Danny Glover and James Early talk to host Bill Fletcher about some of the most critical events of 2014


Story Transcript

BILL FERGUSON, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: On today’s Global African, we’ll review some of the biggest stories of 2014 in the African world and examine their implications. I’m Bill Fletcher, your host. Stay tuned, and we’ll be right back. From the removal of Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s dictator of 29 years, to the outbreak of the deadly ebola virus in several West African nations, to the street protests in the United States against police brutality, to the reelection of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, to the launch of the United Nations Decade for the People of African Descent, and to the historic announcement of the normalization in relations between the United States and Cuba, the year 2014 will be remembered by historians as a year of earth-shaking events. In today’s program, we’ll review, interpret, and contextualize several pivotal events of the past year with two outstanding internationalists and world travelers who are also keen observers and students of the African world. It’s a rare moment when you actually have the opportunity to interview two friends and to discuss the major issues of this past year. I have that honor and the opportunity. And here joining me are two great friends and thought leaders. We have actor and activist Danny Glover, and we have James Early, a scholar, a member of the board of directors of the Institute for Policy Studies. And I want to thank you both for joining me. DANNY GLOVER, FILMMAKER AND ACTIVIST: Alright. Thanks. JAMES EARLY, DIR., CULTURAL STUDIES, CENTER FOR FOLKLIFE: Thank you. Good to be here. FLETCHER: So 2014–actually, I want to start with something in 2015 and then work backwards–the murder in Paris, the murders in Paris that were carried out, and the issue of both the response, the attacks on mosques, but also what’s going on in Europe–’cause when I see what happened in Paris, this horrendous murder, but I also see what’s not discussed, which is the North African community that has been marginalized, treated, demonized, etc.–I want to start there because of the importance of this moment. How do you all look at it? EARLY: I think this is a horrendous development. Any time you have this kind of violence, this kind of eruption, what makes it even more horrendous is: how do we get a framework on it? And we have such a confused response about the framework. Yes, we uphold the right of freedom of speech, but you don’t bait a tiger. I just read something on the Russians saying you don’t spit into somebody’s soul. And so we have this abstract thing that people can say and do anything without a response. And so there’s something wrong with that kind of abstraction. The other is we don’t want to historicize it. So we had this–. FLETCHER: What do you mean? EARLY: We had this bloody French killings in Algeria and the revolution, and you got–. FLETCHER: Madagascar. EARLY: And so now, as Tom Hayden was saying on a radio program Danny and I were listening to–and he quoted Malcolm X–the chickens are coming home to roost. History does have a way of accumulating and living in the present. And so we have this high moral abstract standard on the one hand, but we don’t want to deal with a de facto colonialism, the unemployment among the North African population, the right-wing fascist, racist drift in Europe and in Israel. No one talks about how the African immigrant population in Israel is treated. We talked–almost as bad in some instances as the Palestinians are treated. So how to get a handle on this and uphold the right of expression on the one hand, and to recognize that people have legitimate grievances on the other, is these mixed messages of arrogance and the U.S. acting as though our hands are not bloody, or the French acting as though their hands are not bloody, the Africans drowning in the sea, trying to get off the north coast. So it–I’ll stop by saying that we heard on a radio program some Muslims say, just before we arrived here, that these murders have done more to harm Islam than the cartoons did. GLOVER: And the idea that this just happens out of nowhere or is part of the war–. See, what we’ve done is we’ve characterized the war on terror, never talking about the war on terror against Vietnamese people and the war on terror that was introduced by this country and by the French. I mean, imagine the French were defeated in Điện Biên Phủ. They’ve never been forgotten. In fact, they were defeated in 1954 in Điện Biên Phủ. There were certain words somewhat validated in terms of–oh, because the U.S. extended that war for another 21 years or whatever. But they had–they’ve lost the colony. They lost the war. The French, they’ve lost all the colonial holdings. They have the scar, they have all these particularly internal scars–the Vichy regime during World War II, which collaborated with the Germans, you know, in a sense, and German fascism in a sense. This is what the French are. For them to be able to kind of in some sense hold themselves up to some sort of high ideal is kind of ludicrous in a sense. And then there’s that–and then we’re not in any way– EARLY: To just–any way justifying it. GLOVER: –justifying the action itself. FLETCHER: No, no, no. EARLY: Yeah. It’s horrible. GLOVER: But this is–this is a horrible action. FLETCHER: That’s right. GLOVER: You know? In fact, if the fact that most feel that this particular moment, given the far-right extension and given the kind of attack on Islam, Islamophobia, whatever, you know, all of this is going to be increased in some sort of way. So