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From My Side of the Street: Why I Don’t Celebrate The Fourth of July

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Today a couple of people here in Mauritius wished me a Happy Fourth of July.I realize they meant no harm.But as an African American I don’t celebrate the 4th except to take advantage of some barbecue chicken and sweet lemonade  if nearby and offered. The Fourth for me is just another work day.Or if falling on a Sunday like today, just another day to reflectively craft Faith and Justice Sunday Conversations.

As an African American expatriate, I am often the object or subject of criticism about American imperialism  and other historically predominantly White  American   government domestic and international injustices by those who view the States and indeed the West in oversimplified homogeneous reified  terms presuming all of us are  from the same side of the street. I have to remind them of the need for perspective when addressing their criticisms of America and my fellow American citizens to me.

I am a proud patriotic American though from the other side of the street. My diverse ancestors came over from Africa in chains against their will as well as were   indigenous peoples in North America whose centuries long  lands were torn from them and  were by and large internally colonized when not  exterminated. No one in my bloodline came over on the Mayflower or had a say in the writing of the U.S. Constitution or had a seat in the 1776 Constitutional Convention.  We Black folks in the prose of the Constitution are viewed as partial property not as human beings; a point that even African American originalist Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and  Supreme Court  Associate Justice Amy Barrett with her adopted Black kids just don’t get.

My ancestors and the  dehumanized populations and communities from which they originated fought and shed blood   in  virtually every internal and international war since colonial times only to have their rights and heroic deeds ignored and rarely acknowledged and apologized for years later. My maternal grandfather was gassed in World War I and with his entire extended family was horribly victimized in the barely nationally recognized 1919 Elaine,Arkansas Massacre  as a sadistic welcome back home  which viciously forced them to leave and resettle north in Rochester, New York,with him becoming a deeply troubled drifter for much of  the rest of his life. So no, I don’t celebrate this day.

In  2008 while celebrating the US Presidential election returns,my liberal  White male colleagues gloated  over email about the election of Senator Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States  as if he had to have their permission to rise,I silently wept for my dementia ridden Dad.Dad, who could not vote in 2008 for Obama  was  a World War II veteran who never made it too far in military and in civilian life who died a year later after Obama was elected .He was so disappointed in himself due to how insidious racism deprived him of deserved adult manhood; a life story he persistently said to me as his growing up  son hoping such denial of dignity would not happen to me. 

So no, in memory of my humanity denied father  whose father whose name I proudly inherited  had to in 1926  flee for his life  from Mississippi to Rome, New York due to  refusing to give a White neighbor his hog and  for the sake of my 97 year old  Mom whose mother  as more than likely tormented 18 year old  who lived to be 100 never mentioning the terror she fled from brought,brought her up from Elaine  to Rochester,New York as an infant from that mass killing horror. So no I don’t celebrate this Independence Day  for a nation still in need of repentance  , human restoration,and reparations for the deep structural and emotional evil done though denied or too cosmetically recognized  to millions of Indigenous African, Asian,  and Latino  American citizens .So no I won’t celebrate today.

To be African American like any other Non-White citizen no matter how deep your roots are, since you are not White, your citizenship always has a big question mark behind it because in America being a citizen like celebrating the Fourth is in the national culture for White folks only. It is why both at home and abroad , it is not unusual for me to be asked what country I am from or when I say I am African American to be asked when did I immigrate to the States. Be it being of  Indigenous,African, Asian, or Latino descent you are always suspect of not being American in every day life.It is the reason why Trump while President and the right wing as well as innocent naive progressive Americans  asking awkward inappropriate questions have been so effective  in insulting Non-White American citizens in creating the impression that we are all suspect of not being real citizens or if so, we just arrived. Remember the questioning of President  Obama’s ancestry by Trump and others?

