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).
At this moment antiracists and other progressives need be circumspect in our criticism of the agenda and policies of the Obama administration ( 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.
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.
Singlehandedly President Barack Obama has done more to negate racism in America and the world just by being who he is – without the need for legislation or dissemination of science or fact.
Bill Wiltrack – Where did you get that from?
And a question B Wiltrack.
Your assertion is wrong.
Since racism is, by definition, anti-bias against a person no matter who that person is, what other methods should those of us fighting and/or faced with discrimination supposed to use besides legislation or dissemination of science or fact? Is that supposed to be a knock on anti-racists in general? And shouldn’t it be knock on whites and other non-blacks that despite science and fact, so many still maintain anti-black bias?
“Shock and Awe”. Think about it.
Money and Lucifer are their gods and the media is the conduit in which they impose their mind control and hypnosis upon you.
Don’t you see? Your racism and fear of your OWN people is causing you to hate one another and the Media feeds it. You buy in to it. It is a trap.
They WANT this. Because if they can help to incite a civil war amongst us, they can impose Martial Law and then…..Well, then it is too late. Now you will become the sacrifice they so desperately want.
I am merely trying to do my part and trying to show you that you are the victims of the Government. They created the problem so you will look to them for a solution and then they have you. You are trapped.
But if you wake up and make a stand, they will have NO POWER over us.
It is not about race, although they would have you believe that. It serves their agenda. This is what they want. It is about creating a negative polarity which will consume the entire human race if we do not wake up now. If we become negatively polarized like them, then they believe that they can enslave us in the afterlife. This IS their belief and this is their agenda. To take as many with them as they can so they can have their slaves. It is a Luciferian concept.
YOU are the victims. Stop looking at race and blaming your own people. It is what they want. They see you as cattle and you are all following the cowboy into the slaughterhouse. The media focuses on bad things and over sensationalizes it in order to keep you asleep. It’s time to wake up now. THIS is the time of horror and YOU are their sacrifice. Love one another. It is your best defense against their slaughter.
Secret S, you seem confused. Think about WHO created the racist system and the racist media operations. Where are the white creators of oppression in your meandering analysis? Why do you leave whites out of your analysis?
The Secret Sword, huh. For some reason I took the post as a type of satrical humor, really, particularly when I got to the: “They see you as cattle and you are all following the cowboy into the slaughterhouse” part. Like those white Christian folks who picket the Montesorri schools (or used to several years back) calling them evil back in my state. Exactly who is “they”–can you provide a clear definition for us? And how can you distinguish between the “good” and “bad” ones? Or are they all bad? One in the same? Are they of the “craft”? Can you provide a definition of the craft while you educate us on the Luciferian ideology, practice, cult, or what ever it is ? What about those of us who don’t watch television? Are we doomed too? Well, the list can go on…. I don’t doubt some of what you say actually. But I am troubled by the denial of racism. In this nation, it is about race. And I would argue there is still an aparteid in place that stems directly back to slavery, of which many were never able to escape. I believe it’s white supremacy that holds this firmly in place, along with the capitalist structure this nation relishes in. Plus, I would argue genocides of various against American Indian people is still occuring to this very day. It is about race in this country, and at a global scale. I believe at the global scale, it is necessarily about oppression of African people world wide. Let me stop here.
On a different note, the four essays I thought were both important and well done.
Highlighted for the sure hilarity of the proposition. But maybe the intent was to encourage a vigorous pursuit of the impossible. That or S-Sword has some explaining to do regarding how Joe et. al. can avoid “blaming” their “own people” if, at the same time, Joe et. al. have to stop “looking at race.”
S-Sword, just to make sure I understand you, could you tell us who Joe’s “own people” are?
On Thesis 3:
I could not be in more agreement with you on this Joe. Constructive criticism is a must; Cornel West mentioned this in his own analysis of Obama. Some may think this will incite fury and division among the masses; however, without providing this corrective lens to Obama’s inactions, marginalized folks and progressives have only themselves to blame for not seizing the opportunity to break the break the conservatism this country has witnessed over the past 3 decades(Republican presidents have led for 20 years of the last three decades and have, in the process, fundamentally altered the political climate for legislation and public policy stances that aim at redressing social inequalities).
While many are willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt that he is “for” blacks, Latinos, and other marginalized groups, I think this very willingness is instead a serious sign of the passivity that has snaked itself into the political mindset of the post-Civil Rights generation. Our forefathers did not sit back and wait for the movement to happen, and neither should we.
Yes, Obama’s election was a “victory,” but remember, victories are only as good as one’s definition of success. My definition of success is not a black man being POTUS, but rather the ability of all marginalized people in this society, and across the African diaspora, to enjoy the full potential of their life. Last time I checked educational, housing, occupational, and health inequalities still existed, so this so-called “victory” is just a hurdle in the marathon for equality.
A few last comments on the responses to the Four Theses for discussion:
Nonplussed and bemused as I am by Bill Wiltracks’ naïve assertion, to my mind it is adequately refuted in the remarks of No. K State and Seattle in Texas. One could perhaps ask The Secret Sword just how helpful religious mystification is in the struggle against white supremacy.
