Category Archives: Empire and Whiteness

Political Cartoons

Political cartoons are a valuable primary source as they allude to the feelings of the people at the time, which can be lost in more literal interpretations of a time period. Whereas history is usually told from the point of view of the victor, political cartoons allow a glimpse at the darker or lesser-known sides of a story. They usually depict sentiments ridiculing the actions of the government and illustrate the dissenting opinions within a society in a rather subtle matter. Because political cartoons are labeled as such, “cartoons”, many push them aside as childish banter. However, most of the time these cartoons contain strong political messages and reveal true histories.

The Portfolio of Editorial Cartoons we looked at provides a perfect example for the strength of political cartoons. With the literature we read for Tuesday about the nature of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines and Puerto Rico, the cartoons provide a different side to the story which we heard before. The cartoons also parallel the articles and illustrate many of the main arguments in a succinct fashion. I found this parallel most apparent between the cartoon on page 159 and Erman’s piece, where he discusses how the United States implemented foreign tariffs on Puerto Rico, despite it technically being within our sovereignty. The cartoon makes the same point as the article, but the cartoon also appeals more to the viewer’s emotions, as the United States clearly buries the Puerto Rican without a glimpse of remorse.

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I found the cartoon on page 162 particularly striking as well because it relates almost a bit too well with my topic for the research project. The cartoon depicts a Puerto Rican man, made to look barbaric and almost inhuman, looking on as Uncle Sam uses the hammer of English to nail Americanization into the lands of Puerto Rico. One of the main problems with the annexation of Puerto Rico was whether or not the residents could become true Americans, as the Erman article illustrates. The cartoon shows that, at the time, the United States wanted to assimilate the Puerto Ricans and make them become more “American” before allowing them to become citizens. The main tool used by Uncle Sam (who personifies the U.S.) is the english language, which becomes a tool of force and coercion.

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This cartoon is from 1900. In the year 2013, more than a century later, it fascinates me that the same exact issues still exist within our country. As new people enter our country, we continually impose our language as a necessity to survive and succeed. In my research, I have found multiple accounts of immigrant children entering school speaking a language from their home and then being forced to learn English, while neglecting their home culture and language. A century later, our country uses the same forceful tools that the artist of this cartoon ridiculed so long ago. Clearly, people took issue with the approach of forced assimilation at the turn of the twentieth century, so why has it survived well into the twenty-first?

Just as political cartoons remain a force within our society to this day, forced assimilation and americanization of immigrants remain large issues across the country. At this point, I am interested to know whether, in such a long period, our forceful nature to create ideal American citizens has changed at all, or if we remain like stubborn children, unwilling to accept the idea that maybe other ways exist that are better than our own. I think, as a society, we like to believe we have moved forward from our darker past, but I believe that we may have fallen deeper into the trap. At this moment, I think we pretend that issues such as forced assimilation no longer exist, and if we do not talk about them, then maybe they will disappear. However, these issues are just as present as they were when Imperialist America took over all the new land. Just because we are not conquering people on their own land does not mean it is not happening. If we look to our side, I am sure we will find traces of forced assimilation everywhere.

White Empire

When I was initially looking to the titles of the pieces assigned for today’s class, I was leery of the title “Constituting the U.S. Empire State and White Supremacy”, and was equally confused how it fit in with the Keyword themes for that day. However, the Jung piece is relatable to me as a reader and a “person of color” in this majority White nation. In comparison to the Kaplan piece, Jung looks more at the construction of the nation as a society, where “Violent Beginnings and the question of Empire” takes a more global, militaristic model that defines the US to the global community. The examination of the social and racial construct of the nation by Jung is applicable to many of the other pieces we have read, in trying to, culturally, understand the US.

