On (mis)representation: Baltimore, El Paso, violence, death

I moved from Europe to Baltimore more than 25 years ago. I came to develop a kind of chauvinistic attachment to this peculiar city. After all its nickname is Charm City. Baltimore is slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, post slavery. 2/3 of the city is black. The white establishment of the city and the state incessantly try to sweep under the carpet these elements of its past and present. A segregated city with liberal feelings, Baltimore developed as an industrial city in the 19thcentury with one of the most active ports in the United States. Certainly, the tensions from the industrial revolution to deindustrialization are colored by the stigmata of slavery, racism. 

Baltimore got its international fame with the series The Wire described by its author David Simon as a “Greek tragedy for the new millennium,” in which institutions such as the police had increasing power with growing impunity, in part due to the lack of oversight from the state government which has controlled the Police Department since its inception. David Simon explained that the series showed “the triumph of capitalism over human value.” Nevertheless, Baltimore is a place of resistance and debate, a place where people are trying to imagine a sense of community despite class, gender, race/ethne systems that are part of the history of Baltimore and the United States.  

On July 30th, the 45thpresident of the United States missed a chance to celebrate the 290th anniversary of the creation of the city of Baltimore, but he never misses an occasion to express his basic racism and xenophobic political ideals. His attacks on Baltimore particularly the Baltimore of Elijah Cummings, in short Black Baltimore (Cummings represents the 7thMaryland’s district, which encompasses over half of the city of Baltimore), is his latest strike on humanity. For a president who has made a career in reality shows, it is difficult to understand the true reality of an abusive system of police, justice, poverty and violence generated by a capitalistic society that reduces human dignity to a racialized, gendered determination of human value. The murder by police of Freddie Gray in the streets of Baltimore is one example. Why did Freddie Gray decide to run away from police?  When people demanded justice for Freddie Gray, the entire city was punished. Remember, Baltimore is where Central Booking was invented, where the parallel economy of narcotics trafficking is a variable to undermine any emancipation of the Black community. But none of that was expressed by the president of the nation, because he is just president for the racist and xenophobic part of the population oblivious to its history.  

There is a special spirit of resistance in Baltimore, as the day that followed the last presidential election reminded me. A bar near Penn Station, the train station of Baltimore, put a sign on the sidewalk saying: “Happy Hours, it’s a terrible day”. The sign was inviting in the bleak context of the day and the years to come to enter a nondescript place. The crowd inside was mainly Black and some White, the discussion was about resisting and the sense of solidarity was present. 

Donald Trump was designated 45thpresident of the United States. He immediately demonstrated an unapologetic and nasty understanding of what wielding power means. His caricatural, white supremacist, misogynistic position is not new but as the president, he supposedly must have attempted to be the representative of the people of the United States, all of them. I am joking!  His base is white, some are supremacist, other have simply grown up cajoled by the idea of the natural superiority of their race or their social position. His base and his financial and business supporters are now the only nation. 

On this basis, he aimed at four women of color, duly elected members of Congress, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar.  The four congressmembers have been the target of outrageous utterances and threats coming from the occupant of the White House. He accused them of hating the United States, advising them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they come. For clarity, three are American born and Omar came as a refugee when she was 11. These muckraking comments indicate that xenophobic, anti-feminist hatred is part of his campaign strategies for 2020, but beyond this is a sign of the desperate attempt to maintain white supremacy as well as the supremacy of the capitalist neoliberal system that has been under the control of the “non-representative” leaders of this world. 

Instead of being vilified, the four women should have been applauded for their achievements, their commitment against oppression and marginalization. Their constant engagement against the villainy of the current immigration policies pushed by the president, the violence of the treatment of refugees. They should be an inspiration for anyone who thinks about representing a population. 

Representation is at the heart of the current political tensions surrounding elections. These women were elected on a ticket that demanded health care not health insurance, respect for the dignity of asylum seekers, respect for women’s rights and for the principle of the law and justice. 

Representation is a gendered and racialized battle field. When the leader does not obey the community, he (rarely she) commands the community in response to their votes. The struggle is global, the rise of extreme right intolerant voices has many causes; the responses should encompass the ideals of an open participatory democracy. This utopian vision is far from the reality in Baltimore and elsewhere in the United States. Black lives still don’t matter, women are still persecuted for wanting to decide when to be pregnant and keep their body safe, all that in the reality of climate change. Vested interests still manage the system of representation in the United States and in the globalized world. It’s time to end misrepresentation. In the United States, after this deadly week-end, we see once more that racist, xenophobic representatives entail xenophobic violence that leads to killing. End misrepresentation now. 

