Freedom Rider: Tuskeegee, Guatemala…

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by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

The Nazi “Doctor of Death,” Joseph Mengele, lived out his last years in hiding and infamy in South America. But the American Dr. Mengele, Dr. John C. Cutler, who infected human beings with syphilis in Alabama and Guatemala, died in the bosom of Yale University, a man of honor and high esteem. Cutler’s diabolical crimes were “normalized and praised” because they were committed against non-white people.

Freedom Rider: Tuskegee, Guatemala…

by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

The poorly educated black farmers in Alabama and the prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala had one important thing in common. They were not white.”

The dictates of white supremacy have resulted in numerous examples of murder, torture and endless human rights abuses over the course of centuries. White supremacy is still with us, and so are its many manifestations. We are propagandized, induced to lose intelligence, compassion, and even the instinctive desire for self-preservation whenever white people declare their actions to be right, and the only possible way to understand the world.

Even in the field of medicine, white supremacy turns people who should be healers into tormentors. These tormentors are then able to deny that people of color are in fact people, and these humans become laboratory rats, subjected to disease and pain by people who should be helping them.

In 1972, the world discovered that American physicians had committed a heinous crime over a period of forty years. In Tuskegee, Alabama in 1932, black men were recruited with handbills promising free medical treatment for “bad blood” a term used to describe a variety of conditions. When patients responded to the promise of medical care, money and hot meals, 399 men were found to be infected with syphilis but they were never informed of that fact nor were they given any treatment for this disease. Instead they were studied as they suffered and died, and spread the devastating sexually transmitted disease to their partners, spouses and children.

White supremacy turns people who should be healers into tormentors.”

The United States Public Health Service not only operated the study, but went to great lengths to prevent the subjects from being aware of their condition or from seeking treatment. The PHS alerted health departments in northern cities not to treat anyone from Tuskegee who presented with syphilis. The victims of the Tuskegee study were also exempted from joining the armed services, where their condition would have been discovered in medical examinations. Even after penicillin became the accepted treatment for syphilis beginning in the late 1940s the men in the Tuskegee study continued to be kept in a state of ignorance about their condition and were never offered what had become a standard treatment.

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was a secret only to the American public, it was quite well known in the medical community. Officially known as “The Effects of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” the Tuskegee study became the longest observational study conducted in medical history. It was the subject of thirteen scientific studies over the years but was not widely exposed until whistle blower Peter Buxtun told his story to the media in 1972. He turned to the press after trying to work within the system for six years in an effort to stop the project.

Nearly forty years after the Tuskegee horror was made widely known, on October 1, 2010 the Obama administration acknowledged that from 1946 to 1948, United States government scientists infected prisoners and mental patients with syphilis in the central American nation of Guatemala. The project was administered by the Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health and the Pan American Health Organization and operated with the knowledge of the Guatemalan government. Prostitutes with syphilis were allowed to have sex with prison inmates, and mental patients were directly injected with syphilis or had the bacteria literally poured into their wounds.

The Tuskegee study became the longest observational study conducted in medical history.”

The story of the Guatemala syphilis experiment immediately brought to mind obvious comparisons with the well known Tuskegee study, but there was also a very direct connection between the two. The Guatemala study was discovered by Wellesley college professor Dr. Susan Reverby in the course of her research on the Tuskegee experiments. Her research on Dr. John C. Cutler who worked on the Tuskegee program in the 1960s, revealed that he operated the Guatemala infection program as well.

Neither Cutler nor any of his colleagues were charged with crimes for their work at Tuskegee, nor did they suffer professionally. Cutler went on to have an illustrious career, ending with a professorship at the University of Pittsburgh, and when he died in 2003, his obituary omitted his well known involvement at Tuskegee. Until the day the White House acknowledged the Guatemala experiments, Cutler’s name was still being used by the University of Pittsburgh to attract major donors without any reference being made to his connection with the Tuskegee horror.

