Letter to America
Americans must root out the perennial scourge of racism, or become a third-rate nation that nobody looks up to.
First off, please accept my heartfelt condolences and sympathies for the (as on July 20, 2020) over 140 thousand deaths, and almost four million confirmed cases of infections from the COVID-19 virus.
My first encounter with an American was in the early 1970’s when US Peace Corps Volunteer taught me in high school. I also learned a lot about the US and Canada from a high school geography course, while George Jackson’s Soledad Brother … introduced me to the racism and the injustices against African-Americans in your country. I also watched tapes of CBS Evening News with Dan Rather weekly at the United States (US) embassy, and many American movies (especially Blaxploitation films), and suckled the Motown Sound of the time.
During my undergraduate studies in Nigeria, I voraciously read Time and Newsweek, and enjoyed Strobe Talbott’s analyses about the Soviet Union, as well as Hugh Sidey’s column, The Presidency. Many years later, Alistair Cook’s weekly Letter from America on the BBC provided me invaluable insight into the US.
By the time I started my graduate studies at Montana State University, Bozeman, in 1985 I knew a bit about US history, politics, and culture. Later on, I obtained my Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994, and returned home to The Gambia in 2002. My studies in the US provided me a fantastic education, and life-long friends. In addition, I have family and many friends in the US, so please allow me to speak to you about racism in your country.
As Condoleeza Rice, the former US Secretary of State said, your country has a birth defect, with Europeans and Africans arriving together, but with the latter in chains. Once the African slaves were stripped of their dignity and declared inferior to Whites, it was open season on them and their descendants.
African-Americans were lynched, and subjected to Jim Crow laws in Southern States after they lost the Civil War. Because of racism, African Americans have been denied decent housing, and victimized by predatory lending, just as James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in 1998 by three White men in Texas.
Racism is also why Shaka Sankofa (born Gary Lee Graham) was denied a re-trial and executed for murder based one person’s testimony. In contrast, the execution of Timothy McVeigh, a White murderer of 168 innocent people, including 19 children in Oklahoma City in 1995 was delayed against his wish.
Although they account for 12 percent of the US population, African-Americans are 21 percent of the 28,116 people killed by police since 2000. So George Floyd was not the first African-American victim of police brutality in the US. And he won’t be the last, as proven Rayshard Brooks’ death at the hands of Atlanta, Georgia, police barely a month after Floyd’s death.
Institutional or systemic racism criminalizes and disproportionately incarcerates African-Americans, and exposes them to socio-economic conditions which predispose them to pre-mature ageing called “weathering,” and ailments such as hypertension. It’s no wonder then that African-Americans account for almost 24 percent of COVID-19 deaths; about twice their share of the US population.
In today’s hyper-connected world, racism tarnishes the international image of the US, as exemplified by the global outrage sparked by Floyd’s murder. China, Iran, and Russia thus took turns chiding the US, even though their human rights records are soiled. In addition, the African Union of 55 African countries strongly condemned Floyd’s killing, while Ghana beckoned African-Americans to come “home.”
The US must take out racism by its roots. For a start, the fight against racism should be the center piece of the national political agenda, especially during the 2020 US elections. Presidential and other candidates should debate racism constructively, and not whip African-Americans to prove they are tough on crime.
Racists are not born; they are bred. Racism is thus so deeply-seated in the American psyche that even White liberals like former President Clinton (who bemoaned that then candidate Obama would, a few years before, have been getting them coffee) occasionally suffer Freudian slips of tongue. Americans must from now on feed on a diet of intolerance of racism and bigotry.
The US must also re-jig health care and defense spending to fight racism in the country. Given that spending more resources on social services instead of medical expenditures leads to better population health outcomes, more resources should be spent addressing the social ills afflicting African-Americans.
You, Americans, need to ask why your government has, since 2001, spent $6.4 trillion fighting wars with practically nothing to show for. Although 342 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks in the 16 years between 2002 and 2017, anti-terrorist wars in 80 countries killed 7,000 US military personnel as at November 2019; and the casualties are increasing.
These are arguably some of the darkest days of US peacetime history, with the triple challenges of racism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a worsening diplomatic environment. But I know you, Americans, are up to the task, and that you will in the end do the right thing, for yourselves, and humanity at large by rooting out racism.