Thursday, January 14, 2010

On the Fallacies of American Exceptionalism by Julio Noboa

Again, with Julio Noboa's permission, I am including an additional statement that he communicated at the SBOE hearing in response to statements about what was touted as "American Exceptionalism" and that it should be taught in public schools.

He was provocative in associating it with "manifest destiny," suggesting that exceptionalism is an imperialist mindset. I am reminded of J.M. Blaut's book, The Colonizer's Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History that offers, albeit from the lens of the new social geography, a similar perspective.

I am personally pleased that he helped set the record straight on at least some of the testimony that suggested that America has always acted correctly on the world stage. Always? Yes, this is exactly what several people testified and paralleled a number of other statements that we should only teach the positive things about American history.

Notwithstanding our very positive and swift response to the current situation in Haiti, no country can make this claim.

In fact, like New Orleans exposed U.S. poverty, the extreme poverty of a country in this hemisphere raises a tremendous number of questions about transborder, hemispheric human rights that our current immigration and economic development policies negate either explicitly or implicitly. It would be truly exceptional if this tragedy ultimately sparked a turnaround for this country that reduces the huge disparities between the rich and poor and lifts the truly disadvantaged to an improved standard of living where individuals' basic human rights are met.

As I look at the news reports, I am saddened by a long history between our countries involving hundreds upon hundreds of Haitian boat people that the the U.S. Coast Guard has interdicted at sea (as well as Cubans, Dominican Republicans, Indonesians, and many other groups). By legislative fiat, these hard-pressed, courageous people can neither surpass a circumstance characterized by unconscionable, inhumane conditions of poverty, economic underdevelopment, and corrupt governance while simultaneously being denied and opportunity to improve their standard of living through immigration. These policies are at best, grossly insensitive, and at worst, contemptuous toward entire segments of pigmented, accented humanity. Clearly, this neglect has been countered over time, to some extent, by religious and charitable organizations and NGOs, but never to the scale that was needed nor in a way that resulted in systemic change in terms of the distribution and allocation of resources.

Post-earthquake Haiti offers an opportunity for hemispheric dialogue on hemispheric policies, priorities, and programs within a hopeful framework on human rights. We need to ratify once and for all both the The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
that the U.S. through Eleanor Roosevelt helped write, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Other conventions and instruments that we need to consider are: 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), and the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Indeed, the unfathomable scale of pre-earthquake conditions intimates a need for governmental and transgovernmental, hemispheric leadership that the post-earthquake conditions have since laid bare. That is, systemic change always was dependent on hemispheric, global economic conditions, processes, and policies. The same can and should be said of every other third world country in our hemisphere. If poor countries turn to leftist, social democratic governments, rather than demonizing them as "rogue" states, we should think first of the level of desperation of poor people that leads them to this point.

As philosopher Richard Rorty notes, atrocities are not only carried out by acts of commission (what we do) but also by acts of omission (what we/our policies fail to do). It's not that we/our government can feign innocence in these matters. Indeed, the agonizing level of human suffering that we are witnessing hourly on TV exposes the world community's shameful, if tacit, endorsement of the idea that some are "entitled" to bounty, and others, to squalor. Against this backdrop, our so-called exceptionalism that Noboa critiques sounds like a tin drum—hollow, self-serving, and uncaring.


On the Fallacies of American Exceptionalism

Many speakers testifying to the State Board of Education on January 13th mentioned the theory of “American Exceptionalism” as one that has historical validity and should be included in the social studies and history TEKS as a concept that should be taught our students. Frankly, this concept is a reincarnation of that old “Manifest Destiny,” that “chosen people” delusion which justified much conquest, slavery and genocide “from sea to shining sea.” I take particular exception to this concept for several other reasons, but especially because many of their claims are unfounded.
American exceptionalists insist that the United States has always spread freedom throughout the world; and although it has on many occasions done just that, for example, during World War II fighting against the Nazis and the Fascists, it has not always been on the side of freedom and democracy. There are at least three specific examples that contradict this claim. In Guatemala in 1954, in the Dominican Republic in 1963, and in Chile in 1973, there were democratically elected governments, and in each case the C.I.A., with official support, actually deposed these three governments and allowed them to be replaced by brutal right-wing military regimes.
Numerous South American military dictators received support from the U.S., most notably in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. During the Reagan years in Central America, his regime supported murderous military dictators, most notably in El Salvador and Guatemala that killed hundreds of thousands of their own people, including students, teachers, labor leaders, indigenous villagers, and even priests, in the name of so-called “anti-communism.” Throughout the Third World, democratically elected governments with outstanding leaders such as Mossadegh in Iraq and Lumumba in the Congo, were effectively targeted for assassination by the C.I.A. This undeniable record of U.S. intervention clearly demolishes any credibility to the argument that our nation has always been on the side of freedom, liberty and democracy.
Another claim made by American Exceptionalists is that we never conquered another nation or people and took their land. This is a blatant lie since there are ample examples of the U.S. actually doing this to American Indians, Mexicans and Hawaiians, as well as those who led ultimately successful insurgencies, like Aguinaldo, the Philippine patriot who had to battle against our Marines before his country was finally granted their independence in 1945.
Many speakers on January 13th also mentioned the specter of “socialism,” implying that it is contradictory to democracy, and denigrating the image of Dolores Huerta for being a member of the “Democratic Socialists of America.” What they ignore is that there have been democratically elected socialist governments throughout Europe, in Sweden, France, Spain and Great Britain, and more recently in Latin America, most notably in Chile, Brazil, and Venezuela.
Thus, there is no inherent contradiction between socialism and democracy, and the fact that Huerta is member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a party that is neither illegal nor undemocratic does not disqualify her from being a valuable role model, citizen and patriot.
It seems that these American Exceptionalists do not comprehend, or don’t want our students to understand the difference between capitalism, socialism, and communism. Moreover, as many military dictatorships have demonstrated, a nation or government could very well be capitalist without being democratic.
As far as American socialists are concerned, we have to recognize that many of the benefits we enjoy as working people in this nation, such as workmen’s compensation, sick leave, paid vacation, overtime pay, an 8 hour day and 40 hour work week, and even Social Security, we have all thanks in great part to the struggles of our own native-grown socialists, mostly labor leaders, who fought long and hard to secure these rights.
Finally, it is most important to note the effort by American exceptionalists to “white-wash” the difficulties, errors, and injustices of our American past. They want our students to acquire a false and unhistorical view of our nation. What I propose is that those of us who recognize the warts and scars in America and still love her, are much more patriotic than those who see her with rose-colored glasses, and worship a false idolatrous image of what American truly is.
Our students should be told the entire truth of our nation’s failures as well as its triumphs. Only then can they be prepared to confront the global challenges of tomorrow, long after we are gone.

Dr. Julio Noboa, Coordinator MASSA
The Multicultural Alliance for Social Studies Advocacy
Assistant Professor of Social Studies
University of Texas at El Paso
January 15, 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment