Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Flawed Democratic Practices in America

America never shied away from shouting about its democratic virtues throughout the whole world ever since the 2nd World War. Since then it attained the status of a ‘superpower’ in the world arena. The combination of these two is a vicious cocktail of authoritarianism which no country can dare to ignore and, in fact, had to grudgingly follow.  

Let us look at the democratic status of America. American democratic practices are sharply on focus now throughout the whole world. In just about two weeks’ time, America is going to exercise its so-called ‘democratic rights’ in the local and federal elections. The most important of which is the election of the US president through the electoral college.

The election of the president through electoral college is a very convoluted and dysfunctional process in the so-called democratic system. In this process, the voters only choose their candidates (president and vice president) on the ballot paper, but their votes only go to support the candidates they choose. The voters’ choices on the ballot papers help to form the electoral college – a body of 538 electors from all 50 states and Washington DC – and this electoral college will, in turn, select the president and vice president of the country for the next four years. When a presidential candidate with the associated vice president gets 270 votes in the electoral college, he is declared as the winner.

The number of electors from a state in the electoral college is allocated as one elector for each member in the US House of Representatives (which has a total of 435 seats) from that state and on the number of Senators (2 from each state). The additional 3 electors come from the Washington DC. The number of House of Representative seats in a state is not allocated strictly on the basis of one-man (or woman)-one-vote system. It is on one-man-one-vote basis if only white population is considered. Back in the days (late 18th century) when American constitution was drafted, black slaves were not eligible to vote and hence they were not counted.

But then complications crept in. In the southern states, there were few white men owning large number of slaves. If only whites were counted for federal representation, then they would be very weak at federal levels, and at the same time they did not want slaves to be at par with the white masters. So, a compromise was reached that a slave would be regarded as equal to 60% of the white person! On that basis, population was estimated and House of Representative seats were allocated.

Subsequently when Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1865, the system and the status of blacks (no longer slaves) remained unchanged. In the south a large population (with low number of whites) has a smaller representation in federal level than in other white states. This status quo helps both the major parties in the US. The Republicans and white supremacists feel satisfied that they have authority higher than the blacks; whereas Democrats feel that any untoward issue on race would divide the nation and may cause termination of funds from white fund holders to the Democratic party.

It may be noted that American elections are nothing but painful display of mud-slinging, deceitful advertisements, billboards, party meetings, election propaganda etc all requiring millions and billions of dollars. Saturated advertisements, brain-washing, direct and indirect handouts to interest groups etc are rampant, which badly corrupt and may even destroy the very semblance of democracy. Multi-millionaires and billionaires find elections as their playground to extract their self-interests and covert promises from candidates. National Rifles Associations (NRA), pharmaceutical companies, petrochemical industry, tobacco industry, building industry, media and banking industry all have their strong lobbies dragging candidates to their swamps. If that is regarded as democracy, then mafia groups can be called human rights groups!

Apart from such blatant abuse of democratic rights using money, there are structural inadequacies in the system. The constitution says that all men are created equal. It should also hasten to add that the exception is that blacks are only 60% equal to whites. The constitution also says, in God we trust. What happens to those who do not believe in God, or believe in other or rival form of God? Are they going to be excluded from the state? Also, by brazen submission to so-called God, America is encouraging religiosity and creationism. America is the only advanced country where over 60% of the population believe that God created the universe and evolution is just a myth or a lie!

Setting aside American intellectual deficiency among the general public, America has serious democratic deficiency. The electoral college had produced over the 244 years of its history five presidents who lost the majority popular votes nationwide but won the presidency – John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Donald Trump lost the popular vote by as many as three million, but still won the presidential election by collecting 304 electoral votes.

One may ask, what is the problem with the electoral college? The answer is systemic. A candidate may win some states by a large majority and lose large number of states by a whisker. Even when a candidate loses the popular vote in a state by a small number of votes, the whole of the electoral college votes go to the winning candidate. Thus, there is a mechanism whereby a candidate can bag electoral college votes winning each state by a whisker by this system of ‘winner takes it all’.

