Black people become the enemy again: Obama's 'race neutral' strategy unravels
- The following analysis by Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, makes a lot of
A US president has to be an enemy of the Black masses, and this has slowly
become more and more open in the last 20 years. The racist campaign against
Obama has also been a campaign to force him to take sides clearly not only
with capitalism and imperialism, but also with white racism and white
domination. He has retreated before this pressure, an inevitable result of
his own attempt to run on the wish/myth/lie that race is no longer a central
factor in US life and politics.
His intemperate attack on Rev. Wright as a hater shows that he has crossed
the Rubicon, qualifying himself for the presidency even while quite possibly
fatally damaging his campaign for it. He calls on Black people to adopt the
posture, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" toward the rulers,
both as imperialists and as white people. And his own stance is an example
Clinton's response to the Bell verdict may indicate her judgment that
Obama's retreat means she can be more covert -- she was getting pretty raw
-- in turning toward electorally mobilizing the racist base against him, and
can now even begin to re-enter the fight for Black votes.
Obama tried to be race neutral without taking sides openly against Black
people. Doing the opposite on Sister Souljah, Lani Guinier, Elders, welfare,
the death penalty and so on were at the heart of the Clinton -- Mr. and Ms.
-- political strategy, away from the anti-Black political base in an effort
to win the anti-Black vote and campaign contributions. "Race neutrality",
pseudo-nonracialism and color-blindness are the heart of the ideological
cover of racism today, allowing the whites to be portrayed as having gone
beyond race, while the racially oppressed Blacks are disdained for still
being mired in this backward and outmoded concept.
While Obama played the race-neutral game, the momentum of his campaign was
not race-neutral but was based on a broad positive response to a Black
candidate as a symbol for "change" in the United States. When it became
clear that this was accepted and even inspiring among sections of the white
population and among women and other oppressed peoples, the Black community
swung solidly behind him and the tendency of the campaign to swing somewhat
out of ruling class control and to inspire a strong counter movement
reflecting political and social polarization became a factor.
Obama is now doing his duty as an imperialist politician by helping the
rulers bring order to the campaign, partly by pushing the Black community
back to the margins, demobilizing the Obama base, and, on that basis,
cajoling and otherwise pressure the increasingly openly racist (new style)
countermovement to pipe down, since they are basically getting their way.
In my opinion, the McKinney campaign has a vitally important propaganda role
to play in this situation. Among other things, the electoral mobilization
of racism will continue in one form or another, including against Obama,
perhaps with more leeway since he dare not identify racism as a factor in
the campaign against him.
Obama's 'Race Neutral' Strategy Unravels of its Own Contradictions
Wednesday, 30 April 2008
by Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford
The world views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama were
incompatible from the start, just as the mythical American Manifest Destiny
world view is directly at odds with the facts as perceived by Blacks in the
United States. Wright finally forced Obama to choose sides in the conflict
of racial/historical visions, and in doing so, performed a service on behalf
of clarity. Obama lashed out in a startlingly personal manner, calling
Wright a "caricature" of himself and linking the minister to forces that
give "comfort to those who prey on hate." Rev. Wright exposed the flimsy
tissues of so-called "race neutrality" in a nation founded on racial
Obama's 'Race Neutral' Strategy Unravels of its Own Contradictions
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
"Obama positioned himself at the political/historical fault line alongside
the defenders of the Alamo and American Manifest Destiny."
Things fall apart; some things, like an ill-tied shoelace, sooner than
others. Barack Obama's strategy to win the White House was to run a
"race-neutral" campaign in a society that is anything but neutral on race.
The very premise - that race neutrality is possible in a nation built on
white supremacy - demanded the systematic practice of the most profound
race-factual denial, which is ultimately indistinguishable from rank
dishonesty. From the moment Obama told the 2004 Democratic National
Convention that "there is no white America, there is no Black America," it
was inevitable that the candidate would one day declare the vast body of
Black opinion illegitimate.
That day came on Tuesday, April 29, when a battered and (truly) bitter
Barack Obama made his final, irrevocable break with his former pastor, Rev.
