Barack Obama is a proxy for some people for the conversation about race that they have no courage or inclination to have. At best, he is a denatured Negro and political centrist acceptably black and mainstream to the white power structure chiefly because of his moderate Senate record and because he refused to discuss the incendiary, racial polarization games of Bill Clinton. After sweeping 13 states from coast to coast and running up 7,369,798 votes, 41% of white voters, and 48% of white males, some pundits, like Juan Williams, are still calling Obama, “the black candidate,” a charge I find both ludicrous and offensive.
What’s the matter Juan, Fox News looking to replace you with a more rabid right wing Uncle Tom? Wasn’t your recent softball interview with Dubya enough to prove your fealty to the dark side? Somebody else got their eyes on your prized perch of televised Negro servitude?
All last year, I mined the depths of my ambivalence for Barack Obama, and exposed and explored his politically expedient positioning for this White House bid. I was brutally honest and as fair as I knew how to be. The crux of my criticisms, in a nutshell, was his departures from the consensus of black opinion regarding slave reparations, voting to confirm Condoleezza Rice, and voting for tort reform and free trade-which seems like slavery to those ensnared by it. He is most certainly not “the Black Candidate” and Black voters, not known for reading the fine print, know little about that record.
Instead, Black voters support Barack Obama because of the extraordinary marketing campaign being run by his team and the compelling power of surrogates like his wife Michelle and Oprah Winfrey. It also didn’t hurt that Clinton surrogates tried to smear Obama with a criminal label and the epithet of “Black Candidate” like Bill Clinton and so many others have tried to do. The brotha makes us proud and lets us hold our heads up high for a change.
Truthfully, this is as good as it gets. We won’t have a chance like this again for some time-if ever, we know that, and we’ve fallen in line. The power structure has allowed this brotha to compete as long as he is clear on a few ground rules: no material changes will be made to the racist global economic order, Africa will not be liberated from its economic dependence on the World Bank and the IMF, and incremental changes in domestic economic institutions like the health care system will be permitted within certain limits.
Race and the deleterious effects of institutionalized racism are not on the white power structure’s agenda of sanctioned items for the next President because his very election will be misinterpreted to mean that this nation has moved past race. It will be up to us to put it on the agenda where it belongs until it is properly dealt with. We’ve got to be realistic as a community. A candidate who risks political suicide by having a truthful discussion about race will never be the progressive champion we envision without pressure.
While not hostile to black interests per se, Obama will probably be less than helpful in implementing a “black agenda,” as defined by the esteemed Black Agenda Report. A President Obama will need to be treated like any other president and held to a high standard by the black community.
Most of us are hopeful that the example of a black man as President will change things and change people in positive ways. I am sure that it will but I am less sure that the positive change will be lasting or that he will be able to implement a transformative agenda. Tom Bradley was Mayor of Los Angeles for twenty years, a mentor to good brothas like Tavis Smiley, and still gangs and drugs are prevalent in our community.
Ten years ago, Gary Orfield, a professor of Education at UCLA, speaking on a panel with Michael Eric Dyson in Dyson’s Book “Debating Race,” said, “There are tremendous inequities in our society today, [measured] by race and by poverty. They’re growing. We have the most unequal distribution of income and opportunity of any major democracy. In the mid 1960’s and 70’s we developed a set of policies to try to make that work better. We’re now dismantling them on a very large scale under the leadership of a Supreme Court that was constructed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.”
“We do not have an alternate plan. We think it will just work out automatically, and it won’t. And we have to face up to that. We have not cured the problems of our history. We have not achieved equality for even one day, in terms of outcomes in this society. We can’t deny that, and we have to try to resolve it. And we have to resolve it, those of us who are white, before we become the minority, and minority rights become not just a theory but something we have to worry about also.”
Nothing has changed under this President Bush. His malevolent agenda has made things even worse than those that came before. This week, speaking to my Grandma, I reminded her to caucus this weekend for Barack Obama. During the course of the conversation, Mama told me that she went to a mall in my Midwestern hometown to have her blood pressure checked. An older white man from the Carolinas checked her pressure and then broke down crying asking Mama for her forgiveness for all whites had done to our people.
I was speechless.
While confession is good for the soul, I don’t know how good that confession really was for Mama. She had the conversation about race that I wish we all could have but it lacked any discussion of remuneration. I would have preferred that she’d been paid what she was worth as a nurse for 37 years at a Veterans Administration hospital.
Mama never did make the top pay grade after all that time, a fact I found out when I worked as a nursing assistant at her hospital during college. She would be getting more in retirement now if she had and could rest a little easier. Rhetoric about hope aside, which we desperately need, we still need to get down to brass tacks about the inequity in this society.
Progressives are being drowned out by opportunistic handkerchief heads like Juan Williams who know damn better. They undermine the consensus of opinion in the black community and make it difficult for savvy and pragmatic politicians like Barack Obama to advance by pushing a progressive agenda. I have been clear that I don’t like the accommodations Obama made to get to this point, but I realize that his candidacy would be impossible without them.
The tragedy of our system is that corporate accommodation is mandatory for political advancement and I remain hopeful that the inspiration Obama provides to young brothas and sistahs will mitigate the damage our plutocracy inflicts on their dreams and aspirations for the future.