Obama vs. Black Self-Determination
One of the great ironies of the current campaign season is the assumption by so many Black voters that by supporting Barack Obama for president, they are making a real contribution to African American self-determination. Nothing could be further from the truth. The candidate, himself, is mightily opposed to the principle of African American self-determination, as he revealed in great detail and beyond doubt in rejecting Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s narrative on America’s origins. Obama also has no more respect than other corporate politicians for principles of international law and the sovereignty of nations. Should he win the presidency, U.S. militarization of Africa will continue, as will American bullying of its Latin American neighbors.
Obama-ism—a thoroughly corporate political concoction soaked with banalities and wrapped in fraudulent brown packaging—presents a clear and present danger to perhaps the greatest legacy of the Black Freedom Movement: African Americans’ embrace of their right to self-determination. Although African American yearnings for self-determination are evident in all previous eras, the general and dramatic emergence of this fundamental understanding among Blacks of their distinct “peoplehood” and inherent right to shape their own collective destiny, free of veto by or need for validation from dominant whites, marks the Sixties as a transformational period in African American history.
Barack Obama, whose disdain for what he calls the “excesses of the 1960s and 1970s” is palpable, seeks to eradicate all vestiges of Black self-determination, root and branch. The Senator has never made a secret of his intentions, dating from his 2004 Democratic National Convention declaration that “there is no Black America,” to his categorical rejection of the Black counter-narrative of American history, as preached by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and understood by most African Americans.
Obama has revealed himself as a rabid nationalist of the standard, white America variety. “I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country,” says Obama—which pretty much says it all. The candidate has repeatedly telegraphed his contempt for any worldview that fails to glorify the U.S. rise to global dominance—a ritual that collides instantly with truth as it actually exists, with history as Black people have known it, and with Black aspirations to make their own way in the world unencumbered by the burden of white lies. Obama promises that he will oppose, with all the powers of his office, those who, like Rev. Wright, “use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.” (Philadelphia “Race” speech, March 18.)
If Obama were already president, dissidents would have cause to shop for a safe house or foreign getaway.
Victims as perpetrators
Clearly, if the United States is inherently good, then Black people and Native Americans must have done something catastrophically wrong to bring down upon themselves such suffering at the hands of the U.S. government—not to mention the sins committed by Vietnamese, Nicaraguans, Angolans and all the other peoples that have gotten in the way of white American Manifest Destiny.
President Obama will wage war against the heresies of deviant worldviews that dare to question America’s moral superiority—as exemplified by Rev. Wright’s “profoundly distorted view of this country—a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America.”
If racism is merely an aberration in American life, as Obama believes—and which is the greatest concession that general white society is prepared to make to Blacks—then all the fuss about institutional racism, endemic police brutality and such are insults to the “national honor.” Certainly, Obama behaves as if he thinks so. Every manifestation of Black entitlement to self-determination—that is, the right to rely on one’s own people’s collective memory and sense of the truth—must, from Obama’s standpoint, be resisted, denounced and suppressed as “divisive” and, in general, against the national interest.
In order for Obama’s vision of America to be true, most of Black America must be liars, Black self-determination equals treason, and the Sixties era was the Mother of Corruption.
A half-century ago, in a veritable end-of-marathon sprint to self-emancipation, Black Americans not only achieved full legal citizenship within barely the space of a decade, but in the process threw off the chains of subservience to the oppressor’s national historical narrative, the legitimizing mythology of white American Manifest Destiny. Inevitably, and in the glare of a global anti-colonial firestorm, African Americans finally perceived en masse the true nature of the centuries-old crime still in progress—that distinct and peculiar monstrosity—U.S. imperialism. Born of the Middle Passage and Pilgrims making bonfires of Pequot Indian women and children, 20th Century U.S. aggression against mainly non-white peoples abroad was inextricably linked to chain gangs and street cop justice at home. African Americans focused their “third eye” that could see across oceans and centuries, a political optic that discerned not just blood kin on The Continent, but peoples on other, distant shores, also victims of Euro-American predation, and equally deserving of Black solidarity.
African American solidarity with continental Africans—and with Vietnamese who “never called me nigger”—grew in tandem with the Black domestic struggle for self-determination: the fight for political rights with which to defend, control and shape the futures of Black communities. It is a truism that those who are engaged in struggle for their own people’s self-determination are most sincerely empathetic towards others seeking liberation—especially when it is understood that the two peoples share a common antagonist. The period loosely defined as The Sixties saw not only unprecedented popular mobilization on domestic issues (10,000 separate demonstrations in 1965, alone, the vast bulk of them “civil rights” related), but soaring Black identification with liberation movements elsewhere in the world. African Americans were preparing themselves to become full-fledged citizens of the planet, not just the United States.
