TeleSUR’s The Global African explores the politics of class and race, and examines the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.


Story Transcript

BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’ll talk about the recent confrontation between Black Lives Matter activists and 2016 presidential hopefuls. We’ll also look at the Mediterranean refugee crisis. That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us once again. Don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: On Saturday, July 18, at a town hall sponsored by the annual progressive convention of the Netroots Nation, Black Lives Matter activists were involved in a confrontation with 2016 presidential hopefuls. The incident started when Martin O’Malley, former mayor of Baltimore, took to the stage and was met with the old labor song, “Which Side Are You On”. O’Malley is responsible for initiating many of the aggressive policing policies seen today from Baltimore officers. Activists then challenged O’Malley to offer concrete solutions to the issues raised, as well as put forth a statement of solidarity with protesters. In response, O’Malley uttered the phrase all lives matter, implicitly dismissing the context of the phrase black lives matter. Progressive presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders was also forced to address the activists, and many protesters felt that his response skirted around the issue of race in its focus on economic issues.

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SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of us for years have fought to raise the minimum wage. Some of us believe it should go to $15 an hour. And you know what? Wall Street Journal poll–. ACTIVISTS: [chanting]

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FLETCHER: Today on The Global African, we’ll look at this confrontation, the relationship between white progressives and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the intersection of race and class. Joining us for the discussion that we’re having today is Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, an associate professor in the communications and African American Studies Department for Loyola University, Maryland. She’s the founding executive director of the Emily Francis Davis Center for Education, Research, and Culture. Also joining us is Dr. Greg Carr, associate professor of Africana studies, and is the chair of the Howard University Department of Afro-American Studies. Welcome to The Global African. DR. GREG CARR, CHAIR, AFRO-AMERICAN STUDIES, HOWARD UNIV.: Thank you for having us. DR. KARSONYA WISE WHITEHEAD, PROF. AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES, LOYOLA UNIV.: Thank you very much. FLETCHER: So the tables got shaken at Netroots. WISE WHITEHEAD: Absolutely. It’s about time the tables were shaken. FLETCHER: What did you think? WISE WHITEHEAD: Well, I was very excited, because there’s been a shift in the tides. I think it’s time that people that are involved in the political spectrum understand and are willing to at least try to accept the fact that we are no longer–and this is we as African-Americans–our vote can no longer be taken for granted. If you want us to support us–and you do need the support of the African-American community–then the issues that we’re struggling with, the issues that keep us awake at night, the issues that we cry about are the issues that need to be a part of your agenda. You cannot continue with business as usual in the midst of everything that is happening. FLETCHER: Dr. Carr. CARR: Well, no, I’d agree. In fact, it’s interesting how these things kind of bubble up. It probably was inevitable in some ways. I mean, Bernie Sanders, of course, whom some people have described as more a 1930s style, liberal economic issues, which are very important, of course, may have been taken a little bit unawares. But what he may not have been aware of as well–and this is why Netroots is so important–is that this conversation has been going on social media and bubbling forth so that Black Lives Matter hashtag’s more than a hashtag. It’s convened a conversation that emptied out and interrupted in that space. I mean, Martin O’Malley, who certainly has no record to be proud of in terms of police brutality and these kind of things had to confront it. Hillary Clinton has tried to get out in front of it by in some ways contradicting the policies of she and her husband a few short years ago. But it all comes as a consequence of people having other spaces to have conversations. So in some ways it was probably predictable that this could happen. FLETCHER: So Bernie Sanders, let’s just focus on him. Bernie Sanders has a long history of being pro-civil rights. He’s on the left. He’s unapologetically on the left. He says quite openly that he’s a socialist. Yet his response to the action, it felt more than just being surprised. It felt like he really did not know how to grapple with what was being put in front of him. WISE WHITEHEAD: Well, it felt dismissive. It felt as if he had a script and he did not want to move from this script. I know we talk about Bernie Sanders’ long civil rights history and how he actually responded and said, well, for the last 50 years of my life I’ve been working for civil rights. I actually twisted that and thought instead, you know, 50 years ago you did that. Yes, he was a part of SNCC, yes, he was at the March on Washington. And, of course, today who do you not meet over that age who was at that March on Washington? If everybody was there then nobody was there, right? So this idea that just because you have this long history of being somewhat connected to what’s happening in the black community does not mean you’re connected today. Today, arguably, the most important thing happening now is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a hashtag. It’s not a T-shirt. It’s not a slogan. It’s the ways in which black people move through this country and are made it to feel that our lives mean nothing in the hands of either police officers or those who pretend to be police officers or those who want to police our bodies. And he dismissed that. He tried to talk over the protesters. He kept trying to switch the agenda back to what he was talking about. When the agenda is moved, if you really want to be a part of the conversation, if you’re really aware of what’s happening in the black community, you move with that agenda, you address it, and you talk about what can be done to solve this problem. CARR: It’s interesting you say that, because I think that we know, of course, race is, if not the third rail, one of the third rails of American politics. Bernie Sanders is an elected official. He comes from a state that is well over nine-tenths white. So this is not an issue that he has to address in terms of race and connecting it to class. He has been very consistent in terms of his critique of capitalism, and he’s been consistent over the decades. But him being kind of bemused by this may speak more to the in some ways effectiveness of the state moving against organized labor, and since the 1960s moving against those spaces where black folks and others built coalition. He wouldn’t have been surprised if this was the 1930s and ’40s, as I said, because you had people involved in trying to create coalitions. That’s where you see the AFL-CIO welcoming A. Philip Randolph and these kinds of things. But today where those spaces? I mean, where are the organized spaces? In fact, I’d say probably the union that most young black people know most about is probably the NBA players union. They don’t even realize that those kids have become millionaires in part because they’re members of a union. But Bernie Sanders doesn’t have to deal with that. And by being an elected official, his day-to-day contact with working class folks who he’s championing in the hall of Congress is probably severely limited. And so, yeah, I could see him being surprised. FLETCHER: Let me push back a little bit. While I agree with that, there is also a trend that has existed for a very long time among white progressives–not all white progressives, certainly, and among some white leftists, that takes as the assumption that unity comes through addressing issues that bring us together. CARR: Yes. FLETCHER: Right? CARR: Yes. WISE WHITEHEAD: Right. That makes sense, right? FLETCHER: And that the idea is that–and it’s not just whites that advocate this. I’m not going to name names, but there are various black folks that would put this forward. CARR: Absolutely. FLETCHER: Right? And they’ll say, let’s find issues, the common issues–health care, housing, whatever–we’ll talk about that, and these issues will disproportionately benefit people of color. Therefore we don’t necessarily have to raise the issue of race. This has been a trend going back to the 19th century. CARR: Yes. FLETCHER: Right? WISE WHITEHEAD: And since the 19th century it’s always worked to the disadvantage of black people,– FLETCHER: Precisely. WISE WHITEHEAD: –that when we move away from allowing race to be, as Dr. Carr said, that a third rail, that necessary item that’s on the table, we have found that black people are being disproportionately disadvantaged. When you talk about health care, you look at the impact of these policies of the black community, when you talk about housing, you talk about what’s been happening with redlining in black neighborhoods where nobody wants to give out loans, I mean, these issues that have helped lift up this progressive branch of America are the same issues that are serving to work against black people, black and brown people. So it has to be on the table. It can’t just be fine issues that relate to all of us as people, kind of what Martin O’Malley said–oh, black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter. That’s not the conversation right now. The conversation’s what’s happening in the black community and what’s happened to black people by this system. Whether it’s 1950 or 2015, it should not be a surprising conversation, because it’s the exact same conversation that keeps raising its head. FLETCHER: But let me ask you both this. Alright. So this may seem at first like a tangent. Black Lives Matter. I would argue that Donald Trump has put on the national agenda the issue of Latinos in a very, very ugly way. And so my question is: to what extent does the Black Lives Matter movement have an obligation to speak up around things like Trump? And should that have been a major issue with Netroots? CARR: Absolutely. I mean, and let’s think about it in context, because you do see Bernie Sanders pivoting toward a conversation with some of the folks who were present at Netroots dealing with Latino issues and then emerging out of that conversation rather than taking on the African-American dimension more directly. And I think in part that’s because this whole conversation continues to be framed around the American nation state. I mean, it’s apropos we’re having this conversation on The Global African. Black internationalism makes things very messy and complicated. And that’s where you find the type of coalition politics that are necessary to critique the American state. But all of this conversation congeals around American citizenship. To me, that’s the wrong place to look for it. So, I mean, of course we have to to critique Donald Trump, but in critiquing Trump around this very ugly evocation of this American national sentiment, we have to deal with the fact that we have never resolved how we feel about how you link participation in the American state to the idea of freedom. This would not have been an issue in years when we would have looked at the aboriginals of this country and said–and they’re not just the aboriginals of North America, but also Central America and Latin America when you’re talking about indigenous people struggle. If you look at the 1960s and ’70s, the coalition between La Raza and some of the more progressive elements of African movements in this country with international movements, you wouldn’t have seen this man going to La Raza and saying, well, we need–oh, you can’t separate us. Oh, I see, the American flag is at the center of your narrative. And we’ve gotten so confused about that that it makes it easy for us not to be able to find our voice in key moments. We have to have these coalitions. WISE WHITEHEAD: And on social media, black people did rise up and speak against what Donald Trump said. I mean, Donald Trump put brown people on the agenda, the national agenda, in a very ugly way. But researchers have been talking about this, by 2040 that the largest base of voters, the largest majority at that point will be brown people in this country. Like, that is a major shift in the demographics of this country that perhaps people like Donald Trump aren’t prepared for. All he said was put out in the open, what people are talking about and what they’re saying when you close your doors, when you listen to the things that Dylan Storm Roof, all he’s saying are the same things that we hear in South Carolina every day. It becomes a part of the national agenda. And people are shocked. They’re surprised. They can’t believe this is happening. For those of us who are living with this reality every day, we are not surprised. We are not shocked. We understand that it’s now time to talk about it. The onion is being peeled and all these ugly things are coming to surface. FLETCHER: So let’s put this together. The question then is: how does one think about and build a progressive coalition, I mean, given what we see from the right and the, I think, clear evidence that the various elements of the right wish to, as they say, reverse the 20th century and everything that was gained. So then what do these events all mean in terms of building a coalition? CARR: Well, I think that we have to reconsider internationalism, the work that you’ve done over the years. I think about the scholarship of people like Gerald Horne. We have to think of ourselves as moving forward in progressive coalition with any and everyone who sees these larger values, whether it be environmentalism, whether it be the question of unions and labor globally, whether it be a critique of American empire, meaning that Barack Obama can’t sing “Amazing Grace” at a funeral and we let him escape the fact that he’s getting ready to go criticize Ethiopia and Kenya and the Africans. But as African Americans, we may have been born here, we have a stake here in terms of voting rights and improving the conditions, but we’re members of a global community. And I think coalition politics becomes easier when we reframe the way we see ourselves in the world. WISE WHITEHEAD: And I would add to that this notion that Kimberlé Crenshaw put forth, this idea of intersectionality. Like, where are the points that we need to begin to look at where our struggles overlap, that if you are black and you are female or if you are someone who is same-sex preference, there are points there where our struggles overlap. And it can’t be either-or, but and. And when we talk about Black Lives Matter, the big pushback now with Black Lives Matter within the black community is to say her name, that this idea that the narrative around black lives matter, which I am a huge supporter of and proponent of, has been about the narrative of black men and black boys, that we talk about the hoodies or raise your hand or hands up, don’t shoot. All of those are connected to the struggles of what happened to black men and black boys, that very few people can name the black girls and black women who have been victims of this system. We talk about Sandra Bland today, but we’re not talking about Rekia Boyd. We’re not talking about the other black women that have also fallen victim to this very racist system. So intersectionality means we’re talking about the struggles of black men and black women, black boys and black girls, brown women and brown men, that we’re looking at the places where all of this comes together, and then we’re talking about answers, then we’re talking about coalition building, then we’re talking about moving together as a united force. FLETCHER: So let me just ask–this is a final question to the two of you. So what do we say in the aftermath of Netroots to white progressives who walked away confused, maybe angry, certainly stunned? CARR: I think we say, you’ve got to study your history. You’ve got to study what happened to SNCC after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. You’ve got to look at the antiwar movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement. You have to look at the fracturing of coalitions around the turn inward. White progressives seem equally concerned about preserving the United States of America and addressing the ills of this country. They’ve got to look beyond that and then look for exemplars, look for progressives who will lead this criticism, lead this critique. And if they do that, then I think we can begin to have conversation. But absent that, there’s just going to be more confusion. WISE WHITEHEAD: Well, I think about the fact that this progressive branch, in terms of the confusion, the concern, how disturbed they are, I mean, these are issues for your therapist, but these are not issues that we need to really struggle and wrestle with, because the same issues you’re talking about–was there confusion, was being upset, the ways we felt when Trayvon Martin happened, which we unofficially mark as the beginning of this new period, where you’ve seen this unrelenting attack on the black body. So you may be confused today. Well, you need to understand that there is a train moving in this country to stop racism, to stop the ways in which we attack people of color in this country. And if you don’t get on the train, you will get run over by it, because if you’re standing in the same place and you’re on the tracks, we may have to knock you down to get to a new place. And in this new place, whether or not you want it or not, you will be better, because we will be better. And as a nation, then we can finally get better. FLETCHER: Dr. Whitehead, Dr. Carr, thank you both very much for joining us on The Global African. CARR: Thank you for having us. WISE WHITEHEAD: Thank you. FLETCHER: Thanks. Thanks for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host Bill Fletcher, and we’ll be back in a minute. Don’t go anywhere. ~~~ FLETCHER: The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has nearly doubled in just half a year. An astonishing 137,000 migrants arrived between January and June of this year in Europe. With thousands of people taking on this challenging journey, many have not survived the voyage. It was revealed that 1867 people have died during the crossing over this period, including an outrageous 1308 deaths in the month of April alone. That is up tremendously from last year’s 588. While most of the people arriving in Europe are refugees who are seeking protection from war and persecution, European Union leaders currently remain divided over how to tackle the problem. Southern member states are not as accepting of the migrants coming into their territories, whereas some leaders, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, hope to help them. Today, Udo Enwereuzor joins us to speak more the subject. So don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: We’re now joined for this segment with Dr. Udo Enwereuzor, who is a senior consultant with the Cooperation for the Development of Emerging Countries, a nongovernmental organization that works on the promotion and protection of human rights, based in Florence, Italy. In particular, he’s in charge of research, training, and advocacy on immigration, integration, and equality policies and rights of citizenship. Welcome very much to The Global African. Thanks for taking the time. And let me just jump right in. If you could, explain to our audience what is the nature of the Mediterranean crisis that we’re hearing so much about. UDO ENWEREUZOR, COOPERATION FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF EMERGING COUNTRIES: Yes, indeed. Well, the Mediterranean crisis has been somewhat escalating in the past six months. Last year we went through an entire year where 157,000 people arrived. In spite of the decision, the European Union never actually took measures to manage the crisis. Rather, [went on (?)] through all last year and, unfortunately, in the first six months of this year has been an attempt to fight smugglers across the Mediterranean rather than arranging on how to receive people arriving by boat across the Mediterranean. Then these are people coming from different parts of the world, particularly areas in crisis–Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, and all the northern African countries, as well as some sub-Saharan African countries and Asia. FLETCHER: You know, one of the things that I’ve come across is that there’s been an increase in the deaths of refugees trying to make the passage across the Mediterranean to Europe. What explains this? ENWEREUZOR: Certainly the lack of engagement and commitment by the European Union as a collective, as a collective body. Last year, what the E.U. did, what the E.U. agency that manages external borders, known as Frontex, did was to arrange a simple patrolling the borders of the union, which meant in practice the patrol operations in the Mediterranean were limited to within 33 miles, nautical miles, from the borders, while most shipwrecks take place about 90 miles off the Libyan coast, more than about 100 nautical miles from the Italian coast. FLETCHER: What has been the response of European governments to this unfolding crisis? ENWEREUZOR: Certainly front-line states, states, receiving states, have borne the brunt of the whole thing. That’s states like Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and to some extent Spain. These are the front-line states directly receiving refugees. Apart from these government, all other E.U. governments have sort of sat on the sideline. The argument has been that the numbers involved are not such to warrant a full intervention of the European Union as a whole. FLETCHER: Are right-wing populist movements and organizations in Europe making this immigration crisis a political question or a political issue? ENWEREUZOR: Certainly. Right-wing political groups have, beginning from last year, they’ve constantly exploited it. And in recent months, in the case of my country, Italy, unfortunately, they have gained sort of upper hand. We don’t have a situation where in the last week they’ve been able to mobilize. Their approach has become sort of common sense. We have ordinary people who for a greater part of last year sympathized with refugees, people arriving on the coast and so on. Now we have–we’ve seen in the last 10 days a series of protests, anti-refugee, anti-migrant protest in very small places where there have never [been size (?)] before. This suggests that the right-wing group have gained some ground in this area. FLETCHER: I want to thank you very much for joining us for The Global African and taking this time, and particularly given the time difference. Thanks so much. ENWEREUZOR: No problem. It’s a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me. FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment. So don’t go anywhere.

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FLETCHER: I don’t want to get into an argument about tactics. I don’t want to focus on whether the Black Lives Matter activists were correct or incorrect in their tactics at the Netroots convention. What I’m interested in is going to what motivated that. And the motivation is something that was very, very important and something that we should be discussing, that all too often in this country we have people–political officials, political activists–who speak up on issues but find it very difficult to actually come out and talk about race. They find it very difficult to come out and talk about the racial implications of various policies. And what happened at the Netroots convention was that Black Lives Matter activists simply got sick and tired of that. They got sick and tired of being told that various big issues will somehow cover race. They got sick and tired of hearing or feeling the implications of someone suggesting that no, no, no, we can’t really talk about race; it’s too divisive. We’ll talk about those things that unite us. What these activists did was absolutely right. They brought to the table, to the national table, a discussion that must happen. And it’s not just a discussion about black folks. It’s not just a discussion about police brutality. It’s about the way that race has, simply put, not disappeared from the reality of the United States, that race is here, race is played out in the police killings, it plays out in the racialization of immigration for people coming from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It continues to play out. And these individuals decided that they had had enough and that they were insisting that two individuals running for the presidency who claim to be progressive must speak out. Black Lives Matter activists were correct, and we should support them.

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