If the Proportional Representation (PR) system would have applied in the election of each state, then the electors would represent the popular votes in that state. When all the electors from all the states are collected for the presidential candidates, then there would be no disparity between the electoral votes and popular votes. The system would work perfectly well. The electoral college had been changed three times in the past via Constitutional amendment – but it would require broad majorities in Congress. It may be noted that since World War II, the electoral college, as it stands, had almost always opposed by the majority of the American people.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political

Human nature and Democracy

Human nature and democracy may, on the face of it, seem insular disjointed narrative of isolated views and ideas, but digging deep one can find intrinsic umbilical cord between the two. Human nature profoundly affects the thoughts and actions and the democratic process offers the outward expression of those thoughts and actions. Thus, these two strands are inherently, if not intricately, linked.

Human beings are fundamentally and intrinsically dangerous and coercive animals always looking out for attaining advantageous positions. They intuitively take selfish and hideous steps in order to achieve evolutionary advantage, particularly when it is perceived that they can get away with their selfish partisan actions.  

The economist Thomas Sowell contends that there are two visions of human nature: (i) The utopian vision, which claims people as naturally good and virtuous. They do virtuous things for the benefit of the community and country unless propelled to do otherwise, and (ii) The tragic vision which shows people as inherently flawed and vile.

This tragic vision in human nature comes from inherent selfishness and mendacity with the purpose to attain advantage. Exclusive personal interests override collective interests. In fact, quite often, collective interests may be viewed as counter to individual interests of a selfish individual, as any competitor in the collective pool may benefit from the collective aggrandisement and thereby jeopardising the relative advantage of the selfish individual. This is, to a large extent, part of the evolutionary drive. Thus, it can be said that science supports this tragic vision.

History also supports tragic vision. This vision is the natural drive for dominance. The philosophers Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt advanced the tragic vision and rejected the implicit natural goodness of humanity. They tendered the view that humans are potentially evil. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stated that those who fight monsters must be aware of becoming monsters themselves. The implication of this view is that in a society of monstrous humans, monstrosity tends to infect the surrounding and propagate itself, unless constrained by some contrary means.

The founding fathers of the USA held tragic vision and hence created checks and balances to constrain the political leaders’ worst impulses. Nothing is more flagrantly evident than the present state of affairs in the USA of the incumbent president, where racist xenophobic tendencies are blatantly exposed and weaponised.

Democracy is manipulated and molested due to vileness of human nature not only in the United States but also in the United Kingdom and many more countries in the world.  David Gauke, ex-Justice Secretary in the UK, said on 3 July 2019 in his Mansion House dinner speech, “A willingness by politicians to say what they think the public want to hear, and a willingness by large parts of the public to believe what they are told by populist politicians, has led to a deterioration in our public discourse”. He also said, “This has contributed to a growing distrust of our institutions – whether that be parliament, the civil service, the mainstream media or the judiciary.” This vile abuse of democratic process by selfish, manipulative, mendacious, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted politicians undermines and contaminates the whole of democracy. But these vile selfish politicians care very little about the collapse of democratic process as long as they can achieve political advantage for themselves.

The word ‘democracy’ originated from the Greek word ‘demokratis’ meaning the ‘rule of the many’. Plato, the Greek philosopher, detested democracy as it embodied the rule of the imbecile and ignorant deplorables over the educated and the knowledgeable. He upheld the view that democracy is the rule of mere opinion. Indeed, this opinion could quite often be ignorant or misinformed or misled by opportunistic populist politicians.

Contrary to the conventional ‘democratic principle’, Roman Republicanism advocated that everyone was not fit to vote to elect the government. It gave some very good reasons including stating that only those who participate actively in public life and affairs of the State are qualified to vote. This ruling was eminently more sensible than allowing everybody to express opinions on issues regardless of their knowledge or suitability or association. For example, a significant majority of the general public with very little or no knowledge of the role or functioning of the EU voted in the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 to leave and then on the following day more than one million people carried out Google search on what the abbreviation ‘EU’ stands for! Their expressed opinion against the EU the previous day was not based on knowledge or rational assessment, but on pure prejudice and bias. Car workers throughout Britain voted overwhelmingly to leave Europe, because they were unhappy with their working conditions (nothing to do with EU). The farmers in Wales and in large parts of England voted to leave on misinformation and false promises by Populist politicians. The general public were fed blatant lies that the NHS would get extra £350 million per week on leaving the EU and there were many more lies. All of these misinformation and blatant lies had fundamentally altered the knowledge base on which the public had voted and hence the outcome became screwed up.