what happens in the interim? What happens in that process? What happens is that all of a sudden we’re in a situation where most of–all those kind of ways, surveillances, and all the other kind of things increase, the militarization, the militarization that has been going on–and this internally in this country and around the world increased the whole question of borders and immigration. All that becomes intensified in a different kind of way. But these are issues that we were–I mean, we had the World Social Forum and those issues 14 years ago now, almost 14 years ago. EARLY: And this feeds anger and frustration and the crazy people that we have in each of our communities. Take Obama. The racist attacks on the first black president of the United States, about which he cannot really–will not really reveal to us, any intelligent person gets angry and upset. And if you’re black, you get particularly angry and upset, and if you are bent on some fringe kind of thing. So we’re just feeding this kind of eruption. There are many white Americans who seethe at the racism that’s directed at the man in the White House. And so then you get these eruptions. And then, when you have these white fascists in the United States, some of–in the United States Congress, walking around saying that they’re David Duke without the baggage, that scares me. That angers me. That makes me want to go into a offensive mode as a part of my defense. And I think people with less–. FLETCHER: But part of the response, it seems to me, particularly in this matter, is that I believe progressives are actually called upon to speak out very, very clearly and point out the hypocrisy that is contained in Islamophobia. I mean, in other words, the fact that people would begin revenge attacks en masse, right, were there revenge attacks on Christian churches after Oklahoma City? Right? Were there revenge attacks after the Klan lynched various people? Right? Were there revenge–did anyone draw any conclusions about Christianity based on the KKK? Right? And no. In fact, people end up explaining it away, or even ignoring the theology. EARLY: Dishonest. FLETCHER: Right? EARLY: Dishonest. FLETCHER: But when it comes to a Muslim, Muslim engages in this. And now, at the same time that this is going on in France, we have a massacre carried out in Nigeria by Boko Haram. GLOVER: Boko Haram. They’re the same thing [incompr.] FLETCHER: Right? And the issue of Boko Haram was a major issue in 2014. And I’m just curious how you look at that phenomena, Boko Haram, because it didn’t seem like the Nigerian government had a very coherent strategy for addressing this. GLOVER: But let’s deal with history of Boko Haram. First of all, it started out as a nonviolent movement in a sense, and the government attacked. In fact, its charismatic leader was assassinated. It was the political assassination of a charismatic leader of the Boko Haram. But it started as a movement around justice [incompr.] basically the accumulation and dysfunctionalism that has happened within, certainly, the Nigerian state. And it’s no mystery to everybody else. It’s one of–it’s the largest country in Africa in terms of population. EARLY: And the largest economy in the world. GLOVER: And largest economy in Africa. It also has, it produces more oil than anyone else in Africa and everything else. EARLY: And one of the most corrupt areas on the face of–certainly on the continent of Africa, if not on the planet, in collaboration with big oil companies here and senators and congresspeople. So this dishonesty, I mean, we’re paying a price for that. We get Ferguson, and they burn down downtown property, and people go ape, you know, over that in condemning it. FLETCHER: Right. EARLY: But now they want to uphold this attack on Islam, and they don’t want to hear the moderate liberal progressive voices in Islam. GLOVER: You know, and we go back to even Ken Saro-Wiwa, the great poet, man who was executed, was murdered. You know? FLETCHER: But what do you do in a situation where you have this criminal group, Boko Haram, that’s carrying out these murders? It’s not just even terrorism, but it is terrorism. And you have a level of corruption in the government, as you’re describing, ethnic suppression and regional suppression. So what then ends up being the solution? How can Nigeria actually address this? GLOVER: The idea of a failed state is a real reality. You know. It’s almost as if–you know, Nigeria seized its independence in 1960. It’s just–. EARLY: And it’s a very atomized country. GLOVER: Yeah. It’s–. EARLY: [North on Islamic (?)]– GLOVER: Yeah. EARLY: –and then you’ve got other cultural factors, and you’ve got all of this corruption going on. And then you’ve got the complicity of the United States. GLOVER: And remember there was a bloody war when [the eagles (?)] started the Biafran War. It was a bloody war. Millions of Biafrans were [incompr.] were killed in the Biafran War. So in the one sense, the idea of this, the idea of the state, this Machiavellian concept of the state, is something where we see it failing, and what it has–once it has failed in a way in which this caused enormous destabilization, mainly that they, one, still function in the colonial construct, and they continue to function there, the raw materials. Could this be in some sense the failed state is a precondition for one–for another kind of rape of Africa in a different way and its raw material? FLETCHER: Well, you can see that in looking at Somalia, where the country essentially collapsed in 1991 and there’s been no international will to speak of to reunify the country. Right? They’ve been quite content. And certainly global capitalism has been very content