Friday, February 24, 2012

Turnabout is Fair Play: Is Rick Santorum a Tool of Satan?

Americans love to talk about politics in apocalyptic terms. This is a function of a creed that is bathed in religious rhetoric, a belief in American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny as preordained by God, and a long vein of Protestantism and a sense that individuals are part of the Elect few--and by implication that nations follow a similar rule. In all, great nations dream great, succeed greatly, and are greatly paranoid, as they struggle to reconcile their great destinies as part of the long arc of history and the greatness of divine providence. The United States is no different in this regard. In many ways, we are Rome.

Americans are also dramatic and histrionic. The end of times is always around the corner. This has been to the credit and gain of the country, as she fought two great wars and "made the world safe for democracy." It has also been to her disadvantage, as foolish escapades abroad have been sold to the public by elites and yellow journalists using the language of patriotism, imminent threat, and supporting the troops.

Rick Santorum is part of this tradition. He argued that President Obama is Hitler and/or Satan. In his, and other Christian Nationalist Dominionists' eyes, the United States is under siege by the devil. Moreover, the Culture War is not a political abstraction. Rather, it is real struggle for the hearts, souls, and futures of good white folks, those "real Americans" and "Christians," from sea to shining sea.

In keeping with this Manichean logic, Rich Santorum has observed that the secular world is possessed of evil and sin. Universities and academia have apparently fallen to the seductive power of the Dark Prince. When challenged, Santorum has doubled down on his depiction of a world under siege by the devil. There is no retreat as he channels the worst parts of the paranoid and conspiratorial style in American politics.

I am not religious. I do not understand the religiously minded. I do not believe in white bearded deities floating in the sky who make judgments about the deeds--good or ill--of humankind. However, I do take folks at face value and try to work within the frameworks of reality which they have offered. What follows then is an obvious and reasonable question: Is Rick Santorum (and the conservatives of his stripe) evil? Are they under the influence of Satan?

Turnabout is fair play. Progressives, liberals, pragmatists, and reasonable conservatives lose the fight with radical Right wing populists because they want to keep the high ground. Their enemies will beat them over the head with bats, cut them with razors, and unleash mustard gas in order to win a fight. The pitiful Left and its allies smile and inhale the poison because they are content to "occupy the high ground."

Therefore, I engage Rick Santorum and his narrative of good and evil on its own terms. By analogy, when the myth of the liberal media is discussed, few counter-attack by pointing out the fallacy of the premise: as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, we should in fact ask, "what type of media do we have, and granting this fact, what is its ideological bent?"

Mirroring this example, when Rick Santorum suggests that Obama and those foul academics are evil, and the country is under assault by Satan, the question to him should be, "what side are you on?" As Jim Wallis has pointed out in God's Politics, the Right has cooptated Christianity and the language of Christian faith. Despite their hostility to the poor, war mongering, bigotry, and intolerance, the Right is able to maintain a monopoly on the rhetoric of Jesus and his teachings. This is as much a result of the cowardice of progressives, as it is the complicity of the media in circulating and validating a lie.

I have a long-standing interest in the occult. From reading about Nazis and their fascinations with the elder gods and objects of divine power, to Malachi Martin's books on demonic possession, one theme resonates across those disparate literatures. Evil is seductive and expert in seeking out a person's weaknesses. Those who channel the language of good and evil in order to gain selfish power and disparage others are often surprised by the outcome of their deeds and words. This is the hubris of Rick Santorum and his Tea Party GOP brethren. They exist in an echo chamber which is fueled by narratives of Eliminationism, and destruction for those that are not sufficiently conservative. In breathing this ether, Santorum and the American Taliban never ask if it is they who are in fact tools of evil and the devil. To do so is outside their realm of awareness, introspection, or thought.

Satan is a trickster. He lies without lying. And considering the policy positions offered by Rick Santorum and the other Tea Party GOP presidential candidates--a clique which claims that god gave them a personal revelation, and that the presidency was their calling--is it that outside of the realm of possibility to entertain the thought that they are evil, doing the work of Satan, and are the tools of the dark forces which they project onto others?

The myopia of the authoritarian Right is exemplified by the fact that they could never ask such a a self-reflective question. Rick Santorum and his allies' arrogance is a universal claim to good. Their shortcoming is an inability to consider that they could actually be a cautionary future chapter written in the next volume of the Good Book which conservatives always cite to disparage others with whom they judge to be insufficiently pious.

Ultimately, The Book of Job is one of my favorite myths. I wonder, what will the tale of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich be when it is written centuries or thousands of years in the future? Will it be triumphant or tragic? And will they care to even know the difference?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is Rick Santorum's Beef with Black Liberation Theology?

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, we acquire the qualities of the things that we do. Some of these traits and deeds matter more than others. If you were caught stealing as a child, that label may follow you for years to come. Likewise, if you were the kid who pooped in the swimming pool during a field trip in elementary school, and never left your hometown as an adult, that fecal slip could follow you years, or even decades, later.

Rick Santorum is a race baiter. He believes that black people are parasites who live off of whites. His trafficking in the dog whistles and air raid sirens of white supremacy for political gain is not something that can be easily shrugged off. These are habits which speak to Santorum's values, traits, ethics, beliefs, and personality--even if done for short term mercenary political gain. Why? to play such a game involves a choice, one that Rick Santorum ought to be held accountable for. His mouth utterances are not mistakes: they are cold calculations designed for electoral gain among a particular subset of the American voting public.

By playing in the political scatology of white racial resentment, Rick Santorum is stained and marked. This will gain him credibility in some circles; it will be a liability in others. To point, this week Rick Santorum suggested that President Obama is not a "true Christian," is Hitler, a closet Muslim, in league with Satan, and practices a "phony" brand of Christianity.

Do not be mistaken. Rick Santorum is not talking about Barack Obama. He is talking about African Americans in mass, as a means to advance a political end, by triangulating them relative to the country's first black President.

Because he is marked and stained as one who traffics in white racial resentment for electoral gain, I would also suggest that Rick Santorum is a priori assumed to have hostility and malintent towards non-whites. This is a set of values which are central, and not peripheral or coincidental, to his worldview. Racism and racial resentment are part of a bundle of attitudes and values, which in total, constitute populist conservatism at this political moment. Racism is not separate and apart from Republican politics in the Age of Obama. By implication, Santorum's racial animus becomes a standing rule to be disproved, as opposed to an allegation to be demonstrated by the totality of the evidence, and/or as a stand alone empirical claim.

Lest his defenders cry foul, Rick Santorum made that bargain when he got in bed with the devil of white racism and chose to use it for political gain. The burden is his to prove or disprove.

For example, in the days prior to suggesting that President Obama practices a fake version of Christianity, Rick Santorum gave a speech stressing the values of home-schooling. The latter is not necessarily problematic if done because our schools are failing, and parents have the skill and training to do better than overworked public school teachers. However, in the constellation of Santorum's views on American theocracy, Christian Nationalism, and race, his support for such a movement is particularly illuminating and problematic.

The home-schooling movement actually gained strength and credence as a white reaction to school integration and the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education. White Southerners practiced home-schooling, and established "segregation academies," precisely because 1) they did not want their children going to school with African Americans, and 2) for them to be exposed to teachings which suggested that white supremacy was a social ill, as opposed to a social good.

In his signaling to the Culture War faithful, was Rick Santorum also reinforcing his bonafides as one who is sympathetic to white racists who support school segregation? I do not know. But, given the ugly waters in which he bathes, I would not at all be surprised if this were the case.

Days later Rick Santorum made the following claim about President Obama's Christian faith:
It's not about your jobs. It's about some phoney ideal, some phoney theology — not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology...obviously we all know in the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity.
As I have noted here, I believe that the phrase "dog whistle" politics is much overused. However, Santorum's turn of phrase is pregnant with meaning for those who study politics and language. There are two concepts central to Santorum's suggestion that Obama's religion is somehow inauthentic, and by implication anathema to "real Christianity," i.e. white Christian Nationalist Dominionism.

Language has both an implied and explicit meaning. Political speech has power as much because of what is said, as because of how it is stated. Borrowing from folks like Wittgenstein and Bourdieu, Santorum's observation about Barack Obama speaks to his white Christian Nationalist audience precisely because of how it establishes boundaries of community, inclusion, and authenticity. He does not have to explicitly label President Obama a black, traitorous, evil, Muslim impostor: Santorum's audience takes such facts as a given. Consequently, the signal only has to be sent in a subtle and implied way in order to validate what is already taken to be the truth among that speech and discursive community.

As the Culture War (redux) heats up, I am also reminded of the centrality of Christianity and its curious relationship to white supremacy in the United States. As comedian Paul Mooney has sharply observed, black folks don't have the luxury of pretending that race doesn't matter in politics. Ironically, we are both strengthened and damaged by our keen awareness of this fact.

In all, there is no space for a politically sophisticated, aware, and intelligent black voter to not ask the following questions: "how does race play into this election, is this a good white person or a bad one, will they serve my interests, or are they out to hurt us?"

To point, in the year 2012 we have a group of Republican presidential candidates who have at one point or another suggested that black people are monsters, zombies, parasites, natural janitors, addicted to food stamps, prone to laziness, and are not "real Americans." The Tea Party GOP candidates have also argued that that the Confederacy and Secessionists were on the correct side of history, and that the Civil Rights Movement was a tyrannical crime against white freedom.

In addition, some of these Republican candidates practice a religious faith which dictated that black people are natural slaves, that Birtherism is correct, and that there are people, most of them of color, who practice a fake religion. The latter is especially compelling, as this "phony" and "heretical" religion--taken in the context of all that we know about the Republican Party and its mining of white racial animus--is one more wink back at Obama's evil mentor, Emperor Palpatinesque, black nationalist, white folks hating, Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
“You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.” He continued, “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christiandom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it.”
As he indicated here, a Christian Faith of liberation and struggle is not "authentic." In that quote, Rick Santorum is explicitly talking about Black Liberation Theology. You see, "those people's" Christianity is flawed, fake, and inauthentic because they dare to imagine a Jesus, a "black man," who speaks back to Power. What nerve!

As has often been alluded to, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Blacks and white do not worship together. As one who is not religious, I nonetheless remain struck by how one group of folks could claim Christ, dress in their Sunday finest, burn black people alive, and then dismember their bodies for sale as souvenirs. Moreover, one should never forget that the KKK was a Christian organization, and that white Christians thought that they were doing god's work by enslaving black people. Likewise, I remain stupified and fascinated by how black folks in the same historical moment could take Christianity and use it as a tool for their own liberation and freedom struggle.

There are some folks who navigate these waters with deft skill. He is one of the pantheon of bad, scary names, such as Alinksy, Fox, and Piven, which white Right-wing propagandists throw about to their knuckle-dragging faithful in order to scare them about the liberal-progressive bogeymen coming to kidnap their babies.

James Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology authored a great essay a few months on "the cross and the lynching tree," where he explored the binary of white supremacy and black faith within the Christian religious tradition.

As we think through Rick Santorum's racist appeals, Dr. Cone made a series of observations which are particularly rich and useful. He notes:
“Many Christians embrace the conviction that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humankind from sin,” he said. “Taking our place, they say, Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation.
Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a form of cheap grace, an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”
...Cone sees the cross as “a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This idea, he points out, is absurd to the intellect, “yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk.”
The crucified Christ, for those who are crucified themselves, manifests “God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of the world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering.”
Cone elucidates this paradox, what he calls “this absurd claim of faith,” by pointing out that to cling to this absurdity was possible only when one was shorn of power, when one was unable to be proud and mighty, when one understood that he was not called by God to rule over others. “The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”
Rick Santorum does not believe that God and Christ are critics of power. No, their God is one of the Power, the rich, the 1%, and the elites. In furthering this belief, Santorum and his ilk will only continue to bundle white racism and Christianity in an American Taliban approved script of intolerance and nativism. He is a culture warrior. Said label has always been about race, generational change, class, sexuality, gender, geography, and other markers of "authentic" American identity.

Black Americans can never be part of this story--even if they are Christians. As the anti-citizen they can never find belonging or acceptance; the only thing that Barack Obama can do to win over the Right-wing Christian faithful is to turn himself into a White person. And even then, Obama would have to be the "right" type of White man to win their approval. Barring George Schuyler's science come real, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

Rick Santorum's racist Christian Nationalist appeals have a ready made audience. This same audience is one that would have found a way to justify Jim and Jane Crow and the lynching tree as evidence of Christ's love, divine will, and providence for White people.

