Knockin’ on history’s door

  • Progressive policies introduced in Nepal over the last decade have been challenged using similar arguments peddled by white nationalists
- Deepak Thapa

Dec 15, 2016-

Despite the slight disappointment at his no-show at the Nobel awards a few days ago, I would not be remiss in asserting that all Bob Dylan fans exulted with a collective ‘Yessss’ when news came in October that he had received the Nobel Prize for Literature. If there was any doubt about the power of his words, the tribute paid to the singer-poet at the ceremony by Patti Smith’s rendition of his classic, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, certainly must have put that to rest. Consider these lines: ‘I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken/I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children…I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’/I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’/Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter/Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley.’

The first Bob Dylan’s album I remember listening to is Desire (1976). One of the songs, ‘Hurricane’, tells the story of black boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, falsely convicted of murder (and dramatised in the Denzel Washington-starrer The Hurricane). The song is a powerful indictment of racism in America: ‘When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road/Just like the time before and the time before that./In Paterson that’s just the way things go./If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street/’Less you want to draw the heat.’ And, also an expression of his disgust: ‘To see him obviously framed/Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land/Where justice is a game.’

More than a decade earlier he had sung ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, the senseless killing in 1963 of a black hotel worker by a rich white plantation owner. Dylan had also performed the same year at the March on Washington, which is now most famous for Martin Luther King, Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. There is no doubt about where his sympathies lay, as in ‘Joey’, another song from Desire: ‘His closest friends were black men ’cause they seemed to understand/What it’s like to be in society with a shackle on your hand.’

Revival of white supremacy

The day before Bob Dylan symbolically received the Nobel, his namesake, Dylann Roof, was back in the news. This young chap had shot dead nine people in a church in 2015 for the simple reason that they were black. And, why? The hate-crazed 21-year-old believed he was fighting against world domination by non-whites. He wrote: ‘We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.’ Contrast this rant with the subliminal Bob Dylan, who, when he was 21, sang: ‘I met one man who was wounded in love/I met another man who was wounded in hatred.’

Dylann Roof may not have physically known many who shared his views, but that certainly was not the case with R Derek Black. At a time when Nazi salutes have been nearly mainstreamed by the incoming administration in the United States, it was refreshing to read his New York Times op-ed, ‘Why I Left White Nationalism’, which had been reprinted in these pages. As Black writes by way of introduction: ‘I was born into a prominent white nationalist family—David Duke is my godfather, and my dad started Stormfront, the first major white nationalist website—and I was once considered the bright future of the movement.’

Derek Black omits mention that his mother had once been married to his 

godfather, Duke, the one-time head of the Ku Klux Klan and whose endorsement of Donald Trump created more than a flutter during the presidential campaign. In other words, Derek Black was a princeling among the white supremacists, or white nationalists, their preferred appellation currently.

Running a daily radio show even as a teenager, Derek Black began pushing the idea that immigration of non-white people was leading to ‘white genocide’. As an earlier story in the Washington Post put it: ‘So many others in white nationalism had come to their conclusions out of anger and fear, but Derek tended to like most people he met, regardless of race. Instead, he sought out logic and science to confirm his worldview, reading studies from conservative think tanks about biological differences between races, IQ disparities and rates of violent crime committed by blacks against whites.’

But thing began to change when Derek Black entered a liberal arts college to study history. According to the Post, as he was taking classes on mediaeval Europe, he learnt that ‘Western Europe had begun not as a great society of genetically superior people but as a technologically backward place that lagged behind Islamic culture’. What a blow to a young man who had had it instilled in him that he carried superior genes. He also came to understand that ‘racial disparities in IQ could largely be explained by extenuating factors like prenatal nutrition and educational opportunities’. When at the age of 24, Derek Black disavowed the ideology he had been born into and advocated all his life, as reported in the Post, it was with a letter peppered with words such as ‘structural oppression’, ‘privilege’, ‘limited opportunity’, and ‘marginalised groups’.

Worrying similarities with Nepal

That is the kind of language introduced by the 2006 political change and which also showed how far the country has moved from the rigid and racist ideology promoted in yesteryears such as, in historian Kumar Pradhan’s  translation, in Rana-era courtier Rammani Acharya Dixit’s oft-cited exhortation to the rulers: ‘Monarchy is to the Aryas the only means of weal—/For democracy we Arya subjects have no zeal./Make the ministry for ever from Brahmans and Chhetris;/That too only from the higher clans of Brahmans and Chhetris you take,/While making the ministry, never and nowhere/Matwalis should be included even by mistake.’

The concept of ‘white genocide’ also promotes the idea that benefits provided by the state to the historically excluded is part of the reason whites are being swamped and overtaken by other ‘races’. I could not help think how familiar this all sounded in the Nepali context. We have parallels here where progressive policies introduced by the state over the past 10 years have been challenged with similar arguments. Ignored, of course, are facts on the ground and also concepts such as ‘structural oppression’, ‘privilege’, ‘limited opportunity’, and ‘marginalised groups’, eye-openers that had swayed even the pureblood racist Derek Black.

Bob Dylan’s initiation into the civil rights movement is said to have been inspired by the views of his then girlfriend who belonged to an Italian-American family of dedicated communists. What a contrast with our own lefties, a vast majority of whom cannot see beyond their own, their family, their clan, and, finally, their caste interests.

Published: 15-12-2016 08:46

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