Current US Vice President, Kamala Harris, made her first overseas trip as sitting VP to Mexico and Guatemala in June this year. She had a blunt, concise messages to the people of Central America seeking refuge in the US – do not come. She pointedly told the asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the main countries from where Hispanic refugees originate – that they will be turned back if they approach the US border.
Interestingly, there is one group of Hispanic refugees who are received with welcoming arms in the US – the pro-imperial anti communist Cubans, largely based in Miami. They were on full display as participants in the January 6 2021 assault on Capitol Hill, waving the pre-Revolution Batista flag. The Miami Cubans have long circulated ultranationalist conspiracy theories in their immediate circles, and have supported the most belligerent, war-mongering policies of successive US administrations.
Harris’ statement, while lacking Trumpist vulgarities, is essentially the same message that the anti-immigrant Republicans have advocated. Harris, whose African American and Asian background was leveraged by the Biden campaign, ignored the fundamental role of US imperialism in undermining the living conditions of Central American republics, thus creating the outflow of refugees. Harris, herself the child of migrant parents, was upheld as a candidate purportedly sympathetic to the plight of new immigrants.
The Vice President’s statement, a continuity of anti-immigration and refugee-hostile policies, is also evidence of a deeper political process. While overt white supremacy is out of fashion, there is a distinct adoption of a multicultural facade for US imperial policies. The cooptation of racial diversity by the US ruling class is indicative of an important tactical ploy – intersectional imperialism.
American imperial wars, and institutions, now come with a rainbow flag and multicultural appearance. Thomas Friedman, the court jester for US empire, encapsulated this sentiment in one of his drivel-pieces masquerading as journalism. Writing in April this year about the US war on Afghanistan, he noted that the strength of US military forces derives from one essential feature – racial diversity. White, black, Hispanic, Asian – all the ethnicities are represented in the special forces and elite troops occupying Afghanistan.
Barely three months after Friedman wrote that, the multicultural forces of the US empire quietly packed up their belongings and, in the dead of night, fled the sprawling Bagram air base, once the pride of the US imperium in Afghanistan. Be that as it may, the ruling circles in Washington have relentlessly pursued this message of ‘wokeness’ – posturing as racially inclusive, LGBTQIA-friendly, ecologically-sound institutions, all the while carrying out the same predatory policies overseas and domestically.
To be sure, this is not a new or original PR tactic. The Israeli military, to improve its image abroad, has frequently run pinkwashing campaign, as well as showcasing its transgender-friendly policies. Disguising the violent and inhumane character of its occupation of Palestinian Territories, the Israeli armed forces have deliberately cultivated an image of a socially-progressive institution.
Humans of the CIA
Earlier this year, an American institution known for its secrecy and covert activities tried its hand at wokewashing – the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Releasing a recruitment video in March this year, the CIA featured personnel from nonwhite backgrounds, speaking about the exciting and rewarding careers they have in an ethnically diverse organisation. One young woman, describing herself as a cisgender millennial with generalised anxiety disorder, spoke glowingly about the awards she has won while working for the racially-respectful CIA.
The CIA would like its audience to forget its long, sordid and criminal activities in overthrowing democratically elected governments overseas. Perhaps we should forget the CIA’s underhanded and predatory role in arming nationalist Chinese in Myanmar (Burma) in the 1950s and 60s, organising the remnants of the Kuomintang party as a secret army waging a terroristic war against China.
The CIA-supported Chinese rebels, not only found sanctuary in Burma to carry out their covert war, but also financed their activities by turning to the drug trade. This secret operation, in which the CIA was fully involved, is the origin of the booming Golden Triangle narcotics trafficking business.
Myanmar (Burma) is not the only instance where the CIA has aided and nurtured a criminal enterprise – Afghanistan, long a target of a secret war of destabilisation by CIA-backed Mujahideen militants, became a safe haven for the cultivation and export of opium. While the politicians in Washington hailed the Afghan Mujahideen as ‘freedom fighters’, the CIA allocated billions to a covert war that still casts a long shadow over Afghan affairs to this very day.
When the late great Reverend Dr Martin Luther King demanding racial equality, he was tackling not only the ideology of white supremacy – important as that is. He was also exposing the intricate linkages between imperial wars overseas, economic inequalities and racial disparities at home. Let’s not reduce the demand for racial diversity to a PR exercise in wokewashing the racist nature of American capitalism.