Ultimately, the Age of Obama is one of absurdity and surprise. Thus, do not be surprised if a Republican candidate trots out either the Curse of Ham or the blessings of Bartolome de las Casas as the election nears, for racism, plus obsolescence, breeds political insanity.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Would You Grade the Debut of Melissa Harris-Perry's New Show on MSNBC?

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Here is the big debut.

It is always nice to see new faces in the talking head TV revue. And it is doubly fun to see two folks on today's show that I know personally. As a host, Dr. Perry is still getting her feet under her, and I suggest that she needs to be more direct and forceful--especially as evidenced by the interview with her first Republican guest. Academic types can be a bit pedantic. In all, if I were her cornerman during the big fight, I would encourage her to knuckle up and deal out some real shots. This is especially true when her adversaries are throwing lazy overhand rights that invite a devastating counter-punch.

In total, I think she did well. How would you grade the first episode of Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC?

In addition to Professor Perry, there is another political scientist, really one of THE black political scientists, getting some shine this week as well. Last week, I linked to his work in The Boston Review. Today, Dr. Dawson will be appearing on We Act Radio. He also did a great interview/long form dialogue back in December of last year on Chicago's Another Perspective. For those interested in black politics it is an obligatory listen:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Personal is Political: Black Folks Cry While Meeting Michelle Obama During a Tour of the White House

I know that some will inevitably mock, hate on, and introduce a crude type of realpolitik calculus into their analysis of the video log of First Lady Michelle Obama's surprise visit to a recent tour at the White House. These same folks will be doubly cruel and harsh in their critique of the emotional responses offered by the several dozen black women who were surprised by the First Lady.

Interestingly, while there was some genuine warmth and sentiment offered by a good many of the white folks who met the First Lady, the "thanks," "don't stop," "keep it up," tears, and a sense of close attachment and investment in her presence and success, were sentiments almost exclusive and uniform to the African American visitors. Sure, every person present that day got to meet a celebrity (which is a fun experience); but I doubt if many of them would have risen from the seat of a wheelchair in order to offer proper respect to Michelle Obama. The walk was as much symbolic as it was literal and expressive. In fact, I almost expected a curtsy to be offered by some of the older sisters to our Black American royalty.

Politics is about resources; politics is also about emotion. Oftentimes crude materialists forget that reality. I will admit that I shed a spontaneous tear when one of the elders whispered in Michelle Obama's ear. We can only guess at what was said between them. My imagination tells me that their words had something to do with the long arc of history, and how this elderly black woman, standing before the First Lady, is witnessing something she--and most Americans--once thought impossible.

Consider for a moment the following: for 80,000 days a white man was in the White House as President. At present, for little over three years a black man, his wife, and their kids are living in the White House. Just as many white folks in the South thought that the Apocalypse had come with the return of former slaves, now in Union blue as soldiers and liberators with guns, in watching Michelle Obama greet these guests I can only imagine how some of the most conservative, reactionary, and Right-wing whites and their allies must feel. As Michelle Obama hugs her guests, and black folks cry, there is a sense that history has come full circle.

It is broken, preeminent philosopher Foucault's idea of "disruption" is made real.

To her critics, this scene should not, cannot, and must not continue. Whiteness cannot allow it. In 2008, Barack Obama had the sheer unmitigated gall to run for the Office of the President of the United States of America and to win. His wife (and their dog, how dare he complete the Norman Rockwell photo?) has the nerve to meet and greet visitors to the White House. To them, this is tribalism run amok and one more sign that white folks are at risk, oppressed, and excluded in the Age of Obama.

For better or for worst, black folks have consistently voted for and supported white candidates for President who did not have our full and best interests at heart. Thus, the bargain with the devil that comes with navigating towards full citizenship. This leads to the mystery of why some white folks condemn our pride and joy at the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, and the symbolism of his family living in the White House, but they remain silent at the given and de facto reality that the President of the United States is and has always been white. For the white racial frame this is normal and accepted. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West: in keeping with the rules of nature, the President of the United States must be a white man.

That is the joke, is it not? The President of the United States does not need to be "raced" per se, it simply is a position held by a white person. Privilege is blinding. In watching Michelle Obama at the White House I can almost, note I said almost, understand the existential angst, rage, and cognitive upset felt by those invested in the twins of whiteness and conservatism at the idea of Barack Obama as President. In all, when white folks cry upon meeting a first lady it is patriotism. When black folks cry while meeting Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, it is something other than "normal" or "acceptable."

These types of retrograde whites do not hate the Obamas personally--although the rage is directed towards them on a personal level--as these reactionaries hate the very idea of black personhood in any position of authority over them. They are the same folks that would rail against a black or brown (or even female) boss who has to sign their time card. Take that upset, multiply it by orders of magnitude, and then one can just begin to compute their hostility (and hatred) towards Barack Obama and his family.

Black Americans are the perpetual other, we are the anti-citizen. If you doubt that fact keep your eyes open for how conservatives and the Right will use, misrepresent, abuse, and lie about the events in this video. You have been forewarned.

Friday, February 17, 2012

It Ain't Halftime in Detroit for Young Black Men: Exploring the Church of the Black Madonna

I have been knee deep in grading, which in turn explains why I have been been light with my posting this week. Things will be back to normal next week.

Black men are the envy of the world, pathologized, perpetually in crisis and at risk, faced with binary life choices of slanging crack rock or having a wicked jump shot, lacking role models, one is President of the United States, and millions are inmates.

I was forwarded this documentary last week and thought it worthy of sharing with you all. In my circles of friends and colleagues we often talk about "the lessons of manhood," and how young black men are not learning them. However, I always offer the qualifier that this country is in a cultural crisis--intellectually, morally, philosophically, financially, and politically--such that pants sagging troglodytes, baby daddies, and baby mamas all flow from the same feted waters as robber baron capitalists, Sarah Palin, Tea Party white nationalists, and shows like Jersey Shore and the various "Housewives from whatever place."

Detroit is a much studied and discussed city. It is a model of deindustrialization and an inverted window into the future that is the opposite of The Jetsons. Ironically, during the late 1960s and 1970s Detroit was in fact the city of tomorrow...but most folks simply didn't realize it at the time.

She is the home of Robocop, a place where both the social contract and social compact have been broken, a community that can't afford to bury its dead, and where private security guards are now employed as one of America's formerly great cities is now a demilitarized zone. In all, for most of Detroit's residents it most certainly ain't halftime. This is doubly true for Detroit's young black men.