There is a more than coincidental link of the same doctor being involved in the Tuskegee, Alabama and Guatemala experiments on human beings. The poorly educated black farmers in Alabama and the prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala had one important thing in common. They were not white. They also lived under the rules of American segregation and American imperialism. Both systems allowed diabolical behavior to be normalized and praised as long as it was committed by white people.

Prostitutes with syphilis were allowed to have sex with prison inmates, and mental patients were directly injected with syphilis or had the bacteria literally poured into their wounds.”

The Tuskegee experiment resulted in laws mandating informed consent in medical experiments, but those rules did not change the propensity to silently take orders, or to accept white skin privilege as being good and beneficial to the people of the world. Crimes against humanity take place on a daily basis when decisions are made to create a for profit prison system filled with black people or to send troops to invade and occupy foreign nations. We live in a system that legitimizes the Cutlers and their ilk, whose advanced education is used to not to advance the needs of humanity, but to undermine it.

President Obama personally apologized to Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom about the 1940s experiments, but presidents and cabinet secretaries are in place precisely because they are willing to act inhumanely if the right interests are served. There will always be a Tuskegee, or a Guatemala in a world where racism and hegemonic power are still the rule.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.

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Eshu’s blues: Field days for gumbo ya ya

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When a Black teenager accidentally shoots his best friend, it is “all just one more weekend, one of those lunatic moments when one young Black man kills another young Black man, and once all the usual sociological theorizing rolls by, no one really knows why, except that it happened, and it’s to be expected, somehow.”  The author, who was both boys’ teacher, wonders “how the dividing line between play and the reality of what a firearm is became blurred.” For too many urban adolescents, “an acquaintance with firearms becomes as casual as the presence of the television remote.”

by BAR columnist michael hureaux

The newspapers will lie

abt all this.  abt these

12 year olds throwing

stones at the cops.  They

wanted to get at some sun

no matter what heavy

traffic was coming down

on them.– Ishmael Reed

Last summer, a young man I know picked up an automatic handgun that he did not realize was loaded, and accidentally shot one of his closest friends through the heart.  I did not hear of this tragedy until months after it had transpired, just a couple of weeks ago.  Both these young folks were former students of mine, and I am still in the somewhat numbed shock that urban educators use as a coping mechanism whenever a seat in the classroom becomes emptied through violence, whenever the bottom drops out of reality and kneecaps us.

Marvin and Brendan both left the program a while back, the first young man having graduated two years ago, and the second, one of those young folks who could not bring himself to formal academic discipline in any consistent way.  Marvin had fairly good organizational skills, so we were able to help him work his way through to commencement, and up until the tragedy last summer, the last we heard of him was that he was seeking to apply to one of these “one year wonder”  programs that have managed to pass for trade schools in the last few years. Brendan we had to seek another program for, as he was with us for two semesters and failed to receive credit either time, so we needed to find placement for him in a program that we thought could better suit his learning needs.   The reality was that Brendan’s skill level tended towards deep remediation, and when he came to us, he needed an enhanced individualized education plan that our school, due to its size, was unable to deliver. 

Ridiculous though it may seem, remediation, or special education even in alternative schools is one of those areas which the “efficiency” experts have managed to stigmatize in the name of achievement, and hence, many students are now “mainstreamed” long before they should be.   While it is true that special education in the past has been used to “track” students of color, it is also true that many students of color, and many working class kids are in genuine need of special education, or individualized learning plans.  This is very often true of students who come from homes where, for whatever reasons related to family, basic survival or cultural distrust, there is a disrupted learning atmosphere (domestic violence, protracted unemployment, complete homelessness, etc).  The education environment is not solely directed by political economy, but all the good will and hard work in the world will not transcend the kinds of stress noted here and its real impact upon people. 

“Many students of color, and many working class kids are in genuine need of special education, or individualized learning plans.”

Marvin and Brendan were both characters, and sometimes devastatingly funny in a way that can rapidly bring ruin to the lesson plans of those teachers like me who have a hard time hanging onto the “bad cop” persona for months on end.   Both of them were of that eternal fraternity of public school students who hang at the back of the classroom, halfway engaged with the lesson plan of the day, forever intrigued with computer games or the cultural trend of the moment.  Marvin had better command of math concepts. Brendan constantly displayed high numeracy, but had very likely never been in any learning environment where teachers could figure out how to scaffold outward from the skills he actually possessed in such a manner that he could remain engaged in a classroom environment.

