My family’s migration story partially fits well into the narrative of the 20th century and partially does not. For my father’s side, as pf 1492 the Totten family was living as farmers in the village of Wedmore in Southwestern England. As of the late 1600s, the Tottens emigrated to British colonies in North Carolina, at some point settling in the region of the Salkahatchee swamp in South Carolina. During this time (probably because they were illiterate and spelled it wrong at some point) their name was somehow de-Anglicized to “Tuten.” They proceeded to remain in general vicinity of the swamps of the South Carolina Low Country until my father left for college in the 1970s – they had remained in the same area for about 300 years (and some of the family remain there still). This is not a very 20th century story – they got into place long before the 20th century and stayed there while it went on.
My mother’s family are a different story. One branch arrived in New England from London in the latest part of the 1700s, but became nearly destitute near the turn of the 20th century as a result of crop failures in the region and sought jobs (as terrible as conditions may have been) in New York City. There, if DNA testing can be believed, at some point a young member of that family met an Ashkenazi Jew, who presumably would have fled from Eastern Europe during the many Progroms of the early 19th century. After my great-grandfather was killed by a Kamikaze attack in the battle of Iwo Jima in the Second World War, this part of the family relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, where they worked in support of the civil rights movement. They were affected quite a bit by the wars and violence of the 20th century, though not as much by the formation of nation states.
According to the reading, The US-Philippine War was deeply influenced by racial science ideas of the time, which viewed the world as a competition between various races or “subspecies” of humans and by the general racist attitudes of American troops who entered the islands without much resistance from Spanish arms. The war was really about a reaction from the Filipinos about American racism and a desire by the Filipinos for self determination. To the Filipinos, the US was no different in many ways from the previous occupying power of Spain. However, beyond just being a product of racial attitudes, the war also influenced them; it popularized the notion that “lesser races” could weaken democracy, and therefore promoted racism and isolationism.
The takeaways from this reading are twofold:
- Racial attitudes are not set in stone. They were developed as a social construct and are not inherent to humanity, and because they are a social construct they are constantly changing.
- The United States did function as a typical imperial power in the example of the Philippine war; it cannot be considered completely different from Europe in regards to imperial attitudes in the late 19th century.
Of the various regions we have selectively studied in class, I have found Latin America the most depressing. It could be that I knew the least about it as a region when we began the class, but nevertheless Latin America at times seems to be a case study in the worst deeds of the United States and the greatest failures of Neoliberalism.
This is partially because it seems the region has repeatedly reached for emancipation in some way and had its hopes squashed. In African examples, such as the US sponsored overthrow of the first president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his replacement with the brutal dictator Mugabe, the example is depressing, but there is deep doubt that the original president could have surmounted the incredible odds stacked against him and his country.
In the example of Chile , which we discussed Wednesday, however, Salvador Allende entered a country with great wealth inequality but an established rule of law, which he followed, and repeatedly tried to implement policies to help the most oppressed in society. It is easy to see how he could have been successful in this aim; and yet, his policies threatened American corporate interests and those of the Chilean military, which lead to his death and his replacement by an extremely brutal dictator, Augusto Pinochet. This example is more heartbreaking as it shows American power being used as a factor to crush the dreams of a people when they could have possibly been realized.
This pattern of failures of Neoliberalism can be seen repeatedly in Latin America. Part of the rise of Hugo Chavez from Wednesday’s lecture was the removal of price controls for food in Venezuela in return for loans from the world bank. This is a reform for economic ‘development’ that produces more upper class and middle class wealth while worsening the situation for those who had the least in society. It is as though there is no sense of collective interest, as the interests of the destitute are not counted at all in the sum total of economic development. As Galeano states in Friday’s reading on page 310, “Solidarity is considered a useless waste of energy… but the powers that be have decided to alternate the carrot and the stick .” It is discouraging to see the prevailing socio-economic philosophy to be apparently failing so many this way.
One of the central pieces of reading for this week was the Economist article “A Hopeful Continent,” which attempted to offer a different view of Africa than is typically depicted in Western Media – which is to say, something other than an entire continent in constant crisis. The article opens by describing the general situation in Africa as undergoing improvement, stating that “many goods and services that used to be scarce… are now widely available.” It also says that the situation has improved because “a booming economy has made a big difference.”
It is difficult to say how accurate a picture this paints of the actual situation on the continent. The Economist clearly attempts to paint a picture that an neoliberal economy can eventually be built in Africa that will produce prosperity the way it has in Europe and North America, and to a somewhat lesser extent China and East Asia.
Weather or not this is possible, however, is certainly questionable. The Western World is capable of extreme material prosperity is large part because it is able to benefit from exploitation of African resources. Indeed, this exploitation is ongoing, and now with Chinese interests becoming prevalent in much of Africa (something unmentioned in the article) it seems unlikely that African economies will free themselves from this type of exploitation, especially under a profits-focused neoliberal model (after all, for a few members of the population, the exploitation of their countrymen is quite profitable.)
The apparent alternative to this would be some type of advocacy for a leftist economic model where private ownership of resources is either eliminated or sharply curtailed. It may be worth asking, however, how this system could be established now when in the past commercial interests always thwarted it in some way. And furthermore, it is worth asking if such a system would solve the problem of widespread poverty – after all, the original problems facing African states (arbitrary borders, lack of basic infrastructure) would remain. Would these problems by themselves be enough to destabilize a state that attempted to divy up resource profits to the general population? It certainly is not impossible.
All this consideration comes down to a simple and unsatisfying statement about African economies: there is no sure way to fix problems with them. What is certain is that while the Economist’s attempt to dispel with Western fictions about Africa is admirable, but seems to be somewhat lazy in contemplating the actual economic challenges facing Africa.