s suffering with an immediate desire to help alleviate it. However instantaneous or momentary that feeling of generosity might be, that’s what separates us from the rest of the animals of the world, empathy.

We dare not lose that.

It’s no sadder a time in America this morning than in Kenya or South Africa. The tragedy of any event collapses into its own place which seems very small and far away and very toxic to those on the outside.

We need to muster the courage to pry open those distant spheres. Realize that we all share the same awful level of sadness because we all share the same problems, human problems. We can all help one another.

After last night’s events I felt like crawling back into bed. When actually it’s time to continue packing for the next excursion, one that for many Americans might need be no more distant than Dallas or St. Paul, and for all of us means just not turning off the news.

Symbol Savvy

Symbol Savvy

Trump as a symbolAccording to a successful white South African male progressive, “Anyone who cares about gender equality [should vote for] Hillary Clinton, irrespective of her policies and …whether Donald Trump is the alternative.”

Jarred Cinman argues on a number of fronts, but the one that struck me right away was, “Her symbolism is more powerful than her presidency ever will be.”

Cinman is head of NativeVML, an up and coming South African ad agency whose impressive clients include many of the high-end spirits (like Chivas Regal) and several important banks (like Nedbank). His Hillary endorsement appeared yesterday in South Africa’s most popular, out-of-the-mainstream digital media, the Maverick.

Few understand discrimination as those who live in South Africa, and few can wrestle with their guilt as well as a white South African male.

But Cinman’s principal argument, that Hillary Clinton is a symbol of womens liberation, is the sort of the argument I’ve been using for Bernie: Don’t despair that he won’t get anything done, it’s what he represents.

So if we reduce our support to symbols, then which is more important? A Woman President. Or a Socialist President?

Cinman comes from a part of the world considerably more socialistic than we are. That might explain why he doesn’t see the matchup as I do.

Many, many well educated people I meet around the world don’t know, for example, that America doesn’t provide universal health care.

But for the sake of argument, presuming Cinman is not one of these foreigners with American starlight in their eyes, what is so powerful about the symbol of a Woman President?

First, he presumes correctly that the “male power elite” runs everything, runs the whole world for that matter. Well if a Woman President is so powerful, why is the male power elite still running India and Brazil, or framed a different way, how much really will a single Woman President change this?

Slap, slap. How much would a single Socialist President change this?

Symbols often fade quickly when too easily thrust into importance. Cinman himself discusses this unintended emasculation. When symbols finally make it, they:

“do not have the resources, self-esteem, networks and context to actually take control.”

Further he argues that this starts to institutionalize the original discrimination:

“The truth is many black people in South Africa still believe themselves to be inferior.”

The oppressed take on the character of the oppressors: “They strive toward the same prizes… This striving often benefits the very people they sought to outmanoeuvre.”

So let me get this right.

Vote for Hillary because she’s a woman. You don’t need any other reason. The symbol of a Woman President is so important, that:

1) She won’t be able to accomplish anything.

2) Other women will be marginalized or ensconced in their previous roles.

You see, this isn’t totally fair of me. Cinman’s argument is poorly made and ridiculously vacuous. Mostly, it’s incomplete.

Had he simply also pointed out that Hillary is an incredibly accomplished person, whose list of political accomplishments is very impressive and who has bucked the establishment and won (Benghazi Hearings), the symbol starts to shine.

And because he neglected doing this, even eschewed doing so, I think his brand of thinking may be similarly being applied by Bernie’s opponents to Bernie.

So let’s move beyond the symbols, OK?

Racism or Stupidity?

Racism or Stupidity?

larrymadowo“Terrorists aren’t just… in Syria; sometimes they’re card-carrying defenders of the Second Amendment.”

The above is not the rant of some leftie like myself. It’s from a respected, very popular national news anchor in Nairobi.

Chastising his American colleagues for not calling the Planned Parenthood shooter, Robert Dear “what he really is, a terrorist,” Madowo in a few paragraphs explained American racism, why we go into endless wars, why black policeman are now being prosecuted, and probably a dozen other American ailments.

Larry Madowo is probably the most watched and liked young African news anchor on the continent north of South Africa. He’s witty and insightful. He writes and speaks English better than most Americans, travels constantly entangling himself in injustices that he recounts with mounds of humor.

But time and again after drilling down into some western wrong (like Dutch MacDonald’s selling their tiny packets of ketchup for 75¢) Madowo sees the root explanation as western racism.