By the time Brendan came to us, his trust quotient was so low that he survived at our school through a time-tested method, that of relying upon better prepared peers like Marvin in a self-created tutorial.  The problem was that Marvin’s own proficiency was limited, and it wasn’t enough to carry Brendan through to the achievement of academic credit on even a quarterly basis.  Still, we worked with this support unit these two young people established for themselves as best we could, but it turned out to be one of those instances where the center pieces could not hold out against the wilder end pieces.   There simply wasn’t enough field independence – or a consistent support/ learning environment away from the school – for Brendan to make the grade, and so we had to move him on, for fear too much time would be lost for him by remaining enrolled at Middle College, which at year’s end we concluded wasn’t serving him adequately.

It’s not easy to make a decision like that for a learning community that wants to advocate for urban students, but one of the few privileges left to critical pedagogy is that most alternative schools are small enough and informed enough to make the decision to move a student on, as opposed to having a student moved on by bureaucrats who are completely out of touch with the specific blocks posed to the learner in question.  The important thing is not to engage in the defense of a mistake, and our belief that we had enough resources at our school to serve a student with the needs Brendan had was profoundly mistaken.  Things unfolded as they had to at a strictly technical level, and sometimes that’s the only option a teaching structure has.   So we all went our separate ways in time and space.  The sole positive feature of the set-up was that the nurturing relationship Brendan and Marvin formed through their enrollment at Middle College held, and Brendan enthusiastically attended and celebrated Marvin’s graduation, even though he was not a high school graduate that year. 

“Our belief that we had enough resources at our school to serve a student with the needs Brendan had was profoundly mistaken.”

And that’s how I like to think of the two of them, forever in each other’s corner, come what may.  I can still hear their high pitched cackle the day I mistook a loud argument about the computer game Grand Theft Auto for real threats to people who they were shouting about blasting or running over.  I thought they were playing a loud game of what we used to call “the dozens” which was getting out of control, so I asked them to step aside with me to defuse the “situation.”  What a fool believes, as the old song goes.  But there was no harm done, at least in that moment.

What puzzles me, as it does everyone else who knew these two young men, the question the family of neither boy can answer, is how the dividing line between play and the reality of what a firearm is became blurred.  I’m aware it happens all the time in this country; people everywhere kill each other under the perception that a gun is something to be gamed with.  Folks with street cred say it’s a notion readily found among street kids, where for many urban adolescents, an acquaintance with firearms becomes as casual as the presence of the television remote.   Cultural theorists say it’s the prevalence of violence in television and film, in video game displays, in mainstream hip hop, etc.  Some simply say that it’s an indifference regarding life and death that falls upon young people too long accustomed to both the wannabe and real gangsterism that prevails in too much of youth culture, and it’s true that Brendan’s death at the hands of Marvin happened over a weekend when three other shootings occurred in South Seattle.  Any of the above, or all, maybe contributed to that moment when Marvin picked up that .32 automatic, “playfully” pointed it at someone he cared for as a brother, and accidentally killed him.  I don’t know.  Does anybody really know how they fall into place, how these things unfold?

All anyone knows for certain is that there was no animosity or disagreement between the two at the time of the tragedy.  But today, Brendan is dead, and Marvin, who tells anyone who will visit him as he awaits trial for third degree manslaughter that he did not know the gun was loaded, faces the possibility of ten to twenty years in prison.  The technical details of the moment are all we get as the state of Washington tries to decide what it’s going to do with the life of this young Black man who had no previous major offenses.

“For many urban adolescents, an acquaintance with firearms becomes as casual as the presence of the television remote.”  

