The last article I wrote about President Barack Obama was two years into his Presidency. Due to the import of the current election cycle and the crossroads opportunity it may well represent, it is time to enter once more, unto the breach, despite my reticence to engage in what may be opined to be political hackery on my part. I remain apolitical, but I do observe the trends and these are my current conclusions:
Fear of a Black POTUS: Hope and change in Obama’s America
by Mark A. Rockeymoore
Where is the change everybody was hoping for? Well, the news isn’t all bad. Black spending power continues to grow. And yet, at the same time, black unemployment is at pandemic levels, 100% higher than that of their white counterparts. African -American imprisonment rates are 7 times higher than that of whites. African-Americans also suffer psychological distress at a rate 20% higher than non-Hispanic whites. All the above according to recent statistics, corporate and academic studies. And yet, despite all of these indicators and warnings predicting dire straits for the African-American community in the present and into the future, black people still support the President at rates hovering consistently around 95%, the amount of support he gleaned among black voters in the 2008 presidential election.
The question has to be, why?
Things aren’t looking good. In fact, things are looking quite urgent. According to the articles linked above, the sheer number of black men and women in prisons effectively skews all statistical studies dramatically due to their non-inclusion as well as their subsequent disenfranchisement, affecting social policy and election outcomes alike. For those African-Americans who are not in prison finding a job has always been difficult in even the best of times. Nowadays, it is damn near hopeless for far too many even without the psychological brand of some outpost of the prison industrial complex darkening their possibilities.
During his tenure in office, President Barrack Hussein Obama has done absolutely nothing to help black people in particular. So why does he command such loyalty from the African-American community? Can it really be so simple as shared skin color, as so many have pointed out again and again? And if so, what makes that different from white racism?
It is surprising and sad to realize how little many American actually know about the history of their country. Most know nothing about the Moorish explorer Estevanico, who was among the first non-native people to explore the Southwestern territory of North America. Or the blacks who came to the Americas with Columbus. Or even the in-depth history of Irish and African Indentured Servitude during the 1700s as one of interrelation, mutual solidarity and common cause against tyranny and slavery until until the master-stroke of creating the white race as a cultural and geographic entity incorporated them and the Southern Italians, Spanish and other peripherally European-derived constituencies into a vast and encompassing hierarchical, institutionalized and xenophobically-charged super-structure. What about the fact that the federal prison system gained a new-found convict lease on life in the United States – concentrated primarily in the deep South, at first and not coincidentally – following the Civil War, retooled for the re-enslavement and outsourcing of the labor of freed black men. Or, that the 14th amendment, meant to provide for legal redress and protection for new, black citizens of the United States, was instead almost immediately co-opted and re-purposed by monied interests and thereafter formed the new basis of Corporate Personhood, with most of the legal cases arising from its enforcement pertaining to Corporations rather than those it was intended to support. That the Black Codes and Jim Crow followed, the lived context within which the Red Summer of 1919 and the destruction of successful paragons of black-centered community such as Rosewood and Tulsa, Oklahoma – also known as Black Wallstreet – occurred.
At the same time, there were very real and elevated societal trends toward alleviating the “black problem” by any means necessary. By the early 1900s, The “Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln’s plan for mass deportation of Africans back to the continent of Africa was realized as unworkable. This led to new considerations, which included genocide by forced sterilization, as proselytized and carried out by Margaret Sanger and the organization she founded, Planned Parenthood with the support of America’s political and social establishment. The strains of Eugenics did not originate in Hitler’s Nazi Germany as many like to say these days, but began here on the shores of North America, among the financial and political elite of the United States. It is within this context that the scientific experiments upon African-Americans such as the Tuskegee Experiment or the outright theft of the genetic material of Henrietta Lacks and her “immortal cells” occurred, augmenting the historical record of inhumane treatment and the relegation of African-descended Americans to little more than chattel, to be owned and treated as less than human.
