FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Tell the Negroes to Wait: Obama, Black Lives Matter, and Compromising with White Supremacy

Many are quick to echo Steve Harvey and tell those that push President Obama to be more responsive to the needs of black folks that he is not just President of Black America, but, in fact, he is the President of the United States of America. The point they attempt to make is that the President cannot just cater to the needs of one constituency. He must, being president of all, cater to all perspectives. His recent comments should appease the All Lives Matter vote.

Recently, the Movement for Black Lives was discussed while President Barack Obama spoke at a London town hall. He praised Black Lives Matter for its ability to highlight issues, but criticized what he felt were lackluster efforts to create solutions. He said that “they yell too much” and that “yelling is not what will get the job done.”

We are disappointed. Almost hurt. And it’s not the first time.

The implication that Black Lives Matter is not doing its job correctly because they are not being polite in their dealings with lawmakers and politicians reeks of respectability politics. Somehow, the President has placed the responsibility of implementing socially just policy on private citizens, not the elected officials. He has shifted the burden onto BLM, but none of the support or benefits.

Like all citizens, members of the Black Lives Matter movement have a first amendment right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances”, even if that means they need to yell to get a point across. Also, to refer to the movement’s actions strictly as “yelling” distracts from their accomplishments and is a thinly-veiled attempt to silence them, or at the very least, make dealing with them more convenient. Black Lives Matter has no obligation to comply with either wish. This is all reminiscent of what happened on April 12, 1963.

A little over fifty years ago this month, eight white clergymen taught us that expressions of injustice do not always take the form of harmful language or acts of violence. In response to the civil rights protests taking place in their city, these men penned an open letter entitled “A Call For Unity.” They urged the “Negroes” of Birmingham, Alabama to exercise patience with what was, up until then, glacial racial progress. In the letter they stated:

…We are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely. (Emphasis my own)

These men are all but saying, “The good Negroes are being incited to action by those bad, outsider Negroes.” Their words reek of xenophobia (fear of the ‘other’) and unconscious racism (racial animus that the holder is unaware they possess).

In response to the clergymen, King felt compelled to respond. Sitting in a jail cell for the very demonstrations “A Call For Unity” decries, Martin King writes:

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

In just one paragraph, King links the struggle for racial justice in Birmingham to the cosmic struggle for justice everywhere. He even implies that Socrates (the father of the Western philosophical tradition) would approve. For King—who once said that if he was stranded with only two books to read, he would want a copy of the Bible and Plato’s Republic— one could have no greater intellectual ally.

The eight clergymen’s plea for patience rings hollow. They sit in relative comfort, and either fail or refuse to see that they are benefactors in a racial system that exploits black folks in the South. Of course they sense no urgency. Their lives are not in danger. I cannot help but notice an echo in what the president said about those in BLM. Yes, President Obama is a black man in the White House—but as Louis Farrakhan reminds us, we should never lose sight that it is still the WHITE house. That is, the Presidency in this country is an office invested in maintaining and acting out the norms of white supremacy.

For the past seven years, many Black folks have been less critical of President Obama because we finally had someone who looked like us in the country’s highest office. As valuable that imagery is, we cannot forget that, as our grandmothers said, all your skinfolk ain’t your kinfolk—meaning, people that look like us are still capable of perpetuating anti-Blackness. President Obama has lectured us on respectability for the last time. We must hold Black leaders to the standards they inspire. Oppressed people need more than rhetoric. They need policy. He spent the first two years in office trying to build bridges with those who maintain white supremacy and now he wants to lecture those engaged in a movement to that was formed under his watch. What oppressed people need is neither always convenient nor expressed according to the expectations of those who need to hear them. If we were politely asking for our needs to be met, we would die before we attracted the attention of those in power. In fact, many already have.

We aren’t asking President Barack Obama to hold a sign with the words Black Lives Matter—we don’t need the spectacle of support. We need actions that stem from support. He certainly should not spend the last months of his presidency lecturing those dying on how to die quietly. But, for many, seeing President Obama have moments of public blackness have been enough to appease them. That’s just not enough for us; not anymore. After all, it’s nice to hear Amazing Grace sung at memorial services, but we can get that at the church ‘round the corner.

Lawrence Ware is an Oklahoma State University Division of Institutional Diversity Fellow. He teaches in OSU’s philosophy department and is the Diversity Coordinator for its Ethics Center. An advisor to Democratic Left and contributing editor at RS: The Religious Left, he has also been a commentator on race and politics for the Huffington Post Live, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and PRI’s Flashpoint. He is an ordained minister in the Progressive Baptist Convention. Find him on Twitter @law_ware. He can be reached at: Law.writes@gmail.com Lauren Whiteman is an Assistant Director of Student Life and Coordinator for African American Student Programs and Services at the University of Oklahoma. She serves as the advisor for African American Student Life, the Black Student Association, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and OU Unheard. Lauren’s work focuses on the miseducation of Black and African American students in higher education, advocacy, and student development. Find her on Twitter @Lwhiteman_9.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Dave Lindorff
What’s a Social Democratic Political Program Really Mean?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
Wade Sikorski
Oil or Food? Notes From a Farmer Who Doesn’t Think Pipelines are Worth It
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of Vengeance
Hilary Moore – James Tracy
No Fascist USA! Lessons From a History of Anti-Klan Organizing
Linn Washington Jr.
Ridiculing MLK’s Historic Garden State ‘Firsts’
L. Michael Hager
Evaluating the Democratic Candidates: the Importance of Integrity
Jim Goodman
Bloomberg Won’t, as They Say, Play Well in Peoria, But Then Neither Should Trump
Olivia Alperstein
We Need to Treat Nuclear War Like the Emergency It Is
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Jesse Jackson
Kerner Report Set Standard for What a Serious Presidential Candidate Should Champion
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Home Sweet Home: District Campaign Financing
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Latest BLM Hoodwinkery: “Fuel Breaks” in the Great Basin
Wendell Griffen
Grace and Gullibility
Cesar Chelala
Brazil’s Bolsonaro Says No to Democracy
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail