"Balance" by Chicana Muralist Judy Baca (used by permission)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Barack Obama and the “End” of Racism

Barack Obama and the “End” of Racism

By Juan Santos

“It’s impossible for a chicken to produce a duck egg. The system in this country cannot produce freedom for an Afro-American. It is impossible for this system, this economic system, this political system, period… And if a chicken ever did produce a duck egg, I am certain you would say it was certainly a revolutionary chicken.”

– Malcolm X - 05/29/64


"Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes." -MLK - 12/24/67

"The judgment of God is on America now!" - MLK - 08/ 06/67


“What life has taught me
I would like to share with
Those who want to learn...

Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war

That until there are no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war

That until the basic human rights are equally
Guaranteed to all, without regard to race
Dis a war

That until that day
The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion
To be pursued, but never attained
Now everywhere is war, war

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes
that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique,
South Africa sub-human bondage
Have been toppled, utterly destroyed
Well, everywhere is war, me say war”

- Bob Marley -

Barack Obama deeply troubles me. As a Mexican who grew up in a Black neighborhood in the U.S. at the height of the Black Power era, I absorbed Black people’s rage- their righteous rage with the aim of justice and, ultimately, with the aim of healing - until it had sunk into my very bones. It was not a rage aimed at me; and no one “taught” it to me, no one schooled me in it. School was just everyday life in a Black senior high, for example; school was having my own personal cop who stopped me every time he saw me, the first pig who ever took me to jail. I didn’t try to act Black; I didn’t try to talk Black; I never tried to walk Black or dress Black; I didn’t even particularly listen to Black music outside of Motown and funk – the crossover stuff.

So, I was a little stunned and more than a little confused when, as I entered my 20’s, I had to confront how different I was from people in the white world and in the Mexican world. I didn’t realize it as a teenager, of course; It was just natural. But as I came into deeper contact - and sharp conflict – with the world I had not grown up in – the world outside of the working class area that people now would call the “ghetto,” I came to realize that while I had not adopted Black culture, I viewed the world through a Black lens; and since I had only been a kid when I developed the lens, there was little about it I could articulate, and almost nothing I could find to help me illuminate my experience of what post modernists and other people who long to go slumming these days now call “the borderlands”- a phrase they ripped out from under Gloria Anzaldua, a Chicana lesbian feminist writer, poet and cultural theorist. They talk about “alterity” and “difference,” and it’s nothing more than chic poses and impotent cultural elitism by those who have no authentic experience of what difference really is.

Growing up on the border I grew up on was not exotic; nor did I think of it as a kind of crucifixion or torment. It was just normal. The Black world and my odd presence in it were just normal. The sense of torment would only come later, when I learned that I reacted to white middle class bullshit – the “polite” evasions of naming the daily realities of power and pain that characterize the white middle class – just the way any Black youth of my time would have reacted. They dumbfounded and enraged me. It took a long time to get that they are not just outright phonies, straight-up deliberate hypocrites, almost every one of them - but that they don’t see - and that for that reason, they are very dangerous to those who do. My reality was not their reality.

Today, I am blessed to have a radical white friend, Tim Bennett, who gets this clearly. He calls white people like this “Not-Sees.” His pun is intentional. But I didn’t get the white world at all as a kid. They just enraged me. Not one of them talked straight, as far as I could see. The “nicer” they were the more they enraged me.

The real torment came later, when I had to learn, not only to see, but to fully articulate what I see. And for someone in my position, there were very few guideposts then for me to follow. I had to learn for myself and largely from myself which part of me was which, what was Mexican, what was absorbed from white culture, and what was Black in how I experienced myself and the world I lived in. It’s easy now; I can switch culture and tone like switching a channel or clicking a link. I can do it, but usually I don’t bother; I just come from where I am at the moment, secure in who I am and what I know about the world and the dynamics of it that I am meeting in the moment. I rely less on my own tone than on understanding and knowing how to listen. Then, however, it was all sheer suffering.

I came from both inside and outside the Black world. My reality was Black reality, a Black world – and even at that it wasn’t really mine, in a sense, although I grew up in it. The Mexican community wasn’t quite mine either: I was lacking in the proper resepto, and there was nothing – or very little, of the agachado in me. I was arrogant, a sinvergüenza. Besides, my Spanish was poor. White people very often had no idea what to make of me; I felt they instinctively feared me, and I despised their thinly veiled brutality.

I reacted to the world like a Black youth, not as a Mexican or white youth would react, and I didn’t understand it.

When I was 16, I used to buy The Black Panther newspaper at a little convenience store across from the local supermarket on what is now called Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It came to haunt me. I always bought it- for a quarter - from the same brother. Then, one day, I was listening to the radio. The pigs had the local Panther headquarters under siege. There was a shoot-out. I don’t know what may have happened to him, but I never saw the brother again. And I never talked to anyone about it. There was no one to talk to. It never occurred to me to talk to anyone about it. As I said, I had no teacher. I was just a kid, I wasn’t Black, and no one in my family cared – just me. I remained silent. Millions of people from the oppressed nationalities in the US remain silent; and it’s not just that white people don’t care about oppression – it’s that we are punished for speaking out, for saying what we really see.

Here’s one simple example. About half the workers at my place of employment are people of color. Supervisors are hired in-house, as a rule. The boss is a “liberal” white woman in a company whose work is devoted to “liberal” causes. She came to our office after busting a union on behalf of the company in another city. In her first year and a half here not a single person of color became a supervisor. In my case, she tried to fire me – she sent my case to the corporate president and the corporate lawyers to see if they could fire me for having organized a union in another, similar workplace in the past. I came to work every day for four and a half months last year not knowing, if, that day, I would be fired. That’s the way it is, that’s the atmosphere white Amerikkka - liberal and conservative alike - has created for poor people and minorities.

