It’s not appeared in the UK mainstream media* but reading US based Counterpunch it is clear that there is quite a row brewing in these early days of the US presidential election primaries. Not surprisingly much of this is stemming from American racial enmities, which appear to be as strong as ever. (One might well ask, why wouldn’t they be?) Counterpunch explores leading Democrat contender Joe Biden’s highly questionable record, and it is worth reading. Suffice to say, Biden had a soft spot for out and out racists. He may have softened sufficiently to eventually serve as a black man’s deputy but in the political context, in racist America Obama was something of an exception who needed to reassure ‘folk’ that he could be a trusted black man. That may sound patronising, etc., but it is impossible to imagine that Obama had not received fulsome briefings on Biden’s racist-befriending history before appointing him as his running mate. He did so for a reason. ‘Balance’ is probably the word.
But another US politician is really stirring up murky waters: New York Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez has described various aspects of US government policy towards ethnic minorities in unheard of terms. Concentration camps. These have, in her assessment played a long role in US history, starting with native Americans. One can check this out on Google, but the estimates I have seen of the numbers of native Americans exterminated begin in the low tens of millions. Not all in concentration camps of course, but in so many different ways all of which would fall under the description of ethnic cleansing. It is possible, I would suggest, that the North American continent (which includes Canada) was the most ethnically cleansed continent on the planet.
One hears so much about the Civil War – a war presented as a civilising war no less – that I think it serves to absolve any sense of guilt Americans need feel towards their largely exterminated predecessors and possessors of the land they (and for a time we) colonised (stole). Even today it is a matter of mirth when a leading Democrat, Elizabeth Warren happened to remark she had native American ancestry – Trump lost no time in diminishing this inoffensive connection in ‘Pocahontas’ jokes. Whatever the truth of Warren’s genealogy, it won’t matter to many Americans I suspect – the extermination of native Americans was long done and dusted before even their grandparents came along. In living memory American ethnic discrimination has largely been earthed in black hating.
This narrative of US racism is somewhat changing with the influx of migration from the south, but aside from Trump’s wall – more rhetoric than reality – Latinos are now so ingrained in US society that even one of Trump’s predecessors, G.W. Bush thought it wise to learn Spanish. Suggestions have been made (I read this somewhere) that the US will soon officially become a bi-lingual country – it already is unofficially in southern states.
Now, against this charged background, as has been revealed by Al Jazerra’s undercover documentaries on the Israeli government’s subversive activities against its perceived enemies overseas, those who seek to raise bitter truths have to mind their P’s & Q’s. US Congresswoman - the first female Muslim Representative Ihan Omar – had the temerity to stridently support the BDS movement and for her sins (as earlier with Ocasio-Cortez) was severely criticised by ‘senior heads’ of her own party, never mind the Republicans. It’s as if some forms of racism are more exceptional than others, as if one group is deserving of more attention than others, even though the problem is endemic and is part, lamentably, of the human condition. This is what annoys me, and why the ‘weaponising’ of one form of racism over another is so offensive. It is not racist, and certainly not anti-semitic to suggest that other groups have suffered holocaust – to a greater or lesser extent than Jews. What they suffered was utterly abominable, but some forms of holocaust have received less attention – I’m thinking, for example, of the Ukrainian Holodomor – which for many people in the west means virtually nothing.
So when Labour activists like Jackie Walker (and others) are pilloried for suggesting that the word ‘Holocaust’ has a wider meaning, I think she should be praised. And when we think of a Holocaust Day, we should be wary of thinking that it was all down to just one evil regime that just one group was chosen for such abominable treatment. The word should attach itself to a historical and recurring characteristic of the human species which should be challenged in all its forms. To go down the road of exceptionalism is to find succour for further barbarity.
*Writing this late last night I was not to know that the Guardian had a small piece on Biden this morning.