Racism & US Empire

In political and media realms, the people of color who’ve suffered from U.S. warfare abroad have been relegated to a kind of psychological apartheid — separate, unequal and implicitly not of much importance, writes Norman Solomon.

Protesting the police killing of George Floyd in front of the White House, May 30, 2020. (Rosa Pineda, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Norman Solomon
Common Dreams

A recent Justice Department report concluded that “systemic” racial bias in the Minneapolis Police Department “made what happened to George Floyd possible.”

During the three years since a white police officer brutally murdered Floyd, nationwide discussions of systemic racism have extended well beyond focusing on law enforcement to also assess a range of other government functions.

But such scrutiny comes to a halt at the water’s edge — stopping short of probing whether racism has been a factor in U.S. military interventions overseas.

Hidden in plain sight is the fact that virtually all the people killed by U.S. firepower in the “war on terror” for more than two decades have been people of color. This notable fact goes unnoted within a country where — in sharp contrast — racial aspects of domestic policies and outcomes are ongoing topics of public discourse.

Certainly, the U.S. does not attack a country because people of color live there. But when people of color live there, it is politically easier for U.S. leaders to subject them to warfare — because of institutional racism and often-unconscious prejudices that are common in the United States.

Racial inequities and injustice are painfully apparent in domestic contexts, from police and courts to legislative bodies, financial systems, and economic structures. A nation so profoundly affected by individual and structural racism at home is apt to be affected by such racism in its approach to war.

Many Americans recognize that racism holds significant sway over their society and many of its institutions. Yet the extensive political debates and media coverage devoted to U.S. foreign policy and military affairs rarely even mention — let alone explore the implications of — the reality that the several hundred thousand civilians killed directly in America’s “war on terror” have been almost entirely people of color.

Sympathy Skewed by Race, Ethnicity  

The Palanca-Maiaki-Udobnoe border crossing point, between Moldova and Ukraine on March 1, 2022,  as people fled the war in Ukraine. (UN Women/Aurel Obreja)

The flip side of biases that facilitate public acceptance of making war on non-white people came to the fore when Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

News coverage included reporting that the war’s victims “have blue eyes and blond hair” and “look like us,” Los Angeles Times television critic Lorraine Ali noted. “Writers who’d previously addressed conflicts in the Gulf region, often with a focus on geopolitical strategy and employing moral abstractions, appeared to be empathizing for the first time with the plight of civilians.”

Such empathy, all too often, is skewed by the race and ethnicity of those being killed.

The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association has deplored “the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America. It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected.”

Persisting today is a modern version of what W.E.B. Du Bois called, 120 years ago, “the problem of the color line — the relation of the darker to the lighter races.” Twenty-first century lineups of global power and geopolitical agendas have propelled the United States into seemingly endless warfare in countries where few white people live.

Feb. 27, 2011: A Libyan refugee at a transit camp in Choucha Ras Djir, near the Tunisian border. (UN Photo/UNHCR/Alexis Duclos)

Racial, cultural and religious differences have made it far too easy for most Americans to think of the victims of U.S. war efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and elsewhere as “the other.”

Their suffering is much more likely to be viewed as merely regrettable or inconsequential rather than heart-rending or unacceptable. What Du Bois called “the problem of the color line” keeps empathy to a minimum.

“The history of U.S. wars in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America has exuded a stench of white supremacy, discounting the value of lives at the other end of U.S. bullets, bombs and missiles,” I concluded in my new book War Made Invisible. “Yet racial factors in war-making decisions get very little mention in U.S. media and virtually none in the political world of officials in Washington.”

At the same time, on the surface, Washington’s foreign policy can seem to be a model of interracial connection. Like presidents before him, Joe Biden has reached out to foreign leaders of different races, religions and cultures — as when he fist-bumped Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at their summit a year ago, while discarding professed human-rights concerns in the process.

Overall, in America’s political and media realms, the people of color who’ve suffered from U.S. warfare abroad have been relegated to a kind of psychological apartheid — separate, unequal, and implicitly not of much importance. And so, when the Pentagon’s forces kill them, systemic racism makes it less likely that Americans will actually care.

