The US elections (and their aftermath), covered as we do African elections

mohamed el dahshan. economist, writer, speaker, compulsive traveller.

Had to be done (actually surprised it hasn’t already):

Writing about the latest US elections like US media writes about African countries.

eddie-murphy

**COUNTRY CRISIS WATCH** [insert CNN “breaking news” type of jingle]

The US of A, a nation located in the center of the North American continent, is shaken by its latest electoral results, which threaten the weak racial equilibrium the nation has painstakingly built since the abolition of racial segregation, a mere half a century ago, thus heralding a fresh round of racial tensions and social instability.

Donald Trump, a local TV star and known megalomaniac who has repeatably admitted to sexual assault and is known for exotic hairdos and inexplicably poor vocabulary, has risen to unlikely prominence on the back of a populist wave, which saw him make unattainable promises to the large swathes of the population reeling from economic difficulties, blaming them on local minorities and foreign trade…

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Of Course Poppies are Political

The Disorder Of Things

As we approach Armistice Day, which comemmorates the end of World War One, the British media is awash with the usual froth about poppies: the badges sold by a veterans’ group, the Royal British Legion, to raise funds for veterans and their families. This year’s poppy-outrage story is that FIFA has banned British footballers from wearing poppy armbands at this weekend’s matches on the grounds that they are political symbols. The plucky English Football Association plans to defy the ban. FIFA is wrong to ban the armbands, but only because bans on freedom of expression should be opposed in whatever form. But they are, of course, entirely right that the poppy is a political symbol.

poppyappeal261002

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Against the New Phrenology: De-Pathologizing Trumpism

The Disorder Of Things

This is a guest post by Dan Boscov-Ellen. Dan is a Ph.Dprofile. student in Philosophy at the New School for Social Research and a Visiting Instructor in Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute. His dissertation research involves exploring the political-philosophical implications of capitalist ecological crisis.


One of the most persistent refrains of the US Presidential election has been that of liberal incredulity at the idiocy of Trump voters. Depending on the current status of Nate Silver’s election forecasts, this tends to manifest either as amusement (perhaps chuckling at a Daily Show interview of deluded rally attendees or a screening of Idiocracy), or as disgust and horror (perhaps soberly staring into one’s craft IPA when the debate watch party gets too real). How, liberals wonder, could anyone vote for Cheeto™ Hitler?

But of course they do not wonder too hard – it is obvious to most…

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A Few Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

I was just thinking about this “cultural appropriation” thing lately. It’s not something I know much about. I have used the verb “to appropriate” in my own writing to refer to Africans taking, borrowing, adapting, and altering cultural objects from Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. The plastic beads worn by the Masaai are imported from Europe, and some of the foods we think of as African staples (bananas, for example) are New World crops.

But I don’t think that’s what people are talking about in more recent discussions of “cultural appropriation.” I was using the word to refer to a kind of organic evolution of cultures blending – with one taking something from another and “appropriating” it for their own uses, almost how languages appropriate and borrow words from each other.

In these newer conversations, I think people are talking either about stealing an idea from a particular community, usually one that has historically been disadvantaged or oppressed, or objectifying members of that community and treating their identity as a plaything. Personally, I view the latter as objectification rather than appropriation, but that’s probably just semantics.

I think “problematic” is a perfectly sensible word to use when describing said stealing or objectification.

But wait – why isn’t Mary Poppins singled out for cultural appropriation?

Well, this is probably a question of whether Dick Van Dyke, putting on an English accent, is racist. But I don’t think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is any more “cultural appropriation” than Laurence Olivier in Othello. Those are both problematic in different ways (IMHO). Personally I think they would have been better just letting Dick be American and Laurence be white.

The difference is, there is no history of Americans enslaving, colonizing, segregating, and otherwise telling British people that they are naturally inferior to white Americans. There is no history of British people in America being refused the right to vote and, in the same era, having to endure zillions of popular plays and movies where Americans put on phony British accents and pretended to be British people in order to make fun of how stupid and lazy and inferior they were. If such a history were to exist, then Mary Poppins would be extremely “problematic.” And racist.

But Mary Poppins is also different from Othello because of demographics. I’m sure there are plenty of Black actors that would have liked to play Othello. But even today, we can’t seem to bring ourselves to have black heroes be played by black actors. That is problematic. You wouldn’t have a sixteen year old girl play an elderly man in a movie, for example. Why would you do that? It doesn’t make sense.

Here’s John Oliver on the whitewashing of Hollywood.

The bottom line, I think, IMHO, is that it boils down to what’s behind it. Is it objectifying people? Is it taking a style that you did not invent and passing it off as your own? Or is it a fair creative exchange based on mutual respect? Is it a cartoon character you’re playing, or do you really deep down appreciate the art or style because you empathize with that community?

Let me leave you with three short videos and two articles to help you contemplate this. And then hopefully it will be a bit clearer why, for example, I think Dick Van Dyke and Miley Cyrus are not doing the same thing.

New York Fashion Week

Here’s what it looks like when cultural appropriation is done right

Cultural appropriation vs. appreciation

This article made it painfully clear what was wrong with Cyrus’ VMA performance in 2013, and I highly recommend this as well.

Happy reading!

C.

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So, Which Is It?

It's Fine.

I’m scared to post this. I’m afraid of alienating people I love, people I interact with on a daily basis, people whose friendships I value. I wouldn’t say this if it hadn’t been weighing heavy, like a 50 pound weight on my tongue every time I open my mouth to say something and stop before it comes out because I don’t want to stir the pot. I don’t want anyone to be mad at me. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I can’t, in good conscience, do that anymore.