“If [Robert Dear] was a man of colour, the talking heads and think-pieces would not have stopped theorising about his motive and how his background led to all this. But white shooters are almost always ‘mentally disturbed lone rangers’ in need of understanding and support from society.”

“Three people were killed and at least five others wounded” but because the murderer wasn’t Muslim and didn’t behead his victims “American news outlets won’t call him what he really is… because of the colour of his skin.”

It’s worth considering but Madowo has fallen into the trap of many modern media personalities: oversimplification while playing to the ratings.

Racism surely is at the root of many American evils but American media aren’t calling the Planned Parenthood shooter a terrorist not because he isn’t black but because Americans foolishly believe that terrorism is something strictly external.

We have compartmentalized foreign violence as terrorism and domestic violence as anything but, something less threatening and onerous.

Statistics don’t seem to matter: exponentially more Americans are killed annually by American rebels and shooters than foreigners. Extent of destruction doesn’t seem to matter: the effect on Boston’s economy from the marathon shooters is multiple times anything foreign that’s happened in the last few years.

“Home-grown” is a nice adjective for Parisian bombers which is begrudgingly becoming accepted by the American populace as the sobriquet for the killers there, but it just doesn’t apply here.

This isn’t racism. It’s stupidity.

Another Madowo episode also illustrates this.

Madowo recently visited to the U.S. carrying two really favorite gifts for his Kenyan friends here: Ujimix and Royco Cubes.

Customs agents in San Francisco delayed him unconvinced that they were foods.

“A young black male travelling internationally always raises eyebrows. Traveling while black is to accept indignity, racism and delays because of the colour of your skin, even in a post-Obama world. Those of us village boys who grew up dreaming of faraway cities and now have opportunities to visit are resigned to that ugly downside to it all.”

It’s quite possible that the San Francisco customs agent had never been east of Vegas or north of Monterey. Anything that isn’t labeled “Hamburger Helper” is suspect.

Indeed racism is sustained by ignorance, and ignorance is what I’m talking about here. We’ve got a barrel full of problems in the U.S. as a result of a generation of negligence from a government hamstrung by crazies.

But as we begin to disentangle our rotting fibers to start applying fixes, let’s be clear about what to do. In these cases, it starts with education.

Allegorical Apocalypse

Allegorical Apocalypse

UofSLanguage is society’s most powerful tool, and it’s under siege in South Africa.

The University of Stellenbosch, the country’s “Afrikaans University,” founded in 1866, the bastion of Boer Culture will no longer employ Afrikaans as a predominant instructional language. Advantage: English.

The issue of instructional language in South Africa’s universities has been under constant debate since the end of apartheid. There are 11 official languages in the country. English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Sotho are the primary ones with English dominating.

But Afrikaans has been a close second. The first European settlers of The Cape more than four hundred years ago were from Holland. Afrikaans is derived from Dutch and became the working language of the South African colony.

Afrikaans was the only language of the first two political entities that declared independence, the Transvaal and Orange Free State.

Colonial languages like higher Spanish, old French, classical Portuguese and the King’s English didn’t last long as their colonies rocketed away from them into independence, and Afrikaans morphed from Dutch remarkably fast to become a sophisticated language of an independent new-world people.

Dutch imperial power collapsed very quickly in the 1800s just as the Afrikaans were on the ascent, but Britain stepped right in to take over from the Dutch. Few places in the world were as important as South Africa to emerging world powers whose ships were trading extensively with Asia.

Afrikaans and English became bitter enemies.

The extraordinary brutality that occurred between the competing British and Afrikaans resulted in several outright wars, concentration camps and massacres the likes of which were not seen again until the atrocities of the World Wars.

Nothing like this happened elsewhere in the world, because of course there were many even earlier native peoples living in South Africa before the Afrikaans who, in fact, the Afrikaans oppressed. Afrikaans culture and politics became apartheid.

So in a 180-degree twist in barely a century, the oppressed Afrikaaners became the oppressors.

Almost 7 million of South Africa’s 53 million people are native Afrikaans speakers, way down from just the last two generations. When I first worked in South Africa in the 1980s more than a third of the population was native Afrikaans speakers.

Luister [which means listen] is a documentary film purporting entrenched racism against non-white, non-Afrikaans speaking students at the University of Stellenbosch (UoS), today.

The powerful student protests that have swept across the country this term have been the catalyst for a wide range of rapid changes in South Africa, and it looks like language policy at UofS is one of them.

