East v West — The Struggle for the Future

(This article is the foreword to my book of the same title)

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What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all the other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

Of those who stood on the shoulders of the Frederick Douglass, none did so with more fidelity than Paul Robeson. Himself the son of a slave, despite being in possession of a preternatural gifts of physical strength and athleticism, intellect, and a voice which propelled him to stardom on Broadway and in Hollywood, Robeson dedicated his life to the struggle against racism, war and what he viewed as encroaching fascism at home in America in the context of the Cold War and the ensuing rise of McCarthyism. In return he was persecuted, demonised and disdained at the hands of the very system he could have chosen embrace as a symbol of black inclusion, receiving in return the comfort blanket of fame and celebrity that is synonymous with the enduring myths of the American Dream.

My father was a slave, and I have cousins who are sharecroppers, and I do not see my success in terms of myself. That is the reason; my own success has not meant what it should mean. I have sacrificed literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for what I believe in.

It is hard to imagine either Frederick Douglass or Paul Robeson — or indeed any of the great men and women who have grappled with the beast of white supremacy in the land of the free — agreeing with President Obama’s championing of ‘American exceptionalism’. On the contrary it is safe to assert that the the only exceptionalism they would credit America with would be the exceptional brutality, violence it had engaged in over the course of its blood-soaked history.

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