For All Points-Of-The-View.
Race Cowardice From the Top Down
of race in the US, except on the terms of and with the permission of privileged
whites are impolite. They are "playing the race card." Attorney
General Eric Holder labeled the national reluctance to engage with itself a
symptom of cowardice, forcing his boss to defend him. But the old saying is that
it takes one to know one.
by Paul Street
Last February in a speech to the employees of the United States Justice
Department, the United States' first black Attorney General Eric Holder caused a
stir by saying that that the U.S. is "a nation of cowards on race."
Most Americans, Holder argued, avoid honest and serious discussion of the
nation's continuing racial problems.
Instead on Winning Over Whites"
The next time Holder wants to accuse Americans of racial spinelessness, he might
want to take a closer look at his boss Barack Obama and in the mirror of recent
history. According to USA TODAY shortly before the presidential election last
fall, "Obama usually hasn't chosen to emphasize his race, focusing instead
on winning over white voters critical in the Democratic primaries earlier this
year and in general election Nov. 4."
That was quite an understatement. Consistent with winning majority electoral
support in the "nation of [race] cowards," candidate Obama went to
remarkable lengths to downplay his blackness and to distance himself from
specifically black grievances and the supposedly obsolete notion that the U.S.
continues to be deeply scarred by anti-black racism. Throughout his campaign,
Obama aligned himself with mainstream white hostility to blacks who
"carp" about racial disparities. He was more than ready, in black Left
writer Glen Ford's words, "to paint young Black men with the broad brush of
irresponsibility." Offering blacks little more anti-racist content than the
simple fact of being black, Obama never advanced any explicit agenda to tackle
the nation's deep institutional racism. During the primaries Obama actually ran
to the right of not just Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards but even to the right
of Hillary Clinton on questions of race and poverty.
"Yet to Perfect"
Eric Holder cites Obama's March 2008 Race Speech in Philadelphia as inspiration
for his own "nation of cowards" speech. He claims that Obama's oration
provided a good example of open and honest discussion of racial issues.
This is highly ironic. In calling for Americans to put race aside in pursuit of
shared solutions to social and economic problems, Obama's instantly famous
Philadelphia speech the one where the future president made his last break with
his former pastor Jeremiah Wright drastically low-balled the nation's racial
disparities by saying that "race" is "a part of our union that we
have yet to perfect."
"Yet to perfect" was more than a bit mild in a nation where an
eleven-to-one white-to-black wealth gap afflicts black American households and
where one in three black males possess a felony record and blacks make up 12
percent of the population but nearly half of its more than 2 million prisoners.
Obama's "yet to perfect" statement was reminiscent of Obama's claim
the previous March (in Selma Alabama 's historic Brown Chapel) that blacks had
come "90 percent" of the way to equality in the U.S.
"As if Rev. Wright Was Stuck in a Time Warp"
Another disturbing aspect of Obama's Philadelphia speech was its portrayal of
the racism that created his former pastor Jeremiah Wright and other black
Americans' anger as a function mainly of "memories" of the past. This
was profoundly misleading and deeply insulting to millions of black Americans.
The racial oppression that upsets Rev. Wright and many other black Americans,
young and old, is more than just a painful recollection and overhang from the
bad old days! Black bitterness is generated within the U.S. by numerous
interrelated and objectively racist policies and practices in the present, not
just the past. Here are some of the more relevant such policies and practices
that have survived the rise Obama and of Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, Tiger
Woods, and Condoleezza Rice:
widely documented racial bias in real estate and home lending institutions, in
hiring, job-training, and promotion, and in the provision of health care
coverage and services.
* the tear-down of inner city public housing without adequate proximate replacement units and the related elevation of the notions of housing as a
commodity and a profit center over the principle of housing as a human right.
* the destruction and manufactured shortage of affordable housing and the replacement of such housing by upscale commercial real estate development that
is beyond the means of disproportionately black inner city poor people.
* the proliferation of expensive, taxpayer-financed roads and developments constructed on behalf of mainly white suburbanites far from the predominantly
black inner city, which subsidizes white flight and takes critically needed
economic resources further from those who most in need of such resources.
