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.