Yes, of course, those of us who work there are the working poor. The “passionate” liberals who run the company act like they never heard of a living wage - but there is a shelf in the kitchen with “free food” for the people whose paycheck didn’t stretch far enough this week. It’s bought with money the liberal boss solicits from the workers. No one says anything. We all know the nature of the white liberal façade; We all know we’ll be punished if we speak up, if we demand equality in hiring or a raise, much less a living wage. So, our rage simmers in a pot with a tight lid. There’s one guy, though, who has blown up at work a couple of times over racist incidents at work. He’s one of the company’s most productive employees. I was told by a lower level supervisor that he was passed over for a promotion only because he’d gotten angry on the floor about racism – he’d created “conflict.” He wasn’t trustworthy.

So we stay silent, as a rule, on the job. We stay silent as a rule, in the white world.

Barack Obama is the living symbol of our silence. He is our silence writ large.

He is our Silence running for president –

With respect to Black interests, Obama would be a silenced Black ruler: A muzzled Black emperor. A Black man at the head of the White Amerikkkan State – one who’s unwilling to speak truth to power, but more than willing, like a Condi Rice or a Colin Powell, to become that power and to launch wars of aggression against other people of color.

In Obama’s case the targets will be Iran (which he has threatened with “surgical” missile strikes) and Pakistan, rather than Iraq. That’s the only difference between Obama and Rice and Powell, or Bush, for that matter.

Even ABC News notes that “Obama, one of the more liberal candidates in the race, is proposing a geopolitical posture that is more aggressive than that of President Bush.” Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, in a column entitled “Obama, the Intervensionist,” cites Obama’s claim that “he wants the American military to ‘stay on the offense, from Djibouti to Kandahar.’” To help the empire stay on the offensive, and despite the fact that US military spending is breaking the bank at over $1 trillion a year, and far outstrips the spending of any potential imperial rival, Obama wants to beef up military spending, adding 65,000 troops to the Army and 27,000 more Marines beyond the obscene levels already under arms in the so-called “War on Terror.”

That’s another matter. Most of us at my workplace, for example, don’t want to become that power, we don’t want to lord it over others or punish them if they disobey the corporate rules, much less the rules of Pax Amerikkkana. We don’t want to “succeed” that badly, not badly enough to sell our souls and boss around - and certainly not kill - people who, we know, suffer every day just like we suffer.

Nor do we want to be cops – pigs – or to be the commander in chief of pigs, be they local police or the cops of the world. No one imagines themselves the commander.

We’d like things to be better in our personal lives, of course, if we could have them better and still feel clean.

And that’s the Obama equation. Keep your Black/ Brown mouth shut and you can “succeed.” And you can still feel “clean.” Here we have the real story behind Obama’s portrayal of his squeaky clean-ness. Yes, Black man, yes, Black woman, you can have power in this killer-racist system and stay “clean.” In Obama’s carefully constructed image lies a symbolic resolution of a profound inner conflict that all people of color in the US face in their daily lives.

Obama plays the role of a Black Cinderella. He does for Black folks what Cinderella does for girls. He shows that oppression and silence can be good for you – at least if you are the one the prince chooses, or if you are the one who gets to be the prince. It’s total fantasy. It’s a glass slipper that will break at the arch and be turned on us like a broken beer bottle or a jagged-edged knife; the same knife Obama has threatened to turn on the people of Iran and Pakistan.

But, he’s getting over with it, if for no other reason than that the inner conflict I’ve described remains largely unconscious for oppressed people in the US. That’s why one Black poet, spoken word artist Darian Dauchan, wrote a piece called “Damn You Barack Obama You Pretty Mothafucka.” It’s because Dauchan was trying to sort it through. Even though he fails – he buys into the Obama myth- nonetheless he had to sort it through as best he could, because Obama is the walking illusion of the realization of an impossible dream; the dream that in white racist Amerikkka a Black man could be judged on the content of his character, not the color of his skin.

There is, of course, a racist subtext to Obama being called “pretty”- it’s the subtext of internalized racism and the imposition of an internal color-caste system within the Black nation itself, a color-coded stratification held over from the era of slavery - the era of the “mulatto, the “half-breed,” “quadroon” and “octoroon”; a caste system in which “whiter” is better – smarter, “prettier,” more worthy, etc.

The rest of the racist subtext is this: Obama, with his extraordinary intelligence and presence (by any standard), is, in the eyes of white Amerikkka,(and, according to the standards of the so-called “Enlightenment,” which still rule the thinking of Euro-Americans) the half-white, and thus, half-redeemed “Black savage” – “redeemed” by his “white blood”, “civilized” by it - redeemed by his relative whiteness- ultimately redeemed and refined by the white nation itself.

The question from the Black perspective has been posed as to whether Obama is “Black enough” – which is to say, “Is he loyal enough to the Black nation? The more decisive question, viewed from the white electorate’s standpoint, at least, is this; “Is he white enough, is he loyal enough to whiteness and to the white nation?” That’s why the question of his religion, and of his Arabic name, are points of attack and vulnerability from the standpoint of the more openly racist and xenophobic sectors of the white public. That’s why his “patriotism” is also questioned, unlike any white candidate. After all, everyone in the US knows that people of color with Arabic names are the enemy. It doesn’t matter, apparently, how many nukes Obama wants to hit Iran with, he’s got to stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance to prove he’s not a terrorist – at least not an anti-US terrorist.

Obama is not being judged on the “content of his character” – the question of how his character is perceived in a racist nation and, conversely, among a colonized African people, is a question that is sociologically inseparable from the color of his skin.

Many people, nonetheless, think Obama is the realization of Dr. King’s dream. The power of this archetype is immense. It’s why the completely empty catch-phrase “Change” works for him, and it’s the deeper reason for the quasi-religious wave of “Obama fever.” Obama is Cinderella and King’s Dream rolled into one. He’s even had the myth of Kennedy’s so-called “Camelot” invoked on his behalf. For many, he’s not only phenomenally charismatic, but irresistible. There’s even been talk of an “Obama Cult.” {The comments at this link, many of which attack the essay, are every bit as interesting as the essay itself.}

But, if Obama is the realization of King’s dream, then the price of the dream is silence. And, as the slogan goes, “Silence = Death.” If Obama is the realization of King’s dream, then the price is silence about the oppression of Black people - and the abandonment of the millions locked away under the conditions of mass incarceration that have replaced Jim Crow. If Obama is the realization of King’s dream, then being Black means being white – then Black is white, or at least it’s Black on white terms. It’s a Blackness that dare not speak its name.