The proposed changes are more the nail-in-the-coffin than a revolutionary move. The current policy is for dual-language instruction, Afrikaans with English with translators present in lecture halls. That move a few years ago, which abandoned predominant instruction in Afrikaans, was more significant as it presaged what is now happening.

There seems to be enough maturity in the new South Africa for many to realize that Afrikaans is a mature language that needs help if it isn’t to be swallowed up by English. One of the African leaders of one of the country’s most progressive political parties suggested this week that the UoS policy is not so clearly correct.

Even a United Nations agency suggest some introspection.

In this charged political atmosphere I don’t think the university will reverse itself. And clearly, the deeply rooted Boer culture and its Afrikaans language is not going to disappear because of this.

But as a lover of language and all its nuances and beauties, I admit feeling sad that this very prestigious higher institution is sacrificing such an historic identity to the nondescript functionality of a Twitter World.

Basic Burundi

Basic Burundi

BurundiThe conflict in Burundi, as previously in Rwanda, is ethnic, aggravated by horrific colonial rule and current western disinterest.

Unfortunately my position is more aligned with global right wingers than the left-leaning media, which argues forcefully that this is not an ethnic but a political conflict.

On the surface that’s obvious. The current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was out of the country when a coup was staged by a demoted military officer, Godefroid Niyombare, and both are Hutus. Like Rwanda, 85% of the population is Hutu, 15% Tutsi.

Niyombare staged the coup after growing unrest in the capital that followed Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would seek a third term as president in upcoming elections.

The constitution restricts individuals to two terms as president. Nkurunziza contends his first term was not really a term, since he came to power on an agreement that ended a 13-year old violent conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. He argues that since only his second term was from an election, he should be given another election chance.

Niyombare was head of the intelligence service when Nkurunziza announced this, and he publicly opposed it. The president then sacked him.

So, yes, on the surface it seems like it’s Hutu against Hutu.

Dig deeper.

The UN announced several days ago that more than 50,000 refugees were fleeing Burundi: 25,004 to Rwanda, 17,696 to Tanzania and “almost 8,000″ to the South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda and Tanzania are considered friendly to Tutsi, and the DRC friendly to Hutu. Check the numbers. The easiest way to flee the country of Burundi is to cross over to the DRC. There are virtually no formalities on the northern route to Uvira, and more than half of the country’s western side is Lake Tanganyika, an easy crossing west to the DRC.

Why, then, so few refugees into the DRC? And so many into Rwanda and Tanzania?

The answer is obvious. Regardless of the political specifications at the surface of the current conflict, the population fears a genocide against Tutsis.

Burundi and Rwanda were originally a single colony of Germany before World War I. Like all the European colonial powers, Germany considered its mandate one of civilizing a primitive population of inferior people.

Africa colonization was aggressively driven by the private German, French, Belgian, and British businesses that were anxious to exploit the continent’s massive natural resources. European governments, however, were very reluctant to do so, but business required an ordered society and business prevailed over their weary governments.

Soon these four great European powers were competing with one another for more control and influence over the African continent, justifying the enormous cost to European electorates as a humanitarian one, creating civilization from barbarians. All the while European businesses were conducting some of the most unimaginable exploitation of people and resources.

This model for development required the colonizers to determine levels of “civilization.” European powers made public pronouncements of which ethnic groups showed more potential or initiative, and/or greater subservience to colonial oppression. In virtually all cases the local ethnic power was accepted in whatever state the European governments found it at the time colonization began.

In the Burundi/Rwanda area, the Tutsi while only 15% of the population were the most educated and most powerful. Tutsi ruled.

Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the League of Nations divided its massive East African colony between Belgium and Britain.

Britain got what is now Tanzania, and Belgium got what is now Burundi and Rwanda. Belgium governed its area as a single colonial country, Ruandi-Urundi, and soon became the most notorious offender of human rights of the entire colonial period. Read Leopold’s Ghost.

For more than a millennium Hutus and Tutsis shared a single language and most life ways and traditions, and they intermarried frequently. But the Tutsis were always the overlords, and the Hutus were the workers and sometimes, slaves.

For centuries, some suggest two millennia, the minority Tutsi ruled the majority Hutus. More workers were needed than overlords, and whether by design or default as the centuries passed, the population of Hutus grew much faster than Tutsis.