to have a Somalia that is a country of fiefdoms, essentially a warlord state. And one of my worries is the question of whether Nigeria is headed towards a series of warlord states. GLOVER: Yeah. Yeah. EARLY: Over the long run, indeed that could be it. I mean, people have raised questions to what extent is Nigeria really a modern consolidated nation, because of you’ve got all these ethnic distinctions and you’ve got these sort of cosmopolitan cosmetic overlays of it, but that really obscure the fact that you’ve got all of these distinctions. GLOVER: Well, one of the other issues: I mean, we look at those states that–the relationships that we’ve had over a period of time, over our lifetime, we’ve watched Kenya come into its independence. Look at Kenya now. Kenya was the breadbasket of that part of Eastern Africa at the time of its independence. We look at the two places that we’ve all been close to over the last 20 some-odd years is Zimbabwe and South Africa. EARLY: And now South Africa. GLOVER: Now South Africa, you know, in a sense, and we see what’s happening there. I mean, at the point of time in 1985, five years independence, Zimbabwe had tripled the number from 900,000–three million kids in school, children in school. It had the most functional prenatal care, child care of any developing country in the world. In fact, there was a conference there sponsored by Columbia University and UNICEF to laud and to talk about how wonderful this young child development sector was. We watched the collapse of its market. Remember, I was there when they had maize there, which is [incompr.] it had been for centuries white, for hundreds of years white; now it’s yellow, because they’re importing Iowa corn and whatever, something like that. Or we see what’s happening in South Africa right now, where you have 35 percent unemployment in South Africa after the promise that we saw at a moment. What happens in this process is the question that we need to ask, you know, what do we look at in terms of its–the social structures, the continuation of the patterns of colonialism that’s continue [crosstalk] FLETCHER: And black greed. GLOVER: And black greed. FLETCHER: Yeah. We can’t just take everything back to where there was slavery and there was colonialism. GLOVER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. EARLY: And there are certainly elements of that that still operate in our lifetime. But they are well-educated, mature black people, some of them who used to be the deepest and most profound progressives, who are now saying call the police. And as a result of that, they’re shooting down black miners. FLETCHER: Right. Marikana, the Marikana massacre. EARLY: Or you look at Ferguson and where we talk about the racism in the United States, and I get these calls from Latin America saying, yeah, it’s really, really bad there. And I said, have you seen the prisons in Brazil? When Mr. Belafonte went with us to Venezuela, the second thing he asked Hugo Chávez, he says, by the way, I would like to go to a prison. He said, you’d like to go to prison? And he smiled and he says, yes, I want to see my peeps, as a way of saying, you go to Cuba, 50 some percent of the prisons look like us. These are questions that we have to be more mature and honest about, even as we embrace the profound development in a place like Cuba and the important role that a place like Brazil plays, and certainly the important role that Venezuela has played. FLETCHER: Well, let’s go to this side of the Atlantic, Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement. Did either of you expect to see something like that? GLOVER: I can’t say I did. I mean, I’m not surprised by it, you know what I’m saying, in such a way, because of the patterns of young black men and the death of young blacks there. The police–. I mean, we hearken often back to our own past when you think about the Black Panther Party, when you talk about community control of the police or whatever, you know, arming themselves against police. You know? And to see that period, in a sense, we never look at our history. We can see that period repeat itself in some sort of sense, the continued brutalization of African-American men at a point. And it’s been described, you know, so much in so many books where you have increasing numbers of black men who are incarcerated, who are disenfranchised because of that incarceration, who are not able to get jobs, whatever jobs are. And the economic problems in a sense create another kind of tension in this sense, and the sense of authority that exists, and privilege, and also, I think that–around that and being able to be absolute, the absolute law. EARLY: Yeah. I certainly didn’t expect to see it happen. And as I try to do my day-to-day analysis, I begin to ask myself, well, had I paid closer attention to the social base, the cross-cultural, cross-racial social base that gave rise to Barack Obama, maybe we might have been able to extrapolate that if there is another kind of crisis in the society. We would have white people, brown people, cross-class people rallying, working with these young black activists to say, enough is enough. Of course, this has been catalyzed by the young black activists. I did not anticipate that we would have the kind of generational leadership divide that is going on. And, of course, we were all young black militants with our hearts beating and railing against the older generation, but this is a more mature critique of the older generation. This is not just youths’ hearts thumping, thumping sort of eratically. There is obviously some of that, but there is a more conscious analytical element on the part of these young black people embedded