The language of self-determination, always a strong current in historical Black political thought, entered the popular Black vocabulary through Malcolm X. “We assert that we Afro-Americans have the right to direct and control our lives, our history, and our future rather than to have our destinies determined by American racists,” declared Malcolm’s Organization of African-American Unity (OAAU), in a document scheduled for release on the day of his assassination, February 21, 1965. “[W]e are determined to rediscover our true African culture, which was crushed and hidden for over four hundred years in order to enslave us and keep us enslaved up to today....”
Self-determination was item number one of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point Program, promulgated in 1966:
“‘We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black Community.’ We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny.”
Two years later, 100 Black nationalists in Detroit declared the founding of the Republic of New Africa (RNA), to further Blacks’ entitlement to the full rights of a nation. Following the Nation of Islam’s ideological lead and citing Malcolm X as the “Father of the Black Nation,” the RNA identified five southern states—Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina—as the “Promised Land” for Black Americans.
The embrace of self-determination was not limited to the Black Left and land-seeking nationalists, but resonated throughout Black society, from Black capitalists to Marxists and everyone in between. There can be no doubt that the people who Dr. Martin Luther King was certain would “get to the promised land” were on a conscious, mass journey of self-determination. It was up to Black people to decide precisely where the ultimate destination might be—a question over which Dr. King agonized during the last years of his life. “I think we’ll be integrating into a burning house,” King told entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte, in 1968—a clear acknowledgement that African Americans were not simply a darker variety of citizens, but a distinct people within the United States. King imagined that Blacks would play the role of firemen in the “American” house—but at any rate, that would be their choice to make.
The call to self-determination was not limited to the Black Left and land-seeking nationalists, but resonated throughout Black society.
By definition, the right to self-determination is independent of minority or majority status—otherwise, no such right can exist in the face of white majority power. Therefore, self-determination transcends simple one-man, one-vote rule, which, in the United States, affords historically hostile white majorities a permanent veto over Black aspirations. U.S. history has provided ample proof that electoral “democracy” is no cure for institutionalized suppression of racial minorities. With Voting Rights legislation secured by the mid-Sixties and understanding the limits of winner-take-all ballots, African Americans, including Dr. King, insisted on the right of Blacks to exercise effective power over their own lives as Blacks. Naturally, such rights would obtain in the growing number of localities in which Blacks were emerging as majorities. However, the principles of self-determination, as interpreted at the time, demanded that Blacks and others claiming “peoplehood” be entitled to control those resources necessary for the development of their group independent of the majority’s wishes—“rather than to have our destinies determined by American racists,” as Malcolm’s organization put it.
The domestic Black American application of self-determination principles were adapted from United Nations language that states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
The UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Economic Rights fit the Black liberationist sentiments of The Sixties to a tee. Just as small nations have rights that powerful nations are required to respect, so the Black minority in the United States has the right to speak and act for itself, and to claim a share of the national treasure for itself, regardless of majority claims and sentiments. In a world of evolving standards of civilization, true “democracy” does not allow the big to lord it over the small.
Although there was not to be a land-based Black “nation” within U.S. borders, the core principles of Black self-determination have been largely incorporated into the political outlook and expectations of African Americans, and grudgingly acquiesced to by most whites. Blacks and, later, other minority groupings in white institutions, most notably academia, demanded and received resources based on their standing as Blacks within the larger body. The autonomy of Black political sentiment has, until recently, been at least paid lip service by whites throughout U.S. society. Indeed, much of what some whites mean-spiritedly call “playing the race card” is simply Black assertion of group rights and prerequisites that should not be curbed by white majorities. Television programs produced by and for Blacks, now nearly extinct, were responses to demands that Black people be allowed to speak for themselves—a right under the umbrella of self-determination. In Democratic Party circles, at least, “the Blacks” cannot appear to be left out of decision-making exercises, which usually require the (cosmetic) presence of trustworthy African Americans as a semblance for Black group inclusion. The moral authority of Black caucuses (including that which has been frittered away by the Congressional Black Caucus) is derived from the larger authority of self-determination principles.
The 1960s Black embrace of political self-determination freed African Americans from the burdensome inheritance of United States’ enemies. As Muhammad Ali is said to have declared in 1966, “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.” Self-determination meant the right to declare solidarity with whomever one chooses, to side with African kin in the struggle for decolonization of the continent while the U.S. thwarted true liberation at every turn; and to identify as friends those who shared status as designated enemies of the U.S. government, abroad.
International law is treated as a dead letter, by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans
During the Sixties, it was discovered that African Americans, whose foreign policy opinions had previously been only sporadically surveyed, were more opposed to American military adventures abroad than any other U.S. ethnic group. The basis of Black anti-war sentiment was rooted in, not some vague group pacifism, but the conclusion that Washington is a bully who revels in abusing persons of color (and gets rich doing it). African Americans had amassed centuries of experience as victims of U.S. government policy, treated as foreigners in their own land. Blacks, therefore, harbor the healthiest skepticism about U.S. motives, especially regarding non-white peoples. The right of self-determination, as African Americans understood it, liberated Blacks from any obligation to support Washington’s depredations around the world. Moreover, bonds of solidarity with Africa required active opposition to U.S. foreign policy.
For many Blacks, the “newfound” knowledge of self-determination principles meant, literally, the right to enjoy freedom of speech for the first time! African Americans had always understood that Washington cared as little for the interests of foreign non-whites as it did for “colored” folks at home. Now, they could shout it, without fear of being branded traitors—at least, not by other Black people. By 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King found his true voice and began speaking in what was essentially solidarity with the Vietnamese people.
Two generations later, the contradictions of ailing U.S. imperialism become ever more acute. The United States challenges, as never before, the rights of smaller nations to manage their own resources and political affairs as they see fit. International law is treated as a dead letter by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans. Barack Obama is no different—except in the imaginations of his fans.
Obama plans to leave 60-80,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely, retain the services of many of the 140,000 private mercenaries (contractors) currently in the country, and add 92,000 additional soldiers and Marines to overall U.S. force structures—the same number the Bush regime requested from Congress. Far from being a peace candidate, Obama favors a huge increase in U.S. war-making capacity, in order to fight yet a third war while still mired in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Washington will have no problem finding locations for its new war(s)
Outside of the Middle East, the fault lines run through Africa and Latin America. George Bush has already begun the occupation of the Horn of African under the ruse of “anti-terror,” with Ethiopia’s brutal dictatorship acting as U.S. surrogate. Backed by every military resource of the United States, including the huge American base in Djibouti, the might of U.S. Indian Ocean naval and air power, and with U.S. Special Operations “advisors” deployed down to the company level, Ethiopia in late 2006 crushed the only stable government Somalia has had since 1994. The U.S.-Ethiopian aggression created what United Nations officials describe as the “worst humanitarian situation in Africa”—worse than Darfur.
Barack Obama has had nothing to say about Somalia except to express outrage at his opponents posting pictures of himself dressed up in the garb of a Somali elder, during a visit to neighboring Kenya (Obama’s father’s homeland) several years ago. Suppression of Somali resistance to occupation threatens to destabilize Kenya, with its large Somali population, and Ethiopia, itself, where ethnic Somalis and others are in rebellion against the dictatorship.
It is fair to say that Somalia is the first African war to be tackled by the new American military command, Africom. So widespread is public opposition on the continent, fearing an attempt to re-colonize the region, no country has agreed to host the Africom. But Barack Obama fully supports the robust U.S. military presence. “There will be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to fight terrorism with lethal force,” said Obama. “Having a unified command operating in Africa will facilitate this action.”
Obama’s enthusiasm for swamping Africa in an ever-expanding “war on terror,” is obvious.
On the western shores of the continent, Obama was rumored in early May to have proposed a cease-fire in the guerilla war over oil resources in Nigeria’s Niger River delta. The insurgents, who claim the central government excludes delta residents from the benefits of oil production, have also asked former President Jimmy Carter to mediate the dispute. Whether anything comes of either request, it is certain that Nigeria, Africa’s number one oil producer, will always be a leading candidate for Africom intervention. The presence of guerillas in the delta is all the Americans—including, based on his own words, Obama—will need to invoke the terror threat.
Far from being a peace candidate, Obama favors a huge increase in U.S. war-making capacity
Venezuela claims that recent explorations confirm that the South American nation has surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil reserves. Barack Obama is nearly as bellicose as John McCain when it comes to Venezuela’s “rogue” leader, President Hugo Chavez—a hugely popular politician who was fairly elected three times under the watchful eyes of international observers. But democratic credentials don’t matter to American politicians anxious to prove they can warmonger with the meanest blowhards in the pack.
