FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politics of Race in America

by RON JACOBS

When I got on the bus last April after Barack Obama’s primary victory in North Carolina, the conversation was naturally enough about that victory.  Despite its southern location, the town I live in–Asheville, NC–is known for its liberal politics and social tolerance.  Consequently, the overriding tone was one of exuberance.  Young black men and older veterans of the desegregation struggles of the 1960s smiled knowingly at each other.  Indeed. one fellow said to every black person who got on the bus–“Black President.”  Occasionally, he gave the new passenger what the right wing called a “terrorist fist pump.”  If there was somebody on the bus who objected to this display, they kept their mouth shut.

As any person who follows the US news knows, this silence is disappearing.  Indeed, since Sarah Palin hit the campaign trail, the rallies of her supporters and those of her fellow ticket member have become focal points for some of the most racist and small minded elements of the US body politic.  The cries of “kill him” and “terrorist” heard at recent GOP campaign rallies are stoked by the slate of commercials appearing on television that insinuate some kind of evil comradeship between Barack Obama and and education professor Bill Ayers.  Right wing talk shows and television programs broadcast outright lies that suggest Obama is somehow in league with Osama Bin Laden and hates the United States.  They imply that his multiracial background is somehow Unamerican and a threat to national security.  The GOP candidates meanwhile, send mixed messages regarding their agreement with these sentiments.

Given the recent rise in racist sentiment against Obama and the attempts to label his background as different from the America most Americans know, the question arises.  Is a vote for Barack Obama a vote against racism?  Despite his consistent support for a system dependent on racially tinged wars and economic policies that tend to hurt non-white people and nations the most, does the fact that he is an African-American strike a blow against the racist forces still at play in the United States?  Will a black man in the White House put a symbolic end to the overriding assumption in US politics that only white men deserve to rule this capitalist preserve?

I believe it will.  It will strike a blow against the retrograde racism that still resides in the US subconscious–a racism that surfaces when the racial order is seriously threatened as it was in the 1950s and 1960s during the struggles against racial apartheid in the US South and the more insidious racism of its northern states.  It is this same racism that echoes in the attacks on Obama on FoxNews and right wing blogs.  An Obama victory would symbolically undo the last vestige of white power in the Washington political world, while at the same time further entrenching the very system that white power birthed and white privilege has maintained.

It will also prove that skin tone, much like Maggie Thatcher’s rule in Great Britain proved about gender, that a person’s skin color does not decide their preference for any particular political or economic system.  In other words, being black does not mean that one is a revolutionary.  For those of us who have followed the political histories of various third world nations, it is no surprise that the temptation of money and power negates the racial and ethnic allegiances of most men and women.  This isn’t to say that Obama has sold himself down a river of avarice and power without principle.  It is merely noted to point out that Barack Obama has made it clear that he believes in the US system as much as almost any person who has run for the office.  Consequently, he sees his primary role to be ensuring that that system perseveres.

Despite the servitude to this system built on the sweat and blood of African slaves, immigrant and native workingmen and women, and the blood of too many young men and women in uniform, Barack Obama’s run for president has become a historically important event.  If he makes it to the White House, his presence there has the potential to become an event on par with the presidency of Abraham Lincoln during a bitter and bloody war that ended slavery in the United States.  Like Lincoln, Obama is a servant of the capitalist system.  Also like Lincoln, he is no radical, not even in his own party.  Yet, like Lincoln, his presence in the White House could very well begin another reimagination of the neverending story of race in America.  No matter what, his candidacy has highlighted the ever-present contradictions of a nation that founded itself by proclaiming the freedom and equality of all men while enslaving a considerable portion of its dark-skinned population.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail