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I wanted to let you all in on a conversation that is taking place in the comments over at Open Left about Obama and anti-Black racism.   My contribution to this conversation is rather long (and a bit overwrought), but writing it helped crystallize my thoughts on Obama and anti-Black racism....

I hope you find the discussion thought-provoking and informative.  (I've copied three entries from the thread in the body of the diary, mine is the final one.)

No guilt about supporting Edwards  (4.00 / 4)
Listen, I'm Latino and I cannot stand this obsession whites have with voting for Obama b/c he'll somehow magically change the way we and others see ourselves.  Basically, such people are voting for him b/c he's black.  It's true--and it's especially ridiculous considering the times we're living in.

Our nation is in crisis!  The Constitution is in tatters and we're willing to pick someone b/c he'll make us feel better about ourselves?!  Come on!  An image change will not restore America.  The next president will have an epic disaster on their hands and it'll take incredible political skill just to cope with the disastrous mess Bush has left our country in, let alone begin to fix it.  We need a bold leader who's unafraid to get their hands dirty.  That is not Obama.  Krugman is right about him; he's the anti-change candidate.  Edwards is our best bet.  Am I going to feel bad b/c he happens to be a white man and, thus, not look like me?  The hell I am!

And to be honest, it's quite absurd to think that an image change will have any substantive effect on racism.  Trust me, none of us who fail to fit the stereotype are able to disprove the stereotype (Proving a false negative is impossible).  A president Obama would never penetrate the bubble of racism; he'd just be considered the exception to the rule.


It's a kind of tokenism (4.00 / 2)
"Look how far we've come because we let one in." I don't want to let one of us in so that people can then ignore the deeper issues of race in this country. It's not about one. It's about a system.


On Obama and anti-Black racism (0.00 / 0)
I think you are right that a decent percentage of Obama's supporters are participating in a politics of tokenism -- a politics that is founded on an incredibly naive and superficial view of how anti-Black racism works in America.

Racism is a many-headed hydra.  It is sustained by a whole range of historically sedimented conscious and unconscious perceptions and actions on the part of individuals, as well as a complex of quasi-objective social systems (i.e. capitalism, imperialism).  Unraveling the knot of racism requires concerted action on a number of different fronts simultaneously, and can't possibly happen in one fell swoop.  So, while it is certainly true that electing Obama president won't dismantle racism in one fell swoop, we have to ask whether it would set in place conditions of possibility for the unraveling of racism in a way that electing, say, Clinton or Edwards would not.

There are three arguments that are somewhat convincing to me as to why, as an anti-racist, supporting Obama makes sense.

  1. Insofar as we live in a society characterized by alienation (I'm thinking along the lines of Marx and Adorno here), we are forced to realize ourselves, in a manner of speaking, through symbolic identification with leaders (and celebrities more generally).  This identification is mediated through the mass (corporate) media.  The president is a major figure for such identification (s/he is, afterall, the only person who can interrupt prime time television to give an 'address to the nation').  I think that this function of the presidency helps explain why so many on the Left have a visceral hatred and repulsion of GWB (we recoil at the thought of identifying with him).  I think it also explains why presidential approval ratings tend to erode over time -- when people withdraw their identification with a president, it is nearly possible for this identification to be forged anew (regardless of how one feels about this or that policy).  It also helps explain the importance of 'trust' or 'likability' to voters.  So, the value in having a person of color as president is not about 'dispelling stereotypes' (it is absolutely true, as another poster noted, that stereotypes are basically impossible to 'disprove' -- they don't operate on a rational level).  The value has more to do with the issue of identification.  If a majority of white people in America symbolically identify with a person of color (that is to say, see themselves in and through a Black leader), that would have effects on the American racial imaginary that are hard to quantify, but nevertheless real.  Incidentally, this is, I think, the best argument for why electing Clinton would further the cause of gender equality.
  1. Obama has the potential to disable/scramble GOP racial politics, thus cutting away one of the central unifiers of the Right in America.  My hope is that, as the election progresses (assuming Obama is our nominee), and as racist campaign messages actually backfire (as they seem to have done so far in the primary), white people in America will actually work through some of their unconscious racism (they will actually experience the feeling of not being moved by racist appeals, which will then make it more likely that, in the future, such appeals won't be as automatically effective).  The hope is that this might actually fragment the Right, and help usher in a progressive political realignment.  Something that I think is interesting about this primary (especially about the argument that has been taking place between Edwards and Obama's supporters) is the way that it has raised the question of how to respond to the Right.  What I think is often forgotten/overlooked by Edwards' supporters, despite their being right in many of their criticisms of Obama and his supporters, is that rightist motivations and actions among the broad mass of people in this country (including even powerful people) are not static (that is to say, they actually could be disrupted, or even reversed).  People on the right are motivated by irrational anxieties and hopes (be they religious, racist, or whatever), and therefore have no good (lasting) reason to cling to their anxieties and hopes.
  1. Revolutionary/progressive Black intellectuals have Obama's ear.  I am thinking particularly of Cornel West here, but in truth there are a number of Black intellectuals who have a degree of access to Obama that they haven't had to previous candidates or presidents (one of whom, Dwight Hopkins, is a former professor of mine).  Cornel West, for instance, is at least as progressive as anyone either Clinton or Edwards are listening to (this is putting it generously -- in truth, I think he is far more progressive than anyone they are listening to).  For this reason, and because I believe Obama has a core progressive commitment, I think Obama has the potential to make progressive change in ways that are surprising (I'm thinking of who he appoints to various departments, what executive orders he signs, what he does diplomatically, etc.) -- in other words, I think he might push the envelope on a range of issues important to people of color in ways that are hard to predict before he assumes office.  The reason that people like Cornel West have Obama's ear has to do with the history of Black intellectual/public culture in America.  It is the same reason why West has Tavis Smiley's ear (a man who certainly does not share West's politics).  It has to do with the politics of identity/solidarity in the Black community -- a politics forged in the crucible of struggles against white supremacy and for social equality (struggles that Obama explicitly aligns himself with).

Cornel West introducing Obama at the Apollo Theater

Originally posted to seabrook on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 11:27 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  I don't buy it! (0+ / 0-)

      People are not voting out of wanting to show they are not racists that is nuts. Barack is a good candidate Black man or not he is a family man who admits his mistakes and knows the need for change. I personally think he would be a great running mate. For who ever gets the nomination and if it is him, I would say his best choice for a running mate would be John Edwards or if Hillary will take VP I would say go with her after Edwards. These three tops should stick together and combine the voter power they all have in this election. I think one of Gore's big mistakes was taking Joe Lieberman as his running mate in the 2000 election. He should have went with someone like Edwards or Kerry. Time has a way of kicking you in the ass and making you realizing the mistakes you make. I think Gore didn't really want to be President as much as he wanted to change the worlds minds on Global warming.

      Edwards 08


      by wildfancylady on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 02:06:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yawn (14+ / 0-)

    The guy is brilliant and a dynamite candidate.  He's worked his entire professional career for the public whether it was as a civil rights attorney and community organizer, a teacher of constitutional law and a legislator.  The fact that he is black is cool.  And yes, it maybe does help us a little bit.  One thing we see sometimes in the black community is a belief that most white people would never vote for a black president.  There are resentments in this country on all sides.  There actually are reasons to believe that changing peoples perceptions about each other could open some doors to improving our society.  

    All this hand-wringing seems like bullshit to me.  We have a great candidate, uniquely suited to what the country is hungry for and he's also black.  Hooray I say.  We've had black candidates before.  People don't get elected just because they are black.  Obama is who he is in this campaign because of who he is.  

    The whisper campaigns and building up 'negatives' of your opponent any way possible is a failure of politics, not the fun of politics.

    by Sun dog on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 11:37:12 AM PST

    •  indeed: (6+ / 0-)

      "Obama is who he is in this campaign because of who he is."  

      This diary wasn't meant to say: we should all vote for Obama because he's Black.  Far from it.  Instead, it was a response to people who were saying: Obama's election would divert our attention away from structural racism.  I was responding to that argument by pointing out why, from an anti-racist perspective, a vote for Obama made sense.  

      But I agree with you -- there are far better reasons to vote for Obama.

      •  Yes sorry (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sean Robertson, seabrook, Mr Hegemony

        I was responding to the same stuff you were, not to your response to it.  Parsing this stuff down to the umpteenth degree now during the campaign seems diversionary to me.  I think we know in our guts that electing an African American to the presidency provides great opportunities to heal rifts here and with the world.  

