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

Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama’s Denial: The fear of a Black Messiah / Part Two of Barack Obama and the “End” of Racism

By Juan Santos

"The hour of judgment and doom is upon White America for the evil seeds of slavery and hypocrisy she has sown…- Malcolm X from “God’s Judgment of White America” (The Chickens Come Home to Roost) New York City, December 4, 1963 -

The judgment of God is on America now!

- Martin Luther King - August 6, 1967


"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a “three strikes” law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America! No, no, no, not “God bless America,” God damn America- it’s in the Bible!

– The Rev Jeremiah Wright


The Negro Revolution is controlled by foxy white liberals, by the government itself. But the Black Revolution is controlled only by God.

- Malcolm X – ibid.

“For maximum effectiveness of the Counterintelligence Program, and to prevent wasted effort, long range goals are being set.

1. Prevent the coalition of black nationalist groups. In unity there is strength, a truism that is no less valid for all its triteness. An effective coalition of Black nationalist groups might be the first step toward a real “Mau” in America, the beginning of a true black revolution.

2. Prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah”; he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and Elijah Muhammad all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammad is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his “obedience to “white liberal doctrines” (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism…

- F.B.I. memorandum, March 4, 1968, as cited in Malcolm X, the F.B.I. File, by Clayborne Carson

When the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover set about to disrupt, frame, imprison and murder Black nationalists under COINTELPRO in the 1960s, his openly stated aim was to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah. He wasn’t thinking of a figure like Barack Obama. He was thinking of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture’). In the Judeo – Christian – Islamic tradition the original Messiah, the Hebrew Messiah, was a national savior who would defeat the gentile nations and restore the kingdom of Israel. Hoover feared a Black Messiah, one who would restore the Black Nation, not a Barack Obama.

Hoover could not have known, then, in 1968, that a new religious trend would arise, wedding the traditional Black church in the U.S. with the philosophy of Black Nationalism in a Black theology of liberation known as Black Christian Nationalism. He could not have known that the Rev. Albert Cleage (aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman), founder of the Shrines of the Black Madonna / Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, would write a book called The Black Messiah. Jesus, in Cleage’s theology, was a Black revolutionary. He said that the ahistorical insistence on Jesus as a white man was the crowning demonstration of the white supremacist conviction that all things good and valuable must be white."

As a youth, I lived about a mile south of the Shrine, and after we dropped out of high school, my debate partners and I passed the Shrine everyday, on our five mile walk to the labor pool downtown. I never went into the church, although I did frequent the cultural center, art gallery and bookstore that flanked it. To be honest, the Shrine itself felt too holy. I knew who the Shrine was for, and sensed what it was for.

As I noted in Part One of this series, I used to buy The Black Panther Newspaper out front of a little store only a few blocks from the Shrine, and it was by no means a rarity to find a brother from the Nation of Islam selling the latest edition of The Final Call at the same spot, or nearby. But the Shrine was different. Not only was there the bookstore, community center and art gallery, but they were building a village, so to speak. At least it felt like a village. The Shrine had bought an apartment complex across the street from its sanctuary, and many church members lived there.

We would see them on the street from time to time, dressed in black and red, and there was something separate about them, something set aside - something sacred - and something very wholesome in their bearing. They never spoke to me beyond a warm “hello.” But it didn’t feel like a cult. I’d visited, by the time I was 16, a commune of the Children of God (the hippie Christians or Jesus freaks) about 3 or 4 miles from my home in the opposite direction from the Shrine, but it was just too strange. Nor did the people of the Shrine remind me of the Nation of Islam brothers with their suits and bow ties, nor of the followers of Wallace Muhammad. They didn’t seem rigid like that. And they weren’t selling anything. I understand now what I only felt then. In retrospect, it seems the Shrine members understood the inseparability of culture, the practice of community, religion and politics; that these three were all one thing to them, an integrated whole. It seems to me now that that’s what felt so different, what felt holy, so sacred, so set apart to me then as a youth.

I remember seeing books like Black Athena in the Shrine’s cultural center, but I would not read The Black Messiah or Black Athena until years later, after I had studied under a Black professor who’d sat at the feet of the revered Black historian John Henrik Clarke.

Clarke made it plain in a speech entitled The African Mind: “We could not address God in a language of our own choosing, or imagine God as any person that looked like us, and we began to accept the image of God resembling our slave master. This image has damaged our minds, because, no matter what that image has done to you, you are reluctant to challenge the image, for fear you are harming the image of God.”

