Revolution #148, November 23, 2008
Response to a reader on Obama:
Tears & Pride, Reality & REAL Change
In a discussion of the election with students in New York City recently, Carl Dix said, “Look I understand why people, especially Black people, are getting so excited about seeing a Black person getting elected president. Black people have been told from day one of what they couldn’t do, what they weren’t qualified for or capable of. So this was something that most people thought would never happen, or at least that they’d never see it in their lifetime.
I know, that Obama will not and cannot change the system, I know that the roots of capitalism lie in exploitation. But when I saw the poor black people going to the election with all their hope and how proud they were, tears came in my eyes. Although knowing all that, I cannot help to be happy,
a Revolution reader from Austria
“I’m old enough to have had white supremacy thrown up in my face again and again. When I was growing up in Baltimore, my parents would take us to the clothing stores downtown to get new clothes. We would be told that we couldn’t try on the clothes to see if they fit before we bought them because if the clothes touched our skin, no white person would want to buy them! The city had public swimming pools when I was born, but after the Supreme Court made its desegregation decision in 1954, those pools were closed down to spare white children the indignity of having to swim in the same pool with Black children. When I got my first factory job in the early 1970s, every time you went in that plant you would see two men’s bathrooms and two women’s bathrooms right next to each other. One of them was for whites and the other was for Black people! A court case had forced the factory to take the signs down, but those side by side bathrooms reminded you of that legacy of segregation.”
But, he said, “Getting a Black president won’t bring about the changes the world is desperately crying out for. It won’t bring about the changes that motivated so many people to flood the voting booths to vote for Obama. What it is aimed at doing is enticing the large numbers of people who had become disaffected with the direction of the U.S. under the Bush regime back into the suffocating embrace of the political process.”
• • •
Anyone on this planet with any sense of the real history and present-day reality of the U.S.A, and how deeply white supremacy is embedded into the operation of this exploitive system… Anyone who knows about the slavemaster’s whip…the lynch mobs…and present-day reality where any young Black man who steps out of his door faces a death sentence waiting to be executed by a policeman… Anyone who has any sense of this understands and feels the tears and celebrations that met the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
But what does it really mean—in these times of economic crisis and wars for empire gone very badly—that a Black man will sit in the Oval Office? And what does it not mean?
Where do the interests of the people of the world lie in the face of all this—including the interests of the people who are celebrating Obama’s victory?
And what can people do to fight for change in their interests?
A Black President in a Time of Crisis
For 219 years, one expression and symbol of the systematic subjugation of Black people has been the fact that only white men have served as president of the United States. And in that office, they have built up the foundation of white supremacy in this country. The very reason that the election of Barack Obama is seen as such a historic event is exactly because of how profoundly embedded white supremacy is in the whole history and present-day reality of the U.S.A.
Now, in 2008, those who sit atop all that have put a Black man in the White House (and yes, it was the system that put Barack Obama in the White House. You don’t become president of the United States without the backing—including but not only financial backing—of major sections of the ruling class).
Why now? At the close of 2008, this is a system that faces a number of profound crises that threaten to get more severe, in ways that could take a whole range of expressions:
One big problem they confront is that their wars for empire in the Middle East are going very badly—in fact a big theme of Obama’s campaign was demanding more troops be sent to Afghanistan while saying he will be “responsible,” “careful,” and “phased,” in “redeploying” U.S. troops from Iraq, with “a residual force” staying there.
Another is that they face an economic meltdown with dire implications for people down the road. New York Governor David Patterson recently announced plans for drastic cutbacks in government spending on medical care—including cutting almost $2 billion from funding for nursing homes and home health care providers. He called for cuts in education that a school superintendent said would be “devastating to school districts that are already struggling.” Patterson himself said, “There’ll be protests, and because of the drastic nature of the cuts, those who protest will have very valid points, for which I don’t have any answer, other than ‘What’s your idea?’”
Underneath all this is the ongoing oppression of Black people—and the anger it produces—anger remains a potential source of powerful upheaval, and challenge to the whole current setup.
In the face of all this, put yourself in the shoes of those who run this system: They see storms on the horizon, and they have some idea of the pent up anger and outrage among Black people in particular. From that perspective, you can begin to get a sense of why they took what is for them, the major strategic step of turning now to a Black man to represent the interests of this system.
Obama is not talking about any real or substantial positive changes in the conditions of Black people. The “first Black president” is not a concession to struggles or potential struggles against the oppression of Black people. Study Obama’s actual proposals and speeches. Listen to the theme in Obama’s victory speech, calling for “a new spirit of sacrifice.” Obama is a vehicle to rally America, including those who have been systematically cut out of the so-called American Dream, to identify with the system as it forces people to sacrifice.
And that is not in the interests of the people—including Black people and others who greeted Obama’s victory with tears and celebration.
All The Better to Blame… and Attack Black People
Speaking of Obama’s victory, William Bennett—infamous for his statement that if you really wanted to stop crime you could abort all Black babies, and for saying that beheading drug dealers was “morally plausible”—issued what was essentially a threat: “Well, I’ll tell you one thing it means, as a former Secretary of Education: You don’t take any excuses anymore from anybody who says, ‘The deck is stacked, I can’t do anything, there’s so much in-built this and that.’”
William Bennett is a stone cold racist who has been preaching the message for decades that Black people’s situation is their own fault. This is nothing new from him—and it’s the same mantra the rulers have run since they called the slaves on whose backs their wealth was built “lazy.”
But then in light of that, what does it mean for Barack Obama to say—in his acceptance speech: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
“All things are possible”?
