They go around like ghosts, this
must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists,
because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it.
-Jose Saramago, Blindness
“There can be no doubt that
Saddam Hussein has biological weapons.” This is the former
Secretary of State, Colin Powell, speaking before the world at a
session of the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003. America,
according to Powell’s “evidence,” was justified in
its decision to invade Iraq, scheduled for the following month.
Powell is effective. The “Black
Hawks” are ready. The US invades. The “Shock and Awe”
campaign that begins in a grand-scale lie, proclaiming to bring
“freedom” to the Iraqis, becomes a windfall of profit for
the likes of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing.
I remember the world, including
citizens in the US, in the streets protesting the idea of invading
Iraq - and protesting, most of all, the loss of lives for the sake of
profits for warmongering-manufacturers.
I didn’t hear General Powell’s
words or see him behind that table with his charts and graphs
defending the war until sometime later when I returned home from a
year of teaching in Ethiopia. When the vote to invade Iraq occurred
in September 2002, I was just days from boarding the first plane to
Europe, on the way to Addis Ababa. I knew from hearing the human buzz
that the world was protesting, and I never expected the war would
take place. Although I should have realized that opposition to mass
murder would mean little to the corporations depending on war for
In Ethiopia, the US Embassy’s
ambassador ordered Americans to stay home. At least four days! Stay
home! The Iraqi War had become a reality. There were weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) on full display for the world to see. But for me,
all the events leading up to the first bomb to dropped over Baghdad
on the first night of “Shock and Awe” were and still
represent a blind spot.
It’s the closest I’ve
come to living without knowing what was happening beyond the four
walls of my home within a privately-own family compound. For four
days, I listened to the women outside my door cleaning and cooking
for the older couple owners of the compound, not understanding a word
of their conversation. On the fifth day, I took my chances in a
country divided between Orthodox Christians and Muslims, with the
latter outnumbering the former by a small margin at the time, and
took a bus about ten blocks to an Ethiopian hotel on Haile Selassie
Boulevard that tended to cater to expatriates from everywhere,
visitors from everywhere, and middle-classed Ethiopians.
The hotel would have a television
And it would also have visitors to
Addis Ababa, expatriates working in the city, and Ethiopians all with
the same idea of catching the news for a view of the war, in this
case, presented by CNN
INTERNATIONAL. If I
hadn’t known any better, I would have thought the presentation
was that of aircraft companies competing to sell us, gathered in that
small hotel lobby, fancy weapon-packed helicopters and drones, given
the animation, itself crafted to support an authoritarian voice in
the business of assuring potential buyers that these flying weapons
were quite capable of annihilating whatever its “smart-tech”
I was the only American in the room.
I doubt if anyone in the crowd of mostly men surrounding the
television screen noticed me. It was quiet, except for an
all-too-familiar authoritarian male voice selling what dominated the
screen. Maybe I had coffee. Whatever it was, I decided I had had
enough. As a fifty-year-old Black woman at the time, I knew without
having experienced it all first hand, the capabilities of the US’s
law and military forces. I left the hotel as quietly as I had
entered. Nothing about that moment I stepped back out onto Haile
Selassie Boulevard seemed normal. Everyone seemed to go about their
business, but I felt invisible to the living beings around me. I was
walking, having decided to forgo a crowd shoulder-to-shoulder bus
ride. I was watching and seeing women and men, most in their
traditional Christian white and others in their colorful head and
I could hear them as usual and not
recognize anything that had become familiar by then six months
in-county; and yet, I felt as if I had never seen anything walking
beside and ahead of me.
Today, I think of the blind spot
covering some very significant events and that feeling of being out
of it, and I wonder, who are these people who inform me that they
have no interests in “politics”? They don’t “talk
politics.” And they mean that they don’t even watch the
Foxhole news (no offense to foxes). People don’t watch the
news. They don’t read the newspapers.
