Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Broken Saxophone Playing 'Hail to the Chief: Are Black Americans Worse Off After Six Years of Barack Obama?

There is an black saxophone playing street musician who is a fixture on Michigan Avenue here in Chicago. I have been living in Chicago for more than ten years. I would guess that he has been here for many more years than me.

There are many black street musicians, drummers, creative types, shoeshine men, newspaper salespeople, panhandlers, and others who comprise the familiar faces, on every block, that make a neighborhood, a town, a city, or a well-traveled thoroughfare more than just a collection of random people and buildings.

This saxophone playing street musician is distinguished and made special by his limited catalog of songs. He plays "When the Saints Go Marching In" with passion and glee. The theme from Sanford and Son is another one of his crowd pleasing classics. He loses his way on songs by Sinatra and the standard "Feelings". His limitations may be a function of a broken saxophone and tired reed, hands not as dexterous as in years before.

He is self-trained. The saxophone man is not a virtuoso who has fallen on hard times, where drink, or drugs, or love, or a bad economy and poor investments broke him.

He is a workaday man who went to a job for many years and somehow through poor decision-making--did the saxophone man do a bid in prison for a petty crime that had the promise of great fortune attached to it by his more streetwise and crooked friends?--found himself with his Alto sax, playing outside, everyday, for monies that he brings home to a relative, friend, lover, or fellow traveler, the latter blessed with more luck than him, which the saxophone man throws into the communal rent and utilities pile.

The brother is always clean. His old clothes are very neat. He takes pride in his work and appearance.

Tourists pay him because that is what tourists, especially white tourists in the "big city" do, throwing some change into the hat or cup of the poor black street musician as part of the fee, the noblesse oblige that is "taking it all in" while on holiday. While on safari, one is expected to feed the animals.

The saxophone playing street musician also extracts a tithe and blackmail money. The folks who work in the office building above wherever he has created an informal stage for the day's performance must pay him, for purposes of productivity, sanity, and piece of mind, to relocate his atonal concert once the novelty and familiarity have grown thin. His playing is an announcement that a new day is here; his playing is also an announcement that a new day in a job that I already do not like is here too. He smiles while accepting the bribe.

On the night of Barack Obama's election in 2008, the black street musician saxophonist played "Hail to the Chief" with enthusiasm and vigor. The marks cum pigeons were ready to be plucked. A smart businessman understands that success is a function of timing, luck, and leveraging the emotions of a potential customer. Obama's election in 2008 was a night of lucre for him, sadly it was the finite and limited lucre of a poor or working class man earning 50 dollars a turn.

He knows it is not much in relative terms. There are businessmen who spend that amount as part of their nightly after work winding down drinking ritual. Some people would kill for less. It is several meals, a fix, or enough to feed their children and pets for a week or two. The symbolic value of 50 dollars is what matters to the saxophone man. The transaction makes him feel like the richest person in the world. His work and art were acknowledged by strangers, they who are his friends.

The Michigan Avenue black street performer saxophonist herald and Pied Piper of Obama's 2008 presidential election blew a broken saxophone that produced off key notes for an emotion filled rendition of "Hail to the Chief".

Barack Obama is approaching the end of his second term as President of the United States. As we assess Obama's performance and record, I wonder, was our black street musician a prophet?

The Right-wing noise machine, with the help of some African-Americans in the media and elsewhere, has conjured up a new meme and talking point which suggests that "Black Americans are doing worse under Barack Obama than they were in 2008 under Bush".

This is an insincere lie and misrepresentation of empirical reality where "white" and "gray" propaganda-- what is a mix of "facts" and "half-facts"--are used to slur black people as politically unsophisticated and stupid, as well as to suggest that Romney and company would have done better by black Americans than Barack Obama.

The subtext of the Right-wing media's "black folks would have done better without Obama" talking point is that African-Americans are practicing "racial tribalism" against white Republicans. Consequently, anti-white "racism" by African-Americans has created self-inflicted wounds; voting for the Democratic Party is an act of political self-flagellation.

The most effective propaganda mixes "facts" with "common sense": such a combination makes the lie that much harder to rebut.

The White Right's newest meme about Obama's performance as it relates to the relative health of Black America should be framed as one of alternatives, where the premise and question is the more accurate, "how much worse would black and brown folks be doing if Republicans had been elected to the White House in 2008 and 2012?"

How would you rebut or respond to the White Right's talking point that Obama has left Black Americans worse off than the alternative that was/is a Tea Party GOP President and Vice President?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

Funny, I was channeling conservatism and their black obsession on my walk this morning.

Obama didn't leave black Americans worse off, America has always left black Americans worse off. It's a function of our geography and our history as a nation.

I understand that conservatives have a hard time understanding how our society functions, so I'll be brief with this point. The president and federal government of the US have very little influence over cities and urban areas. Cities and their needs are influenced primarily by free market capitalism and the actions of state legislative and executive bodies.

Cities have been routinely and institutionally divested of capital resources since the foundation of the suburban community. The suburbs were all-white by legislation until the 1980's.

