• Ajinkya Satish Dharane

An Old Strategy

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

One more day, one more shooting, few more protests, few more arguments in media – today, that is just a regular American day.

(Image by James Rajaste)

As an ambitious kid from India, I have fancied about the American dream more than I should have. Growing up, America was the country to be in – be it for studying, working or just living a full life (…if that is a thing these days). The portrayal of a beautiful America in a sell-out media, from the high-roaring buildings or the lush green countryside, never created even a shred amount of doubts in our developing country mindsets.

After living in the country for about six years, it is sad to see the country being torn apart by political agendas, fear and uncertainty.

For the worst affected country by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is just miserable to see it being blamed as a police state, a country where systematic racism is encouraged and trial by media (where judgement comes first and the reality follows if it is given a chance) is the new routine. Social media has been the center of it all. With almost no censorship, these platforms have been the source of hatred, radical views, fear and negative sentiments.

These are not new, however. These problems have existed in the US for a couple of centuries.

In 2015 at the NAACP conference, President Obama pointed out that "The United States is home to 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's prisoners."

This statement heard out of context would tell you – great, US has a stringent justice system, and it is working great. But with a very little knowledge of the history and some superficial research, you can hear the alarm bells ringing.

On paper, the US has abolished the institution of slavery since 1865. But it took the country another hundred odd years to give equal rights to the people of colour. You probably have heard of Rosa Parks. That happened in 1955, 90 years after slavery was abolished. The movie 13th (released in 2016, available on Netflix) gives you an excellent insight into the systematic racism history. Even though the 13th amendment abolished slavery, it did not provide equal rights to black Americans. Cleverly, the amendment states that involuntary servitude is to be abolished except as punishment for crime. The provision of penal labour in this amendment has been exploited by the US government ever since. The maximum pay allowed for the prisoners is $1.15 (as per report from 2007). US government formed a private corporation – UNICOR (founded as Federal Prison Industries) to manufacture various products using this prison labour.

The significant events in US history, like Jim Crow laws that led to segregation, then Nixon and Raegan leading with law and order era, calling out the war on drugs and associating them with the racial discrimination, are the proof that the racism never died in America. In 1994, Bill Clinton led the bill of Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. He came out strong in his introduction speech and used popular baseball phrases – "three strikes and you are out" to give birth to what today is known as mass incarceration.

With these laws' help, the prison population in the US has grown from 300,000 in 1972 to 2.4 million in 2018. That is an 800% growth in incarceration in less than four decades—definitely a worrisome fact. You put a narcissist like the current President Trump in the mix, and you get a new level of well-organized, well-planned crazy. Some reports show that the budget for ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) has increased significantly under the 45th President of the world's biggest economy.

Obama was called "deporter-in-chief" by his critics, and the numbers show he was not easy going on illegal immigrants. But what Trump did with the announcement of mass raids by ICE agents is to instill fear in immigrants. Being as obnoxious as they can be, the media gave the story an angle – all immigrants, illegal or not, are going to be investigated. Unless you have a US passport, chances are you are in trouble. You all probably read about Miguel Perez Jr. An army veteran who had a non-violent drug conviction from 2008 was deported. He had a green card and served in the army.

Now we understand history, let us analyze why we feel the brunt of these problems more than a decade ago?

With the launch of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, we the humans with lots of opinions and our compulsion to enforce those opinions on others got one thing that newspapers and TV channels would not give us – no censorships. What started as a way to connect with long lost friends, these channels quickly became the medium of expression. You can insult any living soul in the world and not get any repercussions. There is no punishment for calling someone an asshole or insulting their parents, or using extreme profanity on these channels. Hey - it all falls under free speech. And why I should not do it if the most powerful man in the open world is doing it. Yes, Mr. Trump is the biggest bully on these platforms. I am not even going to honour him by giving out references. If you follow him and have some sanity in you, you know what I am talking about. If you do not follow him – you are probably the luckiest person in the world right now.

The world population has increased, but TV viewership has decreased in the last few years with birth and explosion of the internet. And with these traditional media channels promoting themselves through social media. All they need to do is tweet an eye-catching, heart-thumping headline (which in most cases is far away from the contents in the articles), put a thrilling trailer on YouTube and boom – you got millions of views in minutes.

The internet technology has brought the world closer, but you do get burnt when you get close to the fire. We would never have known about the murder of George Floyd or Jacob Blake had it not been for Facebook or Twitter. Black Lives Matter has been around since 2013, but most of us did not know about this movement until this year. We are getting to know the shortcomings of the great country (or what we felt like a great country) like the US. The influential people are exploiting the most fantastic thing about social media – connecting people worldwide, and we, the dumber ones, are falling prey to their exploitation daily. And the worst part there is no end in sight to this slaughter of humanity.

Long gone are the days where Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups openly killed and hung black people. Now those with money or power or both have streamlined the process and has generated billions in profit through this systematic racism.

I do feel that Gen X and Gen Z are smarter than our preceding generations. If we are given facts, we do make our own choices and act on our own decisions. All we need is an unbiased platform to provide us with that. But hey, that is social work and who has time for that!

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