The documentary Black Nation examines the controversial Church of the Black Madonna and its efforts to save the young black men of Detroit. After watching the film, I was left wondering are things truly this dire? And channeling Cornel West, how did black people become cast as a problem people, as opposed to a people where some of us, like any other group, may have problems?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Tea Party GOP's Curious Obsession with White Slavery in the Age of Obama

The 2012 primary campaign has repeatedly demonstrated that Republicans are trying to mobilize their voters by tapping into racial anxieties.

Newt Gingrich calling Obama a “food stamp president,” Rick Santorum implying that African Americans are parasites who leach off of white people, and Ron Paul’s old newsletters, which describe black men as monstrous beasts (“giant negroes” who stand ready to attack whites at any moment), are examples of this phenomenon on the national stage. However, Republican candidates for lower office have also pulled a page out of this playbook.

As their subtle dog-whistles escalate into clarion calls of overt racism to the Tea Party faithful, Mark Oxner, Republican candidate for Congress in Florida, has chosen to join the proverbial band. What is his contribution? A campaign commercial featuring President Barack Obama as the captain of a slave ship which is heading for inevitable doom as it sails over a waterfall—and bringing all of “us” down with it.

Mark Oxner’s ad is a marvelous example of right-wing propaganda; it is carefully crafted and rich with provocative imagery. For example, in keeping with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus’ recent suggestion that President Obama’s leadership is akin to Captain Schettino's (the captain of the capsized Italian cruise ship Costa Condordia, on which 17 people were killed), Obama is depicted as irresponsible and negligent, abusing the child slaves who are forced to row the mighty vessel.

It is important to emphasize the choices made by the producers of Oxner’s video. They decided to use a colonial-era vessel driven by wind and powered by slaves, as opposed to a modern cruise liner, a steamship, or even an airplane. They chose to cast the children as slaves who are monitored by a whip-carrying overseer. And Oxner’s ad was designed to feature one image above all others—that of children, most of them white, being abused by a gleeful and indifferent black man. The inversion of the expected image, one where a person of color enslaves whites in their own version of the Middle Passage, reinforces the idea that something is unnatural (and inherently wrong) about this relationship of domination and subordination.

Despite the fact that white people control almost every major social, financial, economic, and political institution in the United States, the theme of white oppression by minorities is popular in the age of Obama. And while reasonable conservatives may not believe they will literally be made slaves like the children on the ship, there does appear to be a sense on the Right that whiteness and white people are somehow under siege.

The channeling of these fears is not new. The language of white oppression has loomed large in the American political imagination for centuries. In the 19th century, America’s war against the Barbary pirates was ostensibly to prevent white people from being “enslaved” by Arabs. There was a great moral panic during the early 20th century about white women being sold into slavery by newly arrived European immigrants, blacks, and other "undesirables."

Moreover, the terrifying idea of white people being enslaved or oppressed by non-whites has done potent political work in this country since before its founding. Conservatives have been skillfully mining it for quite some time, and this habit continues into the present. Some in the Tea Party (with their fondness for dressing up in colonial-era clothing in order to signal their fetish for the Constitution) believe they are fighting a tyrannical government led by a “traitor” named Barack Obama.

In addition, the Tea Party has conducted rallies where white people have been referred to as “slaves” of Barack Obama and the federal government. A prominent member of the Tea Party was famously caught with a sign suggesting that Congress is a group of “slave owners” and that the American people were its “niggers.”

History runs deep here: white American colonists also used a fear of being reduced to the status of slaves by the British to rally their cause of “freedom.” This was not an empty allusion. It was potent and direct, as men like Jefferson and Washington knew a great deal about slavery—they personally owned hundreds of black people.

In a perverse twist of history following the Civil Rights Movement, Republican elected officials won over the former Confederacy. As a result, the solid South is now the beating heart of Red State America. Consequently, since the 1960s, the Republican Party has increasingly embraced a neo-secessionist ideology in which the long-standing political consensus brought about by the Civil War is now called into question. In the 2012 campaign, this yearning for the good old days of Jim Crow and the Confederacy is in full bloom.

For example, Republican candidates have argued that basic constitutional protections can be decided on the local level in order to subvert federal authority. Some have even gone so far as to claim that individual states have the “right” to break away from the United States of America. The conversion is so complete, that a significant percentage of Republican voters now believe the Confederacy was right to secede, and that their traitorous state governments were on the correct side of history.

This embrace of the Confederacy and states’ rights is part of a broader strategy to destroy the social safety net, and as a negative response to how over the last five decades American democracy has become more inclusive. A fear of white oppression is also central to this story.

The Confederacy was first and foremost a white supremacist military state. It ruled through violence, terror, and the threat of harm to black people (and whites who dared to dissent). Consequently, one of its greatest fears was that blacks would gain their freedom and seek vengeance on white people.

Leading Confederates such as Henry Benning explicitly warned about the possibility of white enslavement at the hands of blacks. South Carolina’s articles of secession referenced a fear that white people cannot be part of a country in which blacks are the social equals of whites, and that no such equal arrangement could be tolerated under any circumstances.

During Jim and Jane Crow, supporters of segregation and American apartheid also channeled white anxieties about being dominated by black people. Racially and socially conservative whites were fearful that blacks who came of age after the end of slavery would have a sense that they were full American citizens. In turn, this generation of African Americans would be “uppity” and not know their proper "place" in the social order.

Under Jim and Jane Crow, freedom and liberty for whites was viewed as a zero sum game wherein any extension of full rights to blacks meant a restriction on white peoples’ behavior. For the imagination of apartheid America, one which through both law and day-to-day practice maintained separate and unequal spheres of cultural, political, social, and economic life along the color line, black freedom necessarily meant white “oppression.”

With its embrace of the Confederacy and secessionist rhetoric, the Republican Party now owns this history. Conservative icon Ronald Reagan solidified this relationship when he chose to give his infamous racially coded speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi in support of states’ rights—the very location where three civil rights workers were killed by white thugs 16 years earlier.

When Republican candidates proudly stand under the Confederate flag they legitimize white supremacy and Jim Crow, with all of its violence and paranoia. As they muse about how the landmark Civil and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s were threats to white peoples’ liberty, or suggest that the federal government under Barack Obama is coming to take away their freedoms, conservatives draw on a deep legacy of white victimology that has an eerie resonance with that of Jim Crow America.

