Thursday, May 8, 2008

They just keep coming back

Warning: This post contains links that are potentially triggering to victims of sexual violence.

Via Iraq Today, I came across this article, which reports that Iraqi women have reported been sexually harassed and assault by KBR employees.

An Iraqi woman, who worked as a cleaning lady, told British diplomats that the head of KBR had asked her to stay the night and promised to double her wage in return.

Her refusal resulted in a pay cut and she was later dismissed.

Two Iraqi cooks, who confirmed the woman's claims to Foreign Office staff, also lost their jobs shortly afterwards, the Times reported.

They had worked in the canteen and said that KBR managers groped Iraqi staff regularly and paid or rewarded them for sex.

And where have we heard of KBR before? Oh yes, that's right: Jamie Leigh Jones. As I wrote back in December, Jones was an employee of KBR stationed in Iraq who states she was raped by her coworkers and then held in a storage unit by KBR (who also misplaced her rape kit and told she could either staying in Iraq or lose her job).

After reading the article about the Iraqi women who are accusing KRB employees of sexual harassment, I googled "Jamie Leigh Jones" looking for an update and I found this youtube video of Jones testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

In her testimony Jones states that the man who made her a drink the night she was raped told her "Don't worry; I save all my ruffies for Dubai." Jones says she took that to be a joke and felt safe with her coworkers thinking "they were all on the same team."

Now there is a whole lot tangled up in that "joke" and Jones apparent feelings of being part of a team. Over at Racialicious, Latoya Peterson looks closely at the term "oppression Olympics" and uses Andrea Smith's excellent essay Heteropatricharchy and The Three Pillars of White Supremacy to unpack the concept. In the essay Smith writes, that the Three Pillars of White Supremacy "framework does not assume that racism and white supremacy is enacted in a singular fashion; rather white supremacy is constituted by separate and distinct, but still interrelated, logics. Envision three pillars, one labeled Slavery/Capitalism, another Genocide/Capitalism, and the last one as Orientalism/War, as well as arrows connecting each of the pillars together. "

The whole essay (and Peterson's post as well as the comments) is definitely worth a close read. For the purpose of examining Jones' attacker's (or attacker's accomplice's?) joke, however, I am particularly interested in this point that Smith makes in the essay.

What keeps us trapped in our particular pillars of white supremacy is that we are seduced with the prospect of being able to participate in the other pillars. For example, all non-Native peoples are promised the ability to join in the colonial project of settling indigenous land. All non-Black peoples are promised if they comply, they will not be at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. And Black, Native, Latino, and Asian peoples are promised they will economically and politically advance if they join U.S. wars to spread "democracy."

Though this part of Smith's essay is focusing on examining the barriers to making strategic alliances between people of color and Jones is not a person of color, I don't think it's too much of a stretch here to use the above quote to examine why Jones felt "safe and part of a team" after her coworkers made a "joke" that implied that date rape drugs were being saved for Arabic women. In my opinion, the joke made Jones feel like "one of the guys." Before her rape, she is not an other, but part of team; she has "the prospect of being able to participate in the other pillars."

(Please note: I am in no way blaming Jones for being raped and then held hostage by KBR. I just wanted to examine a complicated aspect of her testimony. Being reassured by a racist joke does not equal deserves to be raped.)

Where else have I heard of KBR? Ah yes, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Klein, writing about the aftermath of Katrina, reports

Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that had been pioneered in Iraq. The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar Baghdad gang: Halliburton's KBR unit [Sidenote: KBR is not longer part of Halliburton] had $60 million dollar gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast.

Later Klein describes some of KBR's (or their subcontractor's) practices,

According to one study "a quarter of the workers rebuilding the city were immigrants lacking papers, almost all of them Hispanic, making far less money than legal workers." In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being waken in the middle of the night by their employer (a subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest; after all they could end up in one of the new immigration prisons that Halliburton/KBR had been contracted to build for the federal government.

Hello, Slavery/Capitalism from Smith's analysis.

Maybe KBR should change it's slogan: All Three Pillars of White Supremacy for the Price of One!

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