Uncovering Indoctrinated Racism
by Ezrah Aharone
Since he wasn't the first and won't be the last president to address the nation's youth, it's peculiar that claims and fears circulated that Barack Obama would somehow "indoctrinate" children during his recent back-to-school address. After all, everyone knows that America is a free country, while indoctrination only happens in foreign countries like North Korea...Right?
Well, apart from known connotations of brainwashing, "Indoctrination," means exactly what its 3 words infer: To adhere "In" the "Doctrine" (teachings/beliefs) of a "Nation." People in all nations are thusly impacted, good and bad, in varying degrees by ideals, ethos, traditions, and politics that are taught and believed. This particularly applies to the US because, more so than citizens in any other country, Americans are "American" by virtue of creed and ideology, as opposed to bloodline or ethnicity.
To be "American," according to the US Foreign Policy Encyclopedia, is "not a birthright, but the willingness to believe in a certain set of political and social principles and values." This explains why foreigners who desire to become US citizens must first learn Jeopardy game-like responses to be indoctrinated into Americanization.
In his book, American Exceptionalism: A Double Edged Sword, Seymour Martin Lipset writes about how the "American identity" is really just as much an "ism" as a nationality...Similar to how socialism and liberalism are "isms." In this sense, Swedish or Greek people for instance, aren't known to be Un-Swedish or Un-Greek, yet to violate or reject American values or beliefs can quickly contaminate offenders as being "Un-American."
This "ism" of indoctrination was the trigger behind three "Un-American" teenagers to get thrown out Riverfront Stadium in New Jersey for not standing during the singing of "God Bless America" at a baseball game in June 2009. As North Korean-like as this may be, let me cite two other examples using President Obama and Michelle, to demonstrate the cunning of how this "ism" has been unfairly racialized to police our political and historical outlooks as African Americans.
First, Michelle faced torrent criticisms that unfavorably impacted the president's campaign when she remarked in February 2008 that she "felt proud of her country for the first time." Then, the loyalty of President Obama himself was challenged because he never wore flag pins on his lapel, which he consequently now wears religiously.
Like Michelle, the uncut truth is that many Blacks her age and older were born into times when we didn't need Jimmy Carter to excavate hidden racism since segregated inequities pervaded "from sea to shining sea." So we rightfully, understandably have less to be patriotically proud-of than Euro-Americans. But the "ism-affect" of indoctrination is so far-reaching that we are expected to pretend that we now share a retroactive "common history" with Euro-Americans, rather than a splintered "related history."
The historical paths of various people have crossed throughout the ages. However, to share "common history," people must largely experience or support the same sides, positions, interests, and outcomes during encounters. Otherwise, they have a "related history," comprised of opposing interests with dissimilar experiences that aren't necessarily irreconcilable, like Jews and Germans. Although such distinctions by us would automatically and unfairly be regarded in America as racism, the real truth is that, it bruises America's "ism-ego" to concede the reality that America's political character as a nation is inconsistent with the moral image it tries to sell us and portray to the world.
Regarding our embrace of the US flag - it's a split-decision. The unspoken reality is that a sizeable percentage of Blacks feel little or no patriotic affinity towards Old Glory. Just do your own random samplings of diverse groups. You'll discover (even among those who excitedly voted for Obama and stood in the cold for his inauguration) that many don't pledge to the flag; won't ever handle the flag; and they never sing a single word of the national anthem when it's played.
But this too is unrelated to racism. Considering that African Americans are "American," and understanding that the anthem and flag are revered symbols of the nation's sovereignty, this disconnect is symptomatic of deep, genuine, unresolved Black concerns that require equally deep and genuine political resolutions. But here's the obstacle - Although our enslavement was incontestably wrong, the "ism-factors" have indoctrinated society to presuppose that subsequent measures to Americanize us were incontestably right.
This explains why and how it's possible that even though segregation was immoral and criminal, "pardons" were recently issued to Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists who refused to adhere "In" the "Doctrine" of this "Nation" during the 1960s. We should however consider this a human and political insult since it was America's democracy - not us - that needed correction. To regard such pardons as "racial progress" is the political equivalent of going out to dinner with someone who knowingly stole your wallet, and then you thank them after they pay the check with your money.
The central issue here is not America's "ism" per se, but the fact that the "ism" blurs historical and political realities in order to deflect the onus that American democracy, like uranium, has a proven capacity to be weaponized for human harm. History is not like a cookbook recipe that can be remade to suit the taste buds of consumers. The onus therefore is upon us as African Americans to uncover and defeat all sneaky, lingering remnants of indoctrinated racism that now hides itself institutionally and ideologically.