By the time Belgium took over the area after World War I, there were between 5 and 6 times as many Hutu and Tutsi, even though the Tutsi ruled. Some claimed that over the centuries as Tutis numbers declined relative to Hutu, that the Tutsi felt they had to become more and more authoritarian.

World War II ended the colonial era.

Europe had to rebuild itself. There were no resources to continue colonization, despite the continued pressure by businesses to do so. Every colony was put on a fast track for independence.

The easiest way to do this was to further institutionalize the ethnic stratifications that had begun nearly a century before. Belgium decided the best thing to do was to create two countries and encourage the Tutsi to go to one (Burundi) and the Hutu to another (Rwanda).

Burundi was given to a Tutsi clan as a monarchy. In Rwanda, however, Belgium insisted on an election, and guess, what, the Hutus won. (The 1993 genocide changed that and Rwanda has been governed by a single Tutsi dictator ever since.)

But the division was unfair to begin with. Both countries are about the same size, yet the Tutsis were outnumbered by Hutus 5 – 6 to 1. Quite apart from the politics and attempted segregation, it’s not easy to get families and small businesses to leave homelands they’ve occupied for generations.

So essentially ever since independence the area has been in constant turmoil as the Hutu/Tutsi conflict only grows worse, not better. It was historical. It was reenforced and aggravated by colonial policies.

And Bill Clinton’s refusal to intervene and stop the 1993 Rwandan genocide before it was too late recreated the worst of this ethnic divide in the modern era.

I see no end to this ethnic divide. But if Barack Obama recommits the error of Bill Clinton should the situation in Burundi escalate, then once again we will reenforce racism, emasculating the politics that might otherwise be able to mitigate the intense hate.

You’re Not Like Me

You’re Not Like Me

xenophobicviolence“These are dangerous times. Everyone in the city is scared. The sun is about to go down and we fear that there will be a lot more killing and looting tonight. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

The above was written last week by a Congolese in Durban, South Africa, following violent clashes between local Zulu and what the Zulu king called “lice,” the many foreign African residents in the area.

Although actual protests and violence have ebbed, masses of immigrants are leaving South Africa for fear it will start up, again.

“Leave or die,” is how an African immigrant recently characterized his situation.

President Jacob Zuma canceled a foreign trip to “mourn” the victims, the numbers of which will not be published by police for some time but which we can presume are in the thousands.

It is, of course, not just happening in South Africa. Horribly violent youth have run many of Kenya’s long-time Somali residents out of Eastleigh, Nairobi, ostensibly in retribution for al-Shabaab’s terrorists attacks on the country but in reality because the community had engineered such prosperity in Kenya’s highly competitive lower economies.

Anti-immigrant sentiment has been building around the world for several years. Conservative political parties with expressed anti-immigrant sentiment have emerged all over Europe, especially in Greece, France, Denmark and Sweden.

Xenophobia is front and center in American politics, today, ever since an extraordinarily rational “Dream Act” that would have dealt with illegal immigration was blocked by Congressional xenophobes.

“Xenophobia cannot be divorced from the economic life of the masses,” writes a spokesman for the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which is hardly news yet seems to be forgotten each time mass protests like these die down.

South Africa is filled with extremely articulate and imaginative social thinkers, and there is a growing consensus among them that the South African violence represents the beginning of something unordinary and lasting.

“South Africa is a weak link in the global capitalist chain. If the chain breaks, it will do so at its weakest links,” writes Jane Duncan, a professor at the University of Johannesburg.

She cites the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring as run-ups to the current xenophobic violence throughout the world. Those movements based on economy and democracy don’t have the self-sustaining power that xenophobia based on race, has.

So if Prof. Duncan is right, and the mendacious racism inherent in us all eventually breaks capitalism, then what?

The “then what?” is the reason it won’t happen, because there is yet no alternative to global capitalism.

“There is … no social force that has the capacity to subordinate capital to society,” another great South African thinker, Richard Pithouse wrote yesterday. He concludes:

“If we are to avoid a future that is exclusionary and violent… we are going to have to build new social forces.”

Anybody out there have a suggestion?

Between Black & White

Between Black & White

NotYetScottWhite fear of black in America is profound but black fear of white in Africa is even more profound.

Currently of Africa’s 53 countries, only one is being led by a white man, and that came as a great surprise to most in the world, and in fact, to him.

Or did it?

Guy Scott was a close friend for many years of the president of Zambia, Michael Sata, who died early yesterday morning in a London hospital.

Scott’s Ph.D. in agriculture, his birth in Livingstone and his outspoken dedication to remaining essentially unmeaningful except as a symbol gave the former president all sorts of political hedges and foreign notice.

So Sata’s rise to power was never without Scott at his side, and much of Zambia saw this very unusually blended team as just what the country needed four years ago. And so it proved so.

Not because of what Scott brought to the team, but specifically because what he didn’t.

Many vice presidents around the world have no power. It’s a peculiar anomaly of the executive type of democracy that the man designated to replace the dead leader has so little to do or say until that tragic moment comes.

Yet it comes quite often. Presidents of democracies have a very high fatality rate, and not just from assassination. Many don’t achieve the position until they’re quite old and sick. That was the case with Sata, and many wonder if certain Zambians allowed Scott to be put on the ticket as vice president for that very reason.

African executive democracies are almost all much more executive than in America. Each time Sata left the country, he had the power to appoint an acting president, and it was never the white face.

In the last several years Zambia like many African countries has been actively implementing piece by piece a new constitution. Zambia moved faster and faster as Sata got sicker and sicker, but Tuesday the race ended with Sata’s death.

One of the pieces currently up for consideration would eliminate the requirement of the old constitution that limits the president only to persons whose parents were born in Zambia.

Among the reasons this is so contested is because Michael Sata’s son, the very popular current mayor of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, was born to a Sata wife from Malawi.

The mayor, known commonly only by his first name Mulenga (just to avoid muddying the waters), is technically no more eligible than Scott to run for president, but he commands a very powerful political wedge in current Zambian politics.

Scott was born in Zambia in 1944, but his parents were born in Scotland. The Sata/Scott team headed a very popular political party in Zambia, brought to power in no small part because of anti-Chinese sentiment that swept over this fairly industrialized country the last few years.

Chinese investment in Zambia is as intense as anywhere in Africa, but the Chinese ran into hurdle after obstacle when trying to quell the power of Zambian unions.

In his recognized lack of power, Scott often remarked disparagingly about the Chinese as the perfect mouthpiece for his powerful boss. What Scott said was presumed to be what Sata believed, even as Sata negotiated more and more Chinese investment.

They were a perfect team.

The moment Sata died and Scott was confirmed the interim president yesterday, Zambia’s incessant talk of coups heated up:

“…it is a period for the people of Zambia to reflect as to whether this is the kind of constitution we want [or one] that could provide a different scenario all together,” Scott’s African lawyer told the press yesterday in what many consider setting the stage for a herculean political battle.

Sata loved Scott but not so much his son, Mulenga, who hates Scott. The political opposition hates them all, and their leader has already announced he will run for the president.

In my opinion Scott isn’t qualified to be any country’s leader. His crass remarks about Chinese and his oft-stated support for the neighboring and ruthless dictator, Robert Mugabe, disqualify him in my view. He served a cute purpose for a while.

But also in my opinion a white face couldn’t make it yet in any African country. This is where America stands above Africa: Obama may be facing some of the most racist obstacles to governing of any man alive, but he did ascend to highest office.

In Africa, not yet.

Time’s Up, Pat!

Time’s Up, Pat!

RobertsomTimeUpIt’s funny, but it’s not. Yet is this a turning point? White, racist, evangelical attitudes especially towards Africans might really be changing.

For decades, now, we enlightened ones have snickered at the bad jokes and patently racist attitudes of The Right almost to exhaustion. When allies relented and began inviting “opposing viewpoints” onto pubic forums, many of us wondered if the schism was permanent.

The abhorrence of racism became the stuff of comic strips.

Tuesday night CNN’s Anderson Cooper extended comedy into sarcasm and lambasted racist tele-evangelist Pat Robertson like never before.

Robertson is the star of the Christian Broadcasting Network and he had just answered a question on the popular “700 Club” show about ebola. He warned would-be travelers to Africa against using towels there that will infect you with AIDS.

This isn’t a gaff, it’s a simple reflection of a quintessential racist belief that black is evil.

It was hardly Robertson’s first time at it. Last year he actually claimed that gays in San Francisco wear evil little pointed rings so that when you shake their hand they can infect you with AIDS, which he called “their stuff.”

Apparently the attention to the ebola controversy breaks the threshold of cartoon tolerance of racism. Robertson’s network apologized for this remark the next day, although he never has.

No apology was ever made for the gay ring remark.

