Sacha Baron Cohen is a racist

Liberals love Sacha Baron Cohen, because he exposed the absurdity of Republicans. Yet, they say nothing about his racism and their complicity in it. Satire doesn’t excuse routinely portraying negative stereotypes. It actually affects people. For example, Kazakh students in the US and UK were mocked because of Borat. Kazakhs have no representation at all in the west. Frankly, Cohen’s intentions do not matter. The consequences are indubitable: Borat made life worse for many Kazakhs in the west.

Furthermore, Cohen’s horrible film, The Dictator, buys into lazy and trite stereotypes that arab dictators are “maniacs.” Anyone who reads history will know that Gaddafi is not a simpleton. For most of his life, he was an intelligent and charismatic leader who saved the Libyan economy. Yet, westerners have no knowledge of this fact. All they know is that he’s a “horny maniac,” because Libyans have no standing in the west.

Satire loses its edge when the target is powerless. Libyans and Kazahks have no social capital in the west. James Franco’s film, The Interview, is horrible for similar reasons. North Koreans are only presented as fat, ugly maniacs or brain-washed goons. Unsurprisingly, Cohen mocked Kim Jong Il’s death at an awards ceremony, dressed as Gaddafi. Unlike Republicans, none of these people have a standing to be ridiculed. Cohen, for the sake of pointing out his country’s racism, will drip himself in racist portrayals that negatively affect these people. Shock value is his game, and it’s more important than Kazahks and Libyans.

Liberals will now jump on me, and they will scream that they knew Borat and The Dictator did not attempt to portray real Libyans and Kazahks. Certainly, most of you noticed, because it’s pretty obvious. Nonetheless, do you know anything about Kazahkstan? Or Libya? Have you read Gaddafi’s political treatises? Have you read about his contributions to Libya’s economy? Do you know that you’ve probably asked offensive questions to people of color? Probably not. Your ignorance is cut from the same cloth that makes Republicans look ridiculous in Borat. Borat, The Dictator, and Cohen’s recent show are praised for “showing America’s true colors,” but honestly it should be titled “only exposing Republicans.” Cohen is noticeably softer on liberals; they consume his products, after all. Yet, liberals are the ones who ask me every year whether I’m from North or South Korea. Liberals like Bill Maher make islamophobic comments all the time. Liberals are not fundamentally distinct from Republicans. They both want capitalism. They both want to impose sanctions on North Korea. They both supported the Iraq War. They both supported the Prison Industrial Complex and the racist war on drugs. The list goes on. This is the deeper problem in America — and in all western nations. The entire country is racist (ignorant), and their victims are voiceless. Borat only strengthens that ignorance. Socio-political analyst Ghada Chehade has written about this as well. 

A liberal might interrupt me now, and point out that except for Borat, Cohen’s other films ridicule “maniacal” dictators. Isn’t that better? Not really. Kim Jong Un, for example, is always portrayed as “irrational.” But, every political expert will tell you the opposite. We don’t need to coddle up to Kim Jong Un to portray the man accurately.  Yet, why does the west give him zero representation other than negative stereotypes? Why do they keep the population ignorant on US involvement in North Korea’s current state? Or Gaddafi’s achievements as a leader? North Korea has tried to denuclearize before, yet George W. Bush sabotaged sensible deals made with Bill Clinton. He then declared North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil along with Iran and Iraq, the latter of which he destroyed. Obama racked up the tension by carrying out provocative military drills near its border, which included simulating assassination and B52 bombers capable of dropping nukes. Furthermore, Obama invaded Libya, which gave up its nuclear weapons. None of these facts are ever mentioned by the mainstream media. Instead, North Korea is just portrayed as an irraitonal actor. What kind of role do you think these negaitve stereotypes play in the larger narrative?

Some might claim that it’s just “benign ignorance.” If so, why is this “benign ignorance” allowed and sustained by those who know better? Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense under Barack Obama, has openly talked about many of the things I mentinoed above: North Korea is not irrational, there is a complicated history between US and NK, and etc. William Perry, former secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, is even more sympathetic to North Korea — and he’s talked about this openly too. The US military is clearly aware of the things I have pointed out above. Yet, why aren’t these voices as emphasized as the negative steretypes? Why was Hussein suddenly demonized, despite US presidents like Reagan praising him as “great leader” in the past? Why is Gaddafi now a joke? All in all, one should be wary of ridiculing dictators who have no social capital in their country.  We should be learning more about the other. Without prior knowledge, satire becomes a blank canvas for racism and xenophobia.

The War on Drugs: Harry Anslinger and the spectre of racism

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men” — Harry J. Anslinger

We know that the war on drugs is racist. We know that black men are arrested for drugs disproportionately — 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. At any given time, 40 to 50 percent of black men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five are in jail, on probation, or have a warrant out for their arrest, overwhelmingly for drug offenses. (93) The US imprisons blacks at rates higher than South Africa during the apartheid. We know this. Some explain that we attempted to rein in harmful drugs while we, as a society, were still racist. I am here to shatter this illusion. We never started the war on drugs because of its harm. We started it because of racism. Drugs are not harmful. They are not this unique danger to our society that we need to oppress and rein in. I will be writing a series of essays tackling each of the myths haunting the war on drugs. In this essay, I will try to explore the origins of the war on drugs to demonstrate how it was racist from the beginning.

Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Harry started the war on drugs because of racism, prejudice, and fear. He argued that marijuana made blacks unleash their lust for white women. (17) He claimed that blacks and Hispanics used more marijuana than whites. Anslinger and his people believed that cocaine turned blacks into superhuman hulks who could take bullets to the heart without flinching. “It was the official reason why the policed across the South increased the caliber of their guns.” (27) Anslinger hated jazz because it wasn’t white, or as he explained:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” — Harry J. Anslinger

He relentlessly cracked down on jazz musicians like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. In fact, Anslinger contributed to Billie Holiday’s addiction by planting drugs on her to make an example of the evil, black junkie. Yet, when Judy Garland confessed her drug use to him, he did not arrest her. This was the same with his friend, Joseph McCarthy, who also revealed to Harry his heroin addiction. Anslinger only had problems with non-whites.

Furthremore, Anslinger was afraid that the Chinese were after white women. He believed that the prevalence of drugs even after his repressive reign was due to a Chinese plot trying to corrupt White Americans. (43) As evident from his friendship with Joseph McCarthy,  Anslinger was terrifed that the Chinese were trying to spread their communist poison throughout his beloved country. This might explain why he befriended Colonel White. White was Anslinger’s right hand man. He was Anslinger’s favorite subordinate and he was suspected of planting drugs on Billie Holiday – one of Harry’s favorite targets. White is also infamous for spiking womens’ drinks with drugs and strangling a Japanese man to death even though he wasn’t sure if he was a spy. White later bragged about it to his friends and had the picture of the poor man hanging on his wall. (28) These were the minds from which the war on drugs was born.

The war on drugs is racist. It has always been racist and is still racist. I kept this essay short, because I did not wish to bombard you with a slew of facts all at once. Instead, I will divide my argument into different parts that refer to each other. The first essay introduced us to the origin of the war on drugs. The second essay will cover the harms and costs of the war. The third and final essay will delineate the problem of addiction.

Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari

Person of color, victimhood, and expertise

I don’t see how being a person of color makes one an expert on racism. That person may understand how it feels like to be a victim of racism. That person may tell you which aspects of racism especially bother them or their family. However, being a person of color doesn’t necessarily make one understand the psychological, socio-political, and economical causes of racism.

One might ask: how can you understand racism if you don’t listen to those who experience it? First, you don’t have to experience a robbery to study robbery. Second, one mustn’t assume that not considering victimhood as expertise means that one mustn’t listen to a person’s experience of racism. It’s probably wiser to gather data from people of color, because they usually are more aware of it than their white counterpart. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t take these testimonies at face value. One must test them to see if they’re true, see if they fit our current definition of racism, and decide whether it is wise to expand or re-define racism to accommodate certain testimonies; or see if it’s better to defer the testimonies to something else entirely like the availability heuristic or tribalism. This kind of work is very different from experiencing life as a person of color. So why do we reject this impersonal and objective method practiced by experts, and instead favor the subjective testimonies of people of color?

I think much of the fear of the impersonal or the objective standpoint is thanks to postmodernism. Postmodernists tend to believe that those who favor objectivity use the name of reason to further entrench the sovereign power. It is true that Enlightenment thinkers like Jon Stewart Mill advocated imperialism under the name of Reason. It is true that many still propose the same – Sam Harris and Douglas Murray. It is true that some do so in favor of the patriarchy or capitalism. Even so, that doesn’t mean the impersonal or the objective standpoint is always on the side of imperialism or the patriarchy. Enlightenment ideals like equality gave us the necessary soil to sprout movements like women’s rights and human rights. Also, who said the impersonal or the objective belongs to the Enlightenment? Even postmodernists make impersonal and objective judgments on knowledge, politics, and so on –a claim like “truth is not objective for reasons” is objective. As you can see, the objective standpoint is necessary and useful; and I see no reason to abandon it.