To the Nation being an Empire of Whiteness or acceptance, this is entirely relevant and true. The construction of the nation itself, of territories being “accepted” into the nation, very much illustrates the cultural inclusion that has defined the social construct of the United States. Especially in our current political climate, the social climate has called for a return to our founding virtues, of “real America”, in other words, a land “discovered” and inhabited by White men, for it is often overlooked that, at the time “the abiding colonial logic was to wrest land away from indigenous sovereignty and control” (Jung 4). What fringe groups like the 9-12 movement and the Alliance for Catholic Tradition are really calling for is a return to the “America” they know; White America.

Identification with the nation solely through the limitations of social acceptance, instead of national boarders and identities is something that can only stem from the belief that the nation was built, and is run for their benefit really emphasizes Jung’s argument as the nation being constructed as an empire of whiteness. As a non-accepted member of the US majority, knew and have witnessed the injustices levied against me. Though the majority of the essay was related to the history of oppression in this nation against people of color, I found it very interesting and important when Jung brings up the example of how many Europeans had to gain their social acceptance. Thought they were of the same complexion of “real Americans”, they still somehow had to show their assimilation and supremacy over the other minorities to be accepted. This was really interesting because it shows that to be accepted into the majority is not just a matter of skin tone, but of assumed supremacy over the other peoples in this new nation.

 

Also, just a side note about today’s announcement that the “Students of Color” should stay behind after class. Though this was unintentional, I feel something needs to be said about this; I did feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed not from the request, but the language used to present it. Instead of asking for some students to stay back, it was asked of all of “us” at that same time, almost as if we act in one mind and one collective action. Normally when looking for volunteers, you say who you’re looking for and ask of they wouldn’t mind staying around. You may want all the women in the room to stay and talk to you, but you don’t ask all of them to stay. Additionally, it was a bit unnecessary to look around the room and notice aloud that there aren’t very many of us. We know that, and the request for all the students of color was enough of a reminder to that.

The U.S. Empire

Like Jong, Kaplan uses the idea of expansionism to define the United States as an empire. Expansionism that commenced the establishment of the U.S. empire is thought to have been “natural and nonviolent” supported by the idea of a manifest destined empire (Steebly 97). As it is stated in Keywords, empire is a term that has been used to describe the power if the U.S., “driven by fears of other empires” (Steebly 96). In Kaplan’s Violent Belongings, she asks and answers the questions of how is America an empire and what is this empire working towards. I think the perception the United States has of itself as an empire creates more of the power than the empire actual holds. What is the criteria to be an empire; how much power must a nation uphold?

The U.S. perception of itself is heightened by American exceptionalism. Kaplan points to the ideology of an influential American. Is the United States actually influencing culture and certain mentalities among other nations or is it just assumed and perceived in that manner? I believe this is a flaw in American execptionalism in which “in the fantasy of global desire for all things American, those whose dreams are different are often labeled as terrorists who must hate our way of life and thus hate humanity itself” (Kaplan 7). The American empire creates an exclusion from the dreams of America and also from humanity. If the empire ideology lives within America, it must not penalizes those who are different from the norms of a perceived empire. Difference frightens many Americans but differences in culture and ideologies should help further a nation and especially an empire.

Kaplan’s explanations of the empire of America correlates to the perception of America today by many leaders. For example, within President Obama’s speech to the U.N. on syria, that we looked at in class, there are some lines which Obama uses the idea of the U.S. empire to reason with policy decisions made or proposed by America. When he states that “the United States of America is prepared to use all elements or our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region” the President is using the perceived strengths of the U.S. to the empire’s advantage, which may or may not be a positive thing. To me the strategies within Obama’s speech are embedded to build upon the power of American to stabilize its defined empire. Obama addressing the American people along with the U.N. in order to strengthen Americans’s perception of the U.S. This perception is what ultimately created the empire of the U.S. and it is also how it will keep it afloat.