* the funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth, which tends to favor whiter school districts over blacker districts.
* the excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based "dill and grill" teaching curriculum and related zero-tolerance pre-incarceratory
disciplinary practices in many predominantly black public schools.
* the hyper-concentration of black children into ghetto schools where frazzled teachers have to deal with oversized classes where a large number of the kids
are dealing with the special barriers to learning that come with poverty.
* the "War on Drugs" and the related campaign of mass black imprisonment and felony-marking, which are waged with such racially selective ferocity that
two-thirds of Illinois' 40-thousand plus state prisoners are African-Americans
and more than 80 percent of the state's drug prisoners are black even though
blacks make up just 15 percent of the state and are no more likely to use
illegal drugs than whites.
* the disproportionate investment of private and public capital and economic development funding in predominantly white communities that already possess the
* the reluctance of banks and full-service grocery chains to set up branch outlets in predominantly black ghettoes and suburbs.
* the under-service of black neighborhoods and communities by public transportation.
Thanks to these and numerous other institutionally racist processes, new
"memories" of racial tyranny are being created right now, beneath the
national self-congratulation over some whites' readiness to vote for a certain
kind of safe, conciliatory and forgiving black presidential candidate. As the
left black commentator Bill Fletcher noted, Obama spoke in Philadelphia last
spring "as if Rev. Wright is stuck in a time warp," deleting the fact
"that Rev. Wright's anger about the domestic and foreign policies of the
USA are well rooted - and documented - in the current reality of the USA."
Since his election and inauguration, Obama has offered no particular agenda to
confront America's deeply entrenched race disparities and the rooting of those
disparities in the polices and practices of institutional racism. He has not
acknowledged the economic crisis' disproportionate and especially dangerous
impact on people of color. He has stayed mute on the danger that his ascendancy
poses to American society's already faded willingness to acknowledge the
persistent and powerful role of racism in American life, now more deeply cloaked
than ever by the existence of a black president.
Country, Alarmed at One Common Danger"
Particularly troubling for those of us who value and know the essential
democratic importance of accurate historical knowledge, Obama has repeatedly
spoken of the past in terms that are remarkably insensitive to the black
historical experience. In his Inaugural Address, for example, Obama asked
Americans to remember how "In the year of America's birth, in the coldest
of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of
an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was
stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in
doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: 'Let
it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but
hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one
common danger, came forth to meet (it).' "
Did anyone find it disturbing to hear the nation's first black president citing
the founders' rebellion against England (1763-1783) as an example of how
Americans need to stand together "against one common enemy"? Many
American slaves and indigenous people found very good and logical reasons to
favor the British over the colonists in the war between England and the rising
new racist and settler-imperialist slave state. The new republic's snows and
soils and forests and tobacco, rice, and cotton fields had long been stained and
even occasionally soaked with the blood of its First Nations victims and its
growing population of black chattel. The fate and struggle of the
"homeland's" early black and red victims foretold the future struggles
of Asians, Latin Americans, and Middle Easterners caught on the wrong side of
"freedom"-loving America's imperial guns, alliances, and doctrines.
Another example is Obama's recurrent practice of praising the GI Bill for
creating a great American middle class after World War II. The president shows
no comprehension of the fact that the veterans' legislation offered far fewer
benefits to African Americans than to working-class Caucasians in a time
"when," in Ira Katznelson's words, "affirmative action was
white." By Katznelson's careful account, the GI Bill and other social and
economic policies enacted by the Democratic Party during and after the Great
Depression "not only excluded African Americans from attaining social
parity but actually widened the gap between white and black living
standards." (Ira Katznelson, When
Affirmative Action Was White: An untold History of Racial Inequality in
Twentieth Century America [New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2005]). This hidden
history is a critical part of why the average black family still holds less than
one-tenth the assets of the average white family more one hundred and forty
years after the abolition of slavery and more than more than forty years after
passage of the Civil Rights Act.
