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Black people become the enemy again: Obama's 'race neutral' strategy unravels

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  • Fred Feldman
    The following analysis by Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, makes a lot of sound points. A US president has to be an enemy of the Black masses, and this has
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1 12:24 AM
      The following analysis by Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, makes a lot of
      sound points.

      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
      of it.

      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.
      Fred Feldman


      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
      racial 'neutrality.'"

      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
      genesis theory.

      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
      institutional racism.

      "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
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