And need I add the all White myth of American citizenship is an imperialistic , colonial, and Cold War construct  distributed  historically abroad by a lilly-white State Department, diplomatic corps, and corporate business and media establishment ?This spells ambiguity, surprise, stares , and confusion when you are a Non-White American citizen living   abroad since you are not White and thus can be viewed by foreigners as being less than American with unpleasant consequences. Or among more enlightened foreigners who understand the plural histories of insidious racism in America, being a Non-White American can be a great advantage unless you are subjected to stereotypes such as assuming that because you are Black you must be an activist if not a radical for justice and must know all the Black  movies, preachers, songs and we all  can sing and dance too and of course we all came from poor crime infested urban  ghettos or super rich American families. 

So why should I celebrate a day of independence when Americans who come from my side of the street  are far from free and daily vulnerable to police brutality and daily slights such as being the CEO being presumed to be the waitress in the cocktail party even while wearing your blue power suit or  insulted by a 5 or  20 year old insisting on calling you by your first name though he or she could be your grandson or granddaughter? Why should I consume my bar b que washed down with sweet lemonade today in Independence Day celebration when America remains a land disproportionately deeply divided racially when it comes to who tends to be the most unhealthy, the most unemployed, the most incarcerated,and the most uneducated with the most crime ridden drug infested streets while governments  and civil society institutions of all levels seem impotent about what to do  more than a minute little without being ” controversial or socialist”while knowing what to do like a knee jerk reaction  when it comes to generously subsidizing the disproportionately White rural and urban classes? So, no, I don’t celebrate this day.

  We are a little better off since Frederick Douglass 1852 Fourth Speech every person at home or globally concerned about transparency about American hypocrisy about who is really free and who is really still a slave should read. Just a little better off but not much when you view the eggs we must walk on when addressing insidious racism in American institutions and public culture still requiring African Americans and other Non-Whites who wish to make it, to deny who they really are and to water down or evade or deny needed difficult conversations and authentic structural, political, and economic transformations. I was reminded of this just the other day as old as I am when a White male American university administrator  around my age felt comfortable enough in his racist arrogance to deny me a contract using the most blatant racist tactics as if I was  some stupid teenager or his stooping butler.So as much as there is all this post-George Floyd protest and Joe Biden talk about racial justice don’t mistake the smoke for the fire.This is still very much America and will remain so if we continue to care more about the treatment and quality of food standards for  our dogs and cats than the humanity of all American citizens no matter who we are or how we got here, the color of our skins, and the accents in our voices. Until then, no, I will not celebrate this day since too many of us are not free, are dependent rather than independent not always due to our actions but due to the oligarchal and hegemonic  racial and gendered hierarchies designed and instutionalized to assure most of us who on this side of the street remain pushed and pressed down, excluded , and at best have marginalized opportunities for decent mobility and quality of life.

So it remains delusional, indeed , unethical ,for me to celebrate the independence of a nation which still chains  people on my side of the street, lynches people on my side of the street , impoverishes people on my side of the street  , and tosses crumbs at people  on my side of the street  at will with expectations  we should grin and be thankful.When all of us are really free and are all given the respect all citizens deserve to have and then and only then will I celebrate. 

That I don’t celebrate the Fourth is not out of anger or unforgiveness. It is actually quite the opposite.It comes from the perspective that  I understand my  beloved country with its warts and paradoxes and try from my obscure corner in the universe  to assist in the birth of a more equitable American future which requires that we confront and discard delusional  myths about justice and equality which inhibit and damage us in image and in reality both domestically and globally.We Americans can; indeed must  become much better than the delusions of  freedom and equality we don’t practice as fully as we should. We as a nation are beginning to out grow indifference if not actual  tolerance for the domestic terrorism which for too long allowed insidious racism to openly reign. The civil society push back during and after the Trump years indicated how much the American electorate and key institutional sectors such as business, higher education, media,  professional associations,and private foundations have no preference for white nationalism . But we must do much more than lip service and marginal symbolic institutional things and rituals and engage in the difficult conversations and actions to create the sustainable multicultural democracy we deserve to have and can do.Otherwise, really, honestly besides the bar b que and sweet lemonade, why celebrate a day which is nothing more than hollow brass?

Director Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas ( ASARPI) SSR Chair of African Studies University of Mauritius

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Americas

Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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