The larger terror at this moment is that it was in the newspaper, and that the news of the tragedy got clean by so many of us – me, my colleagues, and the peers of the two adolescents.  It was all just one more weekend, one of those lunatic moments when one young Black man kills another young Black man, and once all the usual sociological theorizing rolls by, no one really knows why, except that it happened, and it’s to be expected, somehow.  The assumption “You know how those people are” continues to carry the day in the great “progressive” enclave of the Pacific Northwest, and it creeps between all of our ears, this desire of the owners of this country that we should distrust and fear each other, or even ourselves.

Older people in my family refer to something called gumbo ya ya, which has a number of meanings.  The mildest kind of gumbo ya ya is just when everyone is trying to talk or sing their story at once, which is what we all usually encounter at family gatherings or church dinners or block parties.  Gumbo ya ya ratchets up from there and can be benign or malevolent, the worst forms being the internalized purge of civil war.  These days, from where I’m sitting, it’s looking like gumbo ya ya is still climbing into the saddle.  

Between the recent death of Brendan Wilkins, and the small war which is simmering between black and Latino youth in this neighborhood according to both my students and Junior, who heads up the gang intervention effort at the Southwest Community Center up the way, it appears to me that things are falling apart just as fast as they always have.  More and more kids are fighting and killing each other over the eggshells and the coffee grounds in the garbage.  There are nowhere near enough literacy or work programs for adults, let alone young people.  There are not enough paying apprenticeships that will route our young into work that pays enough to raise or support a family, there are not enough cultural or after-school programs, and what remains of community health, mental health and dental clinics are the newest hustle for the business groupies, and on it all goes.

There is, however, a plethora of screaming distractions, spectacular entertainments which celebrate bullying and the cheap shot as a form of “relaxed exchange” and a growing acceptance among all our peoples that the wholesale destruction of a different people on the other side of the world is a wholly acceptable option in the pursuit of some allegedly benign purpose.  To paraphrase the education theorist Neil Postman, no tyrant in his wildest dreams could have imagined this moment we live in, a time in which truths which do not amuse or entertain would be casually swept under the carpet, to be dealt with once the feel-good celebrations are over with. 

I’m tired of watching kids of color and other working class kids kill each other, in serious or playful emulation of the political gangsters who have driven this country since time immemorial.  If President-Elect Barack Obama is for real, well, then Hallelujah, and the devil take those of us who never saw the glory of the day in his face.  But may Obama or whoever else be damned if they oppose what higher aspirations have been raised among so many working people by this election.  The proof of the thing is in the whole picture, not just its glossier aspects. 

michael hureaux is a writer, musician and teacher who lives in southwest Seattle, Washington.  He is a longtime contributor to small and alternative presses around the country and performs his work frequently. Email to: [email protected]

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Blacks/Latinos Hit Particularly Hard As Mortgage Crisis Lingers

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by Doug Miller

The home foreclosure crisis isn’t even halfway over, according to a new report. Ethnically targeted mortgaging practices between 2004 and 2008 have left one quarter of all Latinos and African Americans either without their homes, in foreclosure, or seriously delinquent. “Blacks and Latinos were much more likely to receive high-interest subprime loans and mortgages with prepayment penalties.”

Blacks/Latinos Hit Particularly Hard As Mortgage Crisis Lingers

by Doug Miller

This article previously appeared in The Defenders Online, a publication of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Overall, low- and moderate-income African Americans and middle- and higher-income Latinos have experienced the highest foreclosure rates.”

Despite a staggering 2.7 million loans having already ended in foreclosure, a new report from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) says America isn’t even half way through its mortgage crisis: Another 3.6 million mortgages are likely to fail over the next several years.

The study, Lost Ground, 2011, also found that low- and moderate-income African Americans and Latino Americans have suffered a disproportionate share of losses. They’ve lost their homes at a clip that’s 80 percent higher than the rate for comparable white households – often because they were subjected to predatory home loans structured around prepayment penalties, interest rate resets of less than five years, negative amortization and interest-only payment schedules.

Among the key findings of the report, which studied home loans made by banks and mortgage brokers from 2004 through 2008, is that fact that – while the majority of affected borrowers have been white – black and Latino borrowers were almost twice as likely to have suffered losses. “Approximately one quarter of all Latino and African-American borrowers have lost their home(s) to foreclosure or are seriously delinquent,” according to the research, “compared to just under 12 percent for white borrowers.”

