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DITORIAL MONDAY, MARCH 24, 2003

Racial Tension and Anti-Americanism

By KELLY COOK

Not since the O.J. Simpson murder trial has the country been this divided. In 1994, the infamous case separated U.S. citizens between racial lines with most Whites holding steadfast that Simpson was as guilty as sin, while most Blacks believed Simpson to be innocent.

I remember my seventh-grade science class being interrupted when the verdict was rendered. It was one of those life-altering moments when you remember where you were and what you were doing at the time — our parents have Kennedy’s assassination and we have O.J.’s “not guilty” verdict. It was a tense time, as it seemed everyone from disc jockeys to housewives was talking about the case.

And now that the United States is at war with Iraq, the country is again split. This time however, the divide is not racial but political with 71% of the country in support of the Bush administration’s decision to go to war and 29% (mostly liberals) in opposition, according to The Washington Post. While liberals rally and protest and conservatives take the ‘blame France’ approach, the world’s perception of the United States continues to worsen.

People have good reason to be perturbed with the United States. Military occupations in Latin American countries allowed the U.S. to secure lucrative investments while the countries suffered thousands of deaths and devastation. The U.S. also armed Iraq and provided Saddam Hussein the money to purchase weapons of mass destruction. There are also numerous examples of the CIA installing dictators and assassinating leaders in Southeast Asian and Latin American countries. These are only a few of the atrocities that have been committed in the name America.

Besides being partly responsible for the maiming of millions, there is another reason for anti-Americanism throughout the world. Simply stated, most people in the United States do not care about the lives of people (particularly non-Whites) around the world. The hierarchy of life is based both on geographic and racial boundaries. What people don’t discuss is the underlying racial tension behind anti-Americanism — we always say it’s the U.S. versus Iraq, but we never say it’s the Whites versus the Arabs. Terrorism stems from economic inequality, but what is seldom acknowledged is that this discrepancy is largely the result of centuries of White people exploiting people of color through institutions such as Colonialism and slavery. And let’s face it, people perceive the United States as a White country. This is largely due to our media and pop culture — the lack of racial diversity is visible in everything from primetime TV to our string of White, male presidents.

In the media, as well as in people’s minds, there is a higher value placed on the lives of White Americans in this country than any other people. White people, especially when they’re pretty and wealthy, make headlines far more often than people of color. The kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart (a pretty White girl from a wealthy family) has saturated the media, while hundreds of non-White, poor children who were kidnapped or murdered during the same time period were never mentioned in national media.

The treatment of minorities in the United States is a microcosm of the way this nation treats the rest of the world. During the Smart kidnapping, the 1,900 people who drowned in the Senegal ferry disaster barely made the U.S. papers. This is only a small fraction of the international news that is ignored by the U.S. media.

This apathy is not a recent development. No one cared when Black kids were being shot in inner city schools during the 1980s. It wasn’t until White suburban kids started shooting up the schools that the country took notice. HIV/AIDS was a crisIs when it was a largely gay, White male problem. Celebrities held dozens of benefits to raise money for research. However, now that Black females are the group most affected by AIDS in the United States, there is hardly a whimper about the disease among celebrities (with the exception of Bono) or other citizens.

Globally, the amount of deaths claimed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occur daily around the world in places like Israel and Northern Ireland. Furthermore, AIDS is still killing millions in Africa yet the crises fails to reach U.S. airwaves.

When it comes to accountability on an individual level, U.S. citizens are reluctant to donate money to people in need. According to the 2001 Generosity Index, 72% of U.S. citizens do not donate any portion of their income to charity. But far more damning than statistics is the overt dislike shown toward the United States.

The racial and geographic superiority complex of the United States is to blame for widespread anti-Americanism. Terrorism is a racial issue as much as it is a political or economic one. In reality, the United States is a wealthy, White country while the rest of the world (except for Western Europe) is populated by impoverished people of color. The United States is perceived as the White oppressor. People, specifically people of color, are sick and tired of being devalued. And when people are constantly oppressed, they tend to rebel or react positively when they regard something to be a victory against their oppressors — hence the cheering after Sept. 11.

The reaction of many Blacks after the O.J. Simpson verdict is another prime example of an oppressed people choosing to perceive the loss of innocent life as a victory. Whether or not O.J. did it was irrelevant (though we all know the man’s guilty). Blacks cheered because Simpson’s acquittal symbolized a blow to their oppressors. After years of receiving the message that Blacks didn’t matter, a message reinforced by events like the acquittal of the police officers responsible for the beating of Rodney King, many Blacks found some joy — however sick and irrational — in Simpson’s verdict.

With the growing anti-American sentiment around the world, the fear of terrorist retaliation for the war in Iraq is very real. The killing of the innocent is inexcusable and I do not condone terrorism in any way, and it is unfortunate that people resort to and support these extreme measures. Last Wednesday, the State Department issued a warning to U.S. citizens abroad of possible terrorist attacks. Let’s hope the State Department won’t have to issue a warning to citizens here in the U.S. If they do, perhaps the best preventative measure would be to start valuing the lives of all people regardless of race or nationality.

Kelly Cook is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be contacted at kfc5 [at] cornell [dot] edu. Color Outside The Lines appears Mondays. Copyright © 2003 by The Cornell Daily Sun, Inc. All rights reserved.

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