Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Was President Barack Obama's Election the "Mount Everest" of Black Politics and the Black Freedom Struggle?

Politics is transactional. While the language of "civic responsibility" and "patriotism" are used to mask the basic fact that voting is at its root level about 1) advancing a self-interested set of policy goals; 2) what have you done for me lately?; and 3) who get's what, when, how, and why?

Symbolism and appeals to emotion by political actors to win over the public are a means of attaining part, or ideally, all of the above.

Black Agenda Report's Bruce Dixon Jr. would suggest that the support of the Black community for President Obama has been a mismatched relationship where they have been used and exploited by their "first black president."

His final point is the most compelling:
1. After 8 years of Barack Obama, black leadership and black America will have decisively lost and forgotten the habit, the inclination, even the example of standing against unjust and abusive power, and our former reputation around the world as a people of struggle.
The height of the black Freedom Movement was only about 8 or 10 years, but it left an example of what it was to stand for justice and righteousness against bad laws and bad governance that inspired us and the rest of the world. Black youth who will reach maturity in the middle of this decade have no examples of struggle to look up to, only accommodations to power and excuses for inaction and ineffectiveness on every front. 
All in all, it's not an inspiring legacy. For Latinos, the Obama era will mark historic broken promises on a path to citizenship for the undocumented, and the largest number of deportations by far of any administration in history. For labor, the biggest single broken promises are the failure to push through laws that would make the organization of unions easier, or the renegotiation of NAFTA. For media activists, there are the broken promises on network neutrality and freedom of the internet. 
White America gets its card stamped as officially anti-racist ---- there are black CEOs, black admirals and generals, 40-some blacks in Congress and there's been a black president, after all. When the accounting is done, and Obama leaves the White House, everybody gets something.
I agree with the spirit and substance of Dixon's ten point critique.

However, his claim that the "black political class" are lockstep in support of Obama is problematic.

The public face of the black "leadership class" (and other heirs to the Civil Rights Movement) may express support for a President whose election was groundbreaking and "historic"--and are quite compelled to do as a natural reaction to how Obama's identity as a black American has been used to mobilize white racism by conservatives--but in private black spaces there is much concern and upset.

Barack Obama represents the full nadir, if not immediate obsolescence of both "Black Politics" and the Black Freedom Struggle. I am not alone in that belief.

There is a growing literature on how Obama has forced a reframing of Black Politics, and how his election has ironically helped to advance a neoliberal/hyper-conservative colorblind agenda which disproportionately harms black and brown folks because they are the Americans who are most likely to be poor and working class. Austerity is "race neutral" in theory; in practice Austerity advances white supremacy and reinforces a society structured by systems of racial inequality along lines of class.

The "Price of the Ticket" panel at Columbia University is a wonderful overview of the anxieties, fears, worries, and implications of Barack Obama for Black Politics and the Black Freedom Struggle. The discussion is also noteworthy because it features Professor Richard Iton who passed away last week. He was a great thinker and critic whose work will continue to influence generations of scholars and students in both the present and the future.

Ultimately, if President Barack Obama's election did not represent a successful ascent to "the Mount Everest of black politics," what would be a better and more accurate analogy?


Vic78 said...

Expecting the government to look out for people was over in 1980. So when PBO was elected I wasn't expecting much. I thought anyone expecting him to have an obvious black agenda was smoking sherm.

I believe that expecting the man to carry our weight cost us an opportunity to advance our collective position. In my eyes there's no excuse for things being what they are right now.

chauncey devega said...

I agree Hispanics and Latinos have been leveraging their political capital. We sit there with our hands open. A stunning lack of coordination and consequences. If you are willing to give it away for free, why would anyone pay for your goods?

Ben Grim said...

"what would be a better and more accurate analogy?"
George Bush in black face. Triple corking. A black man pretending to be a white man pretending to be black while pretending to be white.

Shady Grady said...

All I know is that after 2016 I never want to hear black voters, intelligentsia or political leaders complain about the employment rate or lack of black people in key cabinet positions or a host of other things on which they've been quiet under PBO.