I don’t get involved in
And yet, every American is
involved in politics! Taxes, in part, paid for the war in Iraq, It’s
still paying for the destruction of land and resources, homes, and
wedding receptions where women and children reside, most with no
interest in finding themselves dead for sleeping or for marrying
someone. There are children here in the US with no interest in going
to bed having only drunk juice and eaten a slice of bread if they are
lucky. There are children here in the US with no interest in playing
on ground that is covered in shards of glass.
And that’s all “politics”
- as in politically determined as to what group of people are granted
privilege and what other groups are understood to be less than, who
is designated as “immigrant” in a country of immigrants
unless an Indigenous or a descendant of enslaved African Americans.
How many have died within US borders and without in the time it takes
for someone to inform me, always smugly, that they had no interests
in keeping up with politics? Many of these dead were annihilated in
the name of the people, that is, the American people, with
made-in-America weapons sold to the Saudi or Israeli governments? The
no-involvement-with-politics American paid for the murder of
someone’s husband, wife, or child. Some schoolchildren in
Palestine or Yemen.
Knowing a little something about
American imperialism is equivalent to knowing about the self. Sitting
one day among expatriate faculty from Nigeria, I was asked why
I was “picking on
Saddam Hussein.” As a Black
American, I tried to defend myself, but I understood.
You are the history of your nation!
There should be no excuse if you are
I was “alive” when
Barbara Lee cast the only voted against the Iraqi war; I was “alive”
when General Powell gave that speech at the UN; I was “alive”
when the American WMDs lit up the Iraqi night. But I was “alive”
and present when astronaut Alan Shepard traveled to space, the first
human to do so. I was “alive” and present when JFK was
assassinated, followed by Rev. Martin L. King and RFK. I was “alive”
and present for the police killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
To relinquish responsibility for
what happens in “the name of the people,” is to already
burden those victims of the history of American violence, those
already demonized as “leftists” or “enemy”
and to continue fueling that history of violence.
On January 2, 2021, I watch in
real-time as a few at first become hundreds assemble and then break
into the Capitol in Washington DC. Brandishing clubs, sticks, guns,
many are men, but there are women among them. Many have Trump flags
and Confederate flags. As this increasingly violent crowd breaks
windows and pushes beyond police enforcement, overturning furniture,
a shout goes up: they want the Vice President for their makeshift
gallows. They want to put a bullet in the House Speaker’s head!
As a Black American, I can identify
with the disorientation and terror experienced by Congressional
members such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Rashida Tlaib. Having
known insurrectionists historically or personally, Black Americans
could imagine the danger these and other Congressional members of
color faced in those hours as the angry mob stormed the Capitol and
roamed the hallways. Groups of them had already used clubs to
seriously injure police. One police officer died the following day
after his head was bashed in by a maddened white male wielding a fire
Those Americans who have informed me
that they don’t get involved in politics would be baffled if I,
in turn, informed them that any good totalitarian want-to-be-dictator
would love the opportunity to control a nation of like-minded people
- along with the vanguard of insurrections like those folks who
showed up after organizing themselves around the battle cry of their
want-to-be-despot in the White House at the time!
According to a report in The
Atlantic, a good many of
the insurrectionists, average age of 40 years old, committed “acts
of political violence.” This wasn’t an “exercise in
vandalism or trespassing amid a disorderly protest.” There were
the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters, but according to
the report, some “89 % had no apparent affiliation with militia
organizations.” They were Americans.
A good many Americans share the same
concerns that the country is open to too many immigrants and too many
Blacks are too visible. Too many Muslims. Too many Latinx. Too many
protesting Indigenous people.
Only 9% of the insurrectionists were
unemployed, and most didn’t come from the “deep-red
strongholds” either. “They worked as CEOs, shop owners,
and doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, and accountants.”
A couple of years ago, when some
Americans were pulling for Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
to live, at least beyond the former president’s term in office,
I remember talking with a postal worker, mentioning Ginsburg…
The Supreme Court? Ginsburg?
I knew by the look, she didn’t
have to say it, but she did!
I don’t get involved in
Who was alive and present among the
don’t-get-involved-in-politics Americans on January 6, 2020? If
not in March, 2003?