Barack Obama, keeps silence on the most pressing matters facing the Black Nation, for fear of alienating the members of a white culture that he knows is mired in a deeply internalized and all but unquestioned sense of white superiority and white impunity. He dares not affront the image of the white god, and it is amazing that he is a member of a church that harbors no such fear. What is not amazing, however is that he has denounced his own minister, in effect renouncing the very tenets of his own, self- professed religion, in order not to offend the white godlets he so relies on for his imagined future as president of the White Empire. If one cannot worship both god and Mammon, Obama has made his own choice in the matter crystal clear. He has rejected both the traditions of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, which is to say the broad spectrum of Black religio- political belief and practice.

Malcolm X, said of Jack Kennedy’s assassination that Kennedy "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon."

"Chickens coming home to roost,” he added, “never made me sad. It only made me glad."

Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, echoed Malcolm’s words when he spoke of the events of 9-1-1 as “America’s chickens comin’ home… to roost.”

In the same spirit, Wright’s pronouncement “God damn America!” echoes Martin Luther King’s declaration on August 6th, 1967 that “The judgment of God is on America Now!” In December of that same year, King spelled out truths that have been banished from the whitewashed image of the keeper of the “Dream,” truths that expose the ongoing hypocrisy of white Amerikkka. King himself echoed Malcolm’s insistence that “The hour of judgment and doom is upon White America for the evil seeds of slavery and hypocrisy she has sown…”

King spoke bitterly. “I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess...that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare...just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful...Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes' problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw the dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating....Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes."

And the Rev. Jeremiah Wright never missed a beat. ““Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run,” he declared.

In their latest feeding frenzy, in the case of Rev. Wright, the white media has played what I will call here “the white man card”, an upside down and backwards image of the King of Diamonds, the image of a people , a culture, that refuses to identify itself as a group. The upshot of this evasion is that if one calls out the historically demonstrable record, the proof of the actions and attitudes of such a group as a group, one is defamed as a racist,, as one who refuses to judge individuals on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. It is considered invalid by the white man – or, perhaps I should say, in white culture – to remark upon his collective record. No one is to turn an anthropological or historical lens on white Amerikka and its record.

Studying a people and their culture as a culture is imagined to be the preserve of white academics and anthropologists. The generations upon generations of observation of whites by peoples of color, who examine them with the same care as women look at men, and who hold close a similar body of lore about them – a lore developed for group survival in the face of immense oppression - is not even to be entertained as “folk wisdom.” One would think that only anthropologists, and white ones at that, could make valid generalizations about cultural values that cut across lines of class, gender and “individuality” to mark, however imprecisely in the case of a given, culturally deviant “individual,” the moral, political and cultural character of a group –its baseline values and their consistent and repetitive enactment over the course of generations by members of that group.

The sad truth here is that Dr. King bought into this white individualist mythos, and made of it a litmus test, one in which racism is not measured in terms of group values, institutional practices and the allegiance to those institutions and practices on the part of whole cultures, but as a matter of individual attitudes.

Everybody knows what we mean when we say “Apartheid South Africa,” for instance, as a blend, a gestalt, of these factors, and everyone knows how absurd it would be to reduce white South African racism to a matter of individual prejudice, rather than to understand it as a cultural and economic system of structured inequality, but that is just what white America demands we do in its case.) And Barack Obama plays exactly and strictly and precisely by those rules. He is playing the white man’s card for him – and playing it against his own pastor and spiritual mentor.

One is left to assume that Obama would disrespectfully characterize the comments of both Malcolm and Martin as he has characterized the comments of his own pastor - who stands squarely in their tradition – as the “inflammatory” ravings of an “old uncle” who he keeps locked in his attic, away from public view or scrutiny, or, in more modern terms, in his darkened closet. Obama has, in effect, “distanced” himself from the entire tradition of Black Liberation and the Black Church –from every icon of Black freedom, from El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) to Louis Farrakhan (who has admitted his part in creating the atmosphere that led to Malcolm’s death), to Dr. King, to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, to his own pastor, Rev Wright.

Obama has made it a point to “distance” himself from Rev. Wright’s comments But one might fairly imagine that Obama has listened very carefully, and with a Machiavellian intent, to every word uttered by Rev. Wright, if only to learn what not to say in the presence of whites, if only to learn which truths must not be uttered, with the intent of gleaning which truths must not be spoken aloud. One might also suppose that Obama never got it, never actually converted to Black Christian Nationalism, or the variant of it his church embraced, that he never embraced his people’s religion. But one cannot assume he never heard it; it is more sensible to believe that like most Amerikkans, he didn’t take his religion seriously, and that like most politicians, he was willing to appear to embrace a belief only so long as it served his political career.

“Distance” is just another word for “deny,” and Obama’s denial of Wright, King, Malcolm and Jackson reminds me of nothing so much as these lines on Peter’s denial of Jesus:

“MAID BY THE FIRE I think I've seen you somewhere.
I remember, You were with that man they took away.
I recognize your face.
PETER You've got the wrong man lady. I don't know him,
And I wasn't where he was tonight. Never near the place.
SOLDIER That's strange, for I am sure I saw you with him.
You were right by his side, and yet you denied.
PETER I tell you I was never ever with him.
OLD MAN But I saw you too. It looked just like you.
PETERI don't know him!
MARY MAGDALENE Peter, don't you
know what you have said?
You've gone and cut him dead.
PETERI had to do it, don't you see?
Or else they'd go for me.
MARY MAGDALENE It's what he told us you would do.
I wonder how he knew.”

- “Peter’s Denial” from Jesus Christ Superstar

But Obama’s denial is more than just denial: His entire campaign is little more than an effort - to use the only phrase uttered by Minister Malcolm X that Obama dares to use himself - to “hoodwink” and “bamboozle” people from the oppressed nationalities in the U.S. with the notion that the country that variously enslaved us, stole our land, lynched us and subjected us to genocide – and that (as Rev Wright rightly points out) now incarcerates us in the most intensive mass incarceration in world history, is really our friend, our country.

But, as Brother Malcolm taught, you can put a kitten in the oven, but that don’t make it a biscuit. Not only history, but the current conditions of millions of Red, Black and Brown youth point to the truth. We are not a part of this country. There is,as a general rule, no “we” to be had between oppressors and the oppressed, any more than there is a shared “we,” – a common identity, between Palestinians and citizens of the Zionist occupiers of their land. We are not part of America, any more than Palestinians are part of “Israel.” We are the targets of America –generation after generation. After all, for a member of the dominant group to be an ally to the oppressed, he or she must defect from the ranks of the oppressors. To hear Obama tell it, however, we are “90%” of the way to practical “equality” with whites.

The reality is that Obama knows better. We all know better than that. The present day reality is that we are 90% of the way down the road to conditions worse than Jim Crow. And for all Obama’s talk about Rev. Wright supposedly being stuck in the past, he knows that, too.

And the Obama’s false claim is nothing like a mistake. His claim is a conscious and deliberate lie, one meant to appeal to white people and their win their votes, to comfort them with the illusion that “everything’s changed” when nothing essential has changed. Jim Crow has simply been replaced with mass criminalization and mass incarceration; a figurative social prison has been replaced with literal chains and bars in a huge step backward in the direction of slavery, not toward any kind of “dream,” “hope,” or “progress.” You don’t call moving from Jim Crow conditions to conditions in which your people have the highest absolute numbers of prisoners of any minority in the world and call it “progress.”

Obama’s greatest audacity is not in offering hope: it is the audacity of his lies about the present day realities of oppression. It is such lies, not the comments of Rev. Wright, that are “completely inexcusable.” As I write, Obama is scheduled to give a “major address” on issues of race tomorrow in Philadelphia. But then, he knows that the mainstream white media will never contradict him in the promotion of his Big Lie about racial “progress.”

After all, it’s their lie in the first place.

God damn them all, Reverend Wright, God damn them all.

The Speech

It was late tonight before I had a chance to read Barack Obama’s speech on race matters. As has so often been the case, Obama’s words brought me close to tears, at times. The man is good at what he does. One should not underestimate the power of his ability to speak to hopes all of us harbor, in particular, in this case, to speak to our longing to love, to love those who are different, to love people even from among those who have oppressed us, even in spite of the historical record and present day reality;to walk that line of danger and have it all turn out alright in the end, to respond without reservation to the nobility and dignity we see in individuals across the lines that divide us so deeply.

I believe it is fundamental to our nature to love one another – not that it is a “commandment” – (I could care less about what authorities – any authority - commands me to do) but that it is simply natural, that tender regard and respect for one another are natural, that excitement and the embrace of our mutual and inherent brilliance live in our most fundamental character. I also feel very strongly that our natural love for one another across all of the lines that divide us is so very strong that that love has to be beaten out of the children of oppressor groups, threatened out of them, shamed and ridiculed out of them, that people have to be taught the strategy of replacing their own losses and hurts with the substitute of the power to hurt and oppress others, that people have to be taught to degrade others in order not to feel our own pain, and that this is so, whether the target for degradation is women, peoples of color, or any other vulnerable group.

I hate white racism. I utterly despise it and oppose it and have made it my business to understand, as thoroughly as I can, the dynamics of its operation. But while I have loved white people, some of them at least, from the very depths of me, the question of trust is by no means readily or easily resolved – ever.

Such trust is dangerous, as far too many instances of betrayal and enmity have demonstrated in my experience, and in the experience of millions of others. Real love is based in trust; it might be said that real love is little more than the natural emotions that emerge and flow from trust and admiration. And while I admire Barack Obama’s speech, I cannot trust his words. This was not a speech given from love and hope. Although it seemed to have been written largely from a place of compassion, from an authentic effort to embrace the best in us all, there were points at which Obama gave away things he could not have intended to be seen, heard or consciously understood.

The Senator delivered the speech without emotion, dryly, almost clinically, from a place of detachment, a detachment that belied the power of the words on the page. There were other clues to the falsity of his comments. Obama’s only targets for criticism were people of color – his own minister primary among them, and his only stinging rebukes were leveled at Rev. Wright and at Muslims, a group he slandered with a racist and xenophobic bile normally heard only from the likes of a Rush Limbaugh. His targets were the targets of the Right. His rebukes were aimed at the targets of the Right. In attacking Wright and, respectively, Muslims, he pandered to the racism and xenophobia of the Right.

It’s more or less what he’s always done. Obama found himself openly degrading those who are vulnerable to oppression, and took special care of the feelings of the members of oppressor groups – he couldn’t even bring himself to call Geraldine Ferraro’s comments offensive, much less to repudiate them in anything like the terms he reserved for Rev Wright. Some might say he took care of Massa’s emotional needs first and foremost.

Obama got it backwards. He inverted the truth. As Glen Ford of Black Agenda report wrote, Wright was correct. “America” Ford writes, “was born in a charnal house of mass racial murder and every conceivable abomination to God and Man. This is the great genesis of the U.S.A. And it is incontrovertible fact, from which all our racial conflicts and disparities flow.”

Obama has managed, in this speech, to indirectly attack every young person of color in the U.S. who sees the reality of daily life before them, who sees the reality that young Black men are over 8 times more likely to be imprisoned than white men, who sees their friends locked away for decades, who find themselves – without cause - listed by police as “gang” members, and who have to endure the incessant barrage of racist stereotypes on the evening news painting them, en masse, as “criminal elements.” He has endeavored to paint justified Black rage as a thing of the past. He has betrayed an entire generation of youth, just as he has betrayed their parents and grandparents.

It is only by addressing the realities of history, it is only by carefully examining the ways in which the present conditions of oppression have arisen from and are rooted in historical reality and in ongoing cultural and institutional practice – not by evading these realities, or by dismissing the recognition of reality as being “old school” or “stuck in the past,” as Obama would prefer, that restitution and rectification can even begin. Without justice there can be no peace, no matter what Barack Obama preaches. Until all of us can be at peace, none of us can ever be at peace. Amerikkka had its chance to repent. Instead it slaughtered Minister Malcolm and Dr. King, and locked millions of people of color behind bars. Reconcile that.


Max Macias said...

You make me proud hermano!

Thank you for your words!

Anonymous said...

I dig it, dig it, dig it. Always refreshing when someone lays out the truth about Barack Obama and his charade.

This post was full of outstanding passionate writing, and you're hitting nails right on the head, time after time. Keep building, keep hammering.

chlamor said...

Clear, precise and on the mark.


It is often a trial trying to explain these things to folks who are entranced by Obama but it is a necessary task.

Hats off to Juan Santos.

Anonymous said...

Dear Juan,

I'm back (after commenting before on part 1 of this), still thinking. I'm reading Barack Obama's book Dreams From My Father. Only partway through and who knows where he is headed with this -- he seems to be someone who learns as he goes, dynamic process that doesn't stop/rigidify. But even so I am finding his discussion of black nationalism really really interesting.

I can't reproduce or do credit to it. His analysis/ reflection starts on page 195 and runs through page 204. The context is his experiences as a community organizer in Chicago. It is nuanced for such a short section. I can't even begin to describe it so hope you and others will read it.

