Defining E-Waste "Racism": Part I "Negativity"

- Overt Racism:  Purposeful, intended, blatant selection based primarily or partly on race.   
Covert Racism:  Subtle or disguised racism, purposefully hidden or unacknowledged.
Accidental Racism:  Someone who isn't racist at all finds out, despite fair-mindedness, they've accidentally (or subconsciously?) said/written/assumed something which someone else suspects as racist.   Normally they clarify or apologize. 
"Excuse me, sir.  You've accidentally spilt champagne on my sneakers"
"How dare you, sir, accuse me of purposefully pouring my drink on your shoes!" 
Part 1 of 2: To prove it's not an ad hominem attack on opponents, I'm including examples when I've been suspected of racialism.   In part II, I focus on  people actually arrested for environmental crimes based on racial (or national) profiling, by well intentioned people, and the people who make their living making the same overseas flight, who profile themselves as environmental heroes.
First things first.   I coined the phrase "accidental racist" in 2004, but I did not invent the reaction, from the southern hemisphere, to the images of children posed on smoking piles of garbage.  I'm the messenger.  If a bunch of someone elses call you a racist, and I'm defending your intentions, "accidental" is middle ground.

In the news this week, Greece expelled one of their Olympic athletes for a "racist tweet".  AP opens the story as follows:   "Triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greece's Olympic team Wednesday for her comments on Twitter mocking African immigrants and expressing support for a far-right party."  The tweet that went viral and caused the stir was a joke about "West Nile Virus" which was reported in Athens.  With so many African immigrants in Greece, Papachristou tweeted, the mosquitos and virus would enjoy some "home cooking" (soul food?). 

The joke's not that bad, in my opinion.   But the "body of work" in other Papachristou tweets made this the last straw.  The Greek government felt this was either racist or covertly racist, and not something you want anywhere near the Olympics.  Ultimately, the ugly is in the eye of the "minority" beholder.

The repercussions of an accusation of "racism" are kind of unique to caucasian nations.  I assume it's because of the USA's history with slavery and the process of ending segregation.  Europe inherited James Baldwin from us, and has quickly come to speed. "Racist" is an ultimate sin against society, a label of ignorance, callousness, and meanness.  It exists in Africa and Asia, and it's a huge issue in South America.. but the concept of "minority" as underdog is very different.   When passed from one white person to another, a Greek on Greek or American on UK insult that ruffles white feathers.  The story on the Greek expulsion was selected for The Drudge Report for a reason.

In 2002, in China (with Lynn Rubinstein of NERC), I was on a tour with one of our translators from China's Guangzhou Electric Appliance Research Institute, Ms. Huang.  She had tip-toed up to the subject of the Basel Action Network, asking me what I thought of the BAN film, "Exporting Harm".  She seemed to be on guard, and kept asking me what I think.  I thought that it was a problem of "losing face", that it was a humiliating depiction of China, and that the bans on imports/exports were largely a result of that.  She seemed encouraged, and then said in her own, deferential way, that in her humble opinion, the film was a bit racist.   She furtively looked over her shoulder, almost instinctively, having said it... as if she'd used a bad word, and said that was only her, personal, view of it, and that she was not speaking on behalf of the Chinese government, etc, etc.

That sentiment about the BAN films was repeated by Souley of Senegal, by Fred of Burkina Faso, and by others from Africa and the middle east.

Me, too.   I was called a "racist" three times.   The first was by an  African buyer living in my house. It started out that I wanted $1 each for new laptop bags, he said he wanted them to help protect/cushion the computers.  In frustration he said all I care about is money not people.  I said "f*k you", and he got furious - and called me a racist.  He stomped out of my house and moved in for the night with my Cameroonian friend Yadji, who told me the buyer tried to convince him I was exploiting him.  We made up the next day. The African buyer said that when he told Yadji I was a racist, that Yadji told him point blank that there were two people in the world he trusted.   Yadji told him that one was Robin, and the other (pointing) was his cat.

