Friday, 19 February 2021

The Lie That is America

The Republic is three hundred years old and yet it still has trouble with equality. Whenever the idea is brought up, the entire nation suffers a nervous breakdown. On recovery, it reverts to one of its old and tired shibboleths… “We hold these truths to be self-evident……”

Generation after generation has latched on to the idea of American Exceptionalism a concept that has been hammered in, persistently enough, so much so that it has become more or less the running title of another narrative: the “American Mosaic”. What got the show going initially points directly to the republic’s founding document that was inaugurated at a 4th of July congress in 1776, in which it was declared, loftily, almost to the point of parody, that,  When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation, etc, etc, etc...” Followed by breathtakingly over-the-top baloney, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world...

A fly on the wall at that congress might easily have thought: ‘Mmm… these guys are riding really high morally and would see no difficulty in getting all of the people free. All, including the black African slaves. All what’s stopping them from doing so is that mad, bad, King George’.

That would have been one wrong fly.

I quote the foregoing extensively because, anyone living within the borders of America would, at first sight, feel jolly pleased that he has been born in one of the best, if not the best place on earth, a land in which the rivers run with milk and honey. But he, like that fly on the wall would be utterly mistaken.

Thirteen years after gaining independence, the Establishment were at it again. They drafted another document, this time, a Constitution, that purported to set out the ways and means for governing the United States. Again, the language is lofty, as it should be. But, unfortunately, the loftiness disguises the true intent of its provisions, namely, to preserve and protect private property, but was completely unfit for the purpose of protecting all of its people. And continues to so fail ever since, despite numerous tinkerings.

We the People of the United States”, it began, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America".

But eighty years later, enjoyment of that justice, that tranquility, domestic or otherwise, or any of those blessings of liberty, that the document bragged about, still eluded Blacks in America, whilst the white burghers, who had drawn up the document, were free to live their lives, without the hateful oppression from the English crown, but which, at the same time, apparently gave them permission to oppress other human beings, with consciences eased by selective readings of the Bible. Anyway, however they justify their behaviour, the system was based on an economic model built around the serfdom of Black Americans, a system that enabled slave masters to accumulate wealth, unencumbered by constitutional doublespeak. It is unlikely that in their new Republic, they did not recognize the irony in their posturings about the rights of man. It took the urgency of a civil war that was not going well for the Union side, for their leader to reluctantly come up with a feeble emancipation document that was, purportedly, intended to free black people living in the secessionist states. But that document was only a tactical move that had the objective of undermining the military fitness of the rebellious states, whose home front depended heavily on the free labour of enslaved Blacks that allowed the rebels to apply their energies in full at the frontline. In the end, however, by the 13th Amendment, “emancipation” was proclaimed throughout the United States. But it was just smoke and mirrors. In the post-bellum Reconstruction interlude that followed, the secessionist states passed black codes laws that systematized the control and exploitation of black bodies. It soon became obvious, even to the Congress, that the 13th Amendment did not do its intended job and therefore needed its deficiencies corrected by a 14th and 15th Amendment. Neither of these amendments made any significant difference to the condition of black people in the Southern states, but instead, provided the platform for the states’ segue into the Jim Crow era that lasted till the mid-twentieth century. Some people are not even sure that Jim Crow is truly over, with the enduring limitations on social and economic justice, and continued lynchings by law-enforcement or their deputies.

In any event, as always, history took its shambolic way on to the fifties and sixties. These decades were the darkest of what the West loved to call the Cold War, a period when America was trying to convince anyone who would listen that its social and economic order was superior to the Communist bloc’s. But, under the skeptical gaze of the rest of the word, America’s fraud on its Black population was revealed for what it was. It was a most public revelation that played out on the streets and the screens of the new medium, television, and organized by a coalition of Black and White activists. Grudgingly, the nation was forced to honor, but only in part, what Martin Luther King called ‘the promissory note‘ that the nation’s founders and architects had signed, and to which every American was a supposed beneficiary.  But King’s ‘bank of justice’, on which the check was to have been drawn was truly bankrupt, morally, and the Republic had failed to deliver.

Two decades on, America remains prisoner to its lie. The country’s Black population is subject to a regime that is no different from that of its post-reconstruction era. Blacks are still being lynched openly in the public domain and gunned down in their beds as they sleep. White families enjoy a staggering ten-fold advantage in wealth over Black families while, in 2014, Black lives were shorter by an average of more than 31/2 years, a disparity that is linked directly to the economic under-privilege.

So, neither the Declaration of Independence, nor the Constitution nor any of its amendments or other proclamations of equality and the Rights of Man perform as advertised.

February is a month for reflection on these things.

Tell Fren Tru


Friday, 25 December 2020

Health Maintenance in a Pandemic


The telephone rang. It was the doctor. I hadn’t been to see her in over a year. I should have, of course. If only for the obligatory annual check-up. It was not that I was being neglectful but, like just about everybody else, I couldn’t just walk into the doctor’s surgery as in the before-times. The times have changed so much in the last few months that hospitals and doctors’ offices have become no-go areas for the relatively healthy. The need must be truly urgent for one to brave the hazards, real or merely perceived, of entering an Emergency Department, a clinic or doctor’s office. So, unless one was practically keeling over, one tries to avoid such establishments in the way that one would try to avoid the... plague. The ultimate version of social distancing.

Our way of being is changing fast for better or worse, the relationship with our doctors being among the first casualties. And of course, not all caring institutions are the same. Some, or even many, are anything but, becoming instead, either by accident, or even design, places of uncaring and frequently, untimely death due to COVID-19 being allowed free range within their premises. In the province of Ontario, Canada, for example, 9,625 care-home residents have been infected by COVID-19. Of this number 2,471 have died. A  25.7%  death rate, nearly ten times greater than that among other COVID-19 infected Ontarians. These staggering figures need their own separate commentary.