Obama growls about bringing sanctions against Venezuela for allegedly undermining its neighbor, Columbia, Washington’s narco-death-squad-client-state. With the U.S. guzzling down 60 percent of Venezuela’s oil exports, and plenty of other customers willing to take America’s place, the sanctions threat is just plain silly. But Obama’s hostility to Chavez (who does not return the insult, even when Obama derides Chavez’s “predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy” is a bad omen for peace in the region.
The U.S. supports secessionist efforts by the moneyed classes in Venezuela and its two closest allies, Ecuador and Bolivia. Not coincidentally, all three plots are centered in the countries’ main oil or gas-producing regions. Another coincidence: after 60 years deactivation, the U.S. Navy this month revived its Fourth Fleet, with responsibility for South and Central America. Eva Morales, President of Bolivia, called it “the Fourth Fleet of intervention.”
The spark can come any time the Americans decide to set off a regional conflict. Barack Obama, the phony peace candidate, is already providing warlike rhetoric, vowing to support Colombia if it repeats incursions into neighboring Ecuador or Venezuela in search of FARC “terrorists.”
“We will support Colombia’s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders,” Obama promised Cuban exiles and their progeny in Miami. “And we will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. This behavior must be exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation and—if need be—strong sanctions. It must not stand.”
The southern color line
The renewed American threats to Latin American sovereignty occur when Black, brown and indigenous (Indian) populations throughout the region are in the midst of a political awakening, a deep social transformation in which Venezuela’s Chavez, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa are major players. The non-whites of Latin America are asserting their rights to self-determination—that is, their rights as Indians, or as persons of African descent, regardless of majority or minority status in society. Where they are majorities, non-whites are seizing political power.
Long retarded by the fiction that Latin America has no racial problem, people of color are finally confronting the racial dimensions of Latin American poverty (disproportionately non-white) and oligarchy (always white).
As usual, the U.S. is on the white oligarchy’s side. So is Barack Obama, whose support for the oligarchic, super-corrupt Colombian regime amounts to backing a barbaric, color-coded caste system. One need not be fluent in Spanish to understand the meaning of political cartoons in the newspapers of the rich that portray Hugo Chavez as a monkey.
African Americans and solidarity
Wider war is coming to South America and Africa, an inevitability given the Democrats’ failure to choose a real alternative to the Republicans. There is absolutely no indication that Barack Obama (or his fading political twin, Hillary) will disassemble the U.S. foreign policy elements that were put in place specifically as tripwires for and facilitators of wars. Quite the opposite, Obama will maintain over one hundred thousand military and civilian personnel in Iraq, with others “over the horizon;” step up the militarization of Africa through Africom, continue backing the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia, and possibly draw neighboring Eritrea into a larger conflict; attempt to destabilize Hugo Chavez and other progressive leaders of mostly non-white constituencies in Latin America, with the aim of seizing control of fossil fuel resources.
African Americans, despite their relative quiescence compared to the roiling Sixties, will respond to these aggressions through solidarity with Washington’s victims on both continents. After 40-plus years, we have still not forgotten our self-determination right to declare solidarity as Black people with whomever we choose. We can confidently predict that President Obama will overreact to dissent, especially to significant Black protest. He already revealed his character and core worldview in the confrontation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Let us revisit the incident:
Barack Obama’s denunciation of Rev. Wright’s narrative on American society’s genesis in genocide and slavery—a narrative with which the vast majority of Blacks are in general agreement—was in fact a demand that Blacks cease telling their own story, in deference to white opinion and the foreign policy interests of the United States.
In framing Rev. Wright’s critique of the United States as “not only wrong but divisive,” Obama came perilously close to charging the minister and those who think like him with something resembling “un-American” activities. Wright’s worldview, said Obama, is “divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems—two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.”
In short, Blacks of Wright’s political persuasion are culpable for more crimes against the planet than Hitler’s propagandists blamed on the Jews. If any of this were even half-true, most people would agree that all those who sympathize with Rev. Wright should be silenced and imprisoned, for the sake of humanity!
Barack Obama is not yet president, or even the Democratic nominee, but he has already made it clear that he believes African Americans are obligated to uphold the honor and reputation of the United States under any and all circumstances, refrain from actions or statements that might create “division,” and avoid agitation for either their own rights to self-determination or anybody else’s.
I think I smell a thug.
Black Agenda Report (BAR) executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at: Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com
—Black Agenda Report (BAR), May 28, 2008