Good May Not Get You Better

[1]Additionally, the CRL report found that black and Latino borrowers who qualified as good credit risks were more likely to receive a high-cost mortgage with risky and questionable payback features. In fact, African Americans with 660-plus+ FICO scores received high-cost mortgages more than three times as often as white borrowers. FICO, or Fair Isaac Corp., is a public company that provides analytics [2]used by financial services companies to make decisions about the credit-worthiness of potential borrowers. Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, says a borrower with a score of 660 or greater is considered to be of less risk [3]to a lender, while a score of 620 or lower is a poor credit rating.

The CRL report goes on to suggest that racial differences in foreclosure rates persist regardless of borrower income levels.

Racial and ethnic disparities in foreclosure rates cannot be explained by income,” according to the report, “since disparities persist even among higher-income groups. For example, approximately 10 percent of higher-income African-American borrowers have lost their homes to foreclosure compared with 4.6 percent of higher-income, non-Hispanic white borrowers. Overall, low- and moderate-income African Americans and middle- and higher-income Latinos have experienced the highest foreclosure rates.”

There’s something wrong with this picture.”

The study found, as well, that blacks and Latinos were much more likely to receive high-interest subprime loans and mortgages with prepayment penalties.

Asked if those discoveries suggested racial discrimination in the structuring and approval of mortgages during the period of the study, CRL spokesperson Kathleen Day said that, while it would be difficult to ascertain intent, “There’s something wrong with this picture. There’s a pattern here that’s troubling. Banks have some explaining to do.”

Projecting that 3.6 million additional mortgages likely will result in foreclosure during the next few years, the report concludes by placing a good deal of responsibility squarely at the doorsteps of banks and mortgage brokers. “While some blame the subprime disaster on policies designed to expand access to mortgage credit, such as the Community Reinvestment Act and the affordable housing goals of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (government-sponsored mortgage enterprises), the facts undercut these claims.

Rather,” the study continues, “dangerous products, aggressive marketing and poor loan underwriting were major drivers of foreclosures in the subprime market.”

Doug Miller is a writer living in Westchester County, New York.

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Freedom Rider: Supreme Injustices

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Freedom Rider: Supreme Injustices

by Bar editor and senior
columnist Margaret Kimberley

“The worst case High Court scenario has come to full fruition.”

SupremesNoose
George W. Bush is president because of the United States
Supreme Court. Were it not for the decision to stop counting votes in Bush v.
Gore, Al Gore would be president of the United States instead. The right wing
presidential victory was the culmination of many years of effort to take over
the federal judiciary. Now Bush has two Supreme Court justices confirmed on his
watch, and the damage to the justice system in this country is immense.

In the past month, the Roberts court has lived up to
predictions that the worst case
scenario has come to full fruition. In Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the court
essentially advised workers to file discrimination lawsuits as soon as they
begin a new job. Discrimination complaints under Title VII of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act must now be made within 180 days of the discriminatory pay practice
taking place. If the victim smells a rat after 180 days, there is no legal
remedy and employers have no fear of legal retribution.

Ledbetter was just the beginning of hell month for the
American justice system. In the Uttecht v. Brown decision, the Supreme Court
ruled that potential jurors who express any reservations about the death
penalty can
be excluded
from death penalty eligible cases. In his dissent, Justice John
Paul Stevens said, “Millions of Americans oppose the death penalty. A
cross section of virtually every community in the country includes citizens who
firmly believe the death penalty is unjust but who nevertheless are qualified
to serve as jurors in capital cases.”

“The loss of popular support for the death penalty matters
little if only racist, conviction happy jurors sit in judgment.”

Pro-death penalty jurors are more likely to convict. That
means mostly black and Latino defendants have the deck stacked against them
from the beginning with prejudiced, partial and almost always white jurors.
These jurors are predisposed to see people of color behind bars and they are no
more generous when the matter is life or death. As the use of DNA evidence has
proven the innocence of hundreds of wrongly convicted persons, the death
penalty has lost some measure of its popular support. That loss of support
matters little if only racist, conviction happy jurors sit in judgment.

