The Perils of Racial Solidarity
Date: Sunday, June 15 @ 20:26:11 UTC
Topic: Barack Obama
by Kevin Alexander Gray
June 15, 2008
“[Obama] has to convince white folk that he’s 150 percent with them. So we should just all be quiet and let him do what he has to do.”
A lot of black people I know have hit the mute button. When Hillary brings up working class white voters, when commentators say we’re in the post-racial era, even when Barack had to kick his preacher to the curb. “Where were Obama’s friends?” The Wall Street Journal‘s Daniel Henninger asked. Quiet, quiet, quiet.
The current undertone in the black cultural cosmos reflects the old adage, “If you can’t say some good, don’t say anything at all.” The way to show racial solidarity? Shut up.
Black people always have to navigate race fear; the long Democratic primary season has just underlined that. Joking, comedian Jon Stewart asked Obama if elected, “Will you pull a bait and switch and enslave the white race?” Kinda funny. Except that’s precisely the sentiment that underlies white race fear. I’ve heard the same thing said in seriousness by more than one white person. “If Obama gets the White House what will they want next?” Or, “if Obama wins, blacks will think they’re running things.”
So, one argument for keeping quiet is to avoid confirming or fueling white racist suspicions. A caller on one of the radio shows I did after Reverend Wright’s National Press Club appearance said, “[Obama] has to convince white folk that he’s 150 percent with them. So we should just all be quiet and let him do what he has to do.”
Give a listen to the corporate media, and it’s pretty clear what tune black voices are supposed to be singing. Obama is constantly called on to swear allegiance to America – to prove he isn’t swearing allegiance to blacks. The other way to say that is he’s supposed to swear allegiance to white, not black, America. Meanwhile, the back end of that deal is that black Americans are required to substitute Obama for real structural racial progress. As in, “You got your nominee. See, we’re not so racist or bad after all. Now shut up!”
I was talking on the phone to a friend the day after Obama denounced his preacher. She wasn’t mad at either, just blue over “the whole mess.” Like many others, she saw the media as the culprit for blowing the incident up, and wondered aloud if Hillary didn‘t have something to do with it. She agreed with Wright’s politics, felt the hurt between the two men, and recognized that the over-expansive persona many black preachers carry around doesn’t play everywhere. The Press Club is not a black church. On Obama: “Yeah, he saying what he got to say. He’s a politician.” And her advice to me? That I not write or say anything “that would give the other side anything to latch on to.” In other words, the mute button, the race gag.
Wright was Obama’s “fish.” Or that’s what we called it when I was coming up. It’s the “bad nigger” that all “good blacks” would be wise to avoid: the latest Sistah Souljah or Willie Horton. Farrakhan didn’t take the bait so Wright got the hook. Before Wright, Chris Matthews and his cohorts dangled Jesse Jackson out there often repeating the line that Obama “is not like Jesse Jackson” so as to make Jackson’s name (and his politics, importance, ‘style’ and period) a pejorative.
Who knows who will be the next black bogeyman? Will it be Obama’s fellow Chicagoan Congressman Bobby Rush, a one-time Black Panther? Will it be Trinity church’s new pastor, Otis Moss, who says he likes slain rapper Tupac Shakur and is the son of a Black Panther. What about James Cone, ‘the source’ of that “radical,” “anti-white,” “anti-capitalist” “revolutionary” “socialist” black liberation theology? FOX television seems toracism_again think Cone and his ideology deserve denouncing.
On several of the black radio shows I did, callers were split down the middle on Wright and Obama. Most callers – white and black – had no trouble understanding the differing prospective of a church born out a history of enslavement versus one that often condoned or turned a blind eye to enslavement. Most agreed with Wright’s take on American history and where the country is today in regards to its relationship with the rest of the world. On Joy Cardin’s Wisconsin Public Radio program, most callers were sympathetic to Wright even after his Press Club appearance. They thought he had the right to say what he said, how he said it and when he said it. As for Obama, callers were most anguished about him having to reject his minister and play the denouncement game.
And with that anguish came the slam on Wright, which for Obama’s supporters, on black radio, was pretty much the same slam they gave Tavis Smiley. He hadn’t maintained the gag rule. Smiley’s violation occurred when he criticized Obama’s refusal to address or attend any gathering that seemed too black, including Smiley’s “State of the Black Union” in New Orleans and the Memphis events around the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Black folk started “hatin’ on” Smiley because they saw him as “hatin’ on Obama.” After a period of “not feeling the love,” Smiley left his morning spot on the popular Tom Joyner radio show. (I have to say I didn’t lament Smiley’s departure: not because I agree with his “haters, ” but because of his ties to Wal-Mart.) The logic I heard during the time Smiley took his lumps was: “Look, Obama’s already got us, we aren’t the people he needs to convince” and, “if he spends too much time with us we know how white folk will react.” Translation: “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” Yet racial solidarity is the name of the game not only among blacks. The race card is in play among some of Hillary Clinton’s white support. The difference is that a higher percentage of Clinton’s supporters -- some 17 percent of white voters in Pennsylvania -- expressed, “they wouldn’t vote for a black under any condition.” 81 percent of voters in West Virginia said race was an important factor in their vote.
Why are whites who support Clinton racist and Obama’s black support not labeled as such? My response has been that fundamentally racism is about power and blacks hold little if any power over whites. Blacks have long voted for white candidates.
Hillary is accused of campaigning on racist implications: that people would not vote for a black solely because of race. Fair or not, when your campaign represents a racist perspective, you might get called a racist. Moreover, if Obama used a similar language about ‘hard-working American blacks, not being represented,’ or something like that he would be re-labeled “the black candidate.” Clinton is allowed to be the “women’s candidate.” Both can be “generational candidates” but neither can be “race candidates.”
Ask me to pick between Wright or Obama? Well I agree with history.
“The United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law…”
Wright said that, and I agree with all of it.
And like Wright, I agree that progressive politics in the last 40 years has affirmed the Cuban peoples' revolution, aided the anti-apartheid movement, opposed Reagan's war in Central America, and have maintained that Zionism is racism. But I’m an unapologetic secularist. I’m not into ‘damning’ or waiting for God’s wrath to smite anybody. I believe the people, on earth, are responsible for change. And just as important, I believe Obama is a piece of the story not the whole story.
In the end, I’m against unthinking, uncritical and blind solidarity be it racial, gender or sexually-related, etc. If solidarity makes you fall in line without asking where you’re going, don’t be surprised if you end up lost, or worse.