This language does not exist in a vacuum. It is reproduced, circulated, and reinforced by the right-wing echo chamber. In a moment when conservatives are increasingly isolated within their own media bubble, and many only trust Fox News and conservative talk radio, an alternate reality is created for Red State America. Once more, a fictitious belief that whites are being oppressed by the country’s first black president, and that the United States is a country in which white people are somehow disadvantaged, is omnipresent in conservative media.

Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly bloviated about how white people are abused and held down by Barack Obama, and need a civil rights movement to fight for their rights. He has even gone so far as to suggest that with Obama’s election there will be slavery reparations and other “goodies” paid to African Americans at the expense of whites. In this bizarre vision of America, white people are beaten and abused by blacks as a matter of routine, and “liberals” are actively working to ensure that white people and conservatives kiss the feet of people of color.

Pat Buchanan has famously argued that white people are experiencing Jim Crow under Barack Obama and that they are marginalized and repressed just like black people under the ax handles, fire hoses, guns, and baseball bats of Bull Connor’s thugs during the darkest days of the Civil Rights Movement. And in their fixation on the New Black Panther Party, ACORN, the Reverend Wright “scandal,” and other manufactured controversies, Fox News has created a fictionalized world in which white people are under siege, second-class citizens in their own country.

The white victimhood narrative has paid substantial political dividends. In recent surveys, a majority of white conservatives believe they are oppressed, and a significant percentage of respondents also believe that anti-white racism is a bigger problem in American society than the discrimination faced by people of color. The sum effect of this politics of white victimology is a public policy that is less well-equipped to serve the common good, as shared class interests across the colorline can be sabotaged by right-wing appeals to white racial fears.

We can draw a long line here -- from the aborted interracial alliance of black and white indentured servants during Bacon’s Rebellion in the 17th century, to the populist, labor, and progressive movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, and into the present, when a narrow group of white elites have been able to distract the white working class and poor from their shared class interests with people of color. Race is a canard. Instead of looking to how people of color and white folks have common concerns about economic inequality for example, appeals to white skin privilege and white racial anxiety can be used to derail positive social change. To borrow the language of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the 1 percent has been using racism to divide and conquer for centuries. There is little new about the plutocrats’ game.

Ultimately, the Republican Party’s attraction to the rhetoric of “white oppression” is an example of the classic paranoid style in American politics. For many white conservatives, the election of the country’s first black president created a sense of existential upset. This event combined with a pre-existing set of deeply held fears about “liberal elites” in the media, academia, and elsewhere, who are out to persecute Republicans. The creation of an alternative reality by the right-wing media only enables these paranoid beliefs. Subsequently, racial demagoguery mates perfectly with a politics of grievance, persecution and oppression.

The language of “white oppression” is a deeply historical, catch-all phrase for conservatives, one which signals a sense that something is very wrong with America. It should be a given that American is a white man’s country, a shining city on the hill, never to be eclipsed, where “real Americans” rule forever. Rather than look in the mirror and demand an accounting for the failed policies that brought about a crisis of faith and (perhaps) the nadir of American empire, it is easier to blame “those people,” and create a story of white victimhood than to critically engage the role of white conservatives in making this mess.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

White Tea Party U.S.A.: We Want to Suckle at the Government Tit, But There is No Space for People Like You

Politics is complicated. Human beings use scripts, phrases, mnemonics, shorthand, and catchy phrases with which to make sense of the world. In American politics, there are a litany of such devices that work as heuristics, decision rules, and guides for voting and making political decisions.

For example, "what have you done for me lately?" Or, "the personal is political." "Not in my backyard," is another good one. I have also been partial to the classic "it's not what you say in politics, it's how you say it."

Professional students of politics have had the following drilled into their heads: "congressman are single minded seekers of reelection," and "politics is who gets what, when, and why."

Stories are also useful for thinking through how individuals navigate their partisanship, ideology, and voting decisions. My favorite metaphor for this process has long been that "a Democratic is someone who was robbed; a Republican is someone who lost their job."

In the era of the resurgent Right, where the combination of a black man who is President, changing demographics, a type of practical cultism, and a crisis in confidence and vision by rank and file Conservatives has brought out the worst varieties of reactionary populism, the lexicon of political catch phrases needs to be expanded.

If the New York Times' recent piece on the Tea Party, Red State America, and Right-wing hypocrisy is any guide, we need to add a phrase akin to the following: "I want mine, you can't get yours, and I will be damned if any of 'you people' try to suck on this government tit along with me!"

[I know that is a long turn of phrase. Any suggestions will be dutifully followed through on, and my ugly language amended.]

The NY Times continues:
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it.

They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.
This ought to not come as a surprise. The American people are notoriously non-ideological. While they may get big ideas in the aggregate, political scientists and students of public opinion have repeatedly found that the masses are indeed asses. Part of this is cultivated by failing schools, a failed mass media, and a Right-wing echo chamber which cultivates an "irreality" of alternative facts, not grounded in empirical reality, and where "faith" takes precedence over fact.

The other component is a combination of political personality types, where the tendency of conservatives to be binary, simple minded, and fear oriented thinkers, makes a nuanced understanding of political matters increasingly difficult if not impossible:
But the reality of life here is that Mr. Gulbranson and many of his neighbors continue to take as much help from the government as they can get.

When pressed to choose between paying more and taking less, many people interviewed here hemmed and hawed and said they could not decide. Some were reduced to tears. It is much easier to promise future restraint than to deny present needs. He paused again, unable to resolve the dilemma.

“I feel bad for my children.”
Once more issues of race and class are central to the American story.

The "white working class," and oftentimes poor whites, have historically supported policies which are to their economic disadvantage because white elites offer the wages of whiteness as part of a bargain in which upward mobility has been dangled like a carrot on a stick. Ultimately, it was easy to climb up when you had a black, brown, or other person of color to use as a step stool, and where the State intervened by offering "affirmative action" to anyone judged to be nominally "white."

Class matters too. White elites are interested in contracting the State and continuing maldistributive economic policies that are to the detriment of the American people. Just as the white middle class was created after World War 2 in order to maintain domestic tranquility through consumerist democracy and citizenship, that model of the public sphere is now obsolete. Economic elites have decided that the rest of us are all surplus labor and excess population--color is coincidental to this process, and if the latter can be used to confuse white conservative populists, and by doing so encourage them to act against their own material interests, then all the better.