It is incredible to watch Hispanic Americans use a 71% pro-Obama voting record to force action on behalf of people who aren't even citizens while Black Americans, who voted well over 90% for Obama, are quiet while the Voting Rights Act and race based affirmative action are on the verge of being significantly trimmed if not eliminated. But so it goes.

chauncey devega said...

Cosign. Is this a failure of leadership or the people?

chauncey devega said...

I thought you were going to go to Clinton, our first "black" President?

Shady Grady said...

Both really. It's a fact that much of the opposition to PBO is racially motivated and Mitt would have been worse on key issues. So folks supported PBO in response to that. It's also a fact that too many folks are living vicariously through both Obamas and have no interest or ability to make political demands.

I mean you might be happy on some level to walk into an auto dealership and see that a black man is general manager/owner. But you still have to negotiate. You don't tell the salesman whatever he says is good because you're just happy the gm/owner is black.

Ben Grim said...

It is a failure of leadership. The people have been subjected to sophisticated propaganda/brainwashing. It's the leadership's job to explain the Obama deception to the lesser informed. The people have been exploited; especially those on the other side of the Internet divide. They, sheep that they are, are relatively innocent. The failure resides with black leadership. And it is abysmal.

Ben Grim said...

Nah. Although they are about the same degree of blackness. Quiet as a cap, we still have yet to have a black president. We've had a faux black president. We've had a white man in black face.

SabrinaBee said...

I think black folks are placed in an untenable position. Many are not happy with much of what Obama has done. How could we be? However, all of the more irrational and unfounded criticism of him, which we know is based on his race, prevents us from ganging up on and rather defending him. What are we to do? Feed the racist claims of him being "the worst president" when we know that is simply not true for those that are the very same entrenched that are currently benefiting from his policies, even as they make the claim? Or mar the historical significance of the first black president by, lending our gripes to what is being projected, not only about him but about the possibility of any future black presidents? He is being touted as an inept negro. By the time that they get through with him, if we were to lend this claim legitimacy, would ensure that there will not be another black man elected president ever. I think it is more than just the present but, a historical imprint at stake here.

Miles_Ellison said...

What the election of a black President does is provide cover for all
manner of civil rights rollbacks. The racist criticism, the obviously
racist challenges to the Voting Rights Act and the even more obviously
racist voter ID laws are explained away by the mantra "America can't be
racist. We elected a black man to be President twice." The entire
notion of racism has been fundamentally changed.

There was much
GOP faux hand-wringing over their defeat in the last election, but
there hasn't been any real soul searching. Their line of attack is
clear. Rather than renounce racism and explain how their method of
governance can help ALL people, they have chosen to suppress the vote of
people who recognize their true colors. What keeps most of the public
from viewing this as a nakedly racist action is the "colorblindness"
that Obama's election supposedly represents.

BrookLyn1825 said...

I've asked this repeatedly and never get an answer... what is it exactly that Barack Obama should/must do for Black people? Is there even a consensus on what we need as a community? We are in our current position because of racism to be sure but A LOT of what's wrong with us as a community is apathy. We need to rid ourselves of the notion that some messiah is going to come and show us the way. Who picked up the baton from Martin and Malcolm? What did they accomplish? If Black folks really want political influence we need to separate ourselves from both political parties and make them work and earn our vote. We should support candidates that support our agenda (if we can figure out what it is).

Constructive_Feedback said...



OBAMA was sold BY THE "Black Racial Services Machine" as the VEHICLE TO CONFOUND THE RIGHT WING. This was SOLD as "The Black Agenda".

Yet if people were honest and would note that this same slight of hand was used at the LOCAL LEVEL as the Progressives got local power by channeling Black grievances into POLITICAL POWER.

Sadly after the local politics have run their course and so much of the promises to Black people have not been fulfilled - INSTEAD OF SEEING THE BLACK COMMUNITY defend its integrity FROM POLITICS - it instead chose to MAKE A NATIONAL RUN.

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