For those of us who view racial consciousness as a pathway for the development of the black community these have been strange times indeed. Since the election 10 months ago mainstream civil rights groups, pundits and the corporate media have had a simple narrative about the meaning of Mr. Obama’s election, it’s the end to racial identity politics in the black community, the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream and America has resolved its racial issues, so you pro-black folks need to get lost. But now that the “post- racial” light in the tunnel looks like an oncoming train of a steroid induced white supremacy, racial identity politics, all aboard!
The election was actually indicative of a real shift in the body politic and presented a realistic opportunity to further develop a progressive/moderate coalition of so called racial minorities and young whites. The shift should have presented the dems an opportunity to actually cater to their base and to prepare for the inevitable push back from the right. Instead, liberals drank their own cool aid and embraced the “post-racial” prism which left them looking like deer caught in the headlights when racism/white nationalism raised its head. In the meantime the right jumped into their ole reliable hooptie, driving deep seated white supremacy beliefs into a mini-movement, effectively rekindling their base for the 2010 mid-term elections.
When you actually break down the election numbers, you can see the importance of demographic shifts and the voter turnout that brought this liberal/moderate coalition of Blacks, Asians, Latinos and young whites to victory. In winning approx 54% of the total votes cast, Obama won only 43% of the white vote (despite repeated cable pundits and anchors who keep claiming the that the overwhelming majority of whites voted for Obama), but over 95% of the Black vote and about 67% of the Latino and Asian vote. How these numbers were flipped into proof of a “post-racial” America is a testament to the power of the media and feeblemindedness of liberals. With the browning of America, racial coalition politics is more crucial in national elections and that should have been enough of a victory in speaking about how far the country has come.
Revenge of Identity Politics
Looking at the numbers, it is not a surprise that Obama won 43% of the white vote, considering the state of the country it should have been 63%. You would think that after a near collapse of laissez-faire capitalism and two wars with no end in sight, the need for change would be easy to see. But you can’t keep a good strategy down. As liberals were celebrating their kum-bai-ya moment, our right wing friends were regrouping, and their response was not less of a southern strategy but instead to turn up the fire.
Fox news led off with the attack on the New Black Panther Party showing how they supposedly intimidated white people on election-day, intimating the stealing of such election by the radical Obama. Next was the call after the election that the President-elect was going to take away their guns. So after the biggest spurt of gun buying in history was matched by the largest amount of death threats on a new President, something started looking a little shaky for the no more race crowd. Later the ‘birther movement’ rolled in with “he ain’t no American, that boy was born in Africa.” Glen Beck calls the half-white Obama racist and says he hates white people, it’s really getting hot now. Then the health -care debate gives off the battle cry of Obama being a socialist, look at them czars he hired, lets bring the guns to the town halls. The Texas governor threatens to leave the union. God bless them, they are as ugly as ever. If you thought the Willie Hortan adds of the 80’s were bad, take a look at what’s next. Rush Limbaugh turns a school fight where a white kid gets dropped, into a call for segregated buses to protect young whites against “Obama Nation”.
What are we to make of these attacks? They are going to intensify the racial tension because it’s the right’s only path to victory in a majority white party. The strategy of course is even older than the southern strategy of the sixties. It was the Democratic party of the south that first employed its own version of this strategy after the Republican Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation Act, insuring a loyalty of southern whites for close to 100 years, until the 1960’s when Republicans employed it as a response to the civil rights movement.
Prior to last year the right wing was on a path to creating a permanent majority. The christian right comprised the ground troops to the new neo-conservative anthem of embracing open markets and missionary wars as the path into heaven. It only increased the apathy of the general Black population in the electoral field on a national level. It was Republican overreaching in Iraq and the greatest economic crises in the US since the great depression that got Obama 40% of the white vote. On immigration the Republicans, who prior to their overt campaign to kick out all the Latino’s oops, they meant illegals were getting a much higher share of the Latino vote, pushed more Latinos to the left of the Republican party.
As we look at the American economic order, the saying goes when America gets a cold, black people get the flu; well it’s more like the swine-flu at this point. Black unemployment rates, which traditionally are at recession levels, have now hit the stage of depression officially topping 15% to 25% in most regions of the country not to mention other societal stats that continue to place black people at the bottom of social-economic indicators of well being in this society. That order is not going to change by the actions of a moderate Democratic party no matter who is in charge. However even for someone like myself that sees very little value in the American political system for long-term black interest, I can see how the Obama election rejuvenated black political involvement in this arena. This brings its own set of challenges, but the increased civic involvement is something that has to be taken as a positive overall. The limits of the US system to extract real change will only bring forth the need for a more profound “identity” politics for Black people. One that does not mirror what’s on the right but instead uses the politics of self-determination to build institutions that are controlled by the black community and brings forth the issues that are of concern in our community despite who may be the dominate electoral party in charge.
In addition since the Republicans strategy is to pull more whites back over to them, or to back off their immigration stance and try and to split the Latino vote. The recession will mean more angry white folks who will continue blaming “Barack Hussain Obama” for everything the Bush and its neo cons created. How do you think Black people are going to respond to the attack of the first Black President, they are going to defend him, and we should think about how to work with that, not just talk about Black bourgeoisie, or offer a critique from the left that does not include concern for Obama and his possible safety, but find ways to relate to that anger that speaks about the need to build institutions that can defend black “progress” or create a power base in the community.
The importance of stressing institution building for Black people in America has to become central to any argument in these political times. Why won’t right-wingers admit defeat and go away? It’s because they have the hardware and have built the institutions that solidifies their ability to get the word out and to regroup even after defeat. Fox news did not go away after the election it re-thought its position and came back even nastier than before. Black identity politics should not duplicate the right but it should learn that kum-bai-ya moments are just that, moments. Once the moment passes if our communities are not in any better shape than before then we have not done anything to meet our collective interest, even if an individual milestone has some ripple effect and is widely celebrated, by those who want us to be post-racial.
What do you think?