 

The E-Word

When reading Amy Kaplan’s address to the American Studies Association, I was reminded of the comedian Louis C.K., and an observational joke of his in an HBO standup special. The gist of the joke–in less offensive language–is as follows: when Louis C.K. hears someone, a news pundit for example, say “the N-word,” all he can think about is the real “N-word.” “The E-word,” referring to empire, has become equally as unutterable for politicians and public figures as the aforementioned racial slur. As Jung quotes: “race will always be at the center of the American experience” (Jung 2). He goes on to assert that “[t]he polity to which U.S. state has always laid claim in fact, if not in rhetoric, is an empire” (Jung 3). Empire and race, arguably the two most violent constructions in United States’ history, can’t be talked about publicly without moral window-dressing. But does hiding the realities and manifestations of race and empire with rhetoric–“N-words” and “E-words”–serve the higher purpose of eliminating racism and imperial conquest, or does it disillusion and promote American exceptionalism, giving people a free pass to be racist and chauvinistic?

I have yet to read or listen to Obama’s speech on Syria, Iran, and war, but the words Muslim, Arabic, and Islam never appear. Obama, in this excerpt, opts to call the ethnic, religious and political strife of the Arabic world “conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa[.] Conflicts between countries, but also within them” (Obama 1).Israel is never overtly mentioned, but is almost certainly “our core interest in the [Middle East],” an asset and ally the United States is willing to protect with force (Obama 2). The word religion appears once in the first paragraph of the excerpt. But this is an overture to America’s great spiritual campaign against “those who seek to repress the spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it” (Obama 2). It’s also our duty as world economic and WMD police to ensure that oil can get from the Middle East to the to the rest of the world and that the United States keep as firm a grip as possible on its  quasi-monoploy of nuclear arms.

Why was it so necessary to avoid empire, and especially, race in this speech when the controversial issue of Middle Eastern oil was so readily touched upon? Evading ethnicity, race, and religion allows Obama to talk openly about American disdain and disapproval of the Arabic, Muslim and Middle Eastern spheres. It’s a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. It allowed for what would be otherwise reprehensible racism and imperialism. Maybe being politically correct can help move race relations along, but in this particular case political-correctness causes nothing but harm, leaving Obama’s speech moral holes.

The U.S. Under White Supremacy

Questioning the racial state of the United States, Jong’s State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States, develops examples including citizenship  to show that the United States was built as an empire-state upon the basis of white supremacy. I like how Jong writes in a timeline form creating the notion of a periodical cycle of flourishing powers of white supremacy throughout history. As I read this chapter, I continually asked myself, how this mentality of white dominance became engraved within the minds of American colonists and why hasn’t it diminished since?

Jong seems to justify the mentality of white supremacy with expansionism. Stating that colonists just wanted to expand through the “western movement” and it just so happened that the original inhabitants who got in the way were of a minority race (Jong 8). I perceive this to sugar-coat the fact that “acquiring territories has always been a racist process” (Jong 9). Race played a major role within the colonization of America, almost as if borders between states and lands had to be categorized by race. However, because of the prevailing white supremacy these categories seemed only sufficient if inhabitants were under some control of the dominating white majority. In many cases, control did not also mean inclusion. For example, Jong exemplifies how Hawaii, although political and economically controlled by white settlers, was not granted admission into the union as a state until 1959 due to concerns about its “nonwhite-majorty population” (Jong 10). It’s as if there were some kind of standard or set guidelines needed to be accepted as a citizen of the U.S. and due to white supremacy, obviously being born on American soil did not suffice.

The matter of citizenship is explored through this chapter by Jong. Jong signifies the Dred Scott v. Sandford case as a key moment of American history that drew a line between “the citizen and the subject” (Jong 15). The Dred Scott decision dug into many open wounds. It showed how white supremacy led America to contradict prior set laws and decisions. This verdict that Black Americans were not eligible for U.S. citizenship made the nation rethink their decision of granting the rights of Indian sovereignty. The racial differences finally being noticed in America frightened and challenged white supremacy. The Blacks and Native Americans for example, are not the same race as each other and because they are also not white they are some how less racially different from each other than from the dominant white population and therefore must be grouped in the same category as “not normal” and less valued. This explains the line quoted by Jong that “Black people still have no rights that whites are obligated to respect” (Jong 19).