Another time I was complaining about a certain habit among certain buyers in certain Mediteranean countries to haggle for reimbursement rather than discount, i.e.  to haggle after a load of computers was received, to revisit prices after the sale.  It was a new mideast/African buyer I was engaged with, and the load had not yet shipped.  I remembered the episode with the laptop bag pricing and I was trying to be careful.  My wife is French Catalan,(also Mediterranean).... so I thought I was on safe ground alluding to Mediteranean negotiations and discounts after shipment.   The buyer said that when I speak of Mediteranean, knowing he's mid-Eastern, that I sounded a bit "racist".

Last month, I wrote an extremely long and emotional piece about the drowning of my "African brother" from Cameroon, Yadji Moussa...   Someone I didn't know wrote a comment that my post was "covertly racist".  It was a shock, and came at a very bad time.

Rereading my Yadji Moussa epitaph blog (because one tends to get friends epitaphs right), I could see how someone who studied racism in school could find a lot of things I'd written about my friend which were "racist".    He had come to the USA as a hero of mine, 15 years ago. I'd described him as an "African Gandhi" to many people (including his future wife).  When exposed to alcohol, he had left his family and had recently been kicked out of the homeless shelter, and we all knew this and I didn't want to sugarcoat it.  I had partnered, fired, hired, fired and rehired him, a fourth time, and he was making real strides.  This post was making it about "me", my feelings, at Yadji's expense and he was not here to defend himself.   It was an emotional post, and I took the post down for a couple of weeks, and worked on this film, still pics without commentary, which we played at Yadji's memorial service.

Anyway, when the "covert racism" accusation slapped me, I had to park the blog and edit it.  Do I personally think of all Africans as loved ones with this deeply personal relationship?  Was it necessary to mention my bittersweet guilt, that he'd forgiven my call to the police (resulting in a year's imprisonment for drunk driving?).  In trying to cover up the anger, hope, disappointment, tragedy, and sadness, I'd captured my friend's decline from a disease in a way which someone actually could detect as a "white man's burden" essay.  I even had a clip of Shirley Temple dancing with Bojangles Robinson, and a link to an essay on Yir Yorant (which my dad had given me, and which I rejected, but it's mere presence in the article was a match for the accusation of racism).  What was I thinking?

No one likes to be called a racist, or to be accused of "accidental racism".  And white liberal people who mean well hate it especially when it comes from another white liberal.  With that said, the post is better without many of the items I deleted from it.

In Part 2, we will see actual people making a living by flying overseas to inspect used electronics.   One is identified in the press as an environmental hero, the other is profiled as an environmental criminal.

We have to discuss it because of the actual, realprofiling of brown businesspeople as "waste tourists".  I compare two e-waste professionals, ones who "fly and buy" and those who "fly  and lie".   I have included actual articles in news magazines showing real brown people who were arrested, imprisoned, and falsely accused of exporting waste, and ask why the environmental press broadcast allegations as a form of public lynching of people who were proven - yes, proven by Basel Secretariat and UNEP investigation - to be innocent.   Not one of the the western media which reported on the "waste tourists" and "waste criminals" has reported any retraction or even reported on the finding of innocence of the people they sold papers by defining as a criminal.

To me, this"e-waste export" policy must include this discussion of racial profiling.   

A final note on Yadji, and his views on racism.  In our last conversation, about AA and about his future plans, how we would put together a plan for him to return to his family in Michigan, etc., he told me that his mantra had become to eliminate 'negativity'.  He said his contribution, at AA and to his own life, was that he'd discovered there was "too much negativity", that we are all surrounded by it, and it owns us and gives us excuses.  He said his problems stemmed from negativity.  He said that it's best to just accept the election of Obama as evidence of the end of racism, because whether it was or not, that the negativity about the racism was doing more harm than the racism.

There is a negativity about African "waste tourists" which I write about in Part II.   And I'm forced to confront my own negativity, because there's nothing more negative to Americans and Europeans than an accusation of "racism".

Ultimately this is about "environmental justice" and "unintended consequences".  It's in the history of how recycled red metals, grey iron ore, and other raw materials are regulated based on who touched them last.

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