Obama’s shot at the presidency doesn’t signal the end of racism in the U.S. It is made possible, rather, by the new form racism itself has taken, a form that offers a prison cell to poor people of color, and, for the middle class, on the other hand, an Apartheid-style pass card stamped “SILENCED.”

The functioning of this new dynamic of racism is plain to see in Obama’s attitude toward the newest persecuted “Other” in U.S. society – Brown migrants. On one hand, in one of his most impressive moments, he very rightly called attacks on migrants “scapegoating” (although he failed to critique NAFTA or US Imperialism at any level.)

His campaign even lifts and translates the migrant chant of “!Si Se Puede!” into English as “Yes we can,” and uses it as a slogan. (Obama himself has been a prime beneficiary of the mass opposition of the wrongly labeled “New Civil Rights Movement” in 2006 – the pro-migrant movement that not only cracked open and deeply divided the Republican Party so severely that it has not been able to re-group, but that also put white Amerikkka on notice that a it would never get by with making instant felons of millions of Brown people, and that openly racist persecution, at least, would not be tolerated from Republicans or anyone else.)

Obama favors driver’s licenses for the undocumented, but he’s all for the Apartheid Wall being built on the US side of the Mexican/ US border. Obama is willing to issue pass cards to migrants who make no trouble, since – after all - they’re here, for god’s sake.

Obama’s attitude toward brown migrants is the much the same as that of white liberals toward the Black middle class. It’s much the same as the attitude of the white ruling elite toward him. Keep up the racist wall, but give the “trustworthy ones” a pass. In the case of the Black middle class, the “trustworthy ones” are the ones who maintain silence about oppression. In the case of immigrants the “trustworthy ones” are the ones who have “learned English”, and “ have paid a fine,” as Obama puts it, for the violation of having been driven from their countries by hunger - by the gutting of their nation’s economies by the global capitalist empire headquartered in the U.S.

Even more telling is Obama’s refusal to recognize the right of Palestinians to return to the land stolen from them by Israel during the Nakba of 1948– the disaster of the birth of the Israeli regime. Obama supports and promotes the character of Israel as an exclusively Jewish state – in other words, as an Apartheid state, a Jim Crow state that not only keeps Palestinians separate, but which uses its military might to bomb them at will.

Like the Israelis themselves, Obama wants a separate Palestinian state – separate, but certainly not equal.

There can be no authentically autonomous Palestinian state located on the border of a nuclear-armed Israel – only a subjugated state militarily controlled by its neighbor – its oppressor. Such a state can be nothing but a Bantustan. In the meantime, while the whole world condemned the recent Israeli closure of Gaza, including a cut off of electricity that impacted its hospitals, Obama asserted that “Israel was forced to do this.”

Obama knows the rules of the game, after all - he is the rules of the new race game- his candidacy itself is a manifestation of the new system of racism.

He knows how to make white Amerikkka feel good about the status quo, here and abroad.

There’s a reason for that.

If he told the truth, if he stood up for justice, and on that basis, authentic healing, he couldn’t be president.

Under those circumstances, if he’d attracted any measurable attention, much less the global attention he’s gained today, more likely be dead.

Like King.

Like Malcolm.

Dead, like Steven Biko of the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania / South Africa, or Fred Hampton from Chicago.

Or imprisoned for decades, like Nelson Mandela was.

But Barack Obama doesn’t have that kind of vision and courage.

And he’s not, in the end, even a street activist. He’s been bought. What kind of “street activist” or “community organizer,” after all, ends up a millionaire?.

One who won’t say what white people don’t want to hear.

What white Amerikkka doesn’t want to know, Obama is not about to tell them. That’s a large part of why they like him; it’s key. Whites don’t want to know, as a rule, the actual conditions of Black America, just as the German people, as a rule, didn’t want to know the actual conditions of the Jews and Gypsies, even as the smoke of the crematoria drifted through their streets.

Here’s one part of the core truth that Obama is silencing:

The U.S., which has roughly 6% of the world’s human population, imprisons 20% of the world’s prisoners. The vast majority of those it imprisons are men of color. American Indians have the highest incarceration rate on the planet. Black men have the world’s next highest rate, although their absolute numbers make up the largest group of US prisoners. Mexicans and other Spanish speaking Natives in the U.S. have the third highest rate of imprisonment of all the world’s peoples.

According to a report from MSNBC, about 16% of black men in their twenties who are not college students are currently either in jail or in prison, while almost 60% of black male high school dropouts in their early thirties have spent time in prison.

Human rights Watch notes that in the U.S., “Nationwide, blacks are incarcerated at 8.2 times the rate of whites. That is, a black person is 8.2 times more likely to be in prison than a white person. Among individual states, there are even more extraordinary racial disparities in incarceration rates. In seven states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- blacks are incarcerated at more than 13 times the rate of whites. Minnesota has by far the highest disparity -- blacks in that state are incarcerated at 23 times the rate of whites. In the District of Columbia, blacks are incarcerated at 34 times the rate of whites. Even in Hawaii and Vermont, the states with the smallest racial disparities in incarceration rates, blacks are still incarcerated at more than twice the rate of whites.”

But to hear the mainstream media spin it, racism in the US is over.

After all, Barack Obama might be president of the US.

To hear Barack Obama tell it, “There is no divide that we can’t bridge.” The easiest divide to “bridge”, of course, is the one you pretend doesn’t exist, the one you never mention.

White Amerikka wants to believe it is innocent- that racism is over. It doesn’t want to know that its rulers solved the “problem” presented to them by the end of Jim Crow segregation and by the eruption of the Black Power movement by replacing the de facto chains of Jim Crow with the even more literal shackles of mass imprisonment.