What struck me as particularly important this time was how Africa reacted. Like many of us before, Africans tend to shrug off racist attitudes as something held by bumptious uncles. Inured to the point of frustration, the general viewpoint has been that most of these attitudes will die out with the current generation.

In fact Robertson’s remarks got little attention in the African media until Cooper flayed them.

Now, for the third straight day running, it’s the most popular story in the Kenyan media.

Take that link above and scroll down to the local comments. Here are a few of my favorites:

“You can contract the sometimes incurable disease of ignorance if you listen to the likes of 700 club.” – Melissa Wainaina

“Sorry, dear Kenyans, but that’s America (USA). They don’t know there anything about other countries.” – Hanna

“Can one get aids from Towels in America? … This is ignorance and racist mixed into a potent mix.” – cbertmann

The irony is that Pat Robertson probably has a larger following per capita in Kenya than in the U.S. “What is more sad is that this guy has a huge following in Kenya,’ Shazam3535 reminded readers.

That’s because Kenyans are far more religious than Americans. Kenyans are also, in my opinion, far more tribal and therefore actually more racist than Americans, although their racism is black-on-black more than black-on-white.

Racism is racism, though, and it’s heartening reading these comments to recognize what might be a new awareness that religious evangelism provokes if not causes racism.

Are the times really changing?

We’re All Guilty

We’re All Guilty

pistoriusWhether Oscar Pistorius intentionally murdered his girlfriend or not, better than anyone he embodies the deep racism in many South African whites.

That’s hard for me to say, for two reasons in particular. First, I don’t think anyone anywhere is completely free of racism. Second, I personally know several white South Africans who eclipse Rev. Al Sharpton politically and socially.

And there are many, many more – perhaps a majority in some places like The Cape – who are far less racist than a random community in Texas.

But what the world is seeing in Oscar Pistorius’ life trial is a perfect reflection of racism.

If he is the premeditated murderer the prosecution contends, the anger that fueled such action followed by an attempt to disguise it as a reflexive response to a presumed home invader, is about two millimeters if that apart from Florida’s stand-your-ground laws.

And that, my friends, is racism through and through.

Yes, he’s also a murderer then as well, but my point is to show how deep and pervasive racism among some whites still is.

If on the other hand his self-defense defense isn’t a gimmick, but for real, that also reveals a trigger-happy mentality to shoot anything black in the dark.

I really have no sense whether Pistorius is guilty or not. My friends in South Africa are split, as I expect many friends and acquaintances of the growing number of self-defense accused in Florida are.

And South Africa, I believe, is trying to deal with racism a lot better than Florida is.

The South African Human Rights Commission is one of the best and most efficient mediators of racism on earth, a stand-out in a country built on such stellar principles, that is today in other respects breaking up miserably.

The commission reports of 10,000 cases it investigates annually, 80% are of racism.

Bad actions driven by racism are terribly tragic. They often reveal the schizoid nature of an individual who is racist, pitting a loving soul against a hating one, in the same body.

We like to think the loving soul will be the stronger, but it often isn’t.

Racism doesn’t begin willfully. Ending it requires great will, but the point at which someone’s behavior is governed by racism is not a conscious choice.

Their family, their community, their schools all contribute to creating a mind-set that makes judgments reflexively. Moments of life-and-death push racism to its extreme, because in such instants it’s hard to reflect carefully.

So whatever the Pistorius outcome is, it will likely be as incomplete and unsatisfying as the outcome of the George Zimmerman case. And guilt will never surely be known except for one thing:

The actions and the outcomes were determined no more by facts than racism.

Send Speelman to Sochi!

Send Speelman to Sochi!

speelmanHelp a black native South African kid go to the Olympics. Sive Speelman qualified and was invited by the IOC to Sochi, but an antiquated racist quasi-government authority has forbid him from going.

Invictus no more.

Nine mostly fat old South African men and only three women, most incapable of croquet, issued a finding last week that Speelman was not good enough to represent their country, noting that he’s ranked 2,290th in the world of skiers.

(I’m ranked 5,497,213,455th. By the way, I would like to point out that the composition of SASCOC with only three women violates the gender equality clause of the South African constitution.)

Click here to sign the petition that at the very least will embarrass SASCOC. And who knows, if enough of you sign, perhaps Speelman will be set free.

And support the kid: like him on his Facebook page.

Here’s the thing, South Africa. The Olympics is not just about winning. It’s about competing, and Sive Speelman can ski circles around your martinis.

