Culture Clash

'86–'95: From Evangelicals to Trannies, the First Gulf War to Tupac Shakur

By now some of you are wondering if I've been away—perhaps on an extended LSD trip—and missed the havoc crack has wrought in inner-city neighborhoods. One of the drug warriors' more effective weapons is the argument that any crank who won't sign on to the antidrug crusade must be indifferent to, if not actively in favor of, the decimation of black and Latino communities by rampant addiction, AIDS, crack babies, the recruitment of kids into the drug trade, and control of the streets by violent gangsters. To many people, especially people of color, making war on drugs means not taking it anymore, defending their lives and their children against social rot. It's a seductive idea: focusing one's rage on a vivid, immediate symptom of a complex social crisis makes an awful situation seem more manageable. Yet in reality the drug war has nothing to do with making communities livable or creating a decent future for black kids. On the contrary, prohibition is directly responsible for the power of crack dealers to terrorize whole neighborhoods. And every cent spent on the cops, investigators, bureaucrats, courts, jails, weapons, and tests required to feed the drug-war machine is a cent not spent on reversing the social policies that have destroyed the cities, nourished racism, and laid the groundwork for crack culture.
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This Land is Your Land

Borders That Stretch From Beijing to Bensonhurst
By Joe Wood

September 5, 1989

A response to the murder of African-American teenager Yusef Hawkins by a gang of white teens in Bensonhurst

I could have been killed on that street corner in Bensonhurst. And that corner is precisely where we part company—"I" am not you, unless you share my heritage and look like me. My "I" is fatally specific: I am a brown-skinned descendent of enslaved Africans, holocausted Cherokees, and invisible Europeans, and I am despised and feared and envied the world over. Define me black.

Democrats in Bensonhurst and China agree: "Black men better stay out of our gardens." Most people have forgotten the antiblack Chinese riots before Tiananmen Square; like their Brooklyn counterparts, the Chinese students, who would be canonized in a few months by an eager U.S. press, shouted the message: "Our women are our turf. You trespass on either and we will kill you. (Try us.)"

When I look at those grainy black-and-white photographs in the Daily News and the Post of that young boy's dead body lying on a stretcher, my mind wants to cry but my eyes won't let me. My eyes are too tired—they've seen this shot before and they're too used to it.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of row houses in the Bronx called Eastchester. When my parents moved in, our block was almost all white, but that was in 1968. Most of the children I played with were brown . . . .

Do parents whisper warnings in their children's ears? I don't know, but I knew early on to stay away from the neighborhood next door: they don't like black people. I'm not sure when I began to reflect on the warnings' meaning, and I don't know when racist words like guinea or wop entered my consciousness, but I do know that I was practically born with a wariness about the middle-class Italian neighborhood next to my own.


On the Eve of the First Gulf War

What We Gave Saddam for Christmas: The Secret History of How the United States and Its Allies Armed Iraq
By Murray Waas

December 18, 1990

The Reagan administration, in apparent violation of federal law, engaged in a massive effort to supply arms and military supplies to the regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Today, U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf are facing an enemy equipped with some of the West's most devastating military technologies, ranging from American-made HAWK anti-aircraft missiles to the most advanced French-built howitzers available. That American troops could be killed or maimed because of a covert decision to arm Iraq is the most serious consequence of a U.S. foreign policy formulated and executed in secret, without the advice and consent of the American people.

A three-month investigation by the Voice has found that some of these efforts to supply arms to Iraq appear not only to have violated federal law but, in addition, a U.S. arms embargo then in effect against Iraq. The arms shipment was also clearly at odds with the Reagan administration's stated policy of maintaining strict U.S. neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war. And, in the light of the current conflict, they were certainly wrongheaded. If a war ever begins in the Gulf, the entire secret history of the United States' aid to Saddam would merit a Congressional investigation . . .

There is no evidence that President George Bush—then serving as vice-president—knew of the covert efforts to arm Saddam Hussein. But several sources, including senior White House officials, say Bush was a key behind-the-scenes proponent in the Reagan administration of a broader policy that urged tilting toward Iraq during the war. Bush and other White House insiders feared a military victory by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and they came to see Saddam as a bulwark against the fundamentalist Islamic fervor Khomeini was spreading throughout the Mideast. After he was elected President, Bush pursued this policy even further, attempting to develop closer business, diplomatic, and intelligence ties between Iraq and the United States.

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