International Racist Hate Crimes: American Export?

Stop hating (all way)There are two hate crimes in very different parts of the world, one in the UK the second in Russia, that have me wondering about how much of American-style racism gets exported overseas (Creative Commons License photo credit: sylvar ).

In Britain recently Nathan Worrell, a neo-Nazi who waged a racist campaign against a mixed-race couple and was stashing loads of bomb-making materials in his flat, was arrested, tried and convicted on charges related to the case.   He was sentenced to seven years in prison on two charges: “possession of material for terrorist purposes,” and “racially aggravated harassment.”   Among the materials found in Worrell’s flat were a video showing how to make a bomb from household items, and what police described as “a significant amount of far-right propaganda, as well as membership cards for groups such as the Ku Klux Klan….”

In Russia, last week Stanley Robinson, an 18-year-old African American exchange student from Providence, Rhode Island, was stabbed by unknown assailants in Volgograd.   Russian n an attack officials say may have been racially motivated.  Robinson remains in grave but stable condition.  According to published accounts, the student’s mother, Tina Robinson said:  “I believe it happened because he is a person of color. It was completely unprovoked.”

Some may chalk up such horrific stories as just another example that “the whole world is full of inequality, injustice… “ [as Robert Berger suggested in his comment on this blog awhile back]; and, others may erroneously suggest that racism is overblown and that efforts to call attention to racism are part of a “racism industry.” I, however, have a different perspective on these incidents.   To me, these suggest that American-style racism may be exported from the U.S. to other countries with deadly consequences.   The fact that Worrell in the UK had propaganda from the KKK, a U.S.-based racist organization, certainly suggests this.   Of course, Worrell also had material from British far-right groups as well and the UK is no Johnny-come-lately to racism.    And yet, the fact that there are materials from the U.S. that are tied to the racist actions of a neo-Nazi in the UK suggest that there are global flows of racism.   Add to that the fact of America’s cultural and political hegemony in the world today (although quickly fading if recent shoe-tossing incidents are any indication of the nation’s standing in the eyes of the world), and it suggests that American-style racism may be seen as the “standard bearer” for racists around the globe.

The second example, of the African American exchange student attacked in Russia, also suggests that the American-style of racist hate crime has been exported to regions far beyond the borders of the U.S.   If, as this young man’s mother suggests, he was in fact a target of a racially-motivated assault this raises some puzzling questions about how this is possible.   Russia is a country with a completely different history than the U.S. when it comes to race and racism.   So, the question becomse, how is it that this young African American teenager is even “seen” as a target of a hate crime?   That he was even fathomable as a target of such an assault suggests that this young man had to first be recognizable as a racial subject.    To put it plainly, he had to be viewed by his attackers as a young black man.   And, his racial subjectivity, his “blackness,” if you will, had to be interpreted through the lens of the white racial frame.   Within this frame, a young black man gets read simultaneously as a dangerous thug and as a racial target.    Without this interpretive lens,  Stanley Robinson would just be another exchange student exploring another culture.   Within the white racial frame, Robinson became a target.

It would be bad enough if America were simply exporting racism if we, as a country, were also doing something in the international community to combat racism.  But, alas, this is not the case.   In forum after forum in the world arena, the U.S. is the notably absent guest not seated at the table to discuss how to resolve racism globally.  Sometimes this is couched as a concern about free speech rights, sometimes in terms of defending the right of the state of Israel to exist, both worthy concerns.  Even so, the point remains that the U.S. is not in involved in these discussions at the same time that the country is exporting American-style racism.    It’s analogous to the U.S. environmental policy in many ways.  As a country, we’re about 4% of the world’s population, yet we’re responsible for something like 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, yet the U.S. government under Bush refused to sign the Kyoto treaty which would have held accountable for reducing those emissions.    Now, I realize that reducing carbon emissions is not going to do anything to eliminate racism,  but it seems to me that part of the change we need to see in the U.S. is to try to rejoin the international community as responsible global citizens.   A big step forward would be to stop exporting American-style racism and sit down at the international table to discuss how to address global racism.

Comments

  1. David Duke now spends most of his time in the Ukraine. It’s easier for fascist organizing there. On the other hand, I think we’re importing as much racism as ever. But I do have to say I’m happy the US has backed out of the World Conference on Racism (ie. “Durban II”). The first Durban conference was a remarkably potent forum for antisemitism. Though you say that the US’s concerns include defending the right of Israel to exist, calling this a worthy concern (thank you), I think you understate how bad the first one was. (And, indeed, just how much antisemitism is a problem at the UN!) Here’s a flier handed out by an NGO, which many felt was typical of the atmosphere at the NGO tables. Official events weren’t thought to be much better, and everything that had anything to do with Jews was scheduled for Friday nights or Saturdays to exclude religious Jews. I would support the US’s involvement if there was a good chance of making this one better, but the lead up has been marked by blatant attempts to exclude Jews. As the Forward article you cite says, preparatory events have been intentionally held on Passover and Yom Kippur.

  2. Mordy

    It doesn’t seem like the US is doing a whole lot to aggressively combat racism here, so it isn’t terribly surprising that it isn’t doing much abroad. That said, there seems to be scant evidence, or for that matter even much reporting, emerging from this assault in Russia. I live in the Providence area and it has barely been mentioned in the local press. From what has been reported though, authorities have neither any suspects nor any clue as to why he was attacked. It could very well be robbery. To the extent that his blackness indicated he was , and thus perhaps possessing items worth stealing, i suppose it could be construed as a hate crime. But they really have no idea if that is indeed the case. It is a very awful story.