This is also quoted while explaining the impacts of the Dred Scott decision in a video I came across of a part of a documentary about the Dred Scott Case. This video shows how not only did the divide between the white race and the black race widen but it also created a division within the confines of the white supremacy in the U.S. This text left me with the question of how was the “false promise of liberalism for people of color” created and if it is still intact today? (Jong 17).

 

 

 

“Incorporation”

Every one of us has an outward identity that defines us to out fellow humans as belonging to a certain race or ethnicity. What I found most interesting in Jung’s work on White supremacy is the idea that we are define in those races/ethnicities according to a white norm. While we may not acknowledge that fact in daily life, the grounds which we define our racial identities upon are strictly rooted in white identity, the way we are perceived, treated, understood and acknowledged are all based on a single deviation from what has been perceived as normal. Most people do not think of themselves as being a product of white normalcy, but as Jung shows us, the racial/ethnic identities or lack of identities that we posses have all been created from a sense of white being the standard from which people are compared to.

Jung in addition to a white standard deviation point, attached that to the concept of citizenship pertaining, obviously, to the United States.  Explaining that citizenship pertained(s) solely to those we perceive(d) as “incorporated” into the society, and “that the taken for granted certainty of white dominance was a necessary condition of possibility” (Jung 7) She gives us the example of Chinese immigrants not as citizens but with white privilege in comparison to black citizens who had no such privileges or access to white society at the time. While the Chinese immigrants were not American by nature they gained access to white citizenship privileges by being a lesser deviation from the standard than black Americans.

In further arguments she touches upon the conflict of bestowing citizenship on a territory, of which the United States still has several, although citizenship could be delayed and even with non-citizenship status their children would become natural born citizens of the United States and therefore be given all rights and privileges that come with it. I correlated this concept with the phenomena of anchor babies from Mexico to the United States, children of Mexican immigrants who come to the United States, whether legally or not, and have naturalized children. When said child comes of a certain age they have the right as a U.S. to bring family to the United States and with time they can become U.S. citizens as well. As American citizens anchor babies are “incorporated” into society and gain access to education, healthcare, language and culture, and can become extremely Americanized. To the most extreme they themselves are considered American of a certain heritage or race but have been accepted as simply a deviation from our standard. (With the advent of social media and “American” media displays this is becoming more and more common, speaking from personal experience with family in the U.S., having become citizens through their children)

The US Empirical Mind

The keyword “Empire” is introduced as a debated defining characteristic in modern United States international politics. The term is debated as it carries a connotation of fierce imperialism and past fallen empires. Politicians and pundits alike tended to avoid this term in the past in order to protect and defend the United States’ identity as one acting in the interests of democracy and the betterment of foreign nations. “The use of the concept of Manifest Destiny instead of ‘empire’ gave divine sanction to U.S. expansion and implied that it was a natural and nonviolent process” (Streeby, 97). A religious aspect derived from the early Puritanical belief system adopted throughout United States history by settlers to current politicians alike, Manifest Destiny ‘gave’ the United States a God-given right and responsibility to intervene in international affairs as a police force of democracy.

This concept of the United States as a police force is universally regarded in international politics. In the recent series of crises in Syria, the United States intended to act in its stereotypical empirical manner by intervening when chemical weapons were used against civilians reportedly by the Syrian government. Even as the UN voted against United States military action against Syria, the empirical mind of the nation still considered acting upon its “god given calling” to react in the face of international war crimes and repression of democracy. Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the US public through an article in the New York Times spelling out international opinion, albeit a Russian biased one, on the empirical actions of the United States. (see: A Plea for Caution From Russia) “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us” (Putin). Putin explains his personal opinion, shared by others in the international community, that the United States attempts to act as a model for democracy but our actions are perceived as aggressive and often times out of line with what is expected in international affairs.