The politicians, the people in power comprising industrialists, financiers and increasingly media barons and social network bosses manipulate the very essence of democracy for advantageous positions. Boris Johnson, the present British prime minister, in his first term prorogued parliament within few weeks of gaining prime minister position, not out of necessity but out of dubious advantage of denying any democratic opposition to his sectarian views and dogma. However, his action was found to be unlawful by the highest court of the land (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Northern Ireland) and he had to recall the parliament. Subsequently, when he signed a Withdrawal Agreement (revised) with the EU, he called it a ‘oven ready’ and ‘excellent’ agreement and on the back of it, he won the election on 12 December 2019 with an overwhelming majority. But within ten months of signing that historic Withdrawal Agreement by himself, he is now preparing to defy this internationally binding agreement to achieve political advantage. Nothing can be more mendacious in human nature with its tragic vision than this.

The Greeks had a word called ‘parrhesiastes’ which identified an individual who used freedom to uphold moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy, who adopted frankness instead of persuasion and who chose truth instead of falsehood or silence. Unless parresia, the attribute of the parrhesiastes, dominates the contaminated so-called ‘democracy’ of today, the virtuous attributes of democracy are going to be abjectly negated.

Democracy cannot survive in ignorance, illiteracy or moral degeneracy. When honesty, integrity, morality and ethics are divorced and opportunism and bigotry make inroad, democracy takes leave and tragic view of human nature dominates. As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political, Technical

COVID-19 vaccine facing temporary problems

The COVID-19 vaccine development round the world is going ahead in serious earnest. World’s top pharmaceutical companies are going head to head, throwing up their top scientists and technologists as well as investing large amounts of scarce resources, even when their businesses are in doldrums. The governments of various countries are also scrambling to get to the most promising candidate and at the same time hedging their bets simultaneously on a few rival companies.

What is pushing the whole world to this mad rush? The COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus, is the most vicious virus to ravage human species during the last 100 years or so. This virus has claimed more than 27.6 million positively identified infection cases and 898,000 deaths round the world. Needless to say, many more infections and many more deaths had gone unreported and unidentified.

The vaccine against this virus, as in all other viruses, has to go through certain internationally accepted and proven steps to ensure safety and effectiveness to the public. If any short-cut is made or any corners are cut, then the confidence of the public to accept this medicine or any future medicine will be seriously shaken.  

Of the hundreds of potential COVID-19 vaccines now in development round the glove, six are in the final stages of testing. This final stage is known as phase three clinical trial. Each one of these vaccines had gone through phase one and phase two testing before reaching the final phase. Only compromise that was allowed to these vaccines because of the urgency of this medication that phase one and phase two were allowed to be combined and run concurrently. These phases had to show that they are safe (with only short-term side effects, if identified, and no unexpected serious effects) and they elicit an immune response. The third phase is the final stage before approval is offered.

Usually the phase three trial comprises, what is known as case-control study, which is primarily a statistical process. The case group receives the actual vaccine which is being tested and the control group receives placebo i.e. simple saline or vaccine against a different disease. The selection of case-control groups of sample requires careful consideration and vetting. These sample groups should favourably reflect each other in parameters like racial mix, age distribution, gender distribution, economic conditions, patterns of behaviour and social habits.

To demonstrate the efficacy of the vaccine, there must be significantly fewer cases of the target disease in the vaccinated group compared to the control group. Depending on infection rates of the disease, a phase three vaccine trial may involve thousands to even tens of thousands of people. The bigger the sample size, the more reliable would be the output. To be approved, vaccines need to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.

One of these is the vaccine that the University of Oxford is developing – known as Oxford vaccine. This vaccine has passed through phase one and phase two testing with flying colours and now undergoing phase three testing. The purpose of a phase three trial is to assess whether this vaccine-induced immune response is strong enough to actually protect people from COVID-19. The vaccine is designed to provoke a T cell response within 14 days of vaccination – when white blood cells attack cells infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus – and an antibody response within 28 days – when antibodies are able to neutralise the virus so that it cannot infect cells when initially contracted.

In the Oxford vaccine clinical trial, five countries in five continents have been chosen – India, the UK, South Africa, Brazil and the US. Thus, a wide variety of rich and developing countries in different climatic conditions had been chosen. The vaccine is being evaluated in these regions and hence the result would give a generic output applicable to almost the whole world.

In the first instance, nearly 17,000 people in three countries – the UK, South Africa and Brazil – have received the vaccines, with half being in the control group. These people would then receive booster vaccination between one and three months after the first vaccination. Exactly the same procedure is followed for both case and control groups, so that the volunteers do not know whether they received actual or placebo dose against COVID-19.