What does that mean, in a society where Black people are forced into the worst jobs, and face unemployment rates twice those of whites?
What does that mean in a society where study after study shows employers to be more likely to hire a white person with a criminal record than a Black person without one?
What does that mean in a society where Black people face the highest levels of racial residential segregation in the world, and are now among those hit hardest by the subprime mortgage crisis?
What does that mean in a society where Black infants face mortality rates comparable to those in the Third World country of Malaysia, and African-Americans generally are infected by HIV at rates that rival those in sub-Saharan Africa?
What does that mean in a society where the schools are more segregated than they have been since the 1960s?
And what does that mean in a society where the Black prison population is over 900,000? [statistics here are from “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need,” available at revcom.us]
It means that this feel-good, “yes we can” bullshit is a cruel lie. It sets up Black people to accept, and blame themselves for a whole history and especially the current reality of systemic oppression. And this “all things are possible” nonsense—coming from a Black president-elect no less—enables this system to have its white supremacy, and—at the same time—get people to feel good about being in a supposedly “post-racial” society.
A Sobering Lesson From History
William Bennett and his ilk are open racists, and Bennett’s “no more excuses” rant is in the same “spirit” as his talk about aborting Black babies to stop crime.
But in that context in particular, all this bullshit about the election of Barack Obama proving that anything is supposedly possible now, coming from Obama and from people like Bill Cosby, is a very dangerous and harmful lie that actually feeds into the agenda of powerful forces in U.S. society who themselves have powerful backing from the highest levels of power.
There is a historical parallel here to understand and learn from, precisely not to repeat it: When the Nazis rounded up, and later exterminated millions of Jews in Germany, there were forces within the Jewish community who, based on more privileged sections, collaborated with the Nazis. These forces, the “Judenrat,” bought into and spread the Nazi’s lies that the desperate conditions in the German ghettos (where Jews were confined) were the fault of irresponsible Jews. They sought (or so they hoped at the time) to protect their own positions by enlisting in and assisting the persecution of the masses of Jewish people.
The point is not that, today, all the Black bourgeois (Black capitalist) forces who are promoting Cosby’s message are actually calling for increased repression, police terror, and locking up even more of the masses of Black people. But there is a dangerous trajectory that these forces are on. And the “logic of the logic” of where this is going needs to be called out. People who have gotten into the oppressor’s logic of blaming the victims of this system have got to open their eyes, see where this leads, and stop pushing this poison.
A recent special issue of Revolution featured a statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need.” That statement concluded: “The USA arose on the foundation of the genocidal theft of Native American (Indian) lands, and the enslavement of African people. Since that time, the oppression of Black people has been essential to the functioning of this system, changing as that system has changed, but always deeply woven into the very fabric of society. White supremacy and capitalism have proven to be so closely intertwined that, even when millions have risen up, time and again, to fight the oppression of African-American people, the system has in the end responded by re-entrenching and reinforcing, even if modifying the forms of, that oppression. Today’s situation is extreme and dire; and any solution that leaves capitalism intact is no solution at all and, indeed, a damaging dead end.” (This special issue is still available in print, at Revolution Books, and online at revcom.us.)
Understanding this is not “demoralizing,” it is liberating. If you understand that the oppression of Black people is rooted in the very nature of this system then you can understand that the solution to this situation lies in a revolution that uproots all oppression and exploitation.
The special issue of Revolution, “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need,” gives a very concrete picture of what revolutionary state power could do. For example, in relation to those communities that have been abandoned and left to rot by capitalism: “The new state power would channel resources into these neighborhoods. But this would not be a top-down favor, or political patronage. This would be a process in which the masses themselves had not just the resources but the power to debate and discuss and help determine the kinds of housing and other facilities that were needed and should be built. It would involve proletarians working with architects and builders and people with other skills—even as people from among the masses were also learning these skills. The youth would not only have jobs, but meaningful jobs that would make a difference in the lives of the community and the society overall, and that would draw on, and further develop, the ingenuity, daring and leadership that is now either suppressed or channeled into destructiveness of the ‘thug life.’ And it would do all this in alliance with and involving people from other strata of society who also have a desire to do something meaningful and skills to share, in a process full of learning on all sides, as well as comradely struggle.”
And the statement outlines and describes a number of other initiatives in every sphere in society, taken by the new revolutionary power, initiatives that would seriously set about uprooting the white supremacy and other scars of the capitalist system, and breaking down the divisions among different peoples in a way that is real and lasting.
Revolution can change everything. But this does not mean waiting around for the moment to arrive when a revolution would be possible. Much less, enlisting behind Obama to shore up and re-legitimize this system! Today, right now, what is needed is a revolutionary movement, and there is much urgent work to be done in building that movement. Such a revolutionary movement can be a source of, and unleash real hope—including as a major component, the ending, at long last and for real, of the four hundred year nightmare of African-Americans in the USA.
Do Black people need to “take responsibility”? Responsibility for what? RESPONSIBILITY FOR REVOLUTION—DEFINITELY! WE ALL NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MAKING REVOLUTION—TO EMANCIPATE HUMANITY FROM THIS WHOLE SYSTEM OF OPPRESSION.
To those who say we should “give Obama a chance”—the question is: a chance to do what>?
Obama has no problem with this system that causes so much misery and oppression, death and destruction, for so many people throughout the world—he is anxious to take over as head of this system. His problem is that this system is in serious crisis and faces all kinds of heavy challenges.
For those who really want an end to oppression, injustice and unjust war, our problem is this system. Our challenge is to make revolution to get rid of this system and emancipate all of humanity from its horrors.
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