|Wednesday, 02 January 2008|
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
In 2007, the contradictions that have beset Black America since the collapse (or betrayal) of the Freedom Movement two generations ago, came into sharp relief. A Black presidential candidate who spends much of his time denying the significance of race in U.S. society, cozying up to Big Business, and assuring imperial interests that he will expand U.S. military capabilities, captured the often diametrically opposed imaginations of millions of Blacks and whites. African American "media leaders" reached full-throated supremacy over
2007: The Year of Black 'Media Leaders' - Especially Obama
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
"African Americans' most urgent duty is to methodically rebuild a Movement that is independent of corporate media."
In the late Sixties, Black America seemed on its way to reaching critical velocity in its arc to self-determination and some degree of security. But in the intervening 40 years, the trajectory of true Black progress has become erratic and uneven, for lack of the force that fueled the initial takeoff: a People's Movement. Energies dissipated as self-concerned grouplets among African Americans sought their own orbits - usually circling hungrily in the gravitational pull of corporate America. These greedy little satellites, imagining themselves much bigger and more powerful than they really are, bask vicariously in the glow of real power, which is ever more concentrated in a dwindling fraction of the overwhelmingly white super-rich population.
Believing they have broken "free" of the Historical Black Political Consensus on social justice, societal transformation, and peace, opportunistic Black sub-classes - never representing mass Black opinion, but only their own petty aspirations - have in the past decade been "empowered" by corporate America to exert profoundly destructive centrifugal forces on the larger Black polity. What is left of collective African American political cohesion is rapidly shattering under the combined pressures of Black corporate satellites and the bottomless Black Hole that the Corporate Order has become.
"What is left of collective African American political cohesion is rapidly shattering under the centrifugal pressures of Black corporate satellites."
The great historical irony for Black America is that this deluded descent into the depths of dependency on corporate mechanisms - marked most dramatically and horrifically by acquiescence to the racists' claim that race is little or no factor in American life - occurs at precisely the epoch when U.S.-led corporate structures are in terminal crisis at home and around the globe. This is the "burning house" that both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King foretold.
The year 2007, like those before it, yielded ever increasing evidence that Black America must reverse the course that has been charted by its own misleadership classes, and instead struggle mightily to defend itself, and any allies that can be found, against the implosions that are wracking the global and domestic Corporate Order - a wave of terminal crises that cannot be overcome and will, domestically, impact most painfully on African Americans, the Permanent Other in U.S. society.
Barack Obama's corporate-made and -financed presidential campaign is the product of three distinct factors, all mitigating against Black self-determination and political cohesion: 1) corporate decisions, made a decade ago, to provide media and financial support to pliant Black Democrats that can be trusted to carry Wall Street's water; 2) a widespread desire among whites to prove through the safe and simple act of voting that they are not personally racist, and/or to dismiss Black claims of pervasive racism in society, once and for all; 3) a huge reservoir of Jim Crow era, atavistic Black thinking that refuses to evaluate Black candidates' actual political stances, but instead revels in the prospect of Black faces in high places. A President Obama would, of course, be the zenith of such narrow, non-substantive, objectively self-defeating visions.
"Many, if not most, Black folks yearn to see a Supreme HNIC before they die."
In 2007, the Obama "package" amply satisfied all three "constituencies." Corporations found him a loyal ally on Capitol Hill and on the speaking circuit, rewarding him handsomely for his fealty; millions of whites came to believe Obama could solve the "race problem" by his mere presence, at no cost to their own notions of skin privilege; and infinitely manipulable Black dreams of the ultimate Head-Negro-in-Charge. Many, if not most, Black folks yearn to see a Supreme HNIC before they die, and will not question how he got there or whom he really serves.
Paul Street has written often in these pages and elsewhere of Obama's political charade: his impudent posing as the "Joshua" to succeed Dr. King's "Moses Generation," while supporting none of the fundamental social transformations sought by King; his fawning praise of the same U.S. "free enterprise" system that King thought was incompatible with racial justice and peace; Obama's ridiculous and statistically baseless declaration that Blacks have already come "90 percent of the way to equality," inferring that his election would provide the final ten percent; the senator's initial insistence, later modified, that the Katrina catastrophe and the Jena outrage had nothing to do with race; his remarkable pledge to the Foreign Relations Council to increase U.S. troops strength by 100,000 soldiers and Marines, all the while maintaining the farce of being a "peace" candidate. The list goes on, and will doubtless lengthen as the campaign continues.
However, we at Black Agenda Report are most concerned with the paralyzing stupor that Obamamania has induced in the Black polity. Even committed Black progressive activists have jumped on the candidate's bandwagon-to-nowhere. My saddest, and yet most telling, experience with Obama-coma came late last year, when I was bracketed with New York City Councilman Charles Barron on Ron Daniels' weekly WBAI Radio political discussion show. Barron is one of my favorite politicians, a former Black Panther who is also a grassroots community activist and implacable foe of racism and entrenched power. Barron announced that he and the local activist group with which he is affiliated were endorsing Barack Obama for president.
"Even committed Black progressive activists have jumped on the candidate's bandwagon-to-nowhere."
In what turned into a debate between us, I confronted the councilman with all the facts outlined above, and more. He, like every other Black Obama supporter, could offer no coherent response, except to pillory Hillary Clinton, Obama's political twin. Indeed, the interview/debate experience was audibly painful for Barron, who knows full well that Obama stands on the opposite side of the political line - when he decides to stand anywhere, at all. Finally, Barron could only offer that he "wants to give the brother a shot." That was it. The phrase, which he later repeated, was like an exhalation of used up air, an abdication of the imperative to Speak Truth to Power if the representative of Power is Black and seems to be an unstoppable phenomenon.