In 2012, I promised to clarify my terms here on We Are Respectable Negroes. At times, I use technical language and then embed a link for those who want to dig deeper. Going forward, I want to be more transparent--especially when the concepts are potent and potentially useful to all of you.

Thus, I offer two concepts to make sense of why Red State, Tea Party populist types hate the government, want more of it, resent people of color and those "urban types" who "abuse" the system, and then in turn feel horribly guilty that the type of conservative rugged individualism that
Fox News et al. preaches is a lie--one that the Tea Party Red State rank and file "get" instinctively, but don't have the ethical, moral, or personal courage to reconcile with more sophisticated and self-interested political decision-making.

Students of race have long suggested that white racism hurts white people. Moreover, we have long suggested that white racism is a mental illness and pathology. The ways in which conservatives have been able to mobilize white racial resentment to mobilize white poor, working class, and middle class people to act against their interests in proof positive of this hypothesis:
But Dean P. Lacy, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College, has identified a twist on that theme in American politics over the last generation. Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.

Conversely, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.

Chisago has shifted over 30 years from dependably Democratic to reliably Republican. Support for the Republican presidential candidate has increased relative to the national vote in each election since 1984. Senator John McCain won 55 percent of the vote here in 2008.
The first concept I would like to offer is "the herrenvolk." This term means "the chosen people" or "master race." In countries such as the United States and South Africa, this historically meant that white people had special rights and privileges which were denied to others.

Specifically, a herrenvolk republic is one where the Racial State dictates that government serves whites as the in-group (through employment, jobs, particular benefits, access to exclusive opportunities, and transfer payments) and these same opportunities are in practice denied on an equal basis to others. This is the natural order of things; there is no cognitive dissonance or confusion on the part of its beneficiaries.

Citizenship is racialized. In the post civil rights moment, citizenship may be "colorblind." But, there remains the expectation that whites as the "middle class," and a protected group, receive certain benefits and protections which are taken for granted as "normal" entitlements.
Here, "those people" are on "welfare," while "people like me paid into the system."

The genius of a herrenvolk society is that even when these accepted norms are under attack, many whites instinctively turn on people of color (as opposed to looking at their brothers and sisters in the elite class who are behind these efforts at retrenchment and austerity). Given the Great Recession and the reality that Red State America will see more of its federal subsidies reduced, there will only be more racial animus and racial resentment towards non-whites as the 2012 elections nears.

The second concept I would like to offer is that of whiteness as a type of possessive investment. As George Lipsitz masterfully outlined some years ago, white skin privilege brings with it certain material, cultural, psychological, financial, and political benefits. These are so commonplace that they remain uncommented upon and uninterrogated. However, white people are keenly aware of these privileges, and in turn, take them as givens.

In turn, most white understand them to be "rights." Consequently, White America will do just about anything to protect these them. In total, Whiteness is an investment that does not like to be threatened with diminishing returns.

Just as Cheryl Harris and others have demonstrated (with their development of the concept that whiteness is a type of property), whites receive any number of benefits from the State--even as the Horatio Alger myth dictates that they deny the existence of such goodies. For example, almost every program associated with the Great Society or the New Deal was either explicitly targeted directly for the gain of white folks or designed to subsidize the white middle class.

In many instances, people of color were excluded by law from participating for equal gain in these programs. In Social Security for example, black people subsidize whites by virtue of the fact that people of color remain in the labor force longer and die younger than their white peers.

Neoliberal and neoconservative political elites sharpened their knives on destroying America's central cities, as well as the black and brown poor and working classes. Now that these surgeons are coming for the white middle and working classes there is panic and crisis. As I have argued elsewhere, there is nothing new in the game. Sadly, the possessive investment in whiteness makes it difficult for white folks to work across lines of race and class with people of color in the shared interests of the common good. At this juncture, it may be too late to correct the toxic habit that comes with being a signatory to whiteness.

The pundits are obsessed with searching for "dog whistles" and other such misunderstood terms. I would suggest that the complementary concepts of the "possessive investment in whiteness" and the "herrenvolk" are much more useful lenses going forward.

I am often misunderstood. I love white people. I tell them the truth when others will not. As such, I echo Daniel Carver when he says, "wake up white people!"

Black and brown Americans, as well as some white folks who are race traitors, political sophisticates, and forward thinkers who are down like Jon Brown, know the score already. Now, you need to bring your brothers and sisters along...if they are able and willing.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Lie with Facts: Christian "Historian" David Barton's Tour of the U.S. Capitol

Why are these people crying? Can you help me understand?

These Internets are great fun.

[Speaking of which, I have a piece up at Alternet where I break down the role of white victimology in the Republican Party, please do check it out. The white racialist crowd have already given me some shine so it should be fun.]

While watching the exegesis for Jon McNaughton's painting "The Forgotten Man," I toured around some of the other videos that Youtube suggested I may find of interest.

In doing so I stumbled upon snake oil Christian approved "historian" David Barton's tour of the U.S. Capital Building. As I pointed out earlier, one of the primary challenges facing the United States in the Age of Obama is the alternative knowledge system created by the propagandists on the Right. When you cannot even agree on the terms of reality, it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to advance policy goals which serve the common good.

"The Forgotten Man" and David Barton are part of a larger system of "knowledge" that finds strength precisely to the degree that its critics marshal empirical reality to critique it. Of course, this is largely a function of confirmation bias, mixed with a sense of persecution, and the paranoid style all mixed up in the Fox News Right-wing echo chamber.

Yet, I remain befuddled by the emotion, the tears, the crying, and the pathos on display in this video (as well as in the excellent documentary Right America Feeling Wronged). Politics is about emotion; but the devotion of many conservative populists to these fictions is ecstatic, bordering religious ecstasy. The Tea Party GOP's folding of evangelicals and the solid south into the Republican Party involved legitimizing faith and the revelatory experience as a type of evidence on par with empirical reality. This bargain brought with it electoral gains, it was also a type of Faustian bargain that drove out the more moderate, reasonable, and grounded voices from the party.

Watching Barton's carnival show, and the interviews with those who paid money to attend a tour led by a professional charlatan and liar (of course they have to have a few obligatory black folks in the crowd) reminded me of an article I read in one of my religious studies classes years ago. An anthropologist had gone to a series of Christian evangelical tent revivals throughout the South and the Midwest. He was particularly interested in the gender dynamics at these events, how they related to the broader public sphere, and the phenomena of speaking in tongues and people "getting the spirit."