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His new book, War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine, was published in June by The New Press.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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17 comments for “Racism & US Empire

  1. CaseyG
    June 28, 2023 at 17:39

    Is it just that the US military that has no soul?

    At least there was one lone military person who knew that the history of Japan was in Kyoto—– which was the best area of Japan’s history—so that area was avoided, by supposedly one person who new the history of Kyoto. However, although Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not military towns—- America decided to test its bombs on civilian populations in that war. Ironically treating American citizens of Japanese descent as non Americans even though those Japanese were American citizens. It was said that Russia was to come to Japan and take the nation down but Truman decided he wanted to nuke the Japanese instead—and so he did.

    And of course, there was George Bush the 2nd who went into Iraq and took down that nation unnecessarily—–
    But how could we forget Hillary Clinton as Gadaffi was murdered and her “We came we saw, he died ,” comment. Or George Bush’s comment of ” Mission Accomplished…” in Iraq and that war wasn’t accomplished at all.

    And Dresden too——not a German military town, but a maker of beautiful china known around the world. Then there are also instances of US planes dropping bombs and smoke—but sadly Americans were murdered by Americans in many instances as the smoke blew onto the advancing US soldiers. I found some old books by man named Ernie Pyle who had a first hand look at the war of world war 2 of America—Sadly, it was said that as Mr. Pyle looked up to see if everyone was all right—he was shot in the head and died as he had been lying on
    the ground but looked up as the shooting ended—-except for him the shooting wasn’t quite finished yet. : (.

  2. Jason
    June 28, 2023 at 17:30

    Norman writes, “Certainly the U.S. doesn’t attack a country because people of color live there” , but this was George Carlin ‘s contention thirty years ago. Granted,that was comedy, but he made a pretty good case. But if Carlin was right,and our hobby is bombing Brown people, the Russians and the Serbs who aligned with then may be exceptions. So, people of color and anyone who challenges our dominance seem to be fair game.

  3. Lois Gagnon
    June 28, 2023 at 16:17

    While I completely agree with the findings in this article, I have been struck over how fierce ethnic hatred of Russians is in the West. There are of course dark skinned Russians, but skin color doesn’t have any bearing on the hatred displayed of all things Russia. The 14,000 deaths of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine has gone unmentioned in the mainstream media since the war there began in 2014. Simple rivalry over control of the earth’s resources takes precedence over everything though ingrained racism certainly makes dismissing the fate of the victims much easier for the perpetrators to pull off.

    There is still much work to do in the area of human rights for all.

    • michael888
      June 28, 2023 at 18:34

      Unfortunately the US depends on war to survive. Our technological and manufacturing innovations were offshored to save on labor costs and much lower taxes on profits.

      You cannot be in constant war without denigrating the enemy. It is difficult enough to get soldiers to kill other human beings without said soldiers identifying with the poor untermenschen’s goals and aspirations being the same as Americans’. And this contrived hatred WILL COME HOME. You cannot glorify UkroNAZIs exterminating anything Russian in Ukraine, and then rant about “white supremacy” being the cause of domestic crime. While Russian Americans may soon become victims of mass shootings in the US, our traditional domestic untermenschen are People of Color. And “white supremacist” Americans can be Hispanic or even Black.

      • J Anthony
        June 29, 2023 at 17:23

        U.S. hypocrisy, at all levels, knows no bounds.

