Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
*is* a nation?" Wole Soyinka, *The Open Sore of
a Continent* (1996)
With his dramatic,
somewhat poetic turn of phrase, the Nigerian playwright, scholar/activist
raises a question that resonates far beyond the borders of his West
asks, in almost poetic code, 'What do we mean when we claim the
relationship of nationality?'; 'What binds us together?'; and ultimately,
'Who are 'we'?'
In times of
crisis, conflict and controversy, we learn that the 'we' used by
leaders, is often one different from those used by people who live
in a shared polity.
when a politician spoke of 'we', for centuries that term meant 'citizen',
and was, by custom, law, and definition, white men of property.
excluded the vast majority of human beings who shared the nation-space;
women (who were probably the majority), Indians, Africans, poor,
men, and, at times, Catholics, Jews and Mormons.
From the earliest
days of the American Republic, Chinese were legally excluded from
citizenship. In 1790, in fact, just months after the ratification
of the US Constitution, Congress would limit naturalization to "any
alien, being a *free white person* who shall have resided within
the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for a
term of two years" (See Ian F. Haney Lopez, *White By Law:
The Legal Construction of Race* (New York: New York University Press,
1996), p. 42]. For the next 150 years, people who were Hindus, Sikhs,
Mexicans, Japanese, Syrian, Arabs, Polynesians, and many others,
were defined as non-whites, by law, and therefore denied American
citizenship, the right to vote, the right to a passport, or the
right to testify in court (especially against whites!).
It took decades
of struggle, and hard-fought social movements, to move the bar from
such a ludicrous definition of citizenship. For many Americans,
that bar has never moved.
Who we *are*,
then, is not who we were, for the notion of American citizenship
is a changing thing; it is built by the struggles of many.
Yet, it is
also true that, far too often, the dark mirror of who we are can
be seen in the color photos emerging from the gulags of Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq.
We are addicted
to humiliating the weak.
We are hierarchical
(meaning we follow the orders of those in power, even if the order
We are unfeeling
to the pain and terrors of others, (especially if the Other is perceived
as nonwhite, like Arabs).
Much has been
made of the Abu Ghraib photographs which have spawned this scandal,
yet how many of us know that several of the accused actually sent
photos to their friends who were stateside, apparently proud of
how they treated the cowering 'towel-heads' in Iraq?
about who 'we' are? We are racist.
America that emerges from the glorious army of the republic; which
is often touted as the greatest exemplar of racial peace and harmony
in the nation.
matter that perhaps a third of that army is African-American or
Hispanic, or that perhaps 15% of US Army personnel are female. If
we have learned anything, it is that ideas, ways of looking at the
world, cross racial, linguistic, and gender barriers. Members of
institutions adopt ways of looking at those deemed Others.
September 11th, Arabs and Muslims are Others.
the horrific racist, depraved, and humiliating treatment of those
in Abu Ghraib. They are Other; Else, less than ... and therefore,
subjected to treatment that can only be deemed barbarous.
2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal
information and to order We Want Freedom, visit:
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"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life
of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.