Barron's resigned response proved the truth of Louisville University Prof. Rick L. Jones's evaluation, that we are witnessing the "failure of the Black political imagination." Obamamania is accelerating that debilitating process - even among the best, brightest and most committed of African American politicians.
Obama is, of course, a media and money phenomenon - both corporate derivatives. In that sense, his rise is only different in degree from the proliferation of "media leaders" that have taken the place of real organizers in Black America - and of former organizers who have held on to name recognition by becoming media leaders, running from camera to camera in between their radio shows. Nothing lasting, organizationally, can possibly emerge from their performances.
Obama's hook-up with Oprah Winfrey was perfectly logical. Both are famous, unthreatening media celebrities with huge white followings. They compliment each other, and achieve the same effect of mesmerizing fame-struck Blacks and soothing the fears of whites - placebos for both sorely afflicted groups.
Media have displaced previous Black leadership-creation mechanisms: that is, leadership forged in struggle. Now, "leaders" are presented with theme music in radio studios and TV sound stages, chosen by executives on the basis of corporate notions of marketability. It is a "virtual" - not genuine - Black leadership, that only plays the role through broadcasting.
From an historical perspective, it is as if James Brown and Aretha Franklin were the preeminent Black political leaders of the Sixties. Both made great cultural contributions, and Mr. Brown dabbled in politics, to various effect, but no conscious person of that era would have considered either of these entertainers to be leaders - because real leaders, heading real, often feuding sections of a mass movement, existed. Brown and Franklin were background music for an actual People's Movement, like a score to a movie. But today, there is no movie - no Movement - just a score that makes no sense.
"Obama's rise is only different in degree from the proliferation of 'media leaders' that have taken the place of real organizers in Black America."
In 2008 and beyond, African Americans' most urgent duty is to methodically rebuild a Movement that is independent of corporate media - one that forces media, especially Black-oriented radio, to respond to IT, rather than taking its cues from on-air performers. There is no substitute for people in motion, the only force that can compel the reinstatement of local news on "Black" radio - which will in turn nourish the Movement, as in years past, by empowering grassroots forces through coverage of their activities. (See BAR, January 10, 2007, "Bring Back Black Radio News - The People's Network.")
The same forces that shut down the Black Freedom Movement to pursue their own private interests, 40 years ago, have metastasized into corporate servants of the rich. With the gradual extinction of Black journalism, African Americans have grown to believe that Celebrity = Power - a fatal equation that strips Black America of independent agency, of political autonomy, and makes them putty in the hands of media corporations and their Wall Street masters.
This is the underlying, broader meaning and threat of Obamamania (or Obama-ism). In the final analysis, it's not about how HE got there, it's about why there are so few mechanisms to make Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus, and any corporate-bought Black personality, an instant "leader" - never to be held accountable to Black people at-large.
We are not being African American-centric in emphasizing steadily-eroding domestic Black political realities. Blacks remain, in the mass, the most consistently progressive and geographically concentrated group in the United States. Any semblance of a progressive "movement" is inconceivable if Black political coherence is shattered - or smothered - by corporate forces in blackface. This would result in a permanently ineffectual domestic response to the deepening and general crisis of the Capitalist Order, globally and at home.spies and generals found it necessary to mutiny to prevent an insane attack on Iran - a crime that would certainly plunge the planet into instant economic and political anarchy. But the imperialists in both parties persist in finding softer spots for corporate-military domination. The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was a joint exercise with Washington, and threatens to destabilize all of the Horn of Africa. The U.S. cynically deploys the humanitarian crisis in Darfur as a tool for Euro-American military intervention, and demands basing rights in the Gulf of Guinea to control West Africa's oil spigots. The crisis in Latin America largely revolves around color lines - many colors, but always "white" on top, and the region's subterranean "Black Gold" and other minerals the prize, below.
"Any semblance of a progressive 'movement' is inconceivable if Black political coherence is shattered - or smothered - by corporate forces in blackface."
Given the prevailing racism in white American society - a racism that craves revenge for U.S. defeats at the hands of darker peoples even as it expresses opposition to particular, lost wars - and the ever southward thrust of U.S. aggression, Black America is the historically logical center for opposition to U.S. marauding, especially in Africa. Dr. King declared in 1967, in the heat of the Vietnam War, that Black America's destiny was to "save the soul of America" from the "triple evils" of "racism, materialism and militarism" - a huge historical fact that Barack "Joshua" Obama conveniently fails to process.
In today's world, that historical legacy is to move to the forefront of saving the planet - and Black America - from the death throes of a Corporate Order in a state of desperation. The U.S. sub-prime lending crisis, which uncovered the shallow roots of the Black middle class, also pulled back the veil from global capitalism's ulcerated face. Five-hundred TRILLION dollars in "derivatives" - derived from what, no one really knows - were counted as "assets" of global financial institutions. Now, few of these institutions want to trade in each other's "paper" instruments, whose bogus face value is more than ten times that of the entire planet's yearly output of goods and services. Implosion is inevitable, with consequences too vast to imagine.
African Americans are already disproportionately reeling from the precursor trembles of the global "liquidity" crisis to come, and best-suited to comprehend the predatory nature of corporate institutions and their inevitable resort to war to recoup "their" losses. But re-consolidation of that deep historical understanding requires real leadership and means of mass communication. The Black misleadership class must be purged, but first, folks must recognize who needs purging. The paralytic effect of Obamamania threatens to finally strangle Black activism - and organizable Black consciousness, itself - on the eve of domestic and global catastrophe.
To paraphrase the idiotic Black "media leaders" P-Ditty and 50 Cent: "Organize to take back the means of communications, or die."