Herland Report: Hanne Nabintu Herland speaks with PR guru, Woodley Auguste from The Awareness Agency about Identity Politics and how it separates Americans from each other. How can national unity be rekindled in a divisive situation?
“Solidarity a forgotten value. We have become consumers. It’s a consumer mentality. Everything is disposable today. It’s all about what I can get, what I can take. Very little of what I can add, how I can improve things and create value. This is the situation for many individuals here in the US.”
“It is all about what I can get, how can I be satisfied. It’s become a common place to speak your truth, not the truth,” says Woodley Auguste in this Herland Report interview.
Auguste is a seasoned professional with over 15 years experience, who has publicized and marketed 12 New York Times bestsellers and the million copy best-selling books, The Harbinger and 23 Minutes In Hell.
We sat down with the American PR guru in order to get his take on why America has become so divisive. Before, we used to look up to the US as a multicultural melting pot, unified through national identity. Today, this unity is evaporating before our very eyes a society is disintegrating into sub-groups based on ethnic origin, sex, gender and class.
“Everything is centered on entertainment. It’s escapism. There is very little intellectual capital here that is able to penetrate and do something about it. We spend billions of dollars in the US on ways to entertain ourselves. Whether its Netflix, TV, movies etc, all in the hopes of somehow capturing some dream. What we can do to escape reality.”
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – It’s an honor for us to have you with us, Mr. Woodley Auguste. Originating from Haiti, highly educated and with a background in public relations here in the US, your perspectives on the development in America are highly valuable. How did America become such a culture of hatred and anger?
Woodley Auguste: – I think that what’s taking place, Hanne, is that we have seen in just the past 10 years a real pivot from the values of American exceptionalism. Many of these values have been integrated into society, at a time when we thought we had arrived at the pinnacle of post racism, having a black president, President Obama.
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We thought, somehow, society would become a utopia, so to speak. But now everyone have all realized, as they say here in the US, “the emperor has no clothes”. It’s a fallacy.
There are many problems that are present now and people are much more cognizant of that because unfortunately, those problems are beginning to surface all the more. There is a level of unrest and distrust for not just political office, but also the media. The things that we are hearing where there is a political correctness exemplifies that it’s taboo to speak truth.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – It’s a strange thing actually because as you state it’s been a development over the past few years, where it seems to me that ethnicity becomes the issue instead of national identity. And CNN defines “everything”. They define who we are to hate, who we are supposed to love, and go on and on about things that really are not that important in the world.
Woodley Auguste: – Correct. It’s certainly no longer the fact that “I am an American”. It’s more of “I am an American”, and then insert whatever your racial makeup is.
That is where the problem is, brcause we no longer approach things as citizens of our country. We say “we are different and because we are different, we don’t agree”.
Some would say that since I am black, therefore I can’t respect someone who is white when we have a divergence of opinion. But at the core we all want the same things, basically. We all want to have opportunities, take care of our families, provide for them so that they may be successful.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – I was born and raised in Africa, you know, and return all the time. I identify with the African culture in many ways. Specially Kenya and Congo, where I have spent so many years. You have that same international perspective, as you are originally from Haiti. It is a problem in the US that there are no national newspapers, the media doesn’t focus on telling people in a respectful way about the outside world. Americans, to be honest, seem very ignorant.
Woodley Auguste: – There may be many words from commentators with limited views. I think what’s taking place is a lack of critical thinking where there’s very little critical analysis.
Growing up being in a household with more than one culture, you had divergence of opinions. I would have what was happening outside with my American friends, and a difference at home where Haitian culture occurred. It permeated throughout, so our worldview was vastly different.
I think that impacts the way you see the world. We didn’t look at it as “oh, the whites are suppressing you”. You look at as “it doesn’t matter. We came here to this country to do something with ourselves”.
There is nothing to get in the way of creating something lasting for the next generation. It was always about the generations, not limited to just me. My uncle made sure that that was embedded, to constantly think of the next group coming up.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – That’s one of the things I have said over and over again in Europe and Scandinavia for many years. That Europe has a lot to learn from the African communities. How to take care of the elderly, how to take care of the family, how to respect the father in the family, how to get that order, to take care of the solidarity in society. This is something we see is falling apart in Europe as egoism and extremist individualism is rampant.
Woodley Auguste: – Yes, unfortunately, that has not been embedded within the culture here in the US. Where I was growing up, it was multi-generational. I had my grandmother that lived in the same house. It was my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle and then my cousins, as well. So you had three generations all living together.
There was no such thing as sending your elderly parents to a retirement home or a nursing home. They lived with you. They cooked, they were very much a part of what was happening, they got involved in your life. To my chagrin, my grandmother was very much involved.
Even when I got in trouble. She was the one who informed my uncle what was going on and I was disciplined by him. That’s vitally important.
I think that when we have the erosion of the family, we start to see more moral decay in society. I experience this in the US in a number of communities. There is a lack of father figures. It impacts crime, education, economics and that’s where we have the kind of decay in the US.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – This may also part of the problem that “white America” has to day. This is why I wonder why we are not able to look at what’s the good and bad in the different cultures. Haitian culture, for example. What’s the good and bad in the White American culture. The British culture. What’s the good and bad in the African cultures. If we could discuss that, we could be more intelligent in choosing. So, which values would we like to have in our societies?
Woodley Auguste: – We are ignorant. We talk at each other rather than talking to each other and establishing the commonality, the things that we all want.
It becomes partisan. Whether it’s politics, race, sex, where men are afraid of being men in the fear of being perceived as chauvinist or anti-feminist. We are not recognizing and saying “you are my equal, my partner in this”, but I would want to be perceived to be something that I am not, so I won’t say anything.
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Because that narcissistic view permeates throughout, the question becomes: What can I do to impact the whole? To make life better for everyone? In order to establish yourself as a change agent, you have to get to a point of self-awareness where you’re no longer worried about what’s good for me or what’s good for just my family.
I think those ideals at one point were commonplace, but now they are sadly far and more removed because everybody’s more interested in taking a selfie, showing who they are, bragging on social media what they have done rather than working on what we all could do to change things.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – I often quote the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and when he attempted to define happiness, he said that: when a person is able to use his abilities to the benefit of society, then he will have a sense of happiness or completion in his life. I think what we have done in modern society, solidarity is a value that we are forgetting.
Woodley Auguste: – Yes. Solidarity a forgotten value. We have become consumers. It’s a consumer mentality. Everything is disposable. It’s about what I can get, what I can take. Very little of what I can add, how I can improve things and create value. This is the situation for many individuals here in the US.
The ethos is no longer breaking barriers, establishing something where you can create something of lasting value, whether it’s a mentorship or anything along those capacities.
It’s all about what I can get, how can I be satisfied.
It’s become a common place to speak your truth, not the truth. That is very flawed because I can only draw from my own limited knowledge, to a large degree.
But truth is absolute. When we examine facts, we can look at it holistically rather than individually. We always look at it is measured how it’s going to impact me rather than how its going to impact the whole. We see that going on in the black community.
Hanne Nabintu Herland: – When we look at the US society and the consumption of drugs, it is an unbelievable amount. The poppy growing has exploded in Afghanistan and now provide over 90 % of the world’s heroin, I hear. I used to live in Brazil. My goodness, all the drugs that came out of those favelas, shipped to the US.
Woodley Auguste: – It’s escapism. It’s entertainment. There is very little intellectual capital here that is able to penetrate and do something about it. Everything is centered on entertainment, what we can do to escape reality. We spend billions of dollars in the US on ways to entertain ourselves. Whether its Netflix, TV, movies etc, all in the hopes of somehow capturing some dream.
A wise man said that all of it is folly and it certainly is. Without purpose, you have no compass. There is no morality, no way to look at things critically and analyse things, you merely just saying “I just want to keep myself occupied”, hence the drug problem. All because people are seeking an escape from real life.
Woodley Auguste: – There is a narrative that has been spoken and discussed numerous times by president Donald Trump, that CNN is fake news. And CNN is very one-sided and much of the media here have an agenda. There is always an agenda being pushed on to the people.
Whereas very few people look at it objectively. Very few people will look at things objectively and say “well, where is the real truth in that? How can I find out more?” Regardless of what the story is. We just watch something and state that that has to be the truth. We have entrusted the media to show what we would like to hear.
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Hanne Nabintu Herland: – The deterioration of the neutrality of media and the partisan way that news and world happenings are now being portrayed in the media, is a big problem in the West. It’s a serious issue that speaks for an authoritarianism, entering the stage that people really should be aware of. My anoyment is that the media itself and Hollywood highly contributes to the growing hatred among people in the world. Why do they choose such a strategy?
Woodley Auguste: – Because you can affect the masses. With the media you can virtually inflict propaganda. It will sway thought. That’s why we need to look at things objectively. If we ask ourselves the critical questions.
You know, when you look at Hollywood throughout the years, different groups were vilified, where they would perpetuate a stereotype and then that stereotype somehow becomes truth. That becomes problematic where any group has become the vilified. If we look at the history of Hollywood, you look at any marginalized group for many years.
So, many groups were stereotyped and people began believing these lies instead of asking questions. Then time changed and we find a new group that may be marginalized, and then they become vilified.
I think now what we are seeing is that the Middle East, the Arab culture, is now here in the US; public enemy number one. Even contributions from the Arab community is deemed unacceptable.
We don’t ask ourselves the questions and say “Well, without the Muslims or Arabs, we would never have algebra” certain things we use daily. The contributions from that society impacted us in a powerful and profound way.
We have both an intellectual poverty and physical poverty in the US now.