representation and media history in context with #BringBackOurGirls

ok i just want to lay down a couple of things i’ve looked at, not very in depth to a degree i can speak on at length mind you, about the situation in american context over the kidnapped Nigerian girls. here are a couple of posts whose framework i agree with in how lefts generally view this call. but then i happened across this Salon piece that really blew me away, and is one of the things i allude to in my commentary on the second aforementioned post above. i’m going to pick apart this Salon article a bit, written by Brittney Cooper of Crunk Feminist Collective, that illustrates the problems within not only a theoretical approach as guided by the above framework, but a basic refusal to consider what the material reality is in a historical framework — and we don’t even have to go back that far. some of the same players that are being quoted in different articles about the urgency from a military standpoint cut their teeth on the Somalia UNOSOM I mission.

Ms Cooper claims that the Obamas have a personal mission at stake as it relates to their two daughters — by no small miracle is there a story that recently made headlines about a stalker who followed the Obama girls’ motorcade.

did you happen to catch what his last name is? Goldstein — hey it’s not as if he’s a shifty lone nutter once again who has no connection with people setting him up to anything or that imperialists have any reason to further demonize “international” outsiders whose protection can also be manipulated to promote those ends to people not already not bought into their project. and what is going on here with Cooper’s plea on the behalf of Michelle Obama’s quite appropriated one is the same sort of casting of this net but for a different demographic while still materially punishing them for existing.

Among my feminist, lefty, people-of-color political circles, American support for the hashtag campaign has left us unsettled. Last week, Michelle Obama tweeted a picture of herself holding a placard with the words “#BringBackOurGirls.” Then in an unprecedented move this week, she gave the weekly presidential address, highlighting the need for action to rescue these girls. Much as many of my black feminist colleagues realized, the Obamas identify with this particular struggle in part because they have two daughters.

When I learned that the U.S. had offered aid in helping to bring the girls back, I felt conflicted. U.S. “aid” never comes without strings attached, and our interventions are always in service of our political and military interests. As American military intervention goes, there is no such thing as political altruism.

no, there certainly isn’t. this is, really, a fairly recent mission that most Americans concerned with politics around my age were at least alive during its deployment. it does not take that much NSA-Google searching. they let you get in on that information still! instead, Cooper’s piece takes this turn:

How to balance my clear understanding of the perils of U.S. militarism with my deep desire to have “our girls” back has been an unresolvable conflict. I have followed articles such as this onethat challenge Americans not to support U.S. military intervention as the solution to this problem. In principle, I agree with such stances. I have cringed at suggestions from otherwise well-meaning citizens about how we just need to “go on in there” and bring them back.

I mean, the average American’s understanding of what the military does is mostly informed by military movies – everything from “Rambo” and “Top Gun” to “G.I. Jane” and “Black Hawk Down.” In this current political scenario, Boko Haram and their retrograde anti-Western ideas feed every imperialist myth we in the West have about how “primitive,” “undeveloped” “benighted” (to invoke 19th century language) Africans treat women. They are the ultimate bad guys, and most of us imagine that with one phone call the president could just send in SEAL Team Six, Olivia Pope that shit (to mix metaphors – but what I mean is, handle it), and have these girls back, in time to start the next school year.

she does acknowledge, however:

While I don’t doubt the political and economic end game that buttresses the government’s logic of participation, I take issue with the argument that intervening to help these girls will uniquely cause a set of imperialist atrocities that could otherwise be prevented.

I take issue with a set of conclusions that deems these girls expendable in service of the broader commitment to protecting Nigerian sovereignty and American left commitments to anti-imperialism. Sacrificing women for the sake of protecting national sovereignty is the ur-text of patriarchy.

i don’t think that committed anti-imperialists generally believe that these girls are expendable. further, her turnaround in trying to extricate the compounding of patriarchy and presentation of an actual choice that “average americans” have belies the fact that this can not be anything but in service to empire:

Thus, I return to my skepticism at those African-Americans who in a desire to be right, in a desire not to be accused of othering or colonizing or co-opting Nigerian politics, conclude that anti-imperialism is of greater value than the safe return of these girls.

despite her naming of the geopolitical and imperialist interests, i don’t think it’s fair to then reduce the complexities of this campaign to “black American women so powerfully identify with this campaign is that for the first time in history there is a black man with enough political clout and power to help a group of black girls who have been harmed”. the average American has access to the internet just like Cooper does, and that could have easily helped inform her reading audience of a few individuals named in a recent piece Christian Science Monitor published. from that article, we have some “officials” sounding off about things as they are typically presented in the controlled US media — the context or history is not really given, but the fact that these people have rank is what’s important. also, to get the girls! that’s what this is about. for instance:

“I would like to see Special Forces deployed to help rescue these young girls,” Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine told CNN, adding that she would think Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan “would welcome Special Forces coming in.”

That has not been the case, say top US military officials. “We had made repeated offers of assistance, and it was only just this week when the Nigerians accepted the offer of this coordination cell,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said Friday.

note that we see that geography is interjected as one of the important factors for americans to take under advisement — we have seen the same distracting rhetoric around Ukraine as well. how many people from different regions around the world know where another is halfway across the globe? is it really more important that americans know because “they” are going into it? or is it to distract from these main players who have history with preparing for such missions?

surely we know that missions like this don’t drop from the sky with a sense of urgency based on the importance of actual human life, right? right? Rear Adm. John Kirby “qualified as a surface warfare officer aboard the guided-missile frigate” on the USS Aubrey Fitch (FFG-34) during which time it “spent […] months conducting patrols and escorting merchant ships in the strategic–and troubled–waters of the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, and the northern portion of the Arabian Sea.”