Speelman is an 18-year old native South African who actually learned skiing and trained as a skier in South Africa, and that’s not easy. He would have been one of only 7 African contenders at Sochi, (which is terrible by the way).

And of the remaining 6, Speelman would have been one of only two (!) who are truly through-and-through African!

Only 17-year old Kenza Tazi of Morocco was born and lives in Africa (although she trains in France and spends a lot of time, there). Mathilde Petitjean Amivi (Togo) was born in Niger and lives in France.

Adam Lamhamedi (for Morocco) was born and lives in Canada. Mehdi Selim Khelifi (Algeria) was born and lives in France. Alessia Afi Dipol (Togo) was born and lives in Italy.

And 21-year old Luke Steyn, the only real contender, was born in Zimbabwe but has lived virtually all of us life abroad and is currently a student at the University of Colorado.

Speelman was born, raised, continues to live and train in the far eastern Cape, one of the few places in South Africa where there is regularly enough snow to ski.

“Any other nation in the world would jump at that opportunity and I’m as puzzled as many people are… It’s just sad,” Snow Sport SA president Peter Pilz said.

“It has devastated him,” said his coach.

South Africans of all races are sports crazy. But this is even crazier. This is when winning becomes everything, when bucking the odds is tantamount to failure.

And this will be lasting. It changes forever how the world will think of South Africa, now. No longer a toughie, the image has become one of lack of self-confidence, the little guy who will never get better and so just sits in the corner, whines and refuses to compete.

The fear of loss trumps the best there is.

Just as the ANC seems to be finally evaporating from the scene, so will the latent racism that even shackled blacks carry, today, in South Africa, dissipate. This kid was born after South African independence.

He deserves more. And apparently his home country won’t give it to him.

As Africa Sees The Dream

As Africa Sees The Dream

AsAfricaSeesTheDream“Tens of thousands” gathered in Washington, a fraction of the original march fifty years ago. In Africa it was hardly noticed. Why only a sputter, now?

The answer may be the same in Africa as here at home. National spirits have been whipped to death by the Great Global Recession and the Right’s successful control of its recovery.

King’s Legacy when compared to the struggles in Africa seems unfulfilled if now not outright desperate.

Obama’s first election in 2008 was a time when Martin Luther King was evoked almost daily in the African press. Even before Obama’s election, Africans began constructing King’s legacy as leading directly to Obama’s accession:

Kenyan scholar, Jerry Okungu writing on the 40th anniversary of King’s death as Obama’s elections were being excitedly anticipated, called King “first among equals” in civil rights movements for “Americans and indeed the world.

“Many Africans at the time got inspiration from King’s movement as freedom fighters in Africa,” Okungu continued.

But today?

Almost nothing. As Obama has seemed to sputter out, so has the King Legacy:

The more important fiftieth anniversary is being reported and analyzed only as republications of global news services reports.

Searches I made in major newspapers and journals throughout sub-Saharan Africa turned up little to nothing.

Only the Times of South Africa (Live edition) and South Africa’s main television network carried more than a single story.

But those two outlets do provide some explanation for the weak interest throughout Africa:

“Despite big gains politically and in education,” Times Live reports, “far more needs to be done to achieve the colour-blind society that King envisioned.”

In the second filing, Times Live explains that one of the great accomplishments of the 1963 March was the Voting Rights Act, and now, “The future of that law has been called into question [by] the US Supreme Court.”

That same story continues, “[Black American’s] 12.6% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July was double the national figure.”

South Africa’s state-owned and largest television network had a correspondent at the rally, and she reported, “Social and economic gaps between whites and African-Americans have only widened over the last five decades.”

She ended her single story filing: “nowhere is [the] commemoration felt more accurately than in Washington DC itself which is still a deeply segregated city.”

South Africa, in particular, is not even a generation from its significant revolution that ended apartheid and created a fabulous new constitution for the modern age.

America is seen as dragging its feet as it bumbles its way socially into the modern age. I don’t think there’s any disrespect at all for Dr. King, quite to the contrary.

But when seen through African eyes – particularly South African – the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., is one at best a tragically unfinished and stretched out story. One, in fact, that is being rolled backwards, not forwards.

Africans are extremely polite and remarkably restrained especially when it comes to criticizing good will that’s just not working.

That, in my opinion, is how enlightened Africans saw this weekend’s march. “A dream is a wish your heart makes” but that the body America can’t quite accomplish.