And so many won’t see the
racism even if one of the insurrections drove up to their home and,
waving an assault rifle in one hand and a Confederate flag in the
other, shouted, “n----r!” or “Jew!” or “I’m
coming for all Muslims!”
Because they walk about refusing to
be in the world, they can’t see, refuse to see.
I-don’t-get-involved-in-politics helps legitimize those
blinders worn like so many Nazi amulets on the clothing of the
insurrectionists. These are the same Americans who can warn you about
“looters” during the Black Lives Matter protests in
Kenosha, Wisconsin. Look, see the “looters,” as if a
video on a cell phone is proof of anything. But then, if the video is
meant to do a disservice to Black grief, Black anger; if the video is
meant to demonize Black Lives Matter as a movement, and thereby
discredit Black protests altogether, then it’s as “real”
as the former president’s insistence that he’s still the
president of the US.
Those Americans who don’t talk
politics attempt to silence dissent.
In the meantime, whose taxes fund
law enforcement? Who pays for the bullets and the armor? Who paid for
the gear that knocked down Breonna Taylor’s door? The average
American taxpayer has funded the incarceration of Black people for
decades, but - oh, please do hush up about “politics”!
Who allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to kill
two people and wound another, and get back in his mommy’s car
and drive off with mommy back to Illinois? What entity allows this
white young man to “disappear” and “appear”
in hiding - for his protection - after he has killed?
Black people die with only cell
phones in their hands!
Black people sleeping in their beds,
Rittenhouse is like the
insurrectionists, treated as “gentlemen” and gentle
ladies, sent home to mothers, even if fully grown adults, to wait for
court dates. Little 12-year-old Tamir Rice didn’t have a chance
to say anything in his defense because the police officer mistook the
child’s play gun for a real gun.
What the Turtle, Mitch McConnell,
has to say matters in that his use of power is a practice in
violence. He’s proven he is completely indifferent towards the
lives of people of color and is quite willing to destroy our lives
rather than make our lives worth living. McConnell is not alone; he
and others like him in Congress have bred whole generations of
American zombies who are then voted into Congress by, in turn,
indifferent Americans who drop off the map of the living,
intentionally! A Trump gave them room to replicate themselves, but
this characteristic of indifference is an American go-to staple when
a crisis seems pending. And a pending crisis always has the blurring
of racial difference at its core. It’s no accident that we are
hearing the old antebellum term, “miscegenation” again!
Some fears, the more irrational, never die!
It matters that I’m paying for
the Saudis and the Israelis to murder populations of Yemenis while
leaving millions without shelter, clean water, or food. Does it anger
me? Yes, as it should. As it should any American.
What does it mean when we say -
US-supported war? It means this: that Boeing received, according to
the June 2019 issue of In
some 21+ billion dollars,
Lockheed Martin, 7.2+ billion, Raytheon, 1.8+ billion, General
Electric, 1.2+ billion, and General Dynamics, 124+ million, and all
that money assists the Saudis in their practice of violence against
Smart surveillance is usually
included in these huge packages of American money handed off to
another nation that, in turn, monitors its “enemies” just
as the US spends so many tax-paying dollars monitoring Black Lives
activists or any Black who advocates for social justice and
democratic values. Somehow, red flags are flying all over the
Internet, held up by white Americans proclaiming their allegiance to
“Hitler,” to Trump, to “Q,” to anything that
smacks of violence, particularly violence against people of color.
The law enforcement agencies aren’t
only to blame; American indifference has become the easy out for many
who don’t want to acknowledge their role in the white
supremacist history of this nation. Just say, “no politics,”
and free oneself from responsibility.
Pretty sad state of being in the
world among the living!
I can’t afford to wear
blinders and talk nonsense about not wanting to talk about “politics”
given that my ancestors were kidnapped, sold, and owned as property,
allowable and enforced by laws legislated in the US. The violence
used against those ancestors and against Blacks ever since is the
result of political indifference toward Black lives.
The personal is political and the
political is personal.