Obama rejects the Black militant stance – even the pro-Black stance of Dr. King or Reverend Jackson– not only by distancing himself from Jackson, but, much more importantly, by remaining silent about the fact that the white imperial ruling class met the challenges they faced with the end of segregation and the rise of the Black Power movement by flooding Black streets with crack cocaine and guns - creating a “gang problem” out of nowhere - then by inventing “The War on Drugs” and “The War on Gangs” to carry out the greatest mass imprisonment in human history, a campaign more Draconian and Machiavellian than anything most dictators, even the demonized Saddam Hussein, ever dreamed of.

The isolation engendered by a quarter-century of the War on Drugs and the War on Gangs – which is actually a war on poor people of color in the US – is overwhelmingly intense. It’s suffocating: and the silence about the war on poor people of color in the US has been punctured only twice - first, by the Los Angeles rebellion in 1992, and secondly by the mass marches of millions of Brown people protesting the State’s efforts to retroactively turn even more millions of migrants into instant felons in 2006.

The war against the oppressed nationalities in the US is real. In the ghettos, the barrios and on the rez it’s a palpable phenomenon: Millions of families are missing their sons and daughters. Again, their children make up roughly 20% of the prison population of the world, again – not just of the US – of the world.

But for white Amerikkka, it may as well be taking place in Baghdad, not next door. They know a little about what’s up in Iraq, of course, but not about what is happening to much more intimately, right next door, and in their names.

Barack Obama, in the meantime, says that the invasion of Iraq was misdirected. It was the wrong war. The Empire’s real enemy, he says, lay elsewhere.

He says nothing at all about the War at Home against his own people.

It’s not after all, that racism is over. It’s that whites imagine that they can now be at peace about it – that the race war in Amerikkka is over as a two-sided affair. Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, in a fascinating and important debate with Michael Eric Dyson, says the Obama campaign is "relentlessly sending out signals to white people that a vote for Barack Obama, an Obama presidency, would signal the beginning of the end of black-specific agitation, that it would take race discourse off of the table." Ford says, “Barack Obama does not carry our burden, in addition to other burdens. He in fact promises to lift white-people-as-a-whole’s burden, the burden of having to listen to these very specific and historical black complaints, to deal with the legacies of slavery. That is his promise to them.”

An exhaustive NAACP report indicates that there is very little difference between the stances of Obama and Clinton on issues important to Blacks. Others have noted the centrist nature of the Obama campaign more broadly. Black legal scholar Vernellia Randall, of the University of Dayton, Ohio, says that Obama has No specific plan for addressing institutionalized racism, and that he doesn’t even acknowledge the issue. (Others have noted the centrist nature of the Obama campaign more broadly.)

In the white imagination, Barack Obama represents, not the “End of Racism” (racism has an experiential, existential meaning for only the barest sliver of the white population), but, he represents, rather, the end of the struggle to end racism.

The “End of Racism,” like the ”End of History” proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama with the fall of the Soviet Union, is meant to signify and hail the end of polarization and struggle, a final assimilative victory in which the antagonist (Communist or Black, respectively) is absorbed into the benevolent embrace of the white capitalist empire – there to disappear as a problem - even as a distinct entity.

Obama, in this context, can be viewed as a kind of Gorbachev, a figure that surrendered the sovereignty and independence of his nation, opened it to overt capitalism, collapse and chaos, and who, in the process, became the darling of the capitalist world; who became, in the West, at least, a figure representing “reconciliation and peace” – not capitulation and betrayal.

In the Amerikkkan imagination, Obama signals the co-optation, not of the pseudo-Marxist Soviet style socialism, but of the drive for Black liberation, autonomy and self –determination – the end of Black Nationalism, of the Black nation as a distinct people with a distinct history, distinct needs, a distinct culture, a distinct oppression and a distinct agenda. It signifies the supremacy of the white nation over the Black nation, just as the so-called “End of History” is meant to signify the supremacy of capitalism over all anti-capitalist potentials for organizing society.

The only awareness most whites have of racism comes as a result of the immediate and very short term impact of the struggle of peoples of color upon their consciousness. The silencing of that struggle means only the end of its painful intrusion into white awareness – not the end of racism as an omnipresent, violent burden on the oppressed, not the end of racism as omnipresent oppression and degradation. As noted above, Obama has no plan, and thus, it is fair to say, no intention of ending systemic racism in the US. It’s easier to pretend for popular consumption, that it no longer exists.

Barack Obama is priceless. If he didn’t exist, as the saying goes, they’d have had to invent him. And, no matter Obama’s subjective intentions – white people did just that in their imaginations and in setting the social terms of the New Racism. The very best one can say is that Obama’s let them get by with it by pandering to it. I’ll leave the worst one can say to you. It’s closer to the point, and to the truth.

It should be more than clear by now that Barack Obama will not save us. But neither is the point to expose the man as an individual, or even as a hypocrite, betrayer or oppressor. The point is to see him in context,

within the limits of the system, the matrix, the cultural and political environment in which he arose and in which he operates. It’s not that Barack Obama, per se, is worthless, it’s that none of the dreams in us that he speaks to so deeply in us can be fulfilled under the system of oppression he is an expression of and that his candidacy concentrates in visible form.

There is nothing wrong at all in the hopes we have that Obama’s rhetoric speaks to. The problem lies in what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive desublimation – a hope, a need, that has been buried and denied by an oppressive system, is allowed some room to breathe, then co-opted and redirected back into a form that ultimately reinforces the oppressive system that denied and suppressed out hopes and needs in the first place. That’s what Obama represents.

He speaks to our dreams of connection, of reciprocity, of balance, sanity and a noble way of life. He speaks to our hope for a world worth living in, to our hope for the future generations that have been crushed for decades now under the heel of the Bush regime and its predecessors. The enormous energy for change unleashed in the 1960s has been buried deeper and deeper under the weight of oppression, and, especially for the last 7 years, under the weight of the most cynical, sadistic, apocalyptic regime of our lifetimes, a regime that has embraced a vision of global destruction and that has denied every life-giving hope.