There are undoubtably occurrences where US involvement in foreign countries have strayed from their original purposes and been considered out of line by the greater international community. However, in many of these cases the UN and other first world powers failed to intervene themselves. There have also been scenarios that called for foreign assistance and the United States failed to get involved, such as Rwanda where a lack of intervention allowed a genocide to occur. This raises the question if the United States does have a responsibility to intervene in affairs if no other power attempts to alleviate the issue at hand. Conversely, who is to say that democracy or the morals and values of the United States are the standard to which other nations must hold themselves to? Regardless, the past responses of the United States in foreign affairs can only be expected to repeat themselves in the face of actions against the value system of the US.

 

 

Discomfort Regarding Mass Agreement of America as an Empire

When I read Amy Kaplan’s Presidential Address, I was shocked to hear that most scholars agree that America is an empire; from conservative writers across the political spectrum such as Charles Krauthammer, to liberal “reluctant imperialists,” America is accepted to have been formed as and to currently be an empire. Even public figures such as Dick Cheney are in on this semantic movement.
What are the repercussions of America accepting itself as empire? As some have hoped, “coming out” of the empire closet (Streeby 190) does not reduce the strength of the imperialism. “Empire,” as it applies to us, ceases to be the dirty word that it was when it was associated with former empires. When political leaders and pundits agree on what America is and has been, from a humanitarian, democratic, bottom-up vantage point, why should we want to be associated with imperialistic past empires? What do we have to gain by associating the American Empire with Roman, Spanish, and British empires?
I think our acceptance of our empire, accounting for both of Streeby’s narratives, is one framework through which our American Exceptionalism manifests itself in material, harmful ways. Because we see ourselves as morally superior, as champions of “universally-accepted” ideals such as freedom and democracy, we go as far as to wage modern holy wars, violently deciding who is on which side of humanity (a la Bush at Guantanamo). On the side, we yield our “soft power” to maintain our powerful status.
This summer, I worked at a camp named “American Village,” which was located in France. I spent July as a skit-making, ESL-teaching tendril in the machine of supporting our empire by means of soft power. Because of our continued Manifest Destiny, we feel just in spreading at the international level, and truly believing, “America, God Shed His Grace on Thee.”
On a more speculative standpoint, I end with this assertion: the prevailing sentiment willingly aligns us with the Roman Empire’s might because we want to secure our place in history as working tendrils of the American Empire. Both the conservatives and “reluctant imperialists” Kaplan identifies are proud to be theorizing from within American borders because they believe this will be the “right” side of history.

Identity / Narratives

Kaplan traces the origins of empire building through particular narratives that have sustained and legitimized a violent and imperial “manifest destiny” within a global setting. These narratives include, but are not limited to, a coming-out narrative, a “reluctant imperialist” narrative, and a narrative of race (4-5). The discourses surrounding these narratives, and especially the specific language employed, are paramount to the ways the American empire-state is understood and mobilized for political gains. Kaplan suggests, for example, that the term homeland implies an ahistorical solidified entity that doesn’t take into account immigrant national identities or their conceptions of what a homeland might look like(8). Language is crucial in working through these rather abstract concepts, and Kaplan urges American Studies scholars to be especially attuned to this, for language has the potential in disrupting the narratives surrounding American imperialism (not only by dissecting the often contradictory and vacant characteristics of words such as democracy, freedom, and homeland, but Kaplan also discusses the politically subversive nature of translation/translating and the potential this has for mobilizing particular narratives surrounding Guantanamo Bay, pg 9 ). I found the portion about Guantanamo Bay fascinating in the way Kaplan describes the rather “ambiguous” space that it hovers within, and within this ambiguity lies a “ground zero”, she suggests, for further empire-building endeavors. It complicates, in a very necessary way, the spaces across the country (and I’m thinking in particular army/naval bases: How would an “American” feel if there were Chinese army bases in Wyoming?”) in which empire-building inhabits carefully constructed zones caught in messy diplomatic webs of entanglement that prevent interference or transparency.

The way I probe a conversation between the Kaplan piece and the Moon-Kie Jung piece on White Supremacy is through this idea of the relational America that Kaplan brings up. In other words, she argues that we must see “America” as “a comparative concept” that “changes shape in relation to competing claims to that name and by creating demonic others (11). In expanding on this racialized Other narrative, Jung puts forth a rather compelling argument of the ways in which America has always been an empire-state built on a “web of crisscrossing discursive and practical ties” along a white supremacist field. Jung uses legal court cases to demonstrate the ways in which “racial subjection of one was related to the racial subjection of the other (13)” and how the web of white supremacy leads to “imbrications of colonial and noncolonial imperial subjection. (17). Both the Dred Scott decision and the outcome of Chae Chan Ping v. United States required the court to review/reexamine/construct new ways of identifying and dealing with ethnicities outside the specific details of the decisions. This underscores the interconnectedness of minority groups that both Kaplan and Jung bring light to. In drawing on these legal cases, Jung illustrating the active definitions and constructions of the Other and what it meant to constantly reinforce the us/them divide in regards to citizenship, land ownership, and constitutional liberty.

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Here is a link to a page featuring sketches of the tribunals at Guantanamo Bay by Janet Hamlin (which, given the incredible amount of security, “her artwork is the primary visual record of the proceedings.”

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/9/16/an-artist-at-guantanamobay.html

Empire at the Core

This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about the convergence of slavery and American independence, and especially trying to figure out the extent to which the institution of slavery actually made democracy possible in the United States. For a long time I was taught—and tacitly prescribed to—the conventional decree that slavery was the nation’s “original sin,” or a “birth defect” of American democracy. These narratives insinuate that slavery is something of a historical anomaly in American history, some spilled ink on an otherwise divinely pristine landscape. The truth is that the stark racial and economic inequalities that slavery produced were instrumental to the broad appeal of a national identity among an ascendant white aristocracy during the mid- to late-18th century. As both Benedict Anderson and Gloria Anzaldúa have outlined, the provenance of nation-building and border construction emerged out of an imagined fraternity, and were used as a tool of exclusion and domination. Nikhil Pal Singh centers this idea in the context of American citizenship in “Rethinking Race and Nation”:

“If whiteness became the privileged grounding and metaphor for the empty abstraction of US citizenship, blackness presented an apparent contradiction and a fixed limit against which it was enacted and staged…blacks presented the anomaly of an exclusion that was at once foundational to and located within the polity.” (10)

This week, Moon-Kie Jung’s piece, “Constituting the U.S. Empire-State and White Supremacy,” offers a convincing argument regarding how, in addition to being a nation that materialized directly because of a racial hierarchy, the United States has been, since even before its inception, an “empire-state,” rather than simply a “nation-state.” Jung frames a distinction between a nation-state, which implies “politically uniform populations of citizens, or state members” (3), and an empire-state, which is “not horizontally uniform but hierarchically differentiated,” offering selective access to rights and privileges to its peoples. The structures of the empire-state had been established well before U.S. independence, as Jung points out that during colonial rule,

“A royal proclamation in 1763 had drawn a line along the Appalachian Mountains to keep Indians and white settlers apart, prohibiting, if futilely, the latter from the western portion, which extended to the Mississippi River and was designated Indian territory…The very formation of the U.S. state hinged on lands occupied by Indians but over which it asserted ultimate sovereignty.” (5)

Jung goes on to detail how territorial domination and claims to land were codified in the U.S. constitution (6) and subsequently engineered much of the United States’ acquisitions of former colonies like Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico in the latter half of the 19th century.

Today, debates about the United States’ imperialist practices around the globe percolate every so often, but the dialogue frequently reverts to Manichean “good” vs. “bad” terminology, excising much of the important history that Jung incorporates. It would behoove our “nation”—be it a state or an empire—to read and reflect on the prevailing conditions and ideologies presented by Jung and others in order to understand and square with the deeply troubling foundation of our country.