(Photo Credit 1: Baltimore Sun / Julio Cortez / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Vox / Mario Tama / Getty Images)

No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

Mathabo Mofokeng

Mathabo Mofokeng is 86 years old. She is a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. She was born in Matatiele, at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, in the Eastern Cape. She is a citizen of South Africa; Mathabo Mofokeng is South African. Mathabo Mofokeng currently lives in Nhlazatshe, a village in KwaZulu-Natal. Mathabo Mofokeng has lived in KwaZulu-Natal since she was 18 years old. Three months ago, Mathabo Mofokeng lost her ID card and her South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, card. Without those, she couldn’t access her pension. Penniless, she relied on food donations from women in her church. Her electricity was cut off. So, Mathabo Mofokeng did what she was supposed to do. She travelled to the nearest Home Affairs office, in Pietermaritzburg, to have her ID and SASSA cards replaced. An official told her “to go back to Lesotho”. Mathabo Mofokeng says, “I’m scared to go back to Home Affairs offices. An official told me she can’t issue me a new ID; I should go back to Lesotho. There was a time I went three days without food.” Mathabo Mofokeng is an 86-year-old, destitute South African woman who is now terrified and terrorized as well. And she is not alone.

On the one hand, xenophobia is not new to South Africa. Since 1994, the national government has periodically worked to “secure the borders”. With national elections coming up, political parties across the spectrum are ramping up the rhetorics of xenophobia. One hears repeatedly that Home Affairs is in disarray, but the situation goes much further than accidental shambles. For twenty years, Home Affairs so-called Refugee Reception Offices have been a publically acknowledged atrocity. Three years ago, the Supreme Court of Appeals told the Home Office to clean up its act. For three years, the Home Office has refused.

Of course, South Africa is not alone in its xenophobia. In India, Assam has effectively told 4 million citizens that they’re not citizens. The majority of the 4 million are, predictably, women. They’re not Indian enough. In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is trying to find ways to strip Roma citizens of Italy of their citizenship. They’re just not Italian enough. In Australia, Huyen Tran, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, faces imminent deportation. She has been in Australia since 2011. She has a six-month-old daughter, Isabella, born in Australia. Isabella can stay, but her mother is just not Australian enough. In the United States, hundreds of migrant children, forcibly separated from their parents, have been moved “under cover of darkness” to a tent city in the Texas desert, where they have been left to rot. This comes just weeks after the United States government threatened to remove citizenship from more than a thousand Latinx U.S. citizens, all delivered by midwives in the borderlands.

This is the world in which a State official told Mathabo Mofokeng, a South African native born citizen, to go back to Lesotho. Despite its Latinate appearance, xenophobia is a fairly recently coined word, a word that emerges in the late 19thcentury with the emergence of strong nation-States engaged in global imperial adventures. And what is xenophobia? A deep antipathy, call it hatred, to guests, strangers, and foreigners. Xenophobia doesn’t `merely’ target those born in other lands. Xenophobia targets the citizenship, humanity, personhood, and dignity of anyone deemed foreign, anyone thought to be a stranger, and, most significantly, anyone who is a guest. After reporters began investigating, Home Affairs issued Mathabo Mofokeng a temporary ID. In this brave new world, all it takes to secure your citizenship is a team of investigative reporters. Everyone, say it together: No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Nompendulo Ngubane)

No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

Last Friday, during a National Public Radio show’s Friday News Roundup of domestic news, four panelists briefly discussed the Day Without Immigrants actions that had taken place across the country the day before. One prominent conservative correspondent noted, “There seemed to be a little conceptual confusion over immigrants and illegal immigrants.” There was no conceptual confusion among those who protested and their supporters. They chanted, “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” Not “legal”, not “illegal”. Immigrants. Immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants have seen how ICE agents act. They know the raids are indiscriminate, and they know the actions, and many of the actors, are compelled by a xenophobia that is informed by white supremacist racism, the intersectional form of terror of the current regime.

The Muslim Ban, the anti-immigrant raids and sweeps, the language of intimidation and threat were never about the niceties of documentation. Muslims, including non-Muslims perceived to be Muslims, saw that, at certain airports, the ban meant anyone with “a certain name or look” was subject to particularly invasive and insulting attention. In every sense, those actions were unwarranted.

Over the last week, raids have targeted people at residences, churches, homeless shelters, and courts. In El Paso, a woman filing for a protective order from an abusive partner was picked up. In Alexandria, Virginia, two men leaving a homeless shelter were taken. Across the country, people without criminal records were taken away. ICE’s response? The reports are “false, dangerous and irresponsible” and those “falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.” Those “false reporters” include U.S. Senators and Representatives, Governors, members of the clergy, attorneys, eyewitnesses, family members, neighbors, passersby, cameras, and the list goes on. In Virginia, where I live, Governor McAuliffe, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner have written letters to Homeland Security and still await a response.

This past weekend, new directives “dramatically expand the scope of enforcement operations”.  These “sweeping new guidelines … empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport … inside the United States and at the border.” In the places where people of color live, dramatic expansion and more aggressive detention add up to a reign of terror. That terror threatens everyone. It threatens the undocumented, as it threatens tech workers, seasonal workers, students and others protected by a visa.

Immigrant of color communities know that, when it comes to people of color, those in charge don’t distinguish among the undocumented immigrant, documented immigrant, and citizen. Their response has been clear: “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” There is neither conceptual nor ethical nor existential confusion here: No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Revolución Real Ya)