Conservatives don't want to hear about corporate profits and income inequality. The fact is that poor Americans are worse off under corporate hegemony than ever before. We can't keep up with the constant changes in the cost of living; food, electricity, housing, transportation.

If you understand the problem of rapidly changing costs of living and stagnant wages at the low end of the economic spectrum, you may come to view the historic divestment of urban communities of color to be a large cause behind the vulnerability of black wealth creation in America.

I'll leave you with this article from The Blaze that joins Alex Jones in the mockery of Michelle Dowerey "the Obama phone lady". "The poster child of the Democrat voter base."

D. Wright said...

I'm not interested in framing the health of Afro-America as a partisan matter of relative benignity. There's not a state or municipality on either side of the party line that has resolved class and/or racial inequality, so I have my doubts as to whether it can be resolved through the electoral process at all.

A pox on both their houses.

joe manning said...

Bear in mind that the right is scared to death of democracy for fear of social justice by popular vote. Do get out the vote!

joe manning said...

The economy keeps unraveling due to forces beyond anyone's control so naturally the pugs exploit it and rip and roar "its raining and its all O's fault." The bad new is that the country is in a sour mood and which jives perfectly with conservative bitching and complaining. But O has done a damn good job of keeping up the general morale thru precept and example. They can't take it away from him that he's still the smartest person in the room if not the nation.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I could provide data from studies showing that since the Great Recession the African American community has had their income and wealth devastated by the fraudulent machinations of Wall Street.

But, I would not accept the right-wing's gambit. White supremacists always want to divide African Americans from their allies.

I would tentatively suggest, and here the key words are "tentatively suggest," that while African Americans have done very poorly since the Great Recession, and much worse than whites--seeing a generation of wealth, principally embedded in their homes, devastated--the fact is that we are all, in the eyes of the oligarchy who run the political-economic system for their own benefit, redundant and essentially worthless. Corporations and the wealthy keep their trillions of cash stashed in tax havens and make us happy by donating to Little League, museums, and the opera. Whether you are on the bottom, in the middle, or just under the top, you can be replaced by a worker in a much cheaper country; your job can be outsourced; technology can reduce employment chances; if the oligarchy had their way, there would not even be a nod towards a social safety net or social equality.

For all workers, wages and income have been flat for decades. From the last recession, we lost high paying jobs that were replaced by low-paying jobs.

To get into the who is better off or worse off under the oligarchy is to play their game. The main problem is the oligarchy's political-economic dominance and ideological control. They have rigged the political-economic-legal game to their own benefit.

The strategic center of gravity of the broad right-wing is the oligarchy. Attack and defeat the oligarchy on the moral plane of conflict and you defeat the right-wing. Accept their ideological framing or narrative of the debate, and you are assuredly defeated before you open your mouth.

Stephen Kearse said...

I would just point to Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama, where State Republicans have had free reign throughout Obama's presidency (and before) and cite employment rates, obesity rates, incarceration rates, voter ID laws and cite the general absence of infrastructure. Mississippi has some of the worst roads I've ever driven on. There's also Detroit.

The weirdest thing about all these perennial right wing narratives is that they always downplay or never mention how successful many of their municipal and state-level politics have been. It's like Obama's sheer presence in the White House undermines their many victories.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I believe the right wing are really the one's who hate America. From the oligarchs to the plebeians.

D. Wright said...

Behind every fascism is a failed revolution. The Koch Brothers, John Birchers, and evangelists have found success by provided a conduit for the frustrations and anxieties of White working class in an era of increasing inequality and stagnant wages. The working class is the heart and soul of the Left, but because there is little to no Left to speak of in electoral politics, the Far-Right is given the space to frame their condition in a manner that fosters racial animosity and neoliberal ideology. Meanwhile, center-right establishment Democrats and their corporate media wing feign confusion as to their inability to consistently win working class votes.

We need an actual Left wing party that isn't beholden, but hostile to corporate interests to challenge and usurp the Democrats.

Gable1111 said...

I would respond thusly: when has the KKK ever expressed an interest in the fortunes of black people?

Miles_Ellison said...

There is a twisted irony in this line of attack, since most of the caterwauling from the right stems from the perception that Obama is advancing policies that would actually help black people. America has always been committed to the destruction of any modicum of black progress, since it is viewed as oppressing white people. Any time that there is the slightest hint that black people will benefit from something, it has to be resisted. Any time there is a perception that black people are benefiting from a President's initiatives, those initiatives have to be stopped and he must be destroyed (look what happened to Bill Clinton). Any time that thriving black communities are built, they must either be destroyed in a hail of bullets and fire (Tulsa, Rosewood) or strangled in the crib through structural, legal racism filtered through official state and federal housing policy (pick any urban area). The key to GOP victory in many states is making sure black people aren't better off. This is obvious.

kokanee said...

You are one eloquent writer, CDV. This piece is a work of art.


I lump President Obama in with conservatives in blackface like Clarence Thomas, Michael S. Steele, Ben Carson, Herman Caine, Thomas Sowell and Allen West. The only difference is that BHO is a Democrat and the rest are Republicans.