The data will be analysed statistically for each country and the results will be scrutinised and assessed by the regulatory bodies. If the results are positive, then regulatory bodies will approve of the vaccine for general use. On the other hand, if the result is marginal then there may be requirements of further improvement in the quality of vaccine or further clinical trial. This will inevitably delay in the use of vaccine by the general public.

AstraZeneca, the firm partnering Oxford to develop the vaccine, is overseeing a scaling up of manufacturing in parallel with clinical testing so that hundreds of millions of doses can be available if the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective. India’s Serum Institute has already started manufacturing the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate before clinical trials have even been completed. This is to avoid any subsequent delay if the vaccine is approved.

However, a spokesman for AstraZeneca told the Guardian newspaper in the UK that the trial had been stopped to review the “potentially unexplained illness” in one of the participants. The spokesman also stressed that the adverse reaction was only recorded in a single participant and said pausing trials was common during vaccine development.

Notwithstanding the technical issues involved in producing medicines, Donald Trump tarnished the world-wide efforts to produce vaccines with his political agenda of getting re-elected. He declared that the vaccines would be available two days before the US presidential election on 5 November and thereby implicitly and egregiously taking credit for producing COVID-19 cure under his watch!.

However, a group of nine vaccine developers has announced a ‘historic pledge’ to uphold scientific and ethical standards in the search for coronavirus vaccine. The group includes such giant pharmaceutical companies as Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Moderna and Novavax. By their pledge, they asserted that no matter what the politically motivated pressure may be exerted on them, they will ‘always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals their top priority’. Self-publicised egoistic egregious political leaders will come and go, but the pharmaceutical companies are here to stay to produce and serve the people.

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Bangladesh, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political

Lies and distortions in Indian subcontinent’s history

Egregious claims and blatant manipulation of historical facts were political armoury of Indian administrations from post-medieval period right up to the present time. The name India is used here to represent the whole of the Indian sub-continent covering the present-day Indian State, Bangladesh as well as Pakistan.

Indian subcontinent

The British Imperialism, while India was under British rule, used to segregate and differentiate cultural and emotional narrative of Indian people, which comprise primarily Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists to pursue its objectives. The Secretary of State, Wood in a letter to Lord Elgin (Governor General of Canada (1847 – 54) and India (1862 – 63) mentioned, “We have maintained our power in India by playing off one part against the other and we must continue to do so, Do all you can, therefore to prevent all having a common feeling.”

George Francis Hamilton, Secretary of State of India wrote to Lord Curzon on 26 March 1886, “I think the real danger to our rule, not now, but say 50 years hence is the gradual adoption and extension of Western ideas of agitation organisation and if we could break educated Indians into two sections holding widely different views, we should, by such a division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack which the spread of education must make upon our system of government. We should so plan educational text-books that the differences between community and community are further strengthened.”

Secretary Cross sent a message to Governor General Dufferin that “This division of religious feeling is greatly to our advantage and I look for some good as a result of your Committee of Inquiry on Indian Education and on teaching material”.

These were the policy objectives of the British Imperialism. Persistent use of these egregious objectives formed the underlying base that there were no common factors in social, political or economic lives of Indian people. This distortion paved the way for communal segregation in India and the emergence of Two Nation Theory (TNT) spearheaded by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. 

It is quite disturbing to note that nearly all governments in India from post-colonial era right up to the present time pursued the same objective violation of historical facts and information as an effective administrative tool.

The legacy of British colonial policy of establishing objective disunity among the Indian people was firmly adopted by the independent Indian State whereby the Indian history text-books were so falsified and distorted as to give an impression that the medieval period of Indian history was full of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subject and the Hindus had to suffer terrible indignities under the Islamic rule.

One concrete example of deliberate distortion and lies in Indian text books was cited by Dr B N Pande, ex-Governor of the Indian State of Orissa, in his book, “History in the Service of Imperialism”, that a history text book for high schools cited that 3,000 Brahmins committed suicide as ‘Tipu Sultan wanted to convert them forcibly into the fold of Islam’. Dr Pande wrote to the author of the text book, Dr Har Prashad Shastri to give him the source material of such information. After many reminders, a reply from Dr Shastri came saying that he had taken the information from the Mysore Gazetteer. When Dr Pande tried to contact Mysore Gazetteer, there was no response and eventually Prof. Srinatia of Mysore University informed Dr Pande that the suicide of 3,000 Brahmins was nowhere in the Mysore Gazetteer and he was certain no such incident did ever take place.