The Bush regime was and remains an expression of a conscious plan by the far right – especially of the Christian fascists under the leadership of Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and co-founder of the Moral Majority - to crush everything that came to life in the upheavals of the cultural revolutions of the 60s era. They meant, as they consciously expressed it, to counter the counter culture, the culture of hope, and offer a new “hope” of a “purpose driven life” in the context of the old traditions of oppression. They meant to, as they put it, “reframe this struggle as a moral struggle, as a transcendent struggle, as a struggle between good and evil” along traditional Christian lines.

The Christian Fascist strategist Eric Heubeck wrote, “We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment's rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. We will offer constant reminders that there is an alternative, there is a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today's American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Traditionalist movement.”

The regime of Bush the Lesser was the pinnacle of this effort – he carried the agenda as far as it could go, before it began to fracture and collapse under the weight of its own madness – before it met the determined resistance of society’s most vulnerable, scapegoated and openly stigmatized targets, as they marched in their millions refusing to be victims. The combined force of the Christian fascist juggernaut, the repressive powers of the State, and the US war machine looked unstoppable until it met this opposition at home, and until it met the mad and fierce resistance of the people of Iraq who have, however chaotic and horrifying their tactics, refused to be conquered. With these events, the aura of invincibility and unstoppable momentum was destroyed, the lid of repression began to crack, and what had been suppressed in us rose again to the surface. Literally, in terms of time in office, and as a sweeping reactionary social agenda, the Bush regime is coming to an end. With its end, inevitably, comes a wave of hope and euphoria.

This is the wave Obama is riding, the ocean of energy he is trying to steer into an acceptance of the same old deal, the same old wars, the same old systemic racism, packaged as if it were something new. This wave of energy is not something he’s inspired, it’s something he’s riding and that he is uniquely qualified to channel toward his own ends – which are not our ends.

As we have seen, Obama doesn’t represent peace – he represents an expansion of war and the power of Empire. He’s even more extreme on this than Bush himself, except in his public rhetoric. He doesn’t represent the real and legitimate needs, desires and hopes of Black people - he refuses to speak openly of the most fundamental issues affecting Black people. He doesn’t represent the “end of racism,” but the perpetuation of oppression in a new guise.

Obama doesn’t represent a new system or the new way of life we dreamed of and fought for and that has been suppressed - he represents the old one. He represents a system that is fundamentally rooted in exploitation, oppression and destruction on a global scale, and he is living proof that no fundamental change for the better can – or will - come about under the system he represents and upholds. It doesn’t work that way. To tell the truth is to betray the system, and he can’t bring himself to do it, even though he is far too conscious not to know it.

Attaining authentic freedom requires, as its barest starting point, the naming of what keeps us subjugated. What keeps us subjugated is the very system Obama wants to rule. The system, even with Barack Obama as its first Black emperor, is not our hope. It’s our enemy, the enemy of the world, and, because this system is rapidly undermining the ability of the planet to foster and sustain life, it is the enemy of all Life on Earth. This is exactly the understanding that the Christian fascists like Weyrich and Heubeck wanted to crush out of our awareness, and the lack of such awareness is exactly what Barack Obama depends on if he is to remain a symbol of the impossible dream that the system can be something other than what it is.


DirkStar said...

Nice post!

cg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gryphynx said...

I don't know what bothers me more. The racial prejudice of this blog, or of the replies so far.

First of all, things happen in steps. Getting a "Black" President into office that will do well is the first step to getting a "Black" President into office that isn't "silent". The "Black" community (and any non-white community) should be jumping up and down with nothing but excitement that a non-white man is being elected into office.

2ndly, you can't possibly imagine that a Ghetto Brother is going to get elected. A Blue Collar White man couldn't get elected into office. So exactly what sort of person do you honestly think should (and could) be elected if not someone like Obama?!?

More importantly though.... WHO CARES?!? Those of us voting for Obama are voting for him because he is the best person for the job. Boo fucking woo that he's not black enough for you. Skin color has nothing to do with my vote, and I hope, nothing to do with other votes. White people aren't voting for him because he's black and they feel guilt over slavery. They're voting for him because he's a good guy with a strong spine. Because there's no doubt he can and will fix this country.

corneilius said...

That was a great article, deep and moving. I am Irish, so have an awareness of 800 years of empires tactics and can concurr with that yoy have expressed here, based upon my countrys' sorry historical record.

I watched some video of exit poll opinions expressed by Americans in East LA, and was shocked, really, by the fact that most, when speaking of Obama, were speaking of a TV celebrity, unnconnected with history.

Theior reasons for voting for him had nothing to do with realuity, the war, the cost of that war to americans, iraqis and others.

I left with the sense that ALL VOTERS ARE DEEPLY CONDITIONED or if I was to be les skind, STUPID!

Unknown said...

This is the most penetrating and accurate analysis I have yet read of the significance of the Obama “movement” which made me feel sick as it developed. It represents both the yearning hope for relief from oppression and for “change” (a word I’ll never say again without flinching), and it’s betrayal.

Obama is a cipher, riding the wave of revulsion at our corrupt system, while attempting to salvage it, and co-op the opposition. He is, nearly, an empty vessel, with no more significance than a flea, yet there he is.

God save us.

Aphid said...

Comment from a Black American here:

While I certainly can't claim to have read everything that has been written on him, your piece is by *far* the most impressive thing that I've read about the deeper significance of the Obama phenomenon.

If Obama wins (or even if he just wins the Democratic nomination), I would like to make the humble suggestion that you turn this essay into a book project. The essay was so strong that I started thinking "Man, I'd love to read a full-length book on this topic."

I came upon your essay on another site (a message board). Suffice it to say I am duly impressed, and I will be returning to your blog from now on.


ecopolecon said...

Brilliant work. Reading this brings back many painful memories from my young and adolescent life. Although I am not quite as cynical as you about the potential for change if Obama were elected, I do think there are many whites who would say "we've done enough" and completely dismiss calls for racial justice for ever after (as Glen Ford has argued). But isn't that already what most white folks say on the question of reparations? Symbolism and meliorative reforms are the most we're likely to get until a major disruption in the system occurs for ecological, economic or geopolitical regions, and some sort of rift opens up in the storm clouds. Thanks for this, Juan.

Byzantine said...

I wouldn't worry too much about us middle class white guys, we'll all be impoverished soon enough.

The entire essay makes perfect sense to me, as someone with no real experience of "the borderlands".

The elites have already told us which candidates are "viable".
Let's take our valuable energy and attention away from Obama and the the presidential selection.

Anitra Freeman said...

I am not sure that all of your criticisms of Obama are justified, Juan; I would not trust what any media said that Barack Obama said unless I was standing right in front of the man and heard it from his own mouth.

I do agree with the main theme. I've experienced the same tactic on a different front; when the level of homelessness in the U.S. became impossible to ignore and the public demand for action was rising to an intensity that might actually threaten the status quo, the Bush League stepped in with a nationally coordinated campaign to "end homelessness" by focusing all efforts on "fixing" homeless people -- diverting the energy that was demanding living wages, federal investment in low-income housing, and other changes that would really cut into profits.

I think that our grassroots efforts for the systemic changes for real social and economic justice will be a little bit easier under an Obama administration, or even a Hillary Clinton administration, than they were under the latest Bush. But no President is going to do it for us. We would still have to fight Washington if Desmond Tutu was President. If we could resurrect Malcolm X and make him President of the U.S. and keep him from being assassinated again, we would still have to fight Washington every day, to change the American system.

I'm glad you wrote this, I will try to get more people to read it, and I second the request that you write a book. We all need to be reminded not to believe that the election of Barack Obama will validate the existence of racial justice in the U.S., now we can all relax.

I will still vote for Barack Obama. Not because I expect him to do anything for people in poverty or for people of color, but because it will be easier for us to get it done than it will be under another Clinton.

Keep reminding us that we still have to get it done; electing Obama won't do it.

katy said...

i think that it's really impossible to say how barack will be as president until he has had a chance to be president. even a black president who doesn't plan to be silent in office would probably feel the need to be silent during the campaign.

Unknown said...

Provocative essay on Obama as cultural icon. Would you comment on voting? Do you advocate for participation in the electoral process? Do you vote? Whether or not you vote, who is the best candidate for President in this election and why? When you place the same optics on Clinton, how does she appear? Tell us more.

Max Macias said...

You said it FAR BETTER than I could have.


Power to the People!

Mr.Murder said...

"In his best-selling autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” Obama describes having heated conversations about racism with another black student, “Ray.” The real Ray, Keith Kakugawa, is half black and half Japanese. In an interview with the Tribune on Saturday, Kakugawa said he always considered himself mixed race, like so many of his friends in Hawaii, and was not an angry young black man.

He said he does recall long, soulful talks with the young Obama and that his friend confided his longing and loneliness. But those talks, Kakugawa said, were not about race. “Not even close,” he said, adding that Obama was dealing with “some inner turmoil” in those days.

”But it wasn’t a race thing,” he said. “Barry’s biggest struggles then were missing his parents. His biggest struggles were his feelings of abandonment. The idea that his biggest struggle was race is [bull].” "
-Chi Trib

Mr.Murder said...

He is 9 years old, living in Indonesia, where he and his mother moved with her new husband, Lolo Soetoro, a few years earlier. One day while visiting his mother, who was working at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Obama passed time by looking through several issues of Life magazine. He came across an article that he later would describe as feeling like an “ambush attack.”

The article included photos of a black man who had destroyed his skin with powerful chemical lighteners that promised to make him white. Instead, the chemicals had peeled off much of his skin, leaving him sad and scarred, Obama recalled.

“I imagine other black children, then and now, undergoing similar moments of revelation,” Obama wrote of the magazine photos in “Dreams.”

Yet no such Life issue exists, according to historians at the magazine. No such photos, no such article. When asked about the discrepancy, Obama said in a recent interview, “It might have been an Ebony or it might have been … who knows what it was?” (At the request of the Tribune, archivists at Ebony searched their catalogue of past articles, none of which matched what Obama recalled.)

Vladimir RBLKN said...

a comment from a post-soviet no see guy here

i've read the post, there are a few things i admire about it and a few things i'd rather not find.

altogether i like your style

keep on writing

NOLA radfem said...

This is great.

The problem is that the system rewards most those who resist least.

I am a white woman and radical feminist (by that I mean, someone who believes that a dramatic restructing of society will be required before people achieve equality; I'm not interested in how many white women are on the Supreme Court, for example, but am more likely to question the very power of that court and the laws it enforces). I have longed to see women of all races achieve equality and have been working towards that my whole life. To that end, I had hoped to see a woman president in my lifetime.

What do I get? Hillary Clinton! An American Marget Thatcher. Pardon me if I can't even fake any enthusiasm.

On the other hand, to be fair, I do recognize that if she were more radical, if she really did speak the way I had hoped a woman president would, if she renounced empire and militarism and said that, as a woman, I have no interest in ordering wars that kill other mothers' children, that as a woman I demand food and education for all children, then she would have ZERO chance of getting elected. She wouldn't even be on the political stage. That's the reality.

The problem with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is that to get to play the white man's game, they have to act like the white man - either they do it, or they are kicked out of the game entirely.

The kind of radical you and I TRULY want as a leader can not get elected in this country.

Although I recognize that Obama is not the revolution, I am supporting him. It may be a baby step in revolutionary terms, but it's a hell of a lot further than we've ever ventured before. One president who isn't a white guy. It's something. I don't know about you, but these last few years, I don't feel like I even achieve baby steps in my politics anymore. I feel like I've been shouting into an empty canyon - to switch metaphors - and getting more and more depressed when all I hear is the echo of my own voice.

I'm thinking that somehow your particular frustration with Obama sounds SO much like mine towards Hillary Clinton, and I'm wondering why that is. I'm wondering why my anger and frustration centers more on Hillary than it does on Obama and yours, at least from what I see in this post, centers more on Obama than on Hillary. Interesting. Did we expect more? Does being disappointed by the leader who - finally - looks like us and has lived like us hurt us even more than does the long parade of those from whom we didn't even expect real empathy? I wonder.

