White Supremacy, Racism, and the Obama Administration, Pt.2

These are the final two provocative theses from Clarence J. Munford. He is Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada. Among his books are Race and Civilization: Rebirth of Black Centrality (Africa World Press 2001) and American Crucible: Black Enslavement, White Capitalism and Imperial Globalization (Africa World Press forthcoming, June 2009).

THESIS THREE

At this moment antiracists and other progressives need be circumspect in our criticism of the agenda and policies of the Obama administration (Creative Commons License photo credit: couturiere7 ). First, because it is figuratively the only game in play. Second, because bad-tempered faultfinding would alienate nearly the entire African American community, still enthralled as it is in the historic symbolism and adulation of a black presidency in the “world’s most powerful country.” Third, because the only likely alternative to Barack Obama to emerge from the 2012 election will be the neo-Nazi, closet-KKK types and religious fundamentalists nesting under the Republican Party “tent.”

Yet we would be remiss in our duty if we failed to offer constructive critique that fosters progressive social reform. For instance, was the decision to boycott the United Nations antiracism conference in April 2009 indicative of the administration’s true stripes? Was the shunning – to paraphrase Shakespeare – a whiff of something rotten in Washington, DC’s Denmark? Must U.S. foreign policy remain forever hostage to Israeli hawks? America’s absence from the Geneva conference had even the Congressional Black Caucus – Obama’s most rock-solid legislative ally – wondering. The concept of modernization of the oppression of African Americans aids comprehension. It suggests that second class citizenship resists cosmetic changes regardless of the personnel in the White House.

During his “First Hundred Days” Obama’s “crisis management” aimed to reduce unemployment through job creation. His stimulus program included funds and measures to lessen mortgage foreclosures. Threatened homeowners were promised mortgage renegotiation along more favorable terms. At least as talking points, the government put environmental improvement, alternative energy and strategic raw materials savings on the table. Cooperation between the federal government, organized labor and the private sector is seen as a kind of magic wand. Sought is equilibrium between the national economy and the basic components of civil society.

Meanwhile corporate capital continues to manipulate the organs of state to distribute the national income in ways favorable to itself. Obama has set sights on reviving the stock market and talks in populist terms of affordable health care (but only in the dubious insurance scheme, not in the universal, single-payer form) in order to maintain political capital. The challenge is to speed the capitalist periodical cycle into a recovery phase while juggling big bonuses at firms that have swallowed billions of bailout dollars, auto industry meltdown, the AIG fiasco and growing demands for nationalization of the country’s most dysfunctional banks.

The depression has exposed widespread immiseration that can no longer be “spin”-glossed away by the mouthpieces of U.S.-dominated raciated global supremacy. More than merely turning the country around economically, progressives want Obama to face up to the system’s all-round failure to meet human needs. Job opportunities are unfilled due to unskilled or untrained applicants, while growing millions are being laid off. And what spooks the powers-that-be is the fact that now the jobless are not just blacks and Hispanics, but so-called mainstream whites as well. Grappling with neglected human needs, progressive forces demand from Obama more than just swift, but temporary, stimuli. They call for staunch and permanent government intervention. Only the state can harmonize mass employment, the need for trained workers and social needs. Barack Obama’s program looks to quicken the job market through health insurance spending, home mortgage assistance and infrastructure repairs and initiatives.

Yet it is a matter of debate whether the reformers in Obama’s corner realize that in contemporary racist capitalism mass unemployment (twice as heavy among blacks than among whites) is at once conjunctural and structural. It is a product of the periodical cycle and of deindustrialization in favor of service industries, of “off-shoring,” and of swelling social emphasis on communications-electronics. At issue are fundamental processes of capital accumulation. The Obama administration has grounds to expect jobs to be created through new investments, thus justifying all the talks of a “New New Deal.” But large-scale devalorization of much black male labor power has been long underway before the present economic bubble burst. That devalorization demonstrates that capital accumulation never has as its goal the protection or creation of jobs.