The grim statistics have, so far, not affected hospitals or doctors’ offices. We keep away from them and they, reciprocally, hold us at arm’s length. But if access is restricted, how does one consume health care? (We are all consumers now). Does COVID-induced anxiety supercede all other concerns about our health?

But the morning call did come from the doctor, enquiring about my state of health. She wanted to know how I was, and was there any service that I needed? Then, in a flash, I realized that here was yet another Covid-induced shift. ‘Telemedicine’ and ‘telehealth’ had arrived. Although telehealth had been lurking in the fringes of traditional health care for well over a quarter of a century its impact had indeed been no more than marginal. “Telehealth”, we had been told, “is a collection of means or methods for enhancing health care, public health, and health education delivery and support, using telecommunications technologies.” And within this, telemedicine was anticipated to deliver medical service directly to the individual consumer.

Now the public health arm of telehealth has been in full display since the opening stages of the pandemic, when public health officials, and presidents, potentates and prime ministers, and heads of world organizations stepped forward, with long faces, to warn, if not exactly of impending doom - but close enough – to concentrate the mind, leavened albeit with sensible advice on how to mitigate the pandemic’s spread. The one exception need not detain us here.

The new communications platforms that a pandemic demands create opportunities for those who live in well-resourced countries, but the full promise will, for the foreseeable future, remain unfulfilled for people living in poorer parts of the world. However, for the present emergency, there is perhaps a silver lining in that COVID wields a lighter, gentler touch over some of these countries. With this in mind, and with prospects of effective vaccines just about to be realized, we can all have a less stressful Christmas and a normal 2021.


Tell Fren Tru

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Black Bodies And Original Sin

2020 has been a year-and-a-half, even though it is barely six months old. Does anyone remember that early January morning when it burst upon us with all the hype and noise about clear vision, and all that?  Some even suppressed, albeit momentarily, the persistent, deep ache induced by the virus-like sickness that had afflicted us for more than four centuries.

    But the year was not even a week old when reports of a new type of viral illness began to emerge from China. And, in no time at all, the new sickness, which was to be named COVID-19, corona virus disease 2019, had spread, and was continuing to do so, so rapidly, that the World Health Organization was forced to call the outbreak a  pandemic. Shortly following that declaration, many world leaders began the task of controlling the epidemic by curtailing economic and social activities within their territories and, subsequently, closing their borders to all but essential traffic.

         Sixteen weeks on, pandemic is front-and-centre in everyone’s mind, recognized around the world as the plague that is unravelling our modern way of life. As I write, nearly12 million  , distributed over 213 countries, have been infected by COVID-19, and more than half a million have died, economies have tumbled, and social orders rattled. We have had to re-define important aspects of our lives, and unexpected revelations about who or what is important have emerged. The term ‘essential’, as in essential worker, for example, has been clarified in sobering ways.  Essential workers, we now learn, are the workers required to be physically present, on location where, if they are not, the wheels that keep our societies turning grind to a halt. And, unsurprisingly, it is at these interfaces that the risk of catching COVID-19 is highest: We now realize that the essential worker is not just among obvious groups like doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers, EMTs or firefighters, policemen, and security guards, garbage collectors, but also includes people who keep our food and other supply lines intact (obvious as that should have been), workers who keep our transport networks rolling; supermarket checkouts, janitors, cleaners and, notably, the hitherto much under-valued personal service worker or PSW who, to our shame, we had accorded little respect. (We, unknowingly, shot ourselves in the foot here, as the number of vulnerable lives lost among care home residents reveals. That is a story that needs its own telling). These workers are the lifeblood of the economy not only in normal times, but as we now see, in times of trouble as well.

         What about those who are not among the category of the essential? The majority, unfortunately, have been laid off or sent on furlough. However, we are told that as many as 40% of the modern economy’s workforce have continued drawing their pay without leaving the house. These work from home (WFH) folks carry on their business, and/or that of their employer, striking keyboards and clicking mice, experiencing little inconvenience apart from having to change from their pyjamas into their day clothes, if that at all. But, however convenient their situation, their exertions have apparently not been enough to prevent the economy diving. Governments did what they had to do and provided emergency cash for the laid-off or furloughed. So, economic disaster has been staved off.

         Of course, viral pandemics come and go. They appear, suddenly, or, creep up upon us and cut their way through countries and regions, killing hundreds of thousands, or millions, until, eventually, they run out of potential victims, and allow survivors to breathe again. This is what pandemics do and have done for hundreds and perhaps, thousands of years. So, COVID-19 will go away too, sooner or, as some fear, later.

         But, this time, there has been a confluence that has resulted in totally predictable consequences. COVID-19 targets, with unerring focus, the group that have been, and continue to be, the victims of that other virus-like disorder, the one that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, and which has been a stain on humanity for centuries; it is the only virus that has remained resolutely out of control and resistant to all forms of therapy, presumably because it is an affliction of mind rather than one of body. And so, the moment arrives, when COVID-19 meets racism, on the bodies of Black people. The results have been devastating but unsurprising. All the factors contributing to this shameful outcome stem directly from anti-Black racism: having to work in essential fields, inconsistent access to health care, chronic health conditions, the societal stress of being Black and its adverse effects on the immune system are laid bare in this analysis and is the result of what is often called America’s original sin. That sin was in public display when the life was squeezed out of Black George Floyd by a White policeman. America must exorcise this sin, or its presumed leadership of the world would slip into the hands of others. That, perhaps, might not be such a bad idea.

Tell Fren Tru