The said history text book was originally prescribed in Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, U.P., M.P., and Rajasthan. Dr Pande wrote to Ashutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, with all the evidence of falsification in the text book by Dr Shastri. The book was proscribed in all states except U.P., which was utterly shocking to Dr Pande.

It was not only the British Imperialism or the State of India that distort facts or disseminate historical misinformation to serve their perverse political purpose; Pakistan and Bangladesh are equally  also guilty of falsification, exaggeration and manipulation of historical records to serve their selfish ends.

During the nine months of liberation war (from 26 March 1971 to 16 December 1971) in Bangladesh, admittedly a large number of people, mostly civilians, had been killed. The estimates of death toll produced by various individuals or organisations vary between 50,000 to 500,000. In the book called Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, Sarmila Bose stated that between 50,000 and 100,000 may have been killed. The figure was strongly disputed by the writer Naeem Mohajemen as being flawed. A 2008 British Medical Journal study estimated that up to 269,000 civilians may have died as a result of the conflict; this figure is far higher than the previous estimate of 58,000 from Uppsala University and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo. A study published by the Cholera Hospital in Dhaka in 1976 in a prestigious journal called ‘Population Studies’ stated that about 500,000 “excess death” may have occurred because of the war. The US CIA carried out its own estimate and came to the conclusion that 200,000 had died during the war.

But Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, stated that 3 million (3,000,000) people had died as a result of the liberation war. He did not provide any details or breakdown of the death figure, just the sum total of death figure, which was about ten times higher than the consensus figure.

It came out subsequently in the political circles in Bangladesh that when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to Bangladesh via London from the Pakistani prison in 1972, he was given a death figure of three lakh (300,000) by his trusted young political leader, Abdur Razzaq. But when Mujibur Rahman gave a press conference to the international journalists shortly after that, he translated three lakh (300,000) to three million (3,000,000) death toll. That mistake of 10 times exaggeration was never admitted or amended by the government. The presumption was that if the country could get away with higher death toll, all the more preferable.  

Pakistan does not fall behind at all in its bid of mendacious claims. Pakistani textbooks tried to ignore or omit country’s non-existence prior to 1947 and the territory’s shared history with India over the centuries – its multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious past. Pakistan’s history began, as it is claimed, with the conquest of Sind by the Umayyad Caliphate, led by the young General Mohammad bin Qasim in 711 AD. In one text book, it was claimed that Pakistan had suffered politically and militarily over the last thirteen centuries! This sort of history book only helps to create misinformed and blockheaded adults out of the younger generation. Pakistan’s gung-ho approach in dealing with India was not very helpful either to its national perspective. In the 1965 war with India, Pakistan’s history books claimed that Pakistan’s Army conquered large areas of India, and when India was on the verge of defeat, she asked for cease-fire through the UN! That was a blatant lie. With that mindset of super power status, Pakistan approached the 1971 crack-down of East Pakistan, which in fact resulted in the breakup of the country and the birth of Bangladesh. That war could even destroy the very existence of Pakistan. 

Such egregious distortion of facts by independent States of the sub-continent only helps to sow the seeds of dishonesty and corruption in the minds of younger people. If the State thinks that by lying and making exaggerated claims of its power and authority it can get away with falsehood and at the same time take misplaced credit, then the individuals of these States would be tempted to think why can’t they make similar bids of unfounded claims and reap the benefits?

–           Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Racism in America: Police chokehold is not the issue (Part II)

(Following the previous post which constituted the initial section of the article, the present post is the concluding section of the article).

According to the Sentencing Project’s Report to the UN in 2018, Blacks are three times more likely to be searched, twice as likely to be arrested, and receive longer prison sentences for committing the same crime. Thirty-five percent of all executions in the US have been Black; they constitute 34 percent of prison inmates and 42 percent of people on death row.

However, while police brutality and related injustices are obvious, the most overwhelming burden for Blacks is the political disempowerment and economic inequities which they have to bear.

Blacks are approximately 13 percent of the population. But currently, while their presence in the House is roughly equivalent (52 out of 435), they have only three Senators (the highest ever), and no Governors. Of the 189 American Ambassadors, only three are Black, usually in “hardship posts” or less relevant assignments (like Bangladesh?).