The geography of historical oppression is important as well. Relegated to the deep South for centuries, African-Americans only began to move to the Northern industrial centers en masse in the early 1900s, drawn there by the promise of good jobs and a better way of life. Centuries of oppression, Jim Crow and the agricultural peonage of share-cropping was cause enough to seek a new life north of the Mason Dixon line, but even the vaunted North had its racialized issues. So-called Sundown Towns existed from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, places where African-Americans were forbidden after sunset. Racism was as rife in the North and West as it was in the South. Despite these hurdles, African-Americans lived and thrived under conditions that seem barbaric and archaic today, but were really indicative of the culture and the times less than 100, or even 50 years ago.
Those with even a general education in American history remember Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 4 Little Girls, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. To varying degrees these people and events shifted the United States away from the overt and institutionalized racism of its first two centuries and toward the fulfillment of the promises made by its founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. And yet, while the laws and institutions could be changed – and often were – the attitudes of the people were a different story.
Integration as a government policy served very specific agendas. While for some, it allowed access to a higher quality education, it also subjected many to high emotional stress levels due to exposure to unadulterated racism in the form of emotional, verbal and even physical abuse, studied indifference by faculty and staff and benign neglect from institutions charged with the overseeing and protection of individual and group rights. The integration of schools and neighborhoods often led to White Flight and Redlining, which in turn resulted in overt and startling demographic shifts in Urban and Suburban regions of the country alike. In recent years, a re-segregation by school and neighborhood has been happening, which, although occurring alongside definite gains in racial equality and solidarity, indicate an uncertain pathway for continuing racial integration. The historical defection of African-Americans from the party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, during the Civil Rights era, to the Democratic Party as a result of President Lyndon Baynes Johnson’s passing of the Civil Rights Act signaled the separation by political party of interests concerned with the status quo and maintaining the overt institutions of white supremacy versus those whose predominant interest was in providing a political and social baseline of equality for all Americans no matter their race, creed or color.
Urban decay, a direct result of White Flight and job evacuation from the cities into the suburbs in the 1950s and 60s has been supplanted by Urban Renewal and Gentrification while beautifying crumbling urban centers that had been run-down due to a lack of a viable tax base. The concentration of deprivation due to the flight of commercial and business entities has again resulted in steady political and social declines by black populations now relegated to island-like ghettos straddling the suburban fringe, their inhabitants still generally jobless, still generally hopeless. The population of privileged African-Americans, the much-vaunted Black Middle Class, has been decimated – perhaps irrevocably – by the Great Recession of 2008. Despite the privations America and the world have had to endure since that financial debacle, indicators point to the reality that things are getting even worse.
So where does all of that leave us today? Hopefully, with the understanding that African-Americans have a very real history of oppression and genocide within this country, the Land of the Free. A history that is well-documented and yet still obscure to the majority of Americans. A history that is relevant to every single political and social trend that has overtaken and transformed this nation since its inception and that continues to do so, despite it’s relatively sub textual impact. And that, because of that oppression and its continued impact upon people, institutions and culture, African-Americans have an historical tendency to stick together because things have invariably gone from bad to worse for them in this country – and around the world – in what seem to be alarming and ever-increasing spirals of negative material gain.
There is even scientific evidence in the new field of epigenetics that trauma suffered by previous generations is passed down genetically to future generations. In that context, the 7 generations plus since overt African slavery was abolished have honed and refined the traumatic experience of repression and genocide that many African-Americans have suffered at the hands of institutions, groups and individuals mired within the xenophobic cultural structures of white supremacy and its resultantly racist negative externalities. The implications of these findings necessitate a comprehensive retooling of current efforts at situational remediation despite the naysayers and “boot-strappers” who proclaim the ascendancy of will-power and choice as the supreme arbiters of personal and collective destiny. While freedom, personal choice and willpower are indeed a part of the human psychological and spiritual bequeathment, cultural and societal mores, sub-group politics and behavioral trends act as a nurturing, paradigmatic super-structure within which collective dysfunction proliferates, feeding upon itself while individual outliers escape its deprivations by employing the aforementioned in their partial – to even complete, given the individual initiative – escape from imposed and intergenerational patterns of thought and behavior.
Barack Obama, despite his stated parentage by a continental African sire and faux-aristocratic white American mother, has shared the Black American experience to the extent that parts of his life have been lived within the context of the institutional super-structures of racism. The current list of potential conspiratorial stories that the man has been subjected to are numerous and extreme: 1) he’s a space traveler and has been to Mars, 2) he is homosexual 3) his real father is either Frank Davis – a family friend – or Malcolm X 4) he’s not an American citizen 5) he’s a Muslim 6) his mother posed for nude pictures and 7) he is a 3rd generation Nazi MK Ultra mind-control puppet.