in these communities, who are very conscious and analytical about what’s going on. And I would not have anticipated that. And I think it’s very instructional to us: how do we find our complementary role to that? And, of course, the divide about Opera and the divide about Al Sharpton that’s coming up should be instructive to us, some of us older people, of how do we–because the youth are inviting us in, if we want to complement. But they’re saying, you can’t be a substitute for us. But, no, I would not have anticipated this. GLOVER: Well, one of the things–and to talk about that maturity, man, one of the meetings that I was at in Ferguson, there were young people who were planning for the next electorial moment, right there, what they needed to do, what they needed on the ground to change those people who supposedly represent them. So there’s a process that happened that is not often alluded to or not given voice to in the mass media. There’s also–there’s a maturity, as James talks about, in terms of that. And, yeah, I mean, they booed some of the old leadership off the stage, and they had a right to do that. And the question becomes is if the NAACP is an impediment–and I’m saying about how do we transform the NAACP? Has to be a question right there. At this particular stage and point, how do we now, in that maturity, look beyond just the anger that is the result of that, just the frustration, historic frustration, and move beyond that? FLETCHER: Well, that’s actually one of the reasons I thought that some of the attacks on Opera were actually unfair, that I think that by posing the question of leadership, there’s two different ways to hear the question of leadership. One is the leader, right? And then another is leadership, direction, strategy. Right? And I think that it would have been useful to have engaged Opera and engaged other people in this discussion about where is the movement going, what kind of organizational forms do we need, how do we build up and support new leadership, much in the same way that that discussion needed to happen around the Occupy movement. GLOVER: Yeah. Yeah. EARLY: I totally agree with you. I totally agree with you. And we all have our limitations, and often they’re generational limitations. And, I mean, I don’t know Opera. I don’t watch her show. My sense is that Opera’s doing the best she can with where she came from in terms of social activism and what she understood and the icons that she holds up. The most poignant critique that I heard–and because, you know, youth and some old people will say things that we later regret or that don’t really take us anywhere. But one of the young people said: what are you talking about? Why don’t you invite us on your show to talk about this? And I thought, in there is engagement. Now, the question is: will Opera and her people take the more mature stance and say, let’s have a side discussion with them and say, yes, I said what I said, I either hold on to some of it, I listened, I heard something else, I have changed some of it. But tell me: what is it that you think I missed? Which is not a personal dialog between me and you, but it’s about a social thing, because Oprah is actually using an analytical perspective about the civil rights movement. This is not Oprah trying to play historian. FLETCHER: It’s a political issue. EARLY: Exactly. Exactly. FLETCHER: It’s not just a generational thing. EARLY: Exactly. FLETCHER: It’s a political issue that needs to be sort of interrogated. And the thing that’s interesting–one of the things that really does relate to generation is precisely the question of our generation, the baby boomers, frequently don’t want to give up leadership. We–I mean, this is something I remember going in the black radical Congress, in efforts that there was this struggle when a number–you’d see baby boomers frequently wanting one more grasp at the ring. And I think that some of the young people that emerged in the Black Lives Matter movement, right, they feel that, right? And then that gets sort of interlocked with this issue of political differences. You know? EARLY: Right. Right. One of my personal prides, one of my few personal prides is I won this battle with myself many, many years ago when I started to say, I’m a reluctant follower, which means I think I know how to lead, but I am really struggling to try to figure out how do I find my complimentary role in this. And if I need to vote, I know how to do that. FLETCHER: I want to thank you both. And I want to thank you for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we will see you again next time. Thanks a lot.

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James Early

James Early is the director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Prior to his work with the Smithsonian, Mr. Early was a public program officer at the National Endowment for Humanities in Washington, D.C. He was host of Ten Minutes Left, a weekly radio segment of cultural, educational, and political interviews and commentary at Howard University's radio station. He is a former board member of TransAfrica, and a current board member of the U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchange as well as the Institute for Policy Studies.

Danny Glover

Danny Glover combines his acting career with a dedication to the common good. He is well-known for his film and television works, including the Lethal Weapon series, Beloved, To Sleep with Anger, and Freedom Song. He serves as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, works on behalf of AIDS victims in the U.S. and Africa, and helps a wide range of organizations advance the causes of civil rights and economic justice.