        It's like some people are saying about Hillary.  Sure, it would be great to have a woman president but it should be the right woman.  The same goes for a black president except in the case of Obama, he IS the right one.  

        The whisper campaigns and building up 'negatives' of your opponent any way possible is a failure of politics, not the fun of politics.

        by Sun dog on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 11:55:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  The main trouble among Dems (0+ / 0-)

        is the lack of national exposure to Obama over a long-ish period of time.  

        "who the fuck is this guy?" may be the thing that primary voters will ask themselves.

        I will make them have it. I will stuff their mouths with Gold!--Aneurin Bevan (on the NHS)

        by Salo on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 01:43:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Man Can Talk (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lordcopper, seabrook

    better than most who are running, and not just "for a black man."

    In particular he has a way of easily making accusers look like idiots. I don't know that he's particularly great at it--but I do know that most of our other Dems have been particularly bad at it.

    I'll probably oppose him in the end because of the way he expresses his bipartisan and anti-activist agendas.  I fear he is closed to recognition of the severity of our situation and the nature of the internal threats coming at us.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 11:49:21 AM PST

    •  fair enough (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      my perspective on this question is that Obama would probably be a mixed bag if he were elected.  to a certain extent, he would not fight as hard as we need.  on the other hand, i think he really would have a neutralizing effect on the right, to some extent, and would push through some very progressive legislation.... all in all, a mixed bag...

      but with all the plusses and minuses added up, i like obama more than any of the others (who have a chance of being the nominee).

      •  The genius of Obama is that (0+ / 0-)

        even if he is not as substantively progressive as some on the left may like (BTW, I disagree with that view), he is procedurally progressive and will empower the people to force the organs of government (president, congress, judiciary), the press, and the body politic to be progressive.

        I strongly recommend Femlaws' diary  
        Obama for America for a discussion of what I call Obama's procedural progressivism.

        It is not just about Obama, it is about us: the progressive body politic.  Obama is establising a structure, through grassroot / netroot organizing in his campaign, that can result in a truly and enduring progressive America.  If only we can seize this opportunity.

        Edwards may spout the rhetoric of progressivism, but where is his structure?  Is he the one who is establishing only a cult of personality?  

        Seize the opportunity. Vote for Obama and his procedural progressivism.

  •  immer porno mit adorno n/t (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jxg, Salo, mdgarcia
  •  Seabrook, it's ok to support Edwards, in fact (0+ / 0-)

    he's my second choice.  Why do you feel you have to use race baiting tactics to show support for Edwards?  Not a single vote has been cast yet, he may win without those tactics and have a lot more goodwill because of it.

    "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." Victor Hugo

    by lordcopper on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 11:57:46 AM PST

  •  Interesting, thoughtful diary. Thank you for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    thinking about this topic and giving me some new ways of looking at it.

    Participation will save the human race.

    by extradish on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 12:03:30 PM PST

  •  I actually worry that electing Obama won't (0+ / 0-)

    do anything about racism. If anything, it will make it stronger.

    Do you know how EVERYONE is not racist because they have one black friend?

    With Obama as president, everyone will have one black friend they can point to. "There's no more racism in this country: we have a black president!"

    And all the deep seeded issues of discrimination in the justice system, the employment system, and the education system will go unaddressed.

    Racism isn't about "I hate you". It's "I wouldn't give that guy a job".

    Hillary is running against Bush. Compared to Bush, we all look like Gandhi. We should expect more than just "not Bush".

    by danthrax on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 12:06:33 PM PST

    •  i think i addressed this argument above, but... (4+ / 0-)

      i would just say that the problem with this logic is that it assumes that everyone who says: "look, i have a black friend," is more racist (that is to say, more uncaring about the huge structural inequities in terms of life chances between black and white people in America) than all those white folks who don't say such inane and tokenizing things.  

      i just don't see how that argument could be sustained.  

      you point out the issues of the justice, employment and education systems: the clip i included of Cornel West at the Apollo has him discussing this issues explicitly.  no one else is talking about racism in the justice system in this campaign.  clinton opposed the rectification of the disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  obama actually passed a meaningful reform of the death penalty laws in illinois as state senator.  he knows about and works on this issue.  he also has a strong education plan, and often discusses educational disparities directly.  