Capitalists accumulate, expand, rationalize and modernize enterprises in order to garner high profits. This generates schizophrenia for the Obama stimulus. On one hand, to mollify his electorate and pay political IOUs, the president must save homes and put people to work through health, energy, regulatory and infrastructure measures. On the other hand, as the administrator of state capitalism, he must protect and revivify the existing system of white supremacist capitalism. Once troubled enterprises are “stress-tested,” trimmed, modernized and regulated, once they are ready to yield stable high profits, they must be returned to the private sector free of federal government sway. On behalf of private capitalists the administration is mandated to manage, invest taxpayer dollars, partially nationalize and break UAW labor contracts. Such is the real meaning of rationalization, efficiency and higher productivity under racist capitalism. Success for this agenda would be long-term elimination of work places, not more jobs. As currently projected, the Obama stimulus and regulation of financial institutions down the road will shrink the demand for living labor power.

To keep this from happening, progressives and antiracists must inject radical elixir in the Obama White House. That is the only way to expand well-paid, secure employment, particularly for the sorely-tried African American community. Programming, projections, French-style dirigiste planning for express rail links, energy independence and other “leftist” concepts not heard in Washington, DC since the 1930s and the New Deal, have now become common currency inside the Beltway. These are manifestations of capitalist reformist jitters. Short of an impact by a strong radical public, they most definitely are not the “transformative” harbingers of an equitable, antiracist society designed to meet the needs of all of its citizens that many first-time voters thought they heard in the Obama campaign rhetoric. The president wants to intensify the role of the federal government merely enough to enliven the economy. But why must the affair stop there? What if a broad neo-Abolitionist coalition of blacks, browns and antiracist whites can be forged in time to intervene? Its pressure could induce Americans to realize that it is not necessary to bribe the corporate and financial moguls with bailouts, bonuses, interest and profits to obtain the necessities of life.

THESIS FOUR

Global white supremacy would lose what remains of its integral character without the seemingly limitless malleability of second class citizenship in the USA coupled with ongoing modernization of oppression of the black world as a whole. Though nearly five hundred years old, the African Diaspora in the Americas has yet to experience true liberation. What has been endured in the last two hundred years is a series of refurbishments of bondage, disguised as “emancipations.” Each modernization has occurred at a critical turning point in history when the system of black servitude was in crisis and seemed threatened with collapse. The Obama administration appears to be one such turning point.

Hitherto each revamp has involved some great confrontation like the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Each regeneration has saved the day for white supremacy by discarding the unnecessary frills of white domination (i.e., the “petty apartheids”), while rescuing the essentials of black subjugation. Each update has revealed the bitter truth that social equality and racially proportionate economic parity can never be accomplished without breaking the back of white supremacy. The staged incremental progress African Americans are alleged to have benefited from in the course of the twentieth century, culminating in the election of Barack Obama, is, in fact, contingency-rooted, episodic streamlining of the forms of second-class citizenship. The kernel of black oppression has remained stable, regardless of the election of black officials, and regardless of leeway for civil rights, intermarriage, integrated housing, voting rights and limited job opportunities. The notion of modernization of second-class citizenship for African Americans is an elaboration and articulation of the fundamental thesis of a series of modernizations of enslavement experienced in all parts of the black world during the last half-millennium.

Nonetheless, there is a serious alternative to white supremacist capitalist society. That vision postulates an end to global white supremacy, the heart of global capitalism. It requires a concerted political effort by progressive forces to build an economy that binds government control of the commanding heights of the economy with small private enterprises and community firms in an organic fashion. In order to qualify as truly post-racist, America would have to install a human and constitutional rights system in place of the travesty we now endure. It would have to impose social equality, evenhanded justice and socioeconomic parity. Black political empowerment proportionate to population percentage would have to be enshrined in the Constitution. Policy would have to ensure “equality of results” for the black community and other racialized minorities.

White Supremacy, Racism and the Obama Administration, Pt.1

These are the first two theses of four from the distinguished international scholar of racial matters, Clarence J. Munford. The next two will be posted tomorrow.

THESIS ONE

The original (so-called primitive) capital accumulation – the wealth that enabled Western civilization to erect its global domination – was actually an accumulation of enslaved African human beings. Having decimated the indigenous Amerindians in the Caribbean, Brazil and other parts of Central and South America, the white conquerors turned to Africa for the means to establish sway over the Western Hemisphere.

Nowadays the “free world’s” lighthouse sits in Washington, DC, an acknowledged fact internationally. Less avowed is the brute fact that the chief agency by which European civilization appropriated and incorporated the vast territory north of the Rio Grande, and established the United States of America, was the forced labor of enslaved Africans. Modern capitalism in the Western Hemisphere is the child of racialized black enslavement. Centuries of chattel bondage conditioned the formation of the African American race, reinforced by post-slavery discrimination, segregation and second-class citizenship. These are social relations, rules dictated to persons and communities. Social relations, mediated in history, outweighed biological reproduction in creating America’s black “minority race.”

Despite a rather common heritage of material culture, black folks’ enslaved ancestors came from many different ethnic groups and spoke many different tongues. The boundaries of the plantations ignored these ethnic divisions. When the time came for procreation, the will of the slaveholder and the limits of the plantation regulated sexual intercourse. Plantation endogamy smashed pristine ethnicity. Most couplings were within the same plantation or neighboring ones – no matter that Mbundu had to mate with Ewe, Wolof with Ibo, Yoruba with Fon… Meanwhile the sexual rampages of slaveholders and overseers injected a Caucasian strain in all but a fifth of African Americans. For a long time slaveholders were not minded to balance the gender ratio among slaves. Enslaved Africans first arrived in Virginia in 1619. Not until the 1840s were there as many black women as there were black men in the United States. America’s truest “melting pot” was stirred of transplanted Africans, a unique new people smelted in slavery’s crucible.

The social composition and profile of black America changed radically in the first half of the twentieth century. From the Great Migration (ca. 1915-1919) to the deindustrializing 1970s, the prominent new stratum was urban industrial workers. Black folk became predominately city folk. Nevertheless, the black community remained subservient to the white citizenry. The autoworker as much as the sleeping car porter, the preacher as much as the entertainer, each one of the now ghettoized African Americans was slotted somehow or other in the social hierarchy in a way compatible with the white man’s interests. Transformed by waves of migration and metropolitan overcrowding, black America was prescribed a role to play that was really the same old role in new costume. Its function in the social division of labor was unambiguous. There is nothing equivocal about that black “underclass” which serves as an elastic pool of cheap reserve labor, portions of which are destined for lifelong joblessness.

Over the last thirty years or so, large numbers of African Americans have moved to the suburbs. Decaying city cores have been abandoned to growing concentrations of black and Latino paupers, the “underclass” and the homeless. Many city cores are being gentrified, exiling even these desperate unfortunates. Ironically, even latter-day suburbanization is compelled to fit the national mold of black-white residential apartheid. Black suburbanization proceeds on the basis of black resegregation. Chunks of the inner city ghetto are dispersed as all-black pockets around the wider area. The ghetto does not evaporate; it multiplies with smaller offshoots hiving off. Residential apartheid is alive and well, now also living in the suburbs.

Even more insidious is the bond between the prison industrial system and economic revalorization. In so far as black “underclass” job seekers find no employers, they are excluded from the national market for commodity labor power. This particular phenomenon long predates the current employment crash precipitated by the capitalist recession of 2007-2009, and will long post-date it. Economically, anything that for whatever reason has no purchaser, has no price. Price is the money form of value. Without a price, an object, or in this case a human capacity, becomes in effect valueless. During the last forty years, thousands of black males’ ability to work has been stripped of a price, unsellable on the labor market and thus value-less in a strict economic sense. In the eyes of white supremacist capital, these men, and increasingly some black women too, become revalored (value restored) only when they are put to work in jail. This is revalorization through mass incarceration and the prison economy. What takes place in the prison industrial complex has been termed mystifyingly “intra-systemal commoditization of unfree labor.” The terms mean merely that in our prisons today labor power, which in the outside world appears on the market as a commodity and is sold for a price (wages), is being extracted from inmates – often involuntarily – at or well below the minimum wage standard. From shore to shore America’s cellblock inmates are disproportionately black. This practice is a giant step towards reviving the convict lease-labor system of Jim Crow vintage. The United States sports the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Continue reading…