This is our truth, tell us yours
Content note for police violence in a picture two thirds of the way through this piece
The death of Fidel Castro has proved that where 3 members of the left are gathered together there will be 5 opinions. Even myself and Carter disagree on how he should be viewed. I have noticed many white leftwingers from the UK highlighting his treatment of lGBTQ people as a reason to condemn him, whilst ignoring his huge influence on, and support for liberation movements for people of colour. The words nuance and complicated barely seem to be adequate to cover the multiplicity of reactions.
I was reminded, reading the million differing views of a trip to Vietnam in my 20s. The Museum of American Atrocities was no longer compulsory but felt like a place I should visit. My travelling companion, a Jamaican, explained to me, as we wandered through the memories of torture and babies in jars, the complexities of Castro’s involvement with anti colonialism. He was a gay Jamaican, who loved his home, but could not live there due to his sexuality, so probably the ideal person to introduce me to nuance. It was also the ideal place, since, for all the horrors around us Saigon was no more anti American than any other South East Asian city. Most of the Vietnamese I talked to were simply glad that people wanted to hear their stories, that no one narrative dominated. They were proud of having resisted America, but not particularly anti Americans themselves.
In many ways Castro summed up a hope of those of my generation that the almighty rise of America could be resisted. We might have known little about Cuba, but simply looking at the map it was hard not to side with the ultimate David and Goliath battle. Alongside the obligatory Che poster and the Nicaraguan coffee so often came the Cuban flag, symbols of believing another way was possible. Since then anti Americanism has been derided as lazy, or even a form of racism. We were told that instead of being against America we should embrace it as a home of civil rights, the land of the free, a place of opportunity. As neo liberalism became the accepted doctrine, even of the Labour Party, America became once more the promised land.
This move has I think been a part of the reason many younger people on the left have been so devastated by the election of Trump. Sure America has problems, they seemed to say, but it’s not an idea, or a way of running things, that we should oppose. Then, Donald J Trump came along and suddenly Nicaraguan coffee doesn’t taste so bad.
The problem is that having a cool President doesn’t make America, its system, or the idea of America OK. Maybe in fact, as young, kind of obnoxious leftwingers we were onto something. Maybe anti Americanism, as in a rejection of the idea of America was a sane and sensible decision?
Picture description, two black children from Flint Michigan alongside bottled water, the younger is sitting on the packs of water, the older, standing, looks seriously at someone off camera.
Picture description A protester is surrounded by police at standing rock, one policeman has his hand out, as if to strike the protester.A policeman in a black balaclava appears to be shouting at the protester, whose head is bowed, as if in prayer.
I do not post these pictures to say somehow the UK is superior, we most certainly are not, but that they contain the idea of America, a white neo liberal coloniser, who rejects the idea that it is colonial. Cuba was an American colony, run by the mafia and Americans who exploited its largely non white population. De facto slavery existed on the plantations, and it was seen as somewhere Americans could go to do all the things deemed illegal and immoral at home. This wasn’t just drinking and gambling, but child sexual exploitation, and a complete lack of regard for the lives, and rights of Cubans.
Cuba and Vietnam, two communist countries who stood up to the idea of America, and then went their own, very different, ways. In resisting America, they were not perfect, but the idea that there is another way was accepted. I wonder if we would be where we are now if that idea of resistance had remained?