      •  I think Edwards took a strong stand on Jena (0+ / 0-)


        Middle America thinks that was a story of interracial hatred.

        But Jena was actually a story about two justice systems.

        I think Obama will do a lot of positive things for all minorities, and gays and women too.

        But I reject the notion that he has any symbolic value. Unfortunately, our media gets to decide what our symbols mean. In this case, Obama is more likely to be a symbol of compromise and reconciliation than a symbol of reform. That's just how his narrative has caught on. Ask David Brooks, or whoever.

        Hillary is running against Bush. Compared to Bush, we all look like Gandhi. We should expect more than just "not Bush".

        by danthrax on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 12:29:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  i hadn't heard... (3+ / 0-)

          about Edwards taking a stand on Jena.  Indeed, it is a story about two justice systems.  

          I'm not sure if I agree with you about the question of symbolism.  It is true that, on one level, Obama might be 'coded' as a symbol of compromise by the media (though, I think there will be counter-codings that will also have some power).  However, on another level -- a more visceral one -- he signifies "Our leader" (or even, our "national ideal").  That is the level that I was talking about in this diary.  I'm not saying that having Obama president will upend racism, I'm just saying that, you don't go through four years of symbolically identifying with someone and not have it change your sense of what is normal, who you are, etc...

        •  don't get dragged into this fight. (0+ / 0-)

          I will make them have it. I will stuff their mouths with Gold!--Aneurin Bevan (on the NHS)

          by Salo on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 01:44:34 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Its certainly not a reason to elect anyone (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    seabrook, Mr Hegemony

    But lets try to pretend not to see what the effect of electing president Obama would do to racial relations in this country.
    After all we've been through slavery, the civil war, Jim crow, kkk, public lynching of black men, the civil right movement, police dogs etc.

    If we can overcome all these problems and elect a black man as president a mere 40 years after the civil rights movement this would be huge.
    1000 years from now historians would be researching what kind of Americans we could have been to have come so far in such a short period.

  •  Great Post (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dotster, Mr Hegemony

    It's pretty unreal to me that here we are standing on the precipice of actually electing a progressive black President and there are progressives and "anti-racists" who are not on board.

    If you have a criticism about Obama, you have to show me the better alternative.

    John Edwards is the only other progressive with a remote chance at winning and, while his rhetoric is great, he has to run almost 180 degrees against his centrist record and his co-sponsorship of the Senate resolution authorizing the war in Iraq.

    Pretty much everybody agrees that Clinton is just another of the "lessor of two evils" votes we've been forced into for decades.

    Seven years of Bush should've completely destroyed any thought that "it makes no difference."

    Barack Obama -- The Time is Now!

    by pragprogress on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 12:51:14 PM PST

  •  Mike Garrett Integration (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When was that?


    Mike Garrett scores 4 touchdowns against Alabama in Alabama.

    The next year, Alabama's football team is integrated.

    Crimson Tide boosters don't like black people, but they like having 4 touchdowns hung on them on their own field even less.

    Today's middle class America is the 1968 Alabama football team.

    With the current administration sending our friends and relatives off to die to boost Halliburton's stock price and with the economy imploding, even the most racist among us can overlook a little melanin if he can get our country back on track.

    •  This is why may uncle continues (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      brown girl in the ring, seabrook

      to be Crimson Tide through and through and continues to admire Bear Bryant. I think this was one of the first schools to allow blacks on the team.

      I believe the impact of Obama's election on race relations in this country will provide atonement for White people's guilt (not sure about the Asians and Africans-they do not like American blacks) and Black people can tell their daughters and sons, that "see even you can be President." This is something that was instilled in me from an early age. They instilled in me that my race is an obstacle but does not have to keep me from striving for whatever I wanted to do (not President. It actually tickles me to think of how conversations in Black folks households will change.

  •  Great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thanks for the critical analysis of this. I especially liked your thinking around the mediascape and its impact on how we see/identify ourselves through others. Why I think it is important to consider the weight of living in a racialized system (evidenced by our presidential lineage - all white males) and this historical moment we find ourselves in.

    It is and will continue to be interesting as we move through this moment; to see how significantly the racial (and gendered) landscape, while never stationary, changes.

    Again, thanks.

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