SupremesBlkWmnJobDiscThe Supremes weren’t finished stacking the cards against
defendants. Keith Bowles appealed his murder conviction in an Ohio court, but
because of incorrect instructions from a judge, he did so three days too late.
“Too bad,” said five of nine justices. They ruled that the court’s 40-year old
doctrine of “unique circumstances” was wrong to begin with, and Bowles and anyone
else like him
will not get his day in court.

It is obvious that the current Supreme Court is quite simply
not the place to get justice. Good cases that can undo great wrongs should not
be heard there unless or until there is a Democratic president who can change
the makeup of the court.

It should be good news that the court agreed to hear the
case of Kimbrough v. United States, which would determine whether sentencing
disparities between crack and powdered cocaine are constitutional. Current
federal law mandates that the sentences for possession of crack cocaine and
powdered cocaine are treated very differently. Possession of five grams of crack,
one-fifth of an ounce, carries a mandatory five year prison sentence.
Possession of five hundred grams of powdered cocaine, 1.1 pounds, carries the
same five year sentence. The punishment ration is 100 to 1 and black defendants
are the losers. Eighty-percent of those sentenced for crack
possession are black
.

It is hard to believe that the same justices who decided
that wage discrimination is not a problem, will change laws that automatically
result in more black faces behind bars. This is not a good time for Kimbrough
to be heard in the Supreme Court.

“The crack
cocaine punishment ration is 100 to 1 and black defendants are the losers.”

The hope for justice rests with the Democratic party, a sure
sign of desperate whistling past the graveyard.SupremesJobDiscBook

It must never be forgotten that many of the sentencing
disparities and draconian drug laws that have now decimated the black community
originated with the Clinton administration. Yet the Democrats at their most
craven, compromised and triangulated are better than Republicans. Judicial
appointments are one of the clearest examples of the Democratic lesser evil
being preferable to the Republican evil that scores an eleven on a scale of one
to ten. There is no hope of any semblance of justice unless a Democratic
president is making judicial appointments.

If the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has the
letter R behind his name, racism and the most extreme forms of punishment that
go along with it will continue to rule on the bench. The traditional depiction
of justice with a blindfold will have to be exchanged for one with her eyes
wide open and her thumbs on the scale.

Margaret Kimberley’s
Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York
City, and can be reached via e-Mail at
Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.Com. Ms. Kimberley’ maintains an
edifying and frequently updated blog at 
freedomrider.blogspot.com.  More
of her work is also available at her Black Agenda Report
archive
page.

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Devolution in Ghana: 50 Years After Independence

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by Ron Wilkins

“It seems that corruption knows no bounds.”

Professor Ron Wilkins of
California State University, Dominguez Hills attended Ghana’s 50th
Independence Anniversary celebrations. He filed the following report.

GhanaMap
Ghana occupies a special place among African nations as the
first country on the continent south of the Sahara to win independence from
colonial rule. Having visited Ghana previously, I began my eleven day stay with
some reservations, as I was aware that no government, since the original
government of President Kwame Nkrumah
which was overthrown by a 1966 CIA-led coup – has surpassed his achievements.
Under Nkrumah’s brilliant leadership Ghana began to develop industrially and
played a major role in liberating the rest of the African continent. Within 10
years of Ghana’s independence, 31 additional African countries became
independent. Declassified National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency
documents have provided new evidence of the 1966 U.S. engineered
overthrow
of Nkrumah’s progressive government.

Immediately upon my arrival in the capital city of Accra, I
was floored by the deepening poverty and desperation of its inhabitants. The
lack of running water in my guesthouse, power outages and the foul odor from
open sewers lining the streets. The cumulative effect of these conditions
exacted a heavy toll on my senses and dampened any enthusiasm that I may have
had for the celebrations. It seems that corruption knows no bounds, as Ghana’s
current leaders spent over 20 million dollars, imported 250 luxury cars and
shabbily decorated Nkrumah’s mausoleum in preparation for the celebrations.