I live with a certain degree of privilege. Monetary privilege? Not so much. But social privilege? Absolutely. I am part of a demographic that is perceived as the LEAST THREATENING to society. I’m a White Lady. Further, I’m a Southern White Lady. Still further, I’m a Heterosexual, Cis-Gender, Southern White Lady who Happens to be the Married Mother of Two…

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Why Ugandan Rights Activists Are Talking About Trafficking

Human trafficking is one of the most serious human rights abuses in the world, yet also one of the most underreported. That’s why Ugandan rights activists are trying to break the silence and draw more attention to this crime.

The past couple of years in particular have seen some high profile cases of the trafficking of Ugandan women to the Middle East. Just over a year ago, a 33-year-old Ugandan woman named Flora Ritah Zawedde Nanteza, who had been working as a housekeeper in Dubai, died of a heart attack in a prison hospital. She was not a criminal, but the victim of a system called Kafala in which migrant workers are subject to draconian restrictions that essentially render them indentured servants of their employers – often referred to as “sponsors.”

Yaskin Kakande explains that when Flora couldn’t bear to live in her sponsor’s home in Dubai anymore, “she decided to go out on her own and look for a job elsewhere. The sponsor lodged a complaint and she was registered as a runway, thus becoming wanted by authorities.” Kakande describes several other cases of African labor migrants being abused and even killed by their employers, who are usually acquitted of any crime.

Later that year, another body was returned to Uganda, with Dubai authorities stating that this housekeeper had also died of a heart attack. On a Ugandan radio program, Kakande discussed the conflicting reports of the Dubai and Uganda authorities with a labor recruiting agent. The Ugandan hospital found signs of torture and abuse, but no evidence of the heart attack that the Dubai medical report claimed killed her. Kakande writes, “The recruiting agent accused me of trying to pull down the ladder of mobility that had granted me prosperity, as I cautioned Ugandans about seeking jobs in Dubai. I responded, explaining the trafficking in Dubai was no different than slavery, and the work of recruiting agents was no different than the middlemen of slavery in past history.”

Mayambala Wafrika, Chairperson of the Justice for African Workers campaign, also likened the employment agencies’ activities to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He told me by email that one girl currently being held in a house in Saudi Arabia against her will “approached our group for assistance… The agents from Uganda who transported her sold her to a Saudi company called [the] Besher Recruiting Agency. Besher confiscated her travel documents including her passport, and forced her to work without any formal contract. She first worked in 4 houses without pay but kept on running away due to inhumane conditions. A Saudi family later bought her from the agency at a cost of 16,000 Saudi riyals (around $4,200)…  they essentially become property of the agency they are sold to.”

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Press conference on trafficking at the Ugandan Parliament, August 2016. Left to right: Bruhan Byaruhanga, Councillor of Kampala City Council Authority; Mayambala Wafrika, Chairperson, Justice for African Workers campaign; Hon. Herbert Kabafunzaki, Minister of Labour; and Ronald Nsubuga, Partner, R. Nsubuga & Co. Advocates. Photo: Doreen Assimwe.

For its part, Uganda, which ranked as a tier 2 country in the US State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons report, banned its citizens from seeking employment in Saudi Arabia six months after having signed a memorandum of understanding allowing Ugandans to migrate there for work. Uganda has also established a National Counter-Human Trafficking Taskforce, which works with an anti-trafficking civil society coalition and, according to Linda Kabuzire, “has conducted training programs, created public awareness materials, held pre-departure information briefings for intending migrants, drafted guidelines on victim care for investigators, and is designing a national database in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration for sex and labor trafficking statistics.”

These are positive steps, but the challenges are immense and the trafficking of African labor migrants to the Middle East is just one aspect of a much bigger picture. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking victims from at least 153 countries were detected in 124 countries between 2010 and 2012. The United Nations’ conservative estimate is that about 2.5 million people in 2015 were trapped in some kind of forced labor or indentured servitude. It is a diverse crime, encompassing everything from child prostitution — in the United States as well as central Africa — to laborers on agricultural plantations. These abuses are all part of the same global phenomena that objectify women, children, and poor people and take advantage of their low or second-class status; particularly when they are migrants.

The employment agencies that recruit Ugandan women are well known by name, but thus far no actions have been taken against them: “The international community is strangely silent,” Wafrika remarked. In order to combat these crimes, he says, the international community should take decisive action not just through the United Nations but also through institutions such as Interpol and the International Criminal Court — potentially invoking long-established legal frameworks such as universal jurisdiction and jus cogens.

One thing is certain — and that is that while many individual states have implemented strong anti-trafficking policies and programs, governments around the world will have to amp up their efforts to work together in order to make significant improvements.

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Deafening Silence: White Silence and Alton Sterling

Form Follows Function

I want to start by being very specific about who I am talking to; this post is meant for people who look like me, those of us with white skin.

Many of you woke up this morning and heard the news about Alton Sterling, the 37 year old man who was shot and killed by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The sickening feeling in your stomach probably hit you hard as you watched the cell phone footage of a police officer charging and tackling Sterling to the ground. You knew what was coming next. And, within seconds you saw it: the police officer mounts Sterling like a UFC fighter. There is no confrontation. No struggle. Sterling is subdued and then another officer yells “Gun. Gun.” The officer on top of Sterling pulls his gun and within seconds fires multiple rounds killing Alton Sterling.

This morning my Facebook feed…

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