According to Valerie Wilson from the Economic Policy Institute, in 2018, a median Black worker only earned about 75 percent of what a White person does (USD 14.92 per hour to USD 19.79), and The Economist reported that in 2019 mean household wealth was USD 138,000 for Blacks, and USD 933,700 for Whites. While more than 72 percent of Whites own homes usually in nice neighbourhoods, only 42 percent of Blacks do so usually in shabbier environments. Unemployment rates are typically twice that of Whites. 

Approximately 23 percent of Covid-19 patients are Black, and similar discrepancies are seen in terms of people suffering from blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, asthma, cancer, and other health challenges.   

Educational disparities are pronounced. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, while almost 80 percent of Whites graduate from high school, only 62 percent of Blacks do so. While 29 percent of White males and 38 percent of White females graduate from college, only 15 percent of Black males and 22 percent of Black females do the same. 

This is not because of innate intellectual differences traditionally used to explain the “achievement gap” (comparative lower scores in reading and math for Black students). As John Valant pointed out, Black performance in standardised tests has much more to do with exclusionary zoning policies that keep Black families from better school districts, mass incarceration practices that remove Black parents from children, and under-resourced Black school districts that impose relatively poor-quality teachers, weak supportive infrastructure and an environment of hopelessness and despair that students are compelled to endure. Expecting these kids to perform at the same level as others is like tying a weight to their legs and hoping that they can be competitive in a marathon.

President Johnson’s effort to “level the playing field” led to some Affirmative Action policies, and the formation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965, to provide historically disadvantaged groups some extra educational and economic opportunities. Some progress has certainly been made. A small Black middle class of professionals has gradually come into existence, some Black entrepreneurs have been notably prosperous, and a few Black performers have gained spectacular success in the entertainment and sports industries (unrelated to affirmative action).

But, on the other hand, many Whites resented these programmes which were gradually challenged, and in some ways gutted, through charges of “reverse discrimination” (Bakke v Board of Regents University of California, 1978). The sentiment was that these policies unfairly violated a merit-based system of rewards, and created an entitlement culture for undeserving Blacks (conveniently forgetting that Whites had gained from it for centuries). Sometimes affirmative action only meant incorporating a few Blacks in various positions to prove an institution’s quantitative adherence to EEOC requirements. It was tokenist, grudging and alienating. Instead of bridging racial divides, they deepened them.

Ay, and there is the rub, as Shakespeare would say. The issue of racism is not about a chokehold of a White police officer, but its stranglehold on US society. It is ingrained in the predatory capitalism that the US worships with its emphasis on ugly materialism over human development, selfish individualism over collective welfare, desperate profit-seeking over social responsibility, immoral inequalities over a sharing culture, patriarchal dominance over an inclusive democracy, mindless consumerism over ecological concern, and a phenomenally successful strategy of keeping people, particularly the working class, divided and loathing each other.

It is also true that the races are prisoners of their respective assumptions, perceptions and judgments that lead them to see “the other” in radically distorted terms. Their narratives of history, their engagement with reality, and their judgment of events condemn them to their own rhetorical echo-chambers, making communications difficult. What the Blacks will see and remember will be vastly different from what the Whites will (e.g. Blacks will hear George Floyd crying out for his mother as a casually sadistic White officer chokes him to death, Whites will see the looting). In these conditions, hate becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Finally, when racism is reduced, and isolated, to a simple problem (e.g. police brutality), it will let politicians shake their cynical heads and issue condemnations with platitudes and clichés that will come trippingly to their tongues. It will permit them to tinker with this or that aspect of law enforcement and claim to have “fixed it”. It will encourage the power-elite to seek TV-rich moments such as taking a knee, or carrying a BLM placard, or raising a fist at a funeral memorial—high in symbolism but pitifully, perhaps deliberately, low in accomplishment.

As long as they ignore the larger historical, political and psychological context in which White defensiveness and Black weaknesses are located, one can treat the symptoms and not the virus of racism. The intellectual honesty and moral courage this would require has been absent in the past, and there is neither much evidence, nor much hope, that we will see it anytime soon.

Postscript: Having lived in America for many years, I can personally attest to the fairness and decency of the vast majority of colleagues, students, and general people my wife and I have met, and the genuine graciousness and warmth of many friends that we have been blessed to have. This merely underscores the point that the issue is not individual but institutional, not personal but structural.

(The cases mentioned in the article are all Supreme Court cases.)

 Ahrar Ahmad is Director General, Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation, Dhaka.