Toward the end (starting page 203), he writes {I typed this in, any typos are totally my responsibility, and I excerpted it specifically to focus on why I feel this as relevant -- again I encourage people to read the whole thing themselves}:

... What in the hands of Malcom had once seemed a call to arms, a declaration that we would no longer tolerate the intolerable, came to be the very thing Malcolm had sought to root out: one more feeder of fantasy, one more mask for hypocrisy, one more excuse for inaction...

...[What concerned me] ... was the distance between our talk and our action, the effect it was having on us as individuals and as a people. That gap corrupted both language and thought; it made us forgetful and encouraged fabrication; it eventually eroded our ability to hold either ourselves or each other accountable. And while none of this was unique to black politicians or to black nationalists -- Ronald Reagan was doing quite well with his brand of verbal legerdemain, and white America seemed ever willing to spend vast sums of money on suburban parcels and private security forces to deny the indissoluble link between black and white -- it was blacks who could least afford such make-believe. Black survival in this country has always been premised on a minimum of delusions; it was an absence of delusions that continued to operate in the daily lives of most black people I met. Instead of adopting such unwavering honesty in our public business, we seemed to be loosening its grip, letting our collective psyche go where it pleased, even as we sank into further despair.

The continuing struggle to align word and action, our heartfelt desires with a workable plan -- didn't self-esteem finally depend on just this? It was that belief which had led me to conclude, perhaps for the final time, that notions of purity -- of race or of culture -- could no more serve as the basis for the typical black American's self-esteem than it could for mine. Our sense of wholeness would have to arise from something more fine than the bloodlines we'd inherited. It would have to find root in Mrs. Crenshaw's story and Mr. Marshall's story, in Ruby's and Rafiq's; in all the messy, contradictory details of our experience.

I don't necessarily understand or agree with everything he says in this excerpt or the overall discussion it comes from. But what is notable to me is his sensitivity to the relationship between word and action, and to the traps that come with ideas and perspectives that do not integrate with people's actual experiences and day to day realities in the now.

I read your blog, Juan, and I wonder -- where are the lived connections between the day to day work life you experience, the life that you only briefly describe in your first essay on Obama, and the beautiful perspectives and words you write here in this blog?

One thing about Senator Obama that gets to me is the fact that he visibly is what he is and does -- his perspective and his actions match up in a specific way that is not usual.

I may not understand where he is coming from and I may not agree with all (or even most) of it. But what I see is: this person is doing what he says he is about. It is not "someday we will make this happen if in the future our plans work out." It is not "In some future scenario this is what I will do." It is not "here is a grand sweeping plan for revolution that words will claim must occur."

It is that he is DOING what he SAYS (and there are contradictions and messiness there for sure) as he goes along -- each and every step of it, in the now

Example: by running for president, his participation in this has already shifted existing patterns of power via funding for campaigns. This is not revolutionary, of course. In fact, it might well be pointless in the bigger picture. But what is notable to me about this is that he DOES what he SAYS as he goes. His stated claims and beliefs are visible to me in his actions and their effects. Now. Not later. Not in poetic mythic claims about fighting the monster and someday it will come down and when it does this is what we will do (future promise not reflected in present experience). But doing as he says as he goes along.

That is why he has my respect, that is a big part of why I can't accept your analysis as I want to. Overall, as much as I appreciate the truths in what you write here and elsewhere, my gut knows that there is a place in all of it where it is not exactly about truth. Where you are standing is not entirely solid or grounded in the now, leaving a chasm between the overall sweep of your analysis and what you (and others) actually do in the now every day. It is a chasm so pervasive for so many of us that it usually is unremarkable and accepted.

I know the categories that a discussion on this stuff could flow into. Accepting-realism versus vision-truth. Etc. Those categories gloss over things and change the subject.

The thing is, if this chasm is real and pervasive, if that is actually true, then it will have effects whether anyone admits it or not, it will have effects no matter who is most eloquent or wins arguments or gets agreement or disagreement on any context.

If I am wrong on all this, and I may be, I am wrong in relation to what is actually going on. Nothing I say will change that. Nothing anyone else would agree to or otherwise say would change that. Same goes for everything.

João Soares said...

Dear Juan Santos both we know every candidates for President of USA are important to your country but also to the world.
But Hillary Clinton will be worst.Read pls this important notice
and linkages to GMO and Terminator plans.
In terms of environment, Obama pursues a very innovative campaign and where and how to make USA again as model for modern world.

Your writings are profound anyway and i was link your superb blog to my Dossier Planificando a Paz (Dossier Planning Peace).
All the best

jonet said...

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