Letter #7: A Sovereign Bridgetown
Big Brother Variants | The Wisconsin Question
Barbados has declared itself a republic, removing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and severing all ties with the British Commonwealth. This is significant, as the British Commonwealth is more or less the successor organization to the British Empire, which was massive and responsible for a large amount of subjugation, enslavement, and starvation of people of color worldwide (and the Irish) from the 16th century until well into the 20th.
We’re not here to rehash whether or not the introduction of railroads and other industrial infrastructure (most of which was uniformly built purely for extraction of resources) in the British colonies was worth the colonization. That’s a different debate for a different context. It’s still an absolute good for there to be less colonialism and empire in the world, and this step taken by Barbados, though symbolic, is still potent. It’s a declaration that this tropical island nation is ready for full sovereignty - and as the United States learned in 1776, it can only be taken, not given.
Unlike in the past, the British today are pretty magnanimous about the declaration. Clearly things haven’t been the same since the Suez Crisis. The Queen has visited and offers her congratulations to her replacement as head of state in the new Barbadian Republic - Dame Sandra Mason. The world now has a new Black woman head of state, which is an improvement in general and hopefully a continuing trend in majority-Black nations shaking off the legacy of British, French, Portuguese and Dutch imperialism.
Barbados also declared Rihanna to be a national hero. They really seem to have their priorities figured out. Cheers to a free Barbados. 🎉 🇧🇧
The new Omicron variant just dropped in South Africa. If it sounds a little dystopian, you’re not too far off. In fact, we at The Desk believe the entire pandemic was an exercise in testing the limits of the Constitutional rights to freedom of movement and assembly. It’s also a human right, if that sort of thing matters to you. It clearly matters less and less to governments in the West, as lockdowns and travel bans are continuing to reassert themselves despite mounting evidence that they don’t work. Vaccines do work, but the messaging around them is terrible and almost designed to spark paranoia.
Why are governments insisting on overreaching in this manner, despite the literal damage being done to these countries? Because they can. We’ve written before about democratic backsliding and the creep of authoritarianism. There’s a huge incentive for authorities to take advantage of pandemic restrictions for their own political purposes, such as stifling dissent and discouraging immigration. Xenophobia and pandemics are natural allies, to put it bluntly. A traveling, cosmopolitan citizenry is a headache for any government, because people of different nationalities interact and start getting the idea that they aren’t so different from each other after all.
There is a tension between the needs of the global capitalist economy, its tendency to concentrate both labor and capital in urban areas with ports and freight terminals, and the political needs of the nation-state. The macroeconomic issue defining this post-NAFTA neoliberal world order is the dilemma caused by too much labor moving too quickly, in the form of human beings illegally crossing borders in search of economic opportunities in the developed countries, often at great risk to their own lives. Once the “miracle” of free trade has done its business, privatizing the natural wealth of entire nations and continuing the extractive colonial legacy of the European empires in many places, it leaves behind lots of really desperate people who used to work in the local industries that were undercut by multinational corporations.
No, Europe and the United States are not somehow intrinsically “better” places to live and work. We’d hazard a guess that most migrants would rather not have to migrate, because a decent living can be found in their home countries. Sadly, that’s just not the case for so many people. These new COVID variants are making it even easier for governments to simply drop the hammer on travel and prevent even their own citizens from moving around too much. Is there a grand conspiracy afoot? Probably not, but there doesn’t need to be. “Authoritarianism by a thousand cuts” still hurts just as badly. Biden, for his part, has said there will be no new lockdowns here in the US. Time will tell whether or not that’s really true.
Wisconsin has been in the news a lot lately. We’d like to dig into how recent events in this state have served as a lens into the state of American criminal justice and race relations at this point in history. We mentioned last week that the events in Kenosha were an example of gang violence in White communities. More recently, something equally disturbing in its insidiousness is happening in the aftermath of an intentional SUV ramming massacre during a Christmas parade in the small town of Waukesha, WI that left 6 dead and 63 others injured.
We don’t intend to debate the facts of either case, however, it’s useful to understand why these two events are intertwined and what they may portend for the shifting political winds in America’s heartland.
Where Kenosha is a referendum on the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the “Defund Police” movement that grew out of it, Waukesha is a referendum on criminal justice reforms that have already taken place thanks to the election of a wave of Democratic district attorneys and attorneys general in these middle states. These same officials are now, for example, the subject of political attacks due to their roles in allowing Darrell Brooks, a Black mentally-ill repeat-domestic-offender and erstwhile rapper, to get out of jail on unusually low bail - which allowed him not only to re-terrorize his family members but also, immediately afterward, to allegedly drive directly into the Waukesha Christmas parade in his SUV.
Right-wing media was effectively handed a softball through this mix of events, teeing up a new “Willie Horton” moment for the midterm Congressional elections in 2022. Brooks is the ideal figure - a crazed Black man, an actual abuser, who was allowed to hurt people by the soft-on-crime Democrats. You don’t have to be racist to be against violent crime - anyone of any race would agree that someone who does what Brooks is accused of should be brought to justice in a fair trial. On the electoral level, Democrats seem to have already consigned themselves to defeat before the races have even begun in many areas. Biden’s approval numbers are abysmal, and Kamala Harris’ numbers are even worse. Maybe that’s why she’s nowhere to be found. Make no mistake, these are the rumblings of a big GOP sweep of the Senate and probably even the House. Maybe AOC won’t lose her seat, but representatives in places like Wisconsin definitely will. You heard it here first.
You could be the one who brings up these enlightening news stories and insights to your friends and colleagues. They’ll probably think you’re really smart if you do. When they ask you how you got so smart and well-informed, you can tell them it’s because you’re subscribed to The Desk, and you love it so much that you pay for a subscription, and so should they. And their editor is really cool.
Ok, you don’t have to say that last part.
Links Worth Clicking
The Inventors of America's Most Dangerous Idea | The Atlantic
Eric Adams Jets Off Again | Intelligencer
Why Warehouses Are Taking Over The US (Video) | CNBC
Jazz Piano Edition
Ryo Fukui’s 1976 “Scenery” - The best way we can describe this album is “cozy”. It’s a warm cup of tea in front of a fireplace while it’s snowing outside. Ryo Fukui was a master of the kind of jazz piano that makes you feel like you are exactly where you belong. During his time he led the Japanese jazz scene, regularly playing the Slowboat jazz club in Sapporo, which he and his wife owned. He sadly passed away in 2016, but his music lives on as a “gateway album” to the world of jazz piano, and Japanese jazz music in particular. “Early Summer” stands out as an amazing upbeat track with a great energy and momentum. (Spotify / Apple)
Ahmad Jamal Trio’s 1970 “The Awakening” is a secretly-influential classic. “I Love Music” should be considered a standard. It was, after all, the sample Pete Rock used for Nas’ “The World Is Yours”. Also, “Dolphin Dance” was used in Isaiah Rashad’s “R.I.P. Kevin Miller”. This album sounds like what we imagine 1970s Harlem to have been - it comes out in every track. The album cover is one of the best ever designed as well. (Spotify / Apple)
NYC got its first snow of the season this week. Stay warm.