After watching women fall out and writhe about on the ground (apparently possessed by a godly presence), he interviewed them. The researcher later realized that their behavior, movements, and answers to his questions suggested that they were in an orgasmic state of bliss. It would seem that there were some solid reasons for why these women--often in sexually unsatisfying relationships with their husbands--would attend these church revivals every evening.

Perhaps, this is part of the allure for the Right-wing faithful who would follow a Barton, Beck, Limbaugh, or attend an event like CPAC? By definition, they are outliers (most folks are not that "plugged into" politics, nor would they attend a rally or meeting) seeking a sense of community, identity, validation, and meaning. Participating in politics with like minded people also gives one a sense of belonging. But, could the allure of the this type of fire-eating, populist conservatism also be the visceral thrill that runs up the participants' legs as they are given access to secret knowledge, and are "saved," made one of "the elect," and find "salvation?"

Ultimately, the opinion leaders in the popular conservative media are (with few exceptions) professional liars. But, I have a special appreciation for faux intellectuals like David Barton. I admire a good con artist; I find mastery of craft impressive. More specifically, he reminds me of my favorite villain, Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars trilogies. The genius of that character is how he never lies. Everything Palpatine tells young Anakin is a fact. However, those "facts" are not necessarily "true."

Those who cater to the petit authoritarians and conservative populists are running the same game. They offer "facts" without context. This is seductive for the Tea Party Conservative Christian Dominionist faithful. It makes them feel "smart." These narratives facilitate their post hoc reasoning, where as I am so fond of referencing, the George Costanza rule for politics is in full effect: remember, it's not a lie if you believe it...especially if you have some "facts" from someone like David Barton or Glenn Beck to back up your self-delusional and willful lie.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Authoritarian Conservative Mind at Work: Jon McNaughton Explains his Painting, "The Forgotten Man"

I have wanted to post a comment about Jon McNaughton's new found fame for his painting of President Obama trampling the Constitution for a week or so. Apparently, being a political "artist" can pay the bills, as his website was crashed and the Youtube "making of"/exegesis/commentary on this most-desired piece of work has received 3.5 million views. Yes. You read that correctly. 3.5 million views. It would seem that Jon McNaughton has gone from art conventions at the Motel Six to eating prime rib at the local Denny's.

One of the most difficult concepts to communicate to undergraduates who are taking their first steps in cultural theory and analysis is that a text--be it a movie, novel, comic book , TV show, etc.--tells us something about the moment in which it was produced. Moreover, aesthetics matter as well. The language of "beauty," "style," and "craft" are implicit value judgments: they do not exist in a social or historical vacuum.

Folks often get caught up on the question of intent, i.e. what did the creator of this cultural text want the public to "get" out of it? Are we being "fair" in how we locate and situate a piece of work in a given political context, and with our analysis regarding the type of ideological work that it is doing? These questions of intent are interesting. They can also serve as distractions from a more rigorous and intensive critical project.

However, there are rare moments when the creator of a text actually explains his or her work. There is no veil to peek through as the author shares the "preferred meaning" with the public. While I am quite tempted to make an effort at deconstructing what is a flat and rather uninteresting piece of agitprop conservative "art," I have always struggled with what to say about the obvious and banal.

[Perhaps, one of you budding art critics can offer some observations about the composition of this painting, its use of color and light, and what you take the semiotics of the image to be? To my eyes, the most interesting aspect of "The Forgotten Man" is that of James Madison trying to cop a feel on Obama's glorious buttocks before he goes ass to mouth on the country's first black president.]

Salon's interview
with Jon McNaughton is more revealing than the art itself. McNaughton's answers to questions about history, race, and the American narrative are a powerful and telling insight into the brand of conservative populist authoritarianism that has beguiled a good number of people in this country.

For example, McNaughton notes on the relationship between the Framers, religion, and the Constitution:
Several of your paintings, like “One Nation Under God” [in which Jesus holds aloft the Constitution, while, at his feel, various American archetypes sit in two groups, Last Judgment-style -- a Marine, a schoolteacher, a farmer and a minister on the left, a news reporter, a professor, a politician, a lawyer and a weeping Supreme Court Justice on the right] draw a strong link between religion and politics. How does that square constitutionally?

I don’t have an issue with separation of church and state. I just believe the Constitution is divinely inspired and our Founders were inspired by God.
The painting features a broken, tired, "Forgotten Man." Apparently, Obama has destroyed him. Here is McNaughton's explanation of this metaphor:
And the metaphor in the Forgotten Man?
The Forgotten Man is the the average American — every man, woman and child — who may not have the same opportunities in the future because of what our presidents have done, which strays from the original intent of the Constitution.

The Forgotten Man is very handsome. Who’s the model?

[Laughs] I’ve got a close friend I use. I’m not ready to reveal him yet.

He’s got that look of abject despair down pat, with those hunched shoulders …

Some people make issue of the fact that it’s a white guy sitting on the bench, like it’s somehow racial. I was talking with an African-American man and he asked why I didn’t make him black or something else. And I said, “Well, if I made him black, then certainly the issue of the painting would have been racial.” If I had made him Latino, then it would have been about illegal immigration. And if I’d made him a woman, imagine what that would have been.
This is a great example of the white racial frame in action. I have seen few better examples of white privilege and the pathological normality of Whiteness than the above explanation for an "artistic" choice.

Question: what the hell is "limited government?" Notice the power of codewords, the compelling nature of simple concepts, and how masterful the Right has been in developing an empty vocabulary which resonates with the mouth breathing classes:

And Obama?
Obama standing on the Constitution represents his taking action against what the Constitution stands for, which, to my mind, is limited government. I wasn’t trying to make fun of Obama I tried to paint him in a very serious manner. He understands the Constitution and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
As Kevin Drum and others have pointed out, the Right-wing establishment has created its own reality and alternative knowledge system. These are the hallmarks of a cult, one with which negotiations in the interest of the Common Good are impossible because the terms of debate (and reality) are not in agreement. Ironically, you can educate and work with folks who are ignorant. The populist conservatives of the present day are not ignorant, they have cultivated a set of tautological beliefs in a closed system where a thing is true simply because they will it to be. Facts be damned. McNaughton's interview is a great example of the George Constanza rule in American political culture: remember, it's not a lie if you believe it.