Despite the fact that all Presidents are generally excoriated by their enemies, tales told and exaggerations spread regarding their heinous origins, capabilities, allegiances and ultimate purposes, Barack Hussein Obama has been subjected to what may be considered an extraordinary litany of crimes. Even when compared to his predecessors Bush 41, Clinton 42 and Bush 43, the racialized and Other-based character assassinations against him stretch the boundaries of respect as well as possibility. It can be argued successfully that no other President of the United States has ever been treated with such disrespect as the current one.
African-Americans, as a whole, can relate. The personal experience of the vast majority of African-Americans includes many examples of personal, 1-on-1 racism as well as examples of institutionalized racism. The average, random African-American can list incidents when he or she has been called derogatory terms, has been treated differently from those around him of a different skin hue, has been discriminated against, lost a job or been cast in the role of “any dangerous black person” as an excuse for some act of personal or familial security on the part of whites, yellows, browns and even other blacks who happened to be in their personal vicinity. Blacks understand the underlying theme in the excoriation of President Barack Hussein Obama. No matter what form it takes, whether he is called a Muslim, a foreigner or whatever, the rejection by a large proportion of white America is the rejection that each and every black American feels or has felt by the majority population and others affected negatively by the global white supremacy system – to include yellows, browns and even other blacks – at some point in her or his life. Black prejudice, seen in this light, can never equal white racism in effect or intensity due to the historical assignation of oppressor versus oppressed modalities determined by fate and circumstance to the ethnic groups in question. The lack of collective group censure at the level of base cultural impetus and a subsequent societal meme and core institutionalization effectively minimizes black prejudice when compared to the obvious and continuing negative internalities and externalities of the global white supremacy system.
As the POTUS, it is understood by African-Americans that Barack Obama is the President of all Americans, not just black Americans. The black sensibility when it comes to politics is quite subtle and distinct and encompasses the broad range of concerns experienced by all Americans as well as those specific to their sub-group status. Understanding that African-American allegiance to Barack Obama does indeed include aspects of racial solidarity but is more accurately described as making the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea is necessary to understanding why he will once again control at least 90% of the African-American vote in the presidential election of 2012.
Once again, Barack Obama has done nothing in particular for African-Americans during his tenure as POTUS. In fact, the situation for blacks in America has grown even more critical under his watch than it had been previously. To a large extent this reality is due to trends that were well underway before Barack Obama assumed the mantle of the Presidency. The market correction and economic downturn that resulted in the Recession of 2008 was, in part, the result of speculation on derivatives that were based upon housing trends and predatory mortgage lending that African-Americans were the inordinate victims of. The bundling of bad loans that occurred and the speculation that resulted on the purchasing and selling of these risky financial packages were once again the expression of racialized and monetized abuse taken by African-Americans who then became, as usual, the victims as well as the source of the problem and eventual receptacle of blame, as has been the case historically. Quiet as it’s kept, now-President-then-young-Chicago-lawyer Barack Obama even had a hand in that.
The choice between the devil and the deep blue sea is the choice between a known quantity – or at least a relatively familiar one – and the fearful unknown. In the 2008 election, the novelty of a viable black candidate alongside the horrific potentiality of a John McCain/Republican presidency was enough to give Barack Obama not only the black vote but also the vote of practically every other major demographic in the country except white men. The current choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the current 2012 election cycle is an even starker choice, given Mitt Romney’s clear patrician and elitist loyalties. The institutional racism of the Mormon church – Romney’s faith – of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and their failure to allow black men to hold the Priesthood until 1978 is just another stark example of his inability to lead all Americans. His stated economic goals are aligned with the now-traditional austerity and free market goals of the Republican party; goals that will further decrease the social safety net and privatize governmental programs that currently form a shaky bedrock of basic economic stability for the society’s old, infirm and have-nots. Goals that will continue to shift the tax burden onto the middle and lower classes, while providing further welfare for the corporations and the rich.