Some general reflections: Since the Civil War (and before), U.S. political discourse has anchored in the acceptance by the vast majority of whites of the idea that democracy means racial, social and economic inequality wrapped in “free” and frequent elections. Suddenly the potential has emerged for black, brown and antiracist white progressives to achieve a real breakthrough. Why? Because for the first time in its sordid history, racist capitalism underpinning white supremacy is suffering ills that are truly global. Its crisis is so dire the odds are good that the entire economic system can be trashed over the next 20 to 40 years. The long-postponed revolution in human affairs may finally be upon us. This historic opportunity has ignited heated debate among antiracist activists and sundry “progressives.” This what-is-to-follow dispute has given rise to the ultimate trivialization of the concept of revolution and the struggle against white supremacy. It is uttered by a broad spectrum of greens, environmentalists, communitarians, anarchists… mainly middle class whites. The environmentalist/green and anarchist critique of capitalism often is trenchant, but its response to what is to be done in regard to state power is vacuous and its disregard of black folks’ needs is racist. To transform society it is not necessary to seize control of top government and legislation, these groups claim, or to concentrate on racial matters. Instead they would divert our attention to environmental issues, child care co-ops, bicycle lanes, farmers markets, kitchen gardens, and actually have the nerve to call these activities the real revolution, a transformation existing in little bits everywhere. And if oppressed black people have no time for micro-shrinking of “big government,” then too bad for them.
This trivialization of struggle against racism raises serious questions for progressive sociologists. Who are these people? From what social categories are they drawn? What is it about racist capitalism’s anomie (its generation of ideologically disoriented individuals) that has done such a job on them? Does gender play a role in their recruitment? They are overwhelmingly white middle class.
In any case, over-arching government (the state) will not disappear in any large developed country during this century, even though racist capitalism may be overthrown. For a taste of a real existing stateless nation, glimpse the chaos in that ultimate failed state Somalia. So the real question is, what kind of government (federal, state and local) must we strive for? Most movement activists in the United States seem automatically to assume that a socialized state would be an organic compound of individual, small-scale, private, cooperative enterprises and radical social democracy. But not necessarily, given the widespread and historically-derived antiblack aversive racism among rank and file whites in America. That is why we must be careful what we wish and strive for. It is possible that our liberal free-market racism could give way to a modernized social racism mandating back-of-the-bus status for blacks and other “minorities” of color and repression for antiracist whites. Global capitalism may be imploding, but we must remember that in its chattel enslavement form antiblack racism gave birth to and thus predated capitalism in the Western Hemisphere, and thus harbors the potential to outlast its capitalist offspring. Social fascism is a danger.
Clarence, could you clarify a little you last point about a-b racism preceding capitalism for our readers, and mention your books dealing with this. Thanks for the provoking good discussion.
CJ Munford – I’m in agreement with you. Even in terms of anti-racism, just putting black faces in white places doesn’t do the job. By and large, the system and structure of things remain racist. We need to overhaul the entire thing. While I do find that capitalism as a many of economy is better than, say, communism, it will reflect existing biases of the people in the economy. And, it definitely needs to be moderated by socialism, and that entire system by anti-racism
To Abigail and Joe – While I agree that it is necessary to keep pressure on Pres. Obama when it comes to race, I think it’s important not to criticize from a place that expects more from Obama just because he’s of color. I mean, if we overdo it, the publicans are just gonna capitalize on it for their own ends.
No1KState? How do we determine whether or not the expectations people place on Obama are:
1. Inappropriate even if they exceed the expectations held for America’s white presidents.
2. Actually are expecting more from him.
What I’m saying is, I think its important to assess the expectations on their own merits and, more importantly, the basis for the expectations. My point is that people can very well expect more from Obama and not necessarily hold him to a different standard than his white counterparts. While I’m aware of people projecting their own ideas/agendas onto Pres. Obama and using those ideas/agendas as the basis for their expectations… I’m also aware of people who took Pres. Obama at his world and expect him to stay true to what he campaigned on, etc. (e.g. the Black farmers).
Also, while I’m sensitive to the kind of pressure Pres. Obama is under… I’m also have a problem with this kind of self-induced, self-denial that borders on insanity. Why shouldn’t we be able to expect more out of Pres. Obama? Why have those who have waited so long for a government to be attentive and responsive to them be told, again, that their expectations are to be put on hold?
Throughout the presidential campaign there were constantly these calls Obama’s campaign/response to wait until “we get him elected.” Well, now he is elected.
For more clarification concerning antiblack racism preceding capitalism see AMERICAN CRUCIBLE (publication date ca. June 1, 2009, Africa World Press), chapters 4, 6 and 8.
I don’t want anyone to put their expectations on hold. Especially as pertains to civil rights, ie the black farmers. But, it was clear from the beginning that Obama wasn’t going to be a “civil rights” president. And, I meant to make this more clear in the comment you’re responding to. I just think some on the left are piling on in ways that aren’t constructive. Don’t get me wrong. Civil rights activists have a ways to go before we reach that particular point. By the same token, I don’t wanna give some racist conservative an “excuse” to say the progressive policies and presidents won’t work for us.
So, I guess I mena to say that those who expect Obama to pass legislation or do anything transformative to end racism are just as a bit in denial as those who think he’s election alone has ended racism. I think we have to be smart in our criticism, to be sure we don’t get conservatives meat. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m being very articulate here. I definitely think some complaints from the left are a bit too much. For example, I think the criticisms of his taking single payer healthcare off the table are right. But other complaints from the left, I don’t know, they just don’t strike me as fair. And, I just don’t wanna see civil rights activists follow that path. We should continue local and state activities as well as focusing on Congress and Obama. We have to focus on challenging the entire apparactus and not single out Obama.