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By Jamila Aisha Brown | with thanks to NewBlackMan

Sunday, August 12, 2012.

One of my most vivid memories of childhood was explaining to the St. Louis suburbanites in my sixth grade class that I visited Panamá the country and not Panama City, Florida over summer vacation.

“You know, we have a canal there…we just invaded it…” I said sheepishly to a room full of blank stares and quizzical looks (even though about thirty percent of the children in my school were military brats).

My guess is that because I'm Black and darker skinned it was then natural for them to conclude that Panamá must be located in Africa... but that's another article.

What that moment and countless others before and after taught me is that although the United States of America is a self-proclaimed beacon of freedom throughout the world, Americans have never proclaimed to be the best at really understanding the world outside itself.  After all when you’re the best, who cares about the rest, right?

One need only look to the evening news to see lack of reporting on global affairs.  Rarely does world news consist of current events abroad, but rather selective stories on international issues that coincidentally directly impact the security, economy, and/or political position of the United States.

The feature on Grenadian 400 meter track and field phenom Kirani James, which aired Monday night during NBC’s primetime Olympic coverage, reinforced the narrative that this American exceptionalism proves no exception.  

Many of us race bloggers, activists, and academics have kept a critical eye on the dynamics of race, sports, and gender these Olympics.  Cringing when Bob Costas mentioned former dictator Idi Amin as Uganda joined the opening ceremony’s parade of nations, petitioning when an advertisement featuring a monkey aired after Gabrielle Douglas’ historical all-around gymnastics victory, and questioning the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who cautioned Australian boxer Damien Hooper against making a geopolitical statement after he wore the Aboriginal flag on his t-shirt in his first match.  Yet despite the IOC’s wishes, race and politics cannot be separated from the sporting that brings the diversity of the world and its athletes to center stage.

Monday night’s not so subtle portrayal of how Grenada was “saved” from communism and born into democracy (thanks to President Ronald Reagan), represents a glimpse into the American ideological imagination that began with the Monroe Doctrine and continues on through the War on Terror today. In a twist of John Quincy Adams’ axiom that effectuated the United States as the watchdog of the Americas, the Reagan Doctrine sought to spread democracy, stamp out communism globally, and defeat Cuban-Soviet influence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We must stand by our democratic allies.  And we must not break faith with those who are risking their live—on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth,” he declared during the State of the Union Address on February 6, 1985.

Under the Reagan administration the CIA trained Afghan fighters to overthrow Soviet rule, Osama bin Laden among them, and it illegally supplied guns to Nicaragua who used drugs consumed in urban American cities to fund the conflict.  Why?  For the belief that it was the United States’ “mission” to “nourish and defend freedom and democracy.”

The Reagan Doctrine penned the Grenada incursion as its prologue; it concluded with Panama’s invasion (continued by his predecessor President George H.W. Bush); and identified the Iran-Contra affair as its climax.

Operation Urgent Fury launched its invasion of 7,500 troops on to an island of 91,000 people in the twilight hour of October 25,1983. The headlines did not show the devastation the onslaught brought to the Island of Spice as journalist were held on the island of Barbados, sequestered from reporting the military offensive live.

Outnumbered, outmanned, outgunned, the United States’ forces overpowered the leftist regime, which fell that same day.  Nonetheless the armed strike lasted for one week and Grenada remained under U.S. occupation for nearly two months.  Leaving the island of nutmeg and mace with a bitter taste.

Having grown up with the dichotomous images of the American media’s coverage of the Panamanian invasion juxtaposed with my family’s personal accounts of the tumultuous era, in NBC’s glossy portrayal of the happy island nation whose salvation was owed to it by the United States I felt a synergy.

The price nations pay for being saved from a tyrant—whether it is a Grenadian coup regime, Manuel Noriega of Panama, or Iraqi Saddam Hussein—often escapes the American media lens.  It breezes over the collateral damage of war, invasion, and occupation through erasure of the lives, economies, and infrastructures that lay in ruin after its wake.  Spoon-feeding the American public a perennially reinforced self-image of democratic hero.

While the geopolitics of the Olympic games are oft unspoken but unquestionably heard, NBC’s spotlight on Grenada proves how the United States sees its influence abroad. We haven’t gotten over our savior complex, we haven’t gotten over our penchant for spreading democracy through war, and we haven’t gotten over controlling our media to make you believe that these nations in turn thank us for it.

Jamila Aisha Brown is a freelance writer, political commentator, and social entrepreneur.  Her entrepreneurship, HUE, provides consulting solutions for development projects throughout the African diaspora.  You can follow her onTwitter and engage with HUE, LLC

*Quote from Ambrose Bierce

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