Jeremiah Wright, whose televised Black Liberation Theology tour de force the
preceding Friday, Sunday and Monday had laid bare the contradictions of
Obama's hopeless racial "neutrality." It was the masterful preacher and
seasoned political creature Wright - not the racists who had endlessly
looped chopped snippets of the reverend's past sermons together in an
attempt to make him appear crazed - who forced Obama to choose in the push
and pull of Black and white American worldviews. Obama was made to register
his preference for the white racist version of truth over Rev. Wright's,
whose rejection of Euro-American mythology reflects prevailing African
American perceptions, past and present.
"Rev. Jeremiah Wright laid bare the contradictions of Obama's hopeless
Obama was less than eloquent. "All it was is a bunch of rants that aren't
grounded in truth," said Sen. Obama, low-rating Rev. Wright's remarks at the
National Press Club, in Washington, the morning before. Rev. Wright had
become a "caricature" of himself, said the wounded candidate - another way
of calling the minister a clown.
Under questioning from reporters in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Obama
swore up and down that he had never before, in 16 years as a member of
Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ congregation, observed his pastor
behave in such a way. The declaration rang patently false, as even a
red-state Republican white evangelical observer would have recognized
Wright's Press Club performance as that of veteran pulpit-master with a vast
repertoire of church-pleasing moves and grooves to draw upon, all of them
honed over decades for the entertainment of his parishioners - including
Obama. But the senator was intent on giving the impression that Rev. Wright
was - unbeknownst to Obama - a Jekyll and Hyde character, whose statements
"were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up
giving comfort to those who prey on hate."
An amazingly Bush-like turn of phrase! The man who married Barack and
Michelle and baptized their children is now rhetorically linked to Osama bin
Laden or the Ku Klux Klan.
Clearly, this is what panic looks and sounds like when Obama's flimsy
tissues of "race neutrality" are stripped away. He berates Rev. Wright and
other Black voices for self-centeredness in failing to strike a balance
between African American grievances and whatever ails white people. "When
you start focusing so much on the historically oppressed," said Obama, "we
lose sight of the plight of others." Obama is desperate to convince these
"others" that he rejects anything that smacks of an Afro-centric worldview,
as represented by Rev. Wright. "What became clear to me was that he was
presenting a world view that contradicts what I am and what I stand for."
Rev. Wright succeeded in drawing a line in the sand, whether that was his
intention or not, daring Obama to take his stand on one side or the other.
Race "neutrality" - an impossibility in the actually existing United States
- went out the window as Obama in extremis positioned himself at the
political/historical fault line alongside the defenders of the Alamo and
American Manifest Destiny. As dictated by the logic of power, Obama
furiously maneuvered toward "white space," shamelessly taking cover in a
kind of populist white patriotism that has always branded Black grievances
as selfish, even dangerous distractions from the larger national mission.
Rev. Wright's "rantings" amounted to "a complete disregard for what the
American people are going through," said Obama. "What mattered to him was
him commanding center stage."
"Obama's flimsy tissues of 'race neutrality' are stripped away."
Obama had belabored the same theme in his Philadelphia speech on race, a few
weeks earlier - a widely applauded piece of oratory that was at root an
exercise in moral equivalence that equated white and Black grievances in the
U.S., as if history and gross power discrepancies did not exist. Obama is as
quick as any smug corporate commentator to dismiss as the ravings of
extremists and those who "prey on hate" the very idea that U.S. imperialism
is an historical and current fact. Chickens cannot possibly come home to
roost in terroristic revenge as a response to American crimes against
humanity, since "good" nations by definition are incapable of such crimes.
It is beyond the pale to contemplate that the United States has Dr. Deaths
on its covert payrolls dealing in ghastly biological warfare - the AIDS
In order for his race-neutral strategy to appear sane, Obama must constantly
paint a picture of an America that does not exist. This cannot be
accomplished without mangling the truth, assaulting the truth-tellers, and
misrepresenting America's past and present.