Under President Barack Obama, the well-oiled machinery of the African-American Civil Rights movement has practically ground to a halt. There have been no major marches or insistent calls upon the President to address black issues directly. There have been complaints and quiet grumbling on the part of many, but, considering the devastating economic condition and state of black America, there have been no attempts at mass mobilization on the scale of a million man march even though the situation is desperate enough to warrant such. While OccupyWallStreet and the resultant world-wide protest did engage young and disenfranchised whites and some few others directly following the economic downturn, blacks as a whole were again somnolent, even though their interests were also served by the protests and sit/live-ins of the movement. Their history of civil disobedience, marches, armed and unarmed struggle against white supremacy notwithstanding, witnessing young whites taking on the mantle of resistance to oppression was really only a more civilized and restrained rendition of battles they had fought against that same system continuously over the decades and centuries. What the rest of the white world was then realizing – once the false prosperity and illusory status of a bankrupt economic and social paradigm had failed to include them – was what African-descended folk and other oppressed peoples had known since the inception of this fatally flawed system.
The reality of the Barack Hussein Obama presidency is that his presence in the White House has served to pacify the African-American polity, a sleeping giant that has been responsible for much of the social and cultural change that has transformed the United States of America in the past 200+ years. The African-American presence and power has been a fearsome potentiality that has resulted in the most hienous attempts at suppression ever since the poll taxes and grandfather clauses of another era. Now, we have electronic voting machines owned and controlled by Republicans, voter suppression tactics and felony disenfranchisement in addition to regular old disillusionment with the political arena and the candidates, which causes a significant number of Americans to forgo their voting rights altogether each election year.
The political and economic outlook for the United States, given national trends toward economic austerity – despite a potential global shift away from the brink of that particular precipice – and the tenuous stability of the world economy remains problematic for the majority of the country’s inhabitants and voters. 4 more years under President Obama promises a more confrontational relationship with the loyal opposition as well as the potentially nation-shifting leadership of a man concerned more with his legacy than with retaining political donors of known notoriety and questionable intent. The African-American body politic has weighed the potentialities and found Mitt Romney to be wanting, despite Barack Obama’s complicity in maintaining the status quo , concentrating on everyone’s rights except theirs and furthering the agenda toward the loss of personal freedoms initiated by his predecessors. This is not a surprise to blacks nor is it a reason not to vote for him as, after all, he is the American President with all that entails.
Can Obama still be the candidate of Hope and Change, as advertised in 2008? Possibly. But if Mitt Romney wins the election, African-Americans can be certain of hopelessness and changes for the worse. If Obama wins the election, in the best case scenario there is the potential for real change for all Americans or, at the very least and the worst case scenario, more of the same under the leadership of an historical presidency. For the masses of African-Americans and for the country in general, it would probably be best if Obama won again. Things are bad now but they can get worse. If things did get worse for the nation economically and material deprivation did hit hard and fast, blacks, as always, would feel it first, hardest and deepest.
And under a Mitt Romney presidency they will not suffer in relative silence, as is now the case. Farrakhan’s million man march was only the tip of an iceberg that has now grown treacherously broad and deep – while seeming to be manageable and of small size and negligible danger on the surface – amidst a disutopian American landscape of desperation, deprivation and the further stratification of society into the haves and have-nots, starkly reminiscent of medieval social stratification. With the compact between the white elite and the white middle class now strained and near broken as well, the far right – exemplified by the tea party and libertarians – no longer adhere to a race-based allegiance to the Republican party and its elite rulership, signaling the fomentation of a broad-based and multiracial discontent that the current political climate can only exacerbate.
There is a reason that the conspiracy websites across the net have been declaiming loudly regarding governmental agencies stocking up on ammunition, building camps and buying bodybags in recent years. Mass civil unrest is certainly possible with one of any number of initiating causative factors already in play being the flame that finally sets the revolutionary wick to burning. Chances are, as with Crispus Attucks in the American Revolution, black people will be at the front when it goes down.
With that said, if the situation does indeed get bad enough, it is questionable whether even Barack Obama as President could halt mass mobilization. When people are desperate enough, when they have been treated badly enough for long enough, change must result.
Whether or not this was the change hoped for is not the question. This is where we are.