New Voices

Who Is Going to Listen

A Letter to the Editor

My introduction to foreign policy was the fortunate coincidence that one of my best friends is the son of immigrants. He was born in Oklahoma, but his father was born in Afghanistan and his mother in Pakistan. I learned about the Arab-Israeli conflict through the gallows humor he shared with me about the intifadas.  His mother explained her life in Pakistan to me before she came to the United States.  His father spoke bitterly about how the Taliban was destroying his home.

I was opened to the world by chance, because where I come from, “denuclearization,” “liberal international order,” “great power competition” and the other buzzwords of the day aren’t often used.  Yet they affect us all the same.  My roommate didn’t join the National Guard to further American interests in the world.  Like me, and many of the other people of color I know, he had no other way to pay for college.  He recently received a Master’s degree thanks to Uncle Sam.  He paid for it with two tours in Iraq and a lifetime of medical complications from chemical exposure and being hit with an IED.

Poor Black people have died in the wars since September 11th.  People who have almost no way into Harvard (Rosa’s alma matter), Stanford (Kori), or Columbia (David).  The challenges of a multipolar world don’t only fall on those with the language to discuss and understand it.

Rosa’s eventual apocalypse will affect us too, and we’ll never have the money for a silo.  I listened to Deep State Radio (and its predecessor, the E. R.) while walking through my old neighborhood in Hartford, Connecticut.  The statistics for my former zip code, 06120, have to be seen to be believed.  There are more adults with no secondary education than adults with Associate’s, Bachelor’s or graduate degrees combined.

What is our way into understanding the decisions that place war and peace in the balance?  Again, I was fortunate.  I discovered Foreign Policy’s “The E. R. podcast” while working in a warehouse.  There was no one else to talk to, so I put on my headphones and listened to Kori, David and Rosa chop it up.  I stole time to Google the names and concepts I heard thrown around – Richard Haass, Susan Hennessey, Max Boot, Belt and Road, strategic competitor.  I tumbled down the foreign policy rabbit hole, discovering CFR’s The World Next Week, Rational SecurityBrussel Sprouts and the like.  I loved learning about the world, but it became very clear, very quickly, that these people were not like me.  They were much more educated, much older and much whiter.

When Deep State Radio Network went live, I was eager for the opportunity to write about my layman’s perspective on the South China Sea, but I was discouraged by some of the language in the New Voices post, the same barriers which keep my neighbors and family out: “…we’re looking for people with advanced education in these areas, real experience, great minds, great accomplishments…”  A few weeks ago, I subscribed to the MIT Sloan Fellows mailing list.  The cost of that program is $179,798. For one year.

How could I ever afford that?  I’m still budgeting for my membership to DSRN someday.

I want to be a part of this conversation because it matters, not only to my immediate acquaintances, but also to people around the world like me.  The internment camps where Chinese officials are keeping Uighurs look a lot like the prisons where millions of Black people are locked away here.  My father was one of those Black people.  I might have a few things to say about human rights abuses and the treatment of ethnic and racial minorities.  I might disagree about the necessity of regime change when it’s my friends who will suffer the consequences.  I don’t have the advanced education or the experience, but I have a stake in global trade. In climate change. In the JCPOA.  In the “bloody nose” strategy.  Many people like me have a stake too. Who is going to listen?

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