Since Obama's candidacy is predicated on minimizing the pervasiveness of
racism in American life, it is necessary that he cast doubt on the
legitimacy of those with race-based grievances. Otherwise, he would be
morally compelled to abandon his neutrality and side with the oppressed
minority. Thus, he announces in Selma, Alabama that Blacks "have already
come 90 percent of the way" to equality - a non-truth by virtually any
measurement. He says the "incompetence was color-blind" in the wake of
Hurricane Katrina, thereby deracializing all that occurred in New Orleans
from the moment the winds died down to this very second. He claims that
1980s Ronald Reagan voters had understandable grievances due to "the
excesses of the 1960s and 1970s," in the process cleansing the Reagan
victory of any racist content.
Race neutrality requires that Barack Obama become a cleanup boy for racists,
historically and in the present day. At the same time, Obama is driven to
loath most those people and facts that might lead to divisiveness. America's
worst enemies are not the racists, but those who point out the facts of
racism, as Obama explained in mid-March in Philadelphia:
"Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a
time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come
together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist
threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially
devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or
Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."
Rev. Wright and his ilk, by this reasoning, are Public Enemy Number One,
standing in the way of the racial harmony that is the natural order of
things in Obama's mythical America.
"Obama must constantly paint a picture of an America that does not exist."
Ironically, in practice, race-neutrality also requires that Obama disarm
himself in the face of racist attacks. "If I lose," he told reporters with a
straight face, "it would not be because of race. It would be because of
mistakes I made along the campaign trail."
Perhaps it is fitting that, having absolved American racists of all manner
of crimes against others, Obama also holds them blameless for their assaults
on himself. That's his prerogative, as long as he's the only one being
assaulted. But Obama was also dogged over the long weekend by the ghost of
Sean Bell, whose death in a 50-shot New York City police fusillade was held
blameless by a white judge. Many African Americans anxiously awaited Obama's
reaction to the three police officers' acquittals on all charges. "We're a
nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down," said Obama, when
asked about the case by reporters in Indiana. "Resorting to violence to
express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely
unacceptable and is counterproductive." That was it.
Hillary Clinton, aware that the Sean Bell verdict was an outrage to Black
America, issued a prepared statement:
"This tragedy has deeply saddened New Yorkers - and all Americans. My
thoughts are with Nicole and her children and the rest of Sean's family
during this difficult time. The court has given its verdict, and now we
await the conclusion of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation.
We must also embrace this opportunity to take steps - in our communities, in
our law enforcement agencies, and in our government - to make sure this does
not happen again."
It is difficult not to conclude that Obama distanced himself from the facts
of the acquittal - except to counsel against violence and urge folks to
"respect" the verdict, whatever that means - while Clinton had the sense to
prepare a statement that sounded sensitive to Black anger and on top of
developments in the story. The Sean Bell police and judicial atrocity
revealed with horrific clarity that Black life continues to be
systematically devalued by police in the United States, even when the
officers involved are of African descent, as were two of the three shooters
in the Bell case. The New York verdict shows that Black lives are devalued
by all actors in American society, including Black actors: the essence of
"Black life continues to be systematically devalued by police in the United
States, even when the officers involved are of African descent."
Institutional racism is alien to Barack Obama's version of the nation, a
fantasy place where racial oppression has never been so endemic to the
political culture as to overshadow the "promise" of America. In Obama's
public vision, his Democratic caucus victory in 98 percent white Iowa, which
began the cascade of Obama wins, proves that the U.S. is ready for profound
racial "change." Left unnoted is the fact that Iowa incarcerates African
Americans at 13 times the frequency that it locks up whites, the worst
record in the nation.
For people like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, mass Black incarceration and slavery
are seamlessly linked, part of the continuity of racial oppression in the
U.S. Most African Americans see the world the way Rev. Wright does - that's
why he's among the top five rated preacher-speakers in Black America. This
Black American world view, excruciatingly aware of the nation's origins in
genocide and slavery, is wholly incompatible with the American mythology
championed by Barack Obama. When the two meet, they are mutually repellant.
The relationship between Rev. Wright and Sen. Obama has undergone "great
damage," says Obama, understatedly. But the break was inevitable and is no
tragedy, because it reveals the incompatibility of Obama's adapted world
view with the body of knowledge amassed by African Americans since before
the landing of the Mayflower. The truth is always a revelation.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at