  4. jamie
    June 28, 2023 at 16:00

    “have blue eyes and blond hair” and “look like us,” who will ever be able to forget such xenophobic expression; but I still struggle to decide if that was the phrase of the century, or this one “Europe is a garden but most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden (Borrell)”.
    Solomon’s article is the stepping stone to a new way to perceive and analyze our society, culture, ourselves, the way to seek true freedom. To broaden the analysis of racism, to use a system thinking approach to understand it.
    However, to m racism is more of a symptom than the disease, a symptom of “xenophobia”.
    We are xenophobic people whether we like it or not, it is inevitable when you grow up in our society. We might behave like we have empathy toward other cultures, but given the chance we will easily regress back to the xenophobic mind; and Solomon example nailed it. We are non-racist mostly because is a trend, it makes us feel just and socially accepted, so long as non-racism is valuable in the social context in which we live.
    I believe fear is one the most important factor for the xenophobic mind; we are a fearful society, almost paranoid.
    Christianity, used fear, apocalyptism (and guilt) since its inception; even today we still use fear, even to a higher degree than ever before, to engineer society, to make people behave, whether is for climate, racism, politics, economics, etc.
    Fear is a powerful tool but a devastating one for a population that is constantly bombarded by it.
    We prefer fear than empathy, understanding, truth, education and negotiation.
    Our western culture has been built around xenophobia, from US to Europe, to the UN; yes, even the UN is xenophobic; how many times it has turned a blind eye on wars caused by the US and its western puppets.
    If we want to change the world and our society for the best, the west must lose, and the institutions UN, IMF, WB, etc, cancelled, or at least relegated to “regional institutions”, to serve only the west, which would suit them very well.
    China must know that UN cannot be saved, and so is our culture; new order must come to life to finally find justice and harmony, which will bring nation like US to justice, for the illegal wars, xenophobia, for illegal appropriation of land, for genocide, for slavery, same for Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, and Europe; only then the world can move forward.
    US re-joining Unesco, UN talking about being more inclusive toward less developed countries, etc. are signs that the west feel UN is in peril and so their international order, they feel that the non-western world has understood human rights were mostly tools created by the west to protect themselves and to give them a reason to wage war with whomever they desire.
    Just like the church used Jesus… already then the xenophobic mind could not even tolerate Jesus’ racial traits to the point they rather promote him as an Aryan folk from the cold north;
    Jesus a man who was able to transcend race, diversity, able to love his enemy more than his friends. We are his worst nightmare and enemy

  5. John Manning
    June 28, 2023 at 15:53

    This problem is not one of the USA, it is a problem in all European countries. Even in multi-racial New Zealand where I live I was amazed to hear the vitriol directed against Russia for its pre-emptive invasion of Ukraine. The same people remained silent when US/NATO invaded Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and Libya and Iraq and Syria. They remain silent today regarding the ongoing brutality of Israel’s continuous invasion of the Palestine. The real irony is that over half those people in New Zealand would be classed as the “untermenchen” by the Ukraine’s right wing extremists. They were too asian looking or too polynesian, but they think they are European and safe from this prejudice.

    • michael888
      June 28, 2023 at 18:38

      Wasn’t the Christchurch mosque shooter trained in Ukraine by the UkroNAZIs? With no accountability for all the weapons dumped into the Black Hole of Kiev, will not be surprising to see more mass shootings with US/ NATO weapons.

  6. Rudy Haugeneder
    June 28, 2023 at 12:39

    Europe is just as bad. Less so in Latin America with the exception of Chile and Argentina where Whites appear the majority but where Native Americans continue to be murdered with impunity just as they are, on a much lesser scale, than in the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, this murderous racism is a hallmark of American and even Japanese and China political militarism. Fortunately the fast falling birth rate among those with a paler pigment will dramatically change the world order before the end of the century, provided climate change and/or biological and/or nuclear don’t first cull us all to a manageable number of a few hundred million by that time, after which we may again have a slowly evolving and beautiful planet. Sigh.

    • joey_n
      June 28, 2023 at 15:12

      I wouldn’t know. Is it not racist by itself to wish for those of a particular skin tone to decline in population numbers?

  7. evelync
    June 28, 2023 at 12:30

    It seems that there are corollaries to the shameful truth that Norman Solomon describes.
    For example the racism rampant in law enforcement in this country creates a subliminal acceptance by Americans of the demonization of the “non white” leaders that our NEOCONS choose to coup to invade & steal their resources, serving the corporate masters who fund the campaigns of the predators we elect to do their bidding. Of course that’s automatic in Britain too.