Our small community is a small multi-ethnic community and it's beautiful. But it's small and NYC is pretty big. When I drop my kids off at school —a mile and a half outside of our enclave —the security guards are black, the teachers are white, the office staff are mixed and the custodial people are hispanic. I sit down at my favorite restaurant and the wait staff are black, the manager is white, the chef I don't see but the kitchen staff are hispanic. Doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals are generally white while their employees tend to be black or hispanic. The nannies, clerks, security and custodial staff are mostly black or hispanic. This is normal all across NYC and everyone accepts it as normal or "it's just the way it is."

I was up in Harlem with friends and family last weekend. Harlem is still very African-American. I thought it was becoming more gentrified. In one sense, it was really beautiful but on the other hand Harlem remains black because the people can't get out. And that's really ugly. It breaks my heart. The so-called Democratic North has not interest in tackling racism. It thrives on it —just like the south but in a much phonier way.

The latest headline in the news is, "Obama asks Congress for $3.7 billion" to secure the borders. Sure sounds like blackface or "brownface" to me.

chauncey devega said...

You always have kind things to say. When I switch "voices" so to speak I worry that most readers think "what the hell! this is horrible!". I am glad that some folks like yourself have an ear for it.

There is a phrase you are likely familiar w. called "the race and gender labor and political economy". What you are describing is a spot on example of it.

When I was in college one of my favorite professors--who I need to call or email by the way--told me about his favorite armchair sociology exercise (which is where I get the phrase from here on WARN). He would visit foreign countries and pick a place to sit on a busy street in a major city. He would then take out a notebook and divide it up into columns and headings. He would not the race and and gender and apparent profession of everyone who walked by for a few hours.

This would be his metric of the relative social profile, stability, opportunity structure of that society. He would then go and reconcile it w. the big picture data. Said mentor was a consultant for the State Dept. and CIA. When he would do talks on social stability, politics, etc. that would be his lede.

If you are bored one day, try it out. Very very revealing. He was is really cool and laid back folks, nothing pretentious because of his true expertise and many decades in the game.

joe manning said...

True that. If you can stand the risk of throwing the election to the puglies like 1980 and 2000. As bad as Mussolini was he was a lot better than Hitler.

joe manning said...

To play their game is to acquiesce to divide and rule and most folks don't mind being ruled, as long as they're guaranteed a reasonably decent lifestyle. I think the oligarchy has predicted that it can no longer deliver the goods due to looming crisis. It has mobilized the right to quell potential mass unrest. The mid terms and the 2016 elections will cement the hegemony of the right if it can pull off election land slides. They plan to gerrymander and election rig their tenure for the coming decades and epochs. Its crucial that the right be prevented from controlling all three branches of government.

SabrinaBee said...

I respond with the truth that, if we are, it is because we are being punished for having the temerity to put one of us in the White House. If the country as a whole is suffering it is because we, as a country, are being punished by, obstruction and mismanagement for having the temerity to come out in force to elect this president twice.

I don't believe that all the layoffs that happened in 20008-2009, had to happen. I believe there was a combination of finally letting the housing market fail as sort of a blackmail,to keep the tax cuts that were going to soon expire, from doing so. I believe the layoffs were also for that purpose. A warning, because the writing was already on the wall that Obama would be elected.

when he was elected and showed signs that he was not willing to renew the tax cuts, the strategy/pressure increased until it became a show-down between renewing the cuts and not cutting off unemployment to those who were victims of the first blackmail scheme.

Now that there has to be some hiring going on, naturally, it will be the non-enemies first. Blacks are the last of the pickings and deliberately so. Why? Because business ownership is overwhelmingly Reppublican and well, we are the enemy that will not vote 'en masse' for Republicans.

SabrinaBee said...

They can do this because they are callous, heartless, monsters. No humane person would take advantage of someone who claerly suffers from some form of impediment.

D. Wright said...

That's the sort of lesser evil rhetoric they use to co-opt the left. Let Hilary have the White House for now, but Democrats need to be ousted in cities and municipalities where they have no challengers, but privatization proceeds as planned.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

I agree with you. Voter suppression of non-whites, the young, the elderly, and the poor is a key tactic. That is the real voter fraud. I think it is highly revealing that when Occupy Wall Street emerged that the Ron Paul-linked Oath Keepers and other groups swarmed into OWS to try and get them to focus on the Federal Reserve System and the gold standard rather than focusing on Wall Street crimes against the American people. The right-wing and the Tea Party have never opposed Wall Street.

joe manning said...

Yes even the whiggish founders didn't ever intend for universal suffrage to be the law of the land and conservatives have suppressed the vote from the get go. The Paulists found common ground with the anarchist wing of OWS appealing to them with the old lunatic fringe shibboleths: return the gold standard and anti-Fed. rhetoric; routine rightist rhetoric that still rallies the troops. Currently the TP is diverting attention from the real crises by proposing to eliminate the Import Export Bank and sue the president. The know nuttins do nuttins are shuffling papers that amount to a house of cards.

joe manning said...

Absolutely, the D's need an inner party comparable to the TP to push them to the left.