I have been thinking lately about the word conciousness in terms of an emerging conciousness coming about because of an issue. Two big influences on my thinking lately have been Stephen Kinzer’s book The Brothers and the band Public Enemy.
Public Enemy is a rap group that often talks about problems facing the black community. The book The Brothers deals largely with US policy during the Cold War as directed by John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles.
During the Cold War a lot of third world countries were emerging from the shackles of colonialism. Many of the resources in these countries were owned by foreign powers and only marginally helped the local economies. Many of these new countries wanted to nationalize the industries concerning these resources so that their own people could benefit. Instead of realizing these were nationalistic movements that wanted prosperity after years of hardship, we viewed them as puppets of Moscow. Because of this we often intervened in these countries and subverted their democracies. Sometimes we even inspired or directly took a role in violence. In the case of places like the Congo and Iran we actually helped overthrow their governments, helping to install leaders that were brutally oppressive.
Meanwhile in this country, in current years after the election of Obama, we like to view ourselves as post-racial. However, listening to PE I am reminded by the daily indignities that black people still face in this country. Even if we are not talking about larger issues, there are things that would drive anyone crazy. Imagine someone crossing the street because of the color of your skin. Imagine being watched in a store and thought of as a theif, again just because of the color of your skin.
Last year I was in east Texas and there was a girl who was slightly less drunk than her male friends. I asked her jokingly if she was the designated driver. She said, in a way that was full of shame, “If you are the right color, you can get away with anything in this town.”
Over the years, in this country and outside of it, there has simply been a very real effort both explicitly and implicitly to subvert people of color from rising above their station. Slavery, segregation, and colonialism have shaped the world we live in. Well on one hand I believe that people do need to be responsible for their own actions, we must also acknowledge the effects that these forms of institutionalized brutality have played upon our world.
Life in general is not fair. That is something everyone has to deal with. However, in understanding the history of our country’s actions both at home and abroad concerning people of color, we can hopefully learn empathy and understanding for different kinds of people. None of us get to choose the conditions we are born into in life. There is a hope though that we can help each other get through this life, whatever it is.