  3. Jessie Author

    Hiya Matt, GDAWG, Mordy, and KP! Good to see you all here. KP ~ I wonder about the universalism of racism. In my view, there’s not enough good scholarship about there on the global dimensions of racism. I’m not satisfied to say that it’s simply “universal,” and leave it at that. GDAWG, thanks for your kind words and glad you liked the post. Matt, excellent point about David Duke and a good reminder. I agree that there’s a real problem with antisemitism, but I’m weary of the false dichotomy that we either have to do something about racism or we can do something about antisemitism. It’s a false choice. Why can’t we step up and address both? And, Mordy you raise some good points about the Robinson case. I find it shocking that there’s so little reporting about it even in the Providence area. While it’s possible that it’s “just” robbery (cold comfort, that), but there’s also a growing problem of racist killings in Russia, and specifically, of neo-Nazis. And, that’s part of what I find so compelling here, that image of racist skinheads attacking an African American young man in Russia. That strikes me as an act that’s influenced, at least partially, by American-style racism.

  4. Joe

    King Politics, the “racism is universal” slogan is the way many whites, and some others, try to deny the reality of well-institutionalized US racism (the original meaning of “racism” when it was coined as a term). Societal Oppression is indeed widespread (but not even universal), but most of it is not rationalized by the extensive type of white racist framing that rationalizes and perpetuates the 400 years of racial oppression in well-institutionalized North American forms. And we are, of course, NOT all immigrants……

  5. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to infer from this UK guy’s collection of racist material that the US is exporting racism. A few years ago I would have agreed with you, but not after living in east Asia for a few years. In Korea, for example, virtually everyone is a racist to at least some degree and discrimination against Southeast Asians is severe. Then you have discrimination along other axes where the US has little, such as on the basis of family origin and educational background. Then in Japan you see similar situations, although not as severe. In both cases the racism springs from 50- or 100-year old nationalist propaganda and contacts with pre-WWII Germany. Hollywood films do create false impressions about black people, but I don’t think they do so in ways that give rise to violence (there’s almost no racist violence in Korea or Japan despite the high levels of racist attitudes).

    Even if so, though, what should the US do about it? It’s not clear to me how to stop exporting racism. I’m fairly sure that most first-world nations do make it illegal to import racist material the same as they do pornography. The Voice of America radio promotes tolerance. Beyond that, the US looms large in the world’s mind in many ways — Korean gays and lesbians keep up on the US gay rights movement and sometimes incorporate its slang, for example. It’s just inevitable that violent racists will do the same, but that’s not how they become violent racists.

    Basically, racism in other countries is not necessarily there because of American cultural products or hegemony, and it’s ethnocentric to assume otherwise.

  6. jwbe

    In Russia hate-crimes against non-slavic people in general seem to be on the rise.
    As to importing racism, I think Hollywood plays an important role.
    And also the internet, white supremacist groups in Europe benefit from ‘free speech’ in America and are looking for American providers and hate-groups where they can publish their websites which would be banned under some European country’s laws.

  7. Jessie, “I agree that there’s a real problem with antisemitism, but I’m weary of the false dichotomy that we either have to do something about racism or we can do something about antisemitism.” This is a bit awkward for me because, though it can be a religious bigotry or even more complex, antisemitism can be and often is racism. I would agree that it’s a false dichotomy that we can do something about antisemitism or about other racisms. However, it’s not a false dichotomy to say we can either attend or not attend this particular conference. (Some have even argued that this conference is a farce that will not actually deal with racism.) In this case, I’d put more blame on those wealthy nations that aren’t pushing for a better conference. In particular, antisemitism at the UN is a insititutional problem, and I think when we’re talking about the UN we have to keep that in mind. Btw, I’ve been thinking about this post more. It seems likely to me that we’re exporting the look of racism, but we’re actually importing the ideologies. Most of the major thinkers in the American white supremacist movement -Pierce, Hale- are gone. Though there are reasons I follow British politics more closely than others would, and I might be misreading the situation, it seems to me that people like Nick Griffin of the British National Party are filling the void. Fortunately, I haven’t seen yet the growing, destructive impulse to sue for libel whenever anyone is implied to be racist.

  8. Joe

    One of my grad students went to Moscow and saw much racist graffiti attacking Chechen (a large ethnic group in the Caucasus region of what is now Russia) immigrants to Moscow, including attacks on them as “niggers.” That is, even English racist terms are imported there and used in racist thinking and attacks. This is especially ironic because the Chechen people are the ones that the German anatomist Johann Blumenbach (in late 1700s) thought were the most beautiful of “whites” and thus coined the (racist) term Caucasian for “whites,” as part of his creation of one of the first hierarchies of “races.” Caucasians were of course at the top of his ladder.

  9. GDAWG

    Because racism has played such a crucial cultural role as a weapon, among other weapons, for the hegemonic domination of the US, and others of the west, its exportation will not cease until their domination, culturally and economically, especially, has ended. I suspect, on the other hand, that when it does end, it, at least anti-Black racism, will be surplanted by some other freaky superiority notion by those who would assume the mantle of superior cultural and all. Human nature? Darwinian? Yes. And Yes.

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