NOLA radfem said...

I'm with Joel. I would love to hear the implications of this critique of Obama. What ARE the choices for radicals? Don't vote? Vote third party? Vote McCain and hope it just blows up the world that much faster (I'm kidding).

I've voted third party in the presidential election before. Bill Clinton kicked all those people off of federal assistance and then the day I heard him say HE was the REAL conservative in the race (for reelection, against Bob Dole), I almost lost my mind. So I voted third party that time and the next time too.

NOLA radfem said...


This post was not racist. People who map out racism and sexism are no more responsible for those things than are astronomers for the stars. It amazes me how people who point out inequality are consistently accused of being the ones who perpetuate it - not so!

Or, as a friend of mine says, people say feminists cause hate but the truth is that hate causes feminists!

Also, does it occur to you that saying any group of people "should" be doing something or, even worse, feeling something, can come across as really arrogant? I infer from your post that you are white. Assuming that to be the case, do you think it's helpful for white people to tell people of color how to think and feel about Obama? Especially while announcing that we support him? I mean, what do you want, a cookie for being a good liberal? I don't think white people who want to be allies should EVER do the talking for someone else (although I too have probably fallen short of that goal at times). We would do well to stick to listening - for a change.

The person who wrote the original post gave you a glimpse into a world that is NOT color blind. How is it helpful then for whites for Obama to come here and insist that race doesn't matter? Someone here has told you that it does matter. Perhaps hearing that without trying to impose your view is a deeper way to being an ally than is giving yourself a cookie for voting for Obama.

Anonymous said...

Dear Juan,

I have been thinking about this analysis you offer for a while now as I watch the presidential race dynamics unfold. My first and ongoing desire was to agree with you and to take in your perspective as truth. Content-wise it meshes with what I believe about how this system operates. And I have respected your perspective and writing for some time now.

But as hard as I tried I was not able to feel what you write here as true. It does not feel fully accurate to me. I do not feel Barack Obama as the person/function you describe here. I don't, despite wanting to pin it down and make it understandable to myself and feeling like your view is a good way to do that. I am closer to your perspective than his, content-wise, that's for sure.

But my gut says otherwise. There are other levels to this, says my gut, and I don't understand. So I keep thinking and feeling and watching and trying to figure out.

Today I think I got an interpretive key to what my gut has been saying.

I read the transcript of Barack Obama's speech on race. Trying to follow the underlying feel and logic of it ... it reminded me of something, the underlying undefinable (to me) something my gut has been feeling.

Have you ever read Gloria Anzaldua's essay called "La consciencia de la mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness"? What she describes -- some version of that is what I feel in what I can perceive of Barack Obama.

It is not how I myself feel the world. Aspects of it make me uncomfortable because I am harder-edged than that (for context, Marimba Ani's analysis in Yurugu is the truest-feeling thing I have ever ever read and is a sanity-check for me on a regular basis).

I am not coming from that consciousness, what Anzaldua described in her essay. And, I do not believe that it is THE path toward resolution of this horror we are in.

But I have always respected Gloria Anzaldua's work. I love this essay even though in some ways I do not understand it because I don't feel the world that way. And now, reflecting, I feel that Barack Obama's version of that consciousness may be a partial and very context-specific aspect of the larger whole of necessary change. Maybe what he is doing and how he is doing it is something contextually necessary or useful in its contribution.

My most basic way of feeling reality has to do with something like truth or integrity. I feel this thing -- truth, integrity, whatever the right word is -- I have an actual sense by which I feel it. It is like hearing, it is like how I experience sound.

Dissonance at this level hurts me. And I have been very puzzled why Barack Obama, what I see and hear of him, doesn't hurt me, for the most part. I disagree with him in content in various ways yet his perspective doesn't feel painful to me.

So now, I'm thinking that he is coming from a space that has internal integrity and truth in it. Maybe that is why I feel him like I do. It is not where I am coming from but still I feel I am responding to what is real.

I didn't understand it for some time, but then today I was reading what he said, trying to take it in not through imposed categories that I already have, but through trying to understand where he is actually coming from.

And what came up from that process reminded me of Anzaldua's essay and so I went back to it and re-read it. So much of it semed to resonate (not identical, but resonate). I saw that I have, I think, been trying to fit Senator Obama into categories that are not true to where he actually stands.

So finally I um starting (maybe) to understand why I could not accept your analysis, why it felt dissonant to me when by all standards I could see, it should have felt deeply true.

So. I don't think you are right in describing Barack Obama as a living symbol of silence as you set it out. That description does not fit. He is not silenced. He just isn't coming from where your categories (or mine) want him to come from.

I suspect that I feel dissonance in what you write here (despite wanting to not feel it) because you are laying an analysis onto what is going on, rather than allowing what is going on to inform and allow an analysis and make sure the categories are rooted directly in the the situation.

That kind of "existing categories informing understanding" can sometimes work fine -- but it can create distortions if it doesn't work. That (create distortions in the description) is what it has done here, in my opinion.

My gut feels it like: There is an integrity and real-ness in where Senator Obama is coming from and what he does. It is not where I am coming from or what I do, and I don't agree sometimes. But you know what? I intuitively and in my gut recognize integrity in what he does and how he does it. I recognize this functioning as integrity at the spiritual level and I respect that at levels I don't even have words to describe.

That integrity would not exist if he was the silenced figure you describe. I have felt it, though, and not known how to comprehend it. Now maybe I am starting to understand.

I wish Gloria Anzaldua was still alive and there was a way I could ask her if I am understanding the situation correctly, if it makes sense for me to feel her essay as providing some sort of interpretive key to where Obama is actually coming from. I'm still trying to feel my way through. I could be wrong.

I appreciate you laying out how you feel and see this. I offer this comment in response. Thank you for all the writing and analysis you do and for this essay that has been living with me for a couple of months since I first read it.

Honey Bee said...

Juan, I enjoy reading your articles, but your frustration with Barack baffles me at times.

You have concerns with Barack, that's fine and ok. However, I keep getting the vibe that you expect Barack to be some sort of "saviour" to "black" america--and America, by exentension--and he is NOT and NEVER will be.