Throughout the campaign, Obama repeatedly praised the Democrats as "the
party of Jefferson and Jackson." He will no doubt continue to so, leaving
others to ruefully reflect on Thomas Jefferson's slave ownership and Andrew
Jackson's bloody service to the eradication of native American culture and the
expansion of black cotton slavery.
Barack Obama has played a more than collateral and inadvertent role in feeding
the widespread white belief that the U.S. has "transcended race" and
that racism is longer a significant barrier to black advancement and racial
Working for Corporate
and Imperial Whites in the White House
Consistent with his revealing historical deletions and his
"race-neutral" campaign, Obama has followed in George W. Bush's
footsteps by deciding to boycott the second international conference on racism,
the "Durban II" gathering in Switzerland this month and for the same
two basic reasons as Bush. First, the conference dares to raise the issue of
slavery reparations. The conference dares to discuss the racism experienced by
Arab Palestinians under the apartheid-like system in the occupied territories.
And so the new White House, with its first black president, its first black
Attorney General, and its first black Ambassador to the UN decided not to be
present at the world's leading forum to address international race relations.
Meanwhile Obama is finding ways to sustain the petro-colonial U.S. occupation of
Iraq and to expand the related U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Pakistan. He
revealingly resists pressure to investigate and prosecute the monumental war and
human rights crimes of the Bush administration, claiming that "nothing will
be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." This
from a former and supposedly liberal law professor, someone who should be
expected to understand that one investigates and punishes past human rights
crimes precisely in order to discourage and prevent their occurrence in the
present and future.
He approves the denial of habeas corpus
to the Empire's secretly detained "enemy combatants" as long as the
mainly Muslim victims are flown to the Bagram Air Force prison in Afghanistan
instead of Guantanamo (since prisoners in "war zones" can be more
readily denied basic rights).
He resorts to off-the-books, so-called supplemental funding of the Iraq and
Afghanistan-Pakistan Wars a deceptive war-financing method that Bush pioneered
and which Obama said he would abandon.
He sustains the crushing 47-year trade embargo and the American travel ban on
Cuba, rejecting broad Latin American sentiment and even the opinion of some
Republicans by insisting on punishing and undermining the largely black and
socialist island, which can never be forgiven for daring to modernize and
develop outside and against the supervision of Uncle Sam.
All of these and other Obama foreign policies operate on the white and imperial
side of global power and attack predominantly non-white others.
It's the same thing in the "homeland." Obama's "pragmatic" (neoliberal
and state-capitalist) policy mix combines (a) massive corporate welfare for
predominantly white Wall Street parasites and perpetrators with (b) drastically
inadequate human and social welfare for the rising number of disproportionately
black and Latino poor. It's not for nothing that Obama got a record-setting $38
million from the white-run financial, insurance, and real estate industries for
his 2008 campaign, including nearly $1 million from Goldman Sachs alone.
Another threat to black interests is more indirect. "Wall Street
Barry's" determination to continue and indeed expand giant taxpayer
bailouts for the very financial firms who drove the economy over the cliff can
hardly be expected to improve racial attitudes among the nation's working class
white majority. Many in that group have long been led to ironically identify the
cause of racial equality with upper-class "liberal elitism." The first
black president's massive government giveaway to the financial elite seems like
to deepen that dangerous identification.
That and much else about the Obama presidency including its supposed
demonstration of racism's "over-ness" and its capacity to undermine
grassroots black resistance and social justice and peace activism more broadly
put the cause of racial justice at grave risk. But that's all part of why he was
hired in the first place.
Research Director and Vice President for Research and Planning at The Chicago
Urban League between 2000 and 2005. He is the author of Empire and Inequality:
America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools:
Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge, 2005); Racial
Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman
& Littlefied, 2007), and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics
Race Cowardice From the Top Down
Black Agenda Report
April 22, 2009
-----------Thanks to: ----------------------------
s. e. anderson is author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"
Social Activism is not a hobby: it's a Lifestyle lasting a Lifetime
I suggest you get real and go read "2000 Seasons" and "the Destruction of African Civilization," then look in the mirror at your Arab self, and you claim to know Afikan.