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The pitfalls of race consciousness

May 10, 2009
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BY DHORUBA BIN-WAHAD

America’s substitution of political reformation of finance capitalism for social empowerment of the poor

Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the U.S. presidency has been consistently portrayed as the culmination of the African-Americans’ protracted struggle for “equality” in America. This is only superficially true because each advance of Africans toward civil and human rights in America has enhanced the rights of all Americans, but those advancements seldom moved the majority of Africans in America out of economic and political doldrums. The brutal truth is this portrayal of the “American Dream” is both facetious and inaccurate.

While it is true that for the first time white Americans in significant numbers have voted for a “black” man as President, it is of course inaccurate to say that Barack Obama represents or even reflects the historical or contemporary experience (legacy) of African-Americans who have been connected at the hip to white America. After all, with the exception of Tiger Woods (who tried inventing a race to match his background), how many Africans in America were raised in Hawaii by white grandparents and went to Harvard Law school?

Clearly white Americans, by and large, voted for Obama based partly on the “American Storybook” version of “Dreams of My Father” rather than Nightmares of my Ancestors. Hence, it is facetious to claim the majority of white voters consciously voted for an “African-American” descendant of the slaves their forebears terrorized and exploited for centuries–they voted for an African-American without that baggage, perhaps trusting that he couldn’t experience a DNA induced psychological flashback to the bull-whip days on the plantation and go buck-wild as Commander-in-Chief. White America’s “guilt syndrome” is folded neatly into their notion of “American exceptionality,” hence the persistent media implication during the Presidential campaign that Obama was either an “undercover” Muslim or Black Nationalist revolutionary in disguise resonated in so called “white middle-America”.

It took the looming doom of failing capitalism for many white Americans to vote for a black man.

Many white voters harbored media generated suspicion of Obama’s political and religious sympathies, especially from among “undecided” and neo-liberal white Republicans. Such misperceptions are often the strand of thread upon which history dangles. Blacks and liberal white supporters of President Obama from all classes get upset when this is brought up. Yet those same liberals and blacks wouldn’t express similar disdain in an analysis of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s disability as an important subjective factor in his political career, nor perceive a critique of John F. Kennedy’s relationship to his Quasi-Gangster father and clan Patriarch as inappropriate in ascertaining what influenced JFK’s character. Yet when it comes to Obama, the personal is not political and the political is never personal.

Clearly Obama is an extraordinary individual. His success has opened up self-hating African minds to their own self-value, and has bestowed a bloodless “emancipation” on white Americans unwilling to contemplate “payback” [reparations]. But just feeling good about one’s self won’t stop others who don’t feel so good about you from pursuing their nefarious ambitions. In this sense, the Presidency of Barak Obama is symbolically the ascendency of a “political anti-christ” during the greatest and most profound crisis global imperialism has ever faced.

That the Obama campaign was able to almost entirely avoid the influence of a race-based power paradigm in formulation of U.S. foreign policy in no small part was due to the McCain camp’s absolute lack of racist subtlety.

The racist and reactionary rightwing supporting McCain attacked Obama with excerpts from the sermons of his family Pastor Jeremiah Wright, an activist and Liberation Theologian, in an attempt to associate the ideology of Black Nationalism, the noble legacy of black militancy with Obama and thereby frighten white voters into knee jerk racist apoplexy. Not a difficult task for a nation that has never confronted the true legacy of its history.

Clearly the objective was to portray Obama’s personal journey to self-recognition as an “African” as subversive. As if “thinking black,” thinking African, or viewing history from the experiences of one’s own people was a form of subversive moral blasphemy. Perhaps it is. Indeed, Michelle Obama (who does have the bullwhip days in her family DNA memory) was attacked as “un-American” for saying when Obama received the Democratic nomination that for the first time “she felt proud to be American” – a sentiment shared by 90 % of African-Americans.

To reassure white folks that African history in America was not his legacy, or his basis of analysis and frame of reference, Obama renounced all association with Rev. Wright and defined Wright’s views as “divisive” rather than worthy of challenge by American historians.

Moreover, Obama didn’t take the Wright imbroglio as an opportunity to educate America about race; instead he merely distanced himself from the issue and moved on to win the ultimate political prize in the land, the Presidency of the United States. To many of course this was “strategy.” After all, you can’t scare “white people,” who believe they have an innate right to piss on the rest of the world while whistling the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and expect to win a national election.

Only a monumental crisis that threatened everyone’s livelihood could shake up white folks more than the prospect of a black president, and lo and behold, finance capitalism’s October surprise — economic meltdown. America woke up to the reality of debt-based prosperity as the American empire tumbled into financial distress. Fannie and Freddie were on Viagra, and the pharmacy wasn’t taking any more credit. Of course, this opportunistic view in itself is deprecating because it also presumes that white Americans are so historically challenged they are unable to be trusted to think beyond their narrow self-interests. So the economy gave Obama a boost — but he probably would have won anyway.

Even if McCain had run his campaign like the Clintons, he may have still lost, but he would have had a broader spectrum of undercover racist whites on his side, and conservative self-hating Negroes applauding his virtues. Indeed, up until the Democratic convention, disgruntled Hillary supporters were anti-Obama and mumbled their support for McCain ostensibly because of his “inexperience.”

Hanoi Shorty, as McCain is known in the “Hood,” tried to exploit this discontent among white female Democrats by appointing “Muffy” from Alaska, Sarah Palin as his running mate.She was a true political Palindrome — an air-head spelled the same backwards as forwards — an affront to any thinking woman, white or black. Few could believe it! Obama couldn’t have chosen a better opposition to run against if he wanted to.

The McCain – Obama contrasts were so stark and glaring that they could have illuminated Ray Charles’s way to Georgia, were he still alive. Clearly the only way Obama could lose was if the Republicans “Bogarted” the elections as they did the previous two national elections. Now all of this is “history” (his-story) and as George Will the erudite right-wing pundit explained, the Obama campaign has relieved white America of the lodestone of race — “Obama is white America’s Emancipation Proclamation.”

I would suppose George Will envisions a different “Reconstruction” scenario from the one that took place at the end of the American Civil War.

Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad (born Richard Moore, 1945) is an American writer and activist, who is a former prisoner, Black Panther Party leader, and co-founder of the Black Liberation Army.

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