“The people who are in the government today are the same
people who opposed the independence struggle.”

Eventually I held discussions with Nkrumaists, officials
from the former Rawlings government, academics and students at the University
of the Cape Coast and expatriates from the U.S. now residing in Ghana. Perhaps,
one of the most insightful meetings was with Kwesi Pratt. Kwesi Pratt is a
member of Socialist Forum, a central committee member of the Convention
People’s Party, and one of the most visible 
and outspoken critics of the present government.

The Interview

Ron
Wilkins:
I would like to get some of your impressions of Ghana’s 50th
Independence Anniversary celebration. 
I’m having real problems with it. I’m not impressed with the government,
or the progress that Ghana has made.  I
would like your comments because I know you’re doing a great deal of work and
are involved with many other people.  I
can imagine that the struggle must be very difficult. Just where do things
stand at the moment?  Your impressions.

Kwesi
Pratt:
I think it is important to understand that there are two
kinds of celebrations taking place at the same time. There is the official
celebration which is sponsored by the government and there are private
celebrations which involve the democratic and progressive forces in the
country. If you are looking at the government celebration, it is basically a
celebration of the victory of the oppressor over the masses. The people who are
in the government today are the same people who opposed the independence
struggle.

They come from the same tradition which appealed to the
Queen of England not to grant Independence to Ghana because the Ghanaian people
could not manage their own affairs. They come from the same tradition which subverted
the independence movement, even after independence by exploding bombs in
stadiums, by plotting to assassinate Kwame Nkrumah, by working with the Central
Intelligence Agency of the U.S. (CIA), and so on. So their celebration of the
50th Independence anniversary is in reality a celebration of their
temporary victory over the masses.GhanaNkrumahTime

Those of us on the other side are celebrating the victory of
the masses over the exploiters and the oppressors.  That is why the manifestations are very different.  We believe in organizing street marches
which involve all of our people. They believe in organizing elitist parties and
celebrations that exclude the masses. 
That difference is obvious. 
Again, for us this is a celebration of the progressive ideas of Nkrumah,
W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, and all.  They
are celebrating, Busia and Danquah, who were agents of imperialism.  And we have to understand this very clearly. 

“For us this is a celebration of the progressive ideas of
Nkrumah, W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, and all.”

They make all kinds of obscene comments about how they
initiated the independence struggle and that they led it and so on.  But all that is lies. They claim for example
that it was them, Busia, Danquah and others, who invited Kwame Nkrumah to join
the United Gold Coast Convention. 

The impression they create is that Nkrumah was doing nothing
but sitting idle until they invited him. But that is false.  Because long before Nkrumah came back to the
Gulf Coast in1948 to lead the struggle, he had actually been involved in
organizing nationalist agitators across the whole of the West African
Sub-Region.  He was not just interested
in Ghana’s independence; he was interested in the independence of all people
under colonial rule everywhere in the world. And he was already engaged in
those agitations.  He had been part of
The Manchester Pan-Africanist Congress, and so on.

And he came here precisely because the elite who were
leading the independence struggle knew about their own shortcomings and they
knew that they could not carry the struggle very far.  And they needed the expertise and knowledge of somebody like
Nkrumah to change the situation. And indeed, Nkrumah arrived in 1948, and by
1951 we had gained partial independence, by 1957 we had gained complete
independence, and by 1960, we were already a Republic.  So it is clear that this struggle gained
special importance by the arrival of Nkrumah in Ghana.

Ron
Wilkins:
  What should we be
looking at in terms of this new thing that the Bush administration has come up
with as far as an African Command?  What
should we be looking for from  President
Kufuor of Ghana and his role now coming up as the African Union chair? What is
one to make of all this? Because, actually I’m very nervous about it. Just from
what I’ve heard and what I’ve picked up on already, it seems that the United
States has gained a foothold in Ghana and is expanding its influence here.