Kirby goes on to talk about the key role special ops forces have, who have certain missions that are already directed by Obama, but what do those “known knowns” really mean to somebody like Rudolph Attallah who is a “sought-after speaker and adviser on national security, counter-terrorism, and cultural intelligence issues and is regarded internationally for his ground truth insights on African security matters”?

These are US troops trained in intelligence collection and analysis, Rear Admiral Kirby said, and they also will work out of the embassy. “We’re not talking about US military operations in Nigeria to go find these girls,” Kirby said. “That’s not the focus here.”

But specially trained personnel, such as Special Operations Forces (SOF), could provide some much-needed expertise, some argue.

“Special Ops would give us a deeper understanding for what’s going on,” says retired Lt. Col. Rudy Atallah, former Africa Counterterrorism director at the Pentagon. Such forces, he adds, would also help to “figure out how to mitigate the threat.”

At the same time, that prospect is “politically dicey” in Nigeria. “We’ve always looked to the Nigerians for assistance,” which has included peacekeeping operations through the Africa Union, notes Mr. Atallah, now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. “Now all of a sudden they have an insurgency that has been growing and taking root in the north, and it’s an embarrassment for them.”

demonstrably, vague language to obscure american military presence in Africa is nothing new to Atallah, at least in the last four years or so. give yourself just a few minutes with that video and tell me the man isn’t constantly looking like he knows he must carefully exact every blandishment he employs. why would Cooper insult americans’ intelligence (not difficult, admittedly) about who the bad guys are here with this weird flipped narrative while claiming to consider the cost of american intervention? and why would such intelligence not already have some line on where they are? Atallah is a 21 year veteran specializing in intelligence and action in this region. and the aggressors are more than wiling to flip that narrative themselves:

There is also a concern that the Nigerian military does not prioritize human rights when they are pursuing targets, and that innocent civilians suffer as a result. “Nigeria has been extremely heavy-handed,” Atallah adds. “And that has led to Boko Haram getting some sympathetic support” from civilians who fear the government almost as much as the rebel group.

i am not even putting everything together here that i could with just the individuals i have mentioned. we have not even broached what AFRICOM’s involvement may be. although these things may seem inextricable, an honest researcher or investigator should be willing to put their time into providing as much information as they can, especially with a platform available such as Salon. instead, Cooper turns her attention to the left again later on:

Still, when I hear other skeptical leftist Americans, who hold anti-imperialism as a supreme value, say, “Why this? Why now?” I think there are many answers. But I think we must remember a very basic one, which is the power and visuality of social media. Yet again, we see that when black people, particularly the black women who dominate political discourse on Twitter, have access to a platform, and the tools to make ourselves seen and heard, we do. We do so powerfully. We do so in a way that is incredibly disruptive, in a way that demands the world pay attention.

i would say leftists worth their salt are skeptical because they know this pattern. it is not a matter of “why now?” it is typically a matter of “why ever?” that this is done with these girls at the subjects and exploitable narrative by american imperialists should not be cast in a cynical light — that this is even done is the fault of the american media with its history invested in instilling a gradual distrust among proletarian individuals. racial hatred or sexism that, yes, has existed before capitalist mode of production have been employed skillfully by the ruling class in order to maintain their rule. do not ever believe they are stupid or unskilled in what they are doing. Bernays laid out this conditioning nearly a century ago that is very much a science in order to maintain rule through using the deaths or kidnappings of individuals ranging from just 7 persons up to 300 as is the case now to control populations of millions. now what are we up to?

to insert that Black american — presumably, it seems Cooper leaves this purposefully vague — women are leading a conversation on this because they share a similar social construct with women and girls in a country on a continent that has been exploited and its borders carved and re-carved to habituate the most expedient use of labor and resources and that is done so on the power of their voices (for american intervention) is highly disingenuous. i doubt i have to inform especially western readers here of the state of liberal co-option of radical rhetoric on Twitter. while even those conversations need to take place in different contexts and certainly in tandem with the breaking down of capitalist social relations, these do not have to happen on the backs of girls who are most certainly going to be used as farce this time around. Black women and girls are valuable, not simply because they are human in a world that has rarely recognized them as such, but also, unfortunately, because they are convenient as political pawns to sweep up more of the resistance to full assimilation to neocolonialism. the establishment has been working very hard for many decades, in a very concerted way, to wipe out Black leadership. and unfortunately because of this pattern, i fully believe Chokwe Lumumba was on that list too.

but what does this mean in a larger sense? Cooper ends her piece compassionately enough. i do not believe she wishes to see harm come to these girls. however to posit this in a context that we really do have some choice, presently, is only lending a further hand to empire. this is the long and short of it. even if we as left proletarians wanted to act in a way to prevent this or other possible atrocities occurring that aid in further carving up of the world for imperialist desire, we don’t have the channels to do so. it was not possible with Iraq despite the outcry because we don’t have the material ability or organized association to affect these outcomes. i am not one to necessarily think that there has to be a full consensus or altering of consciousness en masse to change material mode of production or how the state operates. but i do think that angry minority has to step it up and think differently to explore what options we might have.

i can write any number of words on why we should think differently. and Cooper can write any number of words that present a false choice that ultimately serve empire no matter what her intentions are. to start, if you are of that minority, you can let them know you are watching too. there is no doubt that we are by any number of agents. naming names, talking about what the possibilities are — these are things that not only inspire optimism with a solid eye to what the bleak realities may be, but that inspire different material action among those even small populations who have changed the course of events throughout history. i don’t know that it will ever be universally better, but i do know i want to be on the side who didn’t give up and sigh in the face of history repeating itself when it does not have to.

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