And what is Jon McNaughton's newest painting? "One Nation Under Socialism." Meh. Insert finger into mouth in order to induce vomiting.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Boston Review and the Future of Black Politics: Irrelevance? Obsolete? Multiracial? Dead?

The Boston Review's January issue focuses on black politics. For those not in the know, the Boston Review is an amazing publication and is one of the last long form newspapers or magazines which brings together real experts to meditate on issues of public concern. In short, the Boston Review is a treasure for those who like to think and reflect on the topics of the day, and to get one step ahead of a very narrow, corporate media driven, news cycle.

The Future of Black Politics issue has the following question on its cover: Is Black Politics Good for America? My response to such inquiries has always been, "is white politics good for America?" As a student of black politics I am always suspicious when "our" concerns are racialized, and those of other folks taken to be "normal" or "mainstream." That assumption explains so much about the challenges which face black and brown communities in the 21st century. I remain puzzled that it has not been more thoroughly interrogated.

Michael Dawson, who I have referenced before and hold in the highest regards, is the editor of The Future of Black Politics series. He has brought together some great folks who are a who's who in political science, sociology, philosophy, and critical race theory. The bench is really deep. Each essay is more than worth considering on its own merits, but here are a few excerpts which are especially prescient given the conversations we have had here on WARN, and the types of puzzles that will have to be worked through as black political elites resolve their roles in an increasingly diverse America.

Michael Dawson, offers a great framework for the essays which follow his introduction. Dawson's following observation about "pragmatic utopianism" is particularly powerful and provocative:
We must “tell no lies, claim no easy victories,” Amílcar Cabral, the Guinea-Bissauan nationalist leader, said of the process of imagining new worlds. We need to understand the conditions from which we must build. So we need a pragmatic utopianism, which starts where we are and imagines where we want to be.
Pragmatic utopianism is not new to black radicalism. King and the civil rights movement combined a utopian image of a very different America, one they were repeatedly told was impossible to obtain, with hardheaded political realism and goal-oriented strategies.
Indeed, King’s Memphis campaign to support black sanitation workers, and, even more so, the Poor People’s Campaign that he was about to launch at the time of his death, were designed explicitly to take on what Walter Mosley has called the “voracious maw of capitalism,” achieve economic justice for all, and in the process build the interracial unity that had been, and remains, so elusive.
Dorian Warren, superstar that he is (I mean that with love), contributes a trenchant observation about the relationship between neoliberalism, vested interests, and black empowerment:
Incompatible and irreconcilable interests among blacks represent the fundamental challenge of 21st-century black politics. While black communities have always had a class divide, its sources have changed. Under Jim Crow segregation, black economic elites depended on black consumers, tethering black capitalists to the larger black community.
Drawing on a term Dawson uses elsewhere, that business arrangement created a sense of “linked fate.” Today, black economic elites not only have sources of income and wealth outside the black community, but their collective interests are at odds with those of the majority of black Americans. There is no going back.
I’m not as optimistic as Dawson about the chances that black political leaders will begin to represent all segments of black communities, particularly poor or LGBT people. It is equally likely that black political elites will continue to engage in processes of secondary marginalization. Indeed things could get worse. After all, black mayors and other mayors of color—in Oakland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and elsewhere—have behaved no differently, and often worse, than their white counterparts in responding to Occupy protests.
Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres develop their previous concept of "political race" one step further and suggest that:
...In each of these cases, blacks and Latinos linked their fates with other disenfranchised groups who share similar economic and social status or worldview, but who are separated from them and from each other by the old scripts of racial division. The goal of these political-race projects is to build constituencies of accountability rather than constituencies for electability.
We applaud Dawson’s critique: the road to political power is not through the electocracy. Rather than focusing on electing more black candidates, black progressives should build political or social movements that assert their authority beyond the voting booth and offer a better vision of what this country could be. But we believe they cannot do it alone. Political race is necessary to change the wind.
Philosopher Tommie Shelby bring the heat with a claim about black political leadership that I am sure many of you will agree with:
Dawson insists that we need independent black organizations if we are to hold black leaders accountable. But black elected officials could be held accountable through elections if we had a more democratic system, one that didn’t give rich people and large corporations undue influence over elections and public policy. This suggests that blacks should join forces with those fighting for a fairer electoral system and campaign finance reform, regardless of their race. We of course need well-run organizations able to pressure government officials.
But again, these organizations can be racially diverse, with each member an equal. Self-appointed spokespersons for “the race” are obsolete—they don’t need to be held accountable; they need to be delegitimized...
Dawson rightly praises King’s pragmatic utopianism, and he recommends a return to the spirit and politics of King’s underappreciated Where Do We Go from Here. But Dawson seems not to have taken to heart the lessons from King’s trenchant critique of black power ideology.
Cultivating multiracial organizations and maintaining black solidarity within them strikes the right balance between utopian aspiration and political realism. Black politics need not be anchored in a set of organizations that blacks control. It can and should be rooted in blacks’ joint ethical commitment to protect each other and to fight for justice and mutual respect.
My thoughts on these matters are mixed.

On one hand, I suggest that we still need vibrant, strong, well-resourced black political, economic, and cultural organizations to argue for the particular, and in many cases, "unique" needs of the African American community given our history and present in the United States. However, to the degree that black folks are still possessed by the glare of the glorious 1960s and the civil rights moment, we are unable to shift gears and deal with current challenges where class often matters more than race in explaining deleterious life outcomes.

In the Age of Obama white supremacy is institutionalized. However, it operates in a race neutral fashion. Old tactics for dealing with racism in the neoliberal, neoconservative, global present are the equivalent of the Zulus charging British Gatling guns, or the horses of the Light Brigade charging headlong into Maxim machine guns. In all, you will have a great story to tell. However, the victory--if it comes--will be Pyrrhic in nature. The white racial frame, the white gaze, and white supremacy are adaptive. In many ways, they are among the greatest inventions of the modern age. Black and brown people, our allies, and others interested in the common good need to shift to full spectrum warfare in order to defeat those enemies. Nothing less will bring continued defeat.

Finally, I am also nervous about handing over the political interests of black people to the ambiguous umbrella term known as "multiracial" alliances. Cooperation does not preclude the pursuit of one's own narrow group interests. However, history has taught many lessons--among them how black folks are often at the vanguard of challenging the system and teaching others how to struggle--only to see African American political interests discarded in the interest of "political expediency" or the "greatest good for the greatest many."

Where do we go from here? You tell me.