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Life Arts

The Racial Card Being Played from the Bottom of the Deck

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As has historically been true, I believe that this election had nothing at all to do with black people, or with America’s race problem per se, but everything to do with the continuing internecine struggle within the white tribe itself. And as usual, it seems that when all else fails, as “the” last resort, whites will close ranks and pull out and play the “race card in reverse” and from the bottom of the deck, to save themselves from themselves. Then as always, they know how to “snatch victory from defeat,” and in a rhapsodic self-indulgent jubilee, declare Obama’s election a reflection of their collective magnanimous lost humanity, stolen from them by the orgy of greed and incompetence indulged in by their erstwhile tribal brothers Cheney and Bush: That is to say, they declare for all the world to see, and in the most cynical way, that this intra-tribal maneuver is a victory for “race relations.” But the truth is, as very white person knows, as I do that Obama’s election has nothing at all to do with America’s race problems.

I feel safe in making the prediction that the plight of blacks will not improve one iota under a President Obama, because every white person knows (as I do) that were it to be otherwise Obama would not have been seen as “a safe bet” to mediate their intra-tribal disputes.

Just as Colin Powell’s and Condoleezza Rice’s appointments to the office of Secretary of State did nothing to improve the dismal record of discrimination and racism practiced within the State Department (I know because I was there under Powell, and have it on good authority that nothing changed under Rice either), I would bet my house on it, that we can expect the same from President Obama.

For those of us who have been a part of, and have watched U.S. history at close range, we have seen this movie before, and are thus not so quick to declare Barack Obama’s election a victory over racism, or the beginning of the end to America’s race problems. We know all too well that racism in the white world is a deeply rooted existential reality. People tend to forget that this rhapsodic reaction to “a single isolated act” -- as symbolic as it may be – is still only a symbol and thus in its reality has profoundly cynical undertones that have little or nothing to do with improving race relations. And those who might doubt it tend to forget that the U.S. has a sordid history of cynicism when it comes to the issue of race. Allow me to recount just a few of the major ones that come to mind off the top of my head:

First, it is not well known that the now much-revered Abolitionists, virtually to a man, were “dyed in the wool” racists and white supremacists. Few would invite a black into their homes, or worship with them, or allow them to be buried in the same graveyard with them. Their primary concern over slavery was never with the plight of blacks per se, or with their own racist attitudes but was an even more selfish one: It was about saving their own lost souls out of fear of divine retribution; a fear of what their God would do to them for having engaged in the practice of slavery (or even having been part of a nation that condoned slavery), in the first place.

Likewise, Abraham Lincoln’s “so called” freeing of the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation, which most tend to forget freed slaves only in territories occupied by the Southern army, was little more than a cynical military trick, a clever (and mean-spirited) battle field maneuver further to embarrass the South. Lincoln knew instinctively that the ultimate and final insult to the morale and fighting spirit of the rebel soldier was to have his slaves “running around” free ready to “take over his land and his unprotected white women,” while he (the rebel soldier) was being routed on the battlefield. This of course was the transparent theme of the movie “Birth of a Nation,” which as crude and as racist as it was, arguably did more to help unite the U.S. as “One White Nation under God” than anything else.

But the sordid history does not end there. The reader may also recall that in the contested election of 1876, that brought Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency, a deal was struck that in effect ended Reconstruction at the expense of Blacks who, although free, were still left literally up a creek without a paddle and at the mercy of “foaming-at-the-mouth” racist whites returning to a fractured society from a defeat on the battlefield. That election pulled down the “racist color curtain” for the next century, and arguably brought us the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, Plessey v. Ferguson, separate-but-equal, Jim Crow, and a century of rigid American Apartheid, that still exists across the American landscape today.

Again, embracing a level-headed reading of American history, rather than either a too rosy or too cynical one, I believe that Barack Obama is just the race card again being “played in reverse” and from the bottom of the deck in the political game between competing factions of the white tribe. His election in the end has nothing at all to do with blacks or America’s race problem, per se. In reality it is about one faction of whites trying to out maneuver and send a message to the other faction: that this era of multidimensional embarrassments consisting of white incompetence, white corruption, white greed, white war-mongering, and white mean-spiritedness must end.

The cynicism being expressed here is our nation’s, not mine. History suggests that Obama is just another pawn in the internecine struggle between the two white tribal factions of conservatives and liberals. He is the final trump card in the deck to be played in an attempt to try to end the white-on-white tribal racist nonsense. Thus, in a real sense, Obama represents a final desperate act by what remains of “sane America” trying to recoup and reclaim a sliver of its humanity lost in the eight-year Cheney/Bush orgy of incompetence, corruption, war-mongering, anti-Constitutional practices, mean-spiritedness and greed.

No one hopes for Mr. Obama’s success more than I do (I contributed $250 to his campaign). But there is a final bit of cynicism that as a black man I cannot overlook: Why is it that a Black man has to be elected with ten stripes again him even before he is inaugurated? His job is to dig us out of the hole that the white Cheney/Bush administration has carefully dug. It is one of the worse holes the American nation has ever been in.  If the black boy does not succeed, well, what the hell, we knew all along that black people are not up to the job anyway, right?

The question we must all now ask ourselves: Is when is America going to step up to the plate to address its race problem, rather than declaring victory before even  the first shot has been fired? The other question we must all now ask ourselves is: Is Barack Obama too little, much too late? And what happens if Obama fails, which he has been set up to do?


Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
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