I support Barack Obama because I agree with him on several issues (but not all) and, yeah, because he's half black. I'd be lying to you if I said his black heritage had nothing to do with my support of him. People pinning THEIR hopes and expectations on him, and then possibly being let down when those do not come to fruition WHEN he is president (because I still think we've got this in the bag)is one of the things that frighten me the most about his presidency.

Poster 'anitra freeman'said exactly what I was thinking as I read your article: "The problem with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is that to get to play the white man's game, they have to act like the white man - either they do it, or they are kicked out of the game entirely."

Juan, do you actually expect Barack to just rattle off all of the injustices black, brown, and red people and other minorities have suffered at the hands of whites and be expected to become President of the United States? I dislike Hillary, but the same goes for her. There is no way she can be a radical feminist and still be elected President of the United States. Nuh uh. Not yet. That'll take time.

In the meantime, I'll keep supporting Barack and you keep churning out those great articles. I love your blog and will become a regular.

Peace to you...

Max Macias said...

Top those of you who want to know about an alternative to Obama--well--some people believe in reforming systems, while others believe those systems should be replaced.

I don't believe a system that is based on genocide, land theft, and slavery is a system that can be reformed.

Obama is baiting people, especially young, impressionable people of color, to believe in a shitstem that is not theirs. How has this system worked for the millions in the so-called criminal justice system?

Obama is going to let down so many people.

I don't have hope in a system that persecutes, murders, and incarcerates people of color and poor people.

Honey Bee said...

To max: Barack himself isn't going to let people down, people who have pinned all of their hopes on him and treated him as the human solution to all problems are going to let THEMSELVES down.

I do belive that he is going to usher in a new era (inspiring young black and Latino boys to become something other than a slave for the NFL, NBA, MLB or a rapper, is one example) but be the saviour of the world he will not.

I support Barack all day, but common sense has told me to not put him on a pedestal; he is human and he will most certainly make mistakes as President. That doesn't make him a failure and it shouldn't "let people down". If it does, then said people are foolish for putting 100% faith in a politician anyway!!

Max Macias said...

To curious Georgette,

I think, despite what Obama says, that he is Making himself the hope of our democrazy--I mean that he is asking people to put their hope into him.

This shitstem cannot be reformed. I think it is a crime to make young black and brown people believe in a shitstem that is fundamentally set against them.

Yes, he can inspire young black and brown people to be imprerialists just like hime--which--In my opinion is far worse than being a sports star or rapper.

My common sense tells me not to believe in a shitstem that is based on slavery, genocide, and land theft--that also keeps millions of black and brown people locked up as a form of economic and social control. Obama doesn't speak for them--he speaks for people who are willing to sell their people and cultures to European ideologies like Capitalism and Marxism.

You can't reform this shitstem.

Thanks for your comments Georgette!


heatherfrosted said...

I come from a very different background, but I really feel you on this. I've felt uncomfortable with Barack after initially getting swept up by the wave because I expected his views to be much more revolutionary...but as time has gone on his views (at least what he says) seem very status quo.

Thank you for an interesting analysis. I'll have to mull this over a bit more.

bobgnote said...

When you tank 30 seats in the election and nobody gets it, a week after the election, the self-deluded are all trying to whack off and be appointed Daddy.

LOOK. Obama told McCain in Debate III, how the deregulated energy deals are 'robbing our wealth.' Neglected, the 20-year contracts in California are also undermining transactional bases, by aggravated contempt of process, while the prices of food and energy climb, and the twin towers stay down.

McCain introduced Sam Wurzelbacher as 'Joe the Plumber.' Sam called himself 'JOE,' since the deregulated energy deals ate up his profits, and he had a $1200 IRS lien on his property, which he paid after the election, 11/4/2008.

Obama and the Democrats never busted 'Joe' or moved the agenda, back to energy inflation, which will put Sammy-boy right out of business, even if he doesn't run for dog-catcher in Pa.

Obama is a stinker, who let 30 seats slide on by. Worse, DDs and greedies seem to have made lots of kids, and so, nobody even sees Obama tank 30 seats in Congress! Same-same 2004, as the Democrats were overtaking the Republicans in polls, Kerry shot a pheasant on a goose-hunt, Edwards shot his mouth off, about Israel, and Cheney told him to get a girl pregnant, which Mr. Edwards achieved.

We shop for this sort of misrepresentation and distorted, corrupt media at GUMP'S, in the FORREST section.

By the way, blacks cannot identify white CATHOLICS as fascist oppressors, since Catholics nominally endorse Jesus, from way over in Rome and in Mexico City.

Latinos do not usually identify with African-Americans, since black Americans are too disorganized and unlikely, to become Catholic. It didn't help Barry Bonds, since if Catholic mafia decide to use you for spin, they churn up a bogus court case.

So blacks and latinos are stuck, playing each other for British Imperialists, Catholics, cops, and corporations. But this article is better than all the others, except for the stuff I write, which is more concise.

nezua said...

Fantastic post. I'll have to come back to this again.

James said...

Brilliant work. Reading this brings back many painful memories from my young and adolescent life. Although I am not quite as cynical as you about the potential for change if Obama were elected

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bobgnote said...

Got ISRAEL with Israelis, since Disraeli? Israelites were mutants from Cush, ETHIOPIA, to you. Israelis are the source of WWI, WWII, and what comes next, which is WWIII, in time.

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Maxjulian said...

I JUST read this in good ole 2011. And it is GREAT! When Obama spoke at the Demo Convention in '04, he left me cold. His candidacy for President left me cold.

I am a black man and this man gave me hypothermia. He is a Trojan Horse. He is mind crack for people looking for a new drug, people who are scared to kick reality.

I wonder what the people who commented on this post when it came out think now. It seems like there are few people who can see.

I don't CARE what color you are, to read the truth and FEEL it through my computer screen is a revelation. To read the responses of the self-deluded, fairytale believing suckers who can't separate the package from the product, I have zero pity for them.

Maxjulian said...

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