Kwesi
Pratt:
  I am very alarmed
after reading what is called the Cheney Report.  When Bush came to power, he set up a
committee chaired by Dick Cheney his Vice President to assess America’s energy
requirements up to the year 2015. The Cheney Report actually says that by the
year 2015, twenty percent of American oil requirements will be supplied by West
Africa and therefore it is important to maintain a foothold in West Africa in
order to ensure that oil supplies from West Africa to the United States of
America will not be interrupted. 

Consequently, the United States is planning to establish
military bases across West Africa including Ghana. And I am very worried that
at a time when we are celebrating our national independence we are going to
tolerate the establishment of foreign military bases, especially American
military bases on our soil.  The great
Osageyfo Dr. Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, and all of them emphasized that
Africa ought to be free from foreign military bases and weapons of mass
destruction.  We cannot allow that dream
to die.

“The United States is planning to establish military bases
across West Africa including Ghana.”

That is why, it is important for us to resist all attempts
to establish foreign military bases on African soil especially forces of the
United States, must be prevented from establishing on African soil. Clearly
because they are not on African soil to protect our interests, they are on
African soil to facilitate the exploitation of our resources for the benefit of
the tiny minority that controls the wealth of the American people and who are
sitting on top of this world exploiting the Chicanos, exploiting the African
Americans and exploiting all of the other independent and healthy forces in the
United States of America. We have to resist all attempts to build  U.S. military bases in Ghana and elsewhere
in Africa.

Ron
Wilkins:
  The Joseph Project. What’s your take on
it?  It is very important that Africans
in the Diaspora, especially in the United States, assist Africa’s development
and assist the struggles against neo- colonialism and imperialism.  However, The Joseph Project is being couched
in very religious terms.  I am not a
Christian, but I love Africa.  I have
long acknowledged Africa as my ancestral home. And I want to come here as do
many others, but not within a Christian framework.  There are some other obvious meanings to this Joseph project that
have been established.  I just wondered
what your take on it is.

ghana-flagKwesi
Pratt: 
I think
that The Joseph Project is an insult to all people of African descent, whether
you are on the continent or you are in the Diaspora. It is an insult because it
starts from the basis that there was something positive about slavery, that as
a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade our brothers have become the Josephs
of Africa today. And they are returning with their wealth that they acquired
from slavery.  I think this is absolute
nonsense. It is something we should not countenance at all. There could not
have been anything good about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  And the concept of a Joseph coming back to
deliver us from poverty is a foolish concept that must be rejected by all
dignified African people.

“It is important for us to understand that those of our
brothers and sisters in the U.S. have a responsibility to work in the United
States of America to weaken the enemy.”

Our brothers in the Diaspora are welcome back home as
Africans with a commitment to help us to develop, and with a commitment to help
us fight against the penetration of imperialism into the continent. They are
not coming as Messiahs, they are coming as one of us.   And they are not coming because they benefited from the
Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; indeed they themselves are victims of oppression
and victims of exploitation.  That point
must be made abundantly clear to those who think that something was gained from
the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.  That is
the whole concept of The Joseph Project, and I reject it completely. 

Evidence of the African struggle can be found all over the
world.  We can talk about Akente, we can
talk about Imhotep, we can talk about all those who lived 3,000 years before
Jesus Christ was born, and we can talk about the modern revolutionary fighters
of the United States of America. We can talk about those who led the Black
Panther Party, we can talk about Malcolm X, and the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee. We can talk about all of them.  I think it is important for all of us,
wherever we are to continue the struggle that these great sons of Africa have
fought to deliver the continent from oppression and exploitation.  It is important for us to understand that
those of our brothers and sisters in the U.S. live right at the center of the
oppression and exploitation, and they have a responsibility to work in the
United States of America to weaken the enemy and to make it impossible for the
enemy to carry out its agenda on the African Continent or anywhere.  Oppression everywhere is against decency,
and we have a commitment to fight oppression and exploitation wherever we find
it. This is our historic duty.

Ron
Wilkins: 
Thank you
very much.

Ron Wilkins can be
contacted at: [email protected]

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