    So racism serves certain corporate interests that make a killing on the oil and gas and minerals under brown and black peoples land.

    The older I get the more I believe we’re run by a criminal fascist cabal of NEOCONS.

    We can’t forget Nagasaki and Hiroshima too. what a horrific crime that was – now understood to have represented a “warning” to our current favorite manufactured enemy Russia….

    Scott Ritter who visited Russia recently pointed out that everyday purchases like food were more affordable.

    Here education is unaffordable. Quality food is unaffordable.
    The empire wastes our resources and rips us all off.

    Oh well…I’ll quit before I sound like I’m disappointed in the “folks” who “run” our affairs in DC.

  8. Share
    June 28, 2023 at 11:32

    No German-Americans were put into concentration camps in the US such as Manzinar.
    I grew up in Detroit in the 60s and 70s, freckles the darkest areas of my skin. I moved back to Metro Detroit less than a month before 911. The hatred I heard led me to search out and sign up for my first belly dance class in Dearborn to support my Arabic sisters in some way.

  9. vinnieoh
    June 28, 2023 at 10:54

    Ho Chi Mihn was a young man in Paris in 1918 during the formulation of the Treaty of Versailles. He had listened to Woodrow Wilson proclaiming his doctrine of spreading democracy and opportunity, and so made supplication to Wilson and the French leadership to recognize the sovereign aspirations of the Vietnamese. He was ignored by all the western ideologues of western “democracy,” coming to the rightful conclusion that Wilson’s high-sounding rhetoric was not meant for non-whites.

    It is also true that Ho was already a socialist and active member of the international collective of that era, but Ho never gave up on the hope that Wilson and the west might actually begin to practice what they were preaching. Apparently, Ho sent successive letters to Hoover, FDR, and Truman – all ignored.

    The final straw was, after Dien Bien Phu an internationally recognized agreement was made to hold a nationwide referendum in Vietnam to determine which government had majority support, and the US made sure that referendum never took place. Millions of lost lives later, the US too exited Vietnam in defeat.

  10. Michael L Falk
    June 28, 2023 at 10:48

    History has clearly shown us over and over again that a great majority of our species are fundamentally racists, bias, prejudice and intolerant of those who are different from us either by skin color, physical appearance, language, culture, religion, race, class distinction or country which gives rise to certain untoward behaviors. At best, we tolerate those differences to avoid being confrontational just to “get along” rather than the more ideal behavior of unequivocally embracing our mutual humanity. Unfortunately, our most common reaction to these differences is conflict that frequently regresses to aggression and violence.

  11. Bushrod Lake
    June 28, 2023 at 10:41

    Only when one sees how degraded he is wrapped up in this racist “war on terror” – especially instituted after 9/11 – will we revolt. The dirty hand of our leaders have overshadowed us, our better angels.

  12. Peri
    June 28, 2023 at 10:39

    This applies not only to actual wars, but to economic warfare that makes people poorer, and to “War on Drugs,” “War on Human Trafficking,” and “War on Terror” policies which affect black and brown people around the globe. It permeates our culture. Try having a conversation about Mexico’s murder rate under Mexico’s strict gun laws compared to the US’s: you’ll promptly be told that “third-world countries” shouldn’t be compared to us. Then they’ll do backbends to avoid saying what they really mean: not poor countries (because Mexico is high-middle-income), not dictatorial countries (because Mexico is a democratic-socialist country), but rather, countries full of people with nonwhite skin.

  13. Drew Hunkins
    June 28, 2023 at 10:37

    I actually don’t think racism per se has as much to do with Washington imperialism as other factors. For example, some of the most maligned, sanctioned, and bombed people in the world have been white folks fighting to keep their sovereignty: Serbs and ethnic Russians. So that I’m not misunderstood — racism has no doubt been a factor historically, however the bigger factor is the hegemony and militarist domination Washington insists upon across the globe regardless of the ethnic makeup of the victims.

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