Getting Fooled Again

Fascism has long been a favorite political football on the American left. So much so that even as high school students in Boise, Idaho, we knew fascists (and The Government!) were responsible for most of the world’s ills.

What does it mean, though, when the world’s two largest democracies are confronting rising fascist movements? When the Republican frontrunner in the 2016 elections in the United States is amassing ever more credible fascist bona fides? And when the voting public of the United States is so ignorant of the world beyond its borders that it remains — largely — placidly unaware of some deep analogies between our current election and the Indian election of 2014?

Is the current Indian Prime Minister a fascist? Could the future American President be?

It’s past time that those of us who are citizens (and permanent residents) of the United States confront the bases of our privilege. How long can we prop up totalitarianism in Rwanda? Back a coup in Honduras that subsequently leads to the installation of a murderous regime operating in the name of transnational capital? Support Erdogan’s increasingly repressive government in Turkey? Maintain our blood ties to the Saudis and the state of Israel? And remain silent on the rising tide of intolerance sweeping India (increasingly, our most important strategic ally in Asia)?

How long, and not expect the chickens to come home to roost? We should probably all be reading Chalmers Johnson now, at very least. Or, better yet, be going straight to the sources. Berta Cáceres is dead, murdered by hitmen of that same U.S.-backed Honduran government, but before her death, she left behind some inconvenient and unsettling words for the millions of North Americans taking solace in the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

I support the idea of our first female president, as I support the reality of our first black president. I don’t support political assassination of environmental activists, or a never-ending drone war with 90% civilian “collateral damage” as its prime deliverable.

If I don’t idolize Beyoncé, I certainly admire her. But Beyoncé does not get a free pass on cultural appropriation/Orientalism any more than Chris Martin and Coldplay do.

I love Kendrick Lamar’s music. But it’s about time he stopped being so sexist. And when I hear him say: “What did the Asian say?” on Untitled Unmastered, I think: “Kendrick, you’re acting like all the other idiots.”

Then he pivots to: “What did the Indian say?” For a second, I think: “Maybe he’s not going to reduce all of Asia to one stereotype after all.” But by then he’s already moved on to reducing all of the indigenous people of the Americas to another.

I mean, do your homework, please. Don’t tell me you went to Robben Island and had a moment, and then come back with these stale clichés, please. Think, please. And beyond the borders of the United States, please. And don’t tell me that all of Africa is Compton, please, because, frankly, you got that one backwards, and a billion-plus people in Africa know it.

Maybe it’s time we stopped looking to pop stars for our politics, or at least held them to a higher standard. So, pop stars, please: Stop advancing the United States’ cultural, economic, and military imperialism, and pretending it has anything to do with anything other than fame and profit, let alone with justice.

Why can’t we travel outside New York (and a small subset of other major cities) in the United States without our first encounter with a stranger invariably resulting in someone asking Neelu where she’s from? No, where are you really from? No, I mean, where’s your heritage? You look so ethnic. I love ethnicities, you know.

It happened again this past weekend, this time in Nashville. I will spare the aspiring music producer the embarrassment of a call out by name, but he assured us that he had lived in Europe, and in Hawaii, and that he especially loved Samoan women. Then he mimed their curves.

I was close to violence, or at least a violent outburst, but it was not worth compromising our weekend together, or making Neelu more uncomfortable than she already was. Besides, she was fully capable of fielding his inanity, which she did. And I should know better — that violence is not the answer, education is.

In that spirit, in the future, I’ll be volunteering the fascinating story of my own ethnic heritage to any and all comers who feel compelled to inquire after hers:

My father’s father’s side of my family is Irish through and through. They came to New York during the potato famine, and have stayed, for more than 150 years, mostly in and around the City. My mother’s family hails from Bavaria. Her great-grandfather left Germany during the hard-scrabble times of the interwar years — bear in mind, I’m making some of this up as I go — and spent time in Argentina (as so many German expatriots would after him) before arriving in the United States, and settling in Upstate New York. There, my great-grandmother joined him.

On my father’s mother’s side, we are at least part Dutch. According to some family lore, I am also — on that branch — 1/16 or 1/32 Creek. Maybe it’s true. Or maybe it’s more of the same — assimilated European Americans looking to identify as anything other than white, and finding appropriating indigenous cultures convenient to that end.

As for the 1% that I haven’t accounted for, Hari Kondabolu has it covered. You might have to dig a little though.

A friend, whom I respect deeply; whose life I see as a model for how we can be citizens of the United States, but still think beyond its borders; how we can confront the challenges of immigration and assimilation, while still maintaining our commitment to globalism and difference; how we can view our lives, our communities, our countries, this radiant moment in history as worth fighting to better — this friend sent me an article, Black Study, Black Struggle. Up to you to spend some time with it if you care to, but given my current preoccupations, I found it worth the read.

It’s time that we all started asking some hard questions. No matter who wins the election in November, the United States is unlikely to be in terribly trustworthy hands.

Does anyone remember the Hope and Change we could believe in? Barack Obama inherited a mess. He leaves behind, in many respects, much less of one; however, we need look no further than Flint, Detroit, Newark, Porter Ranch, Seneca Lake, Waller County, Ferguson, Guantanamo Bay, the territory controlled by the Islamic State… to be certain that the Change that millions of Americans so fervently hoped for never arrived.

It’s time that we made a cold assessment of our collective politics, and started thinking about what we can do as individuals, communities, and movements to shape a better world. It’s time we ended our political amnesia.

Sure, stop Trump. And yes, keep feeling the Bern. But, by all means, let’s not get fooled again.