August 31, 2008

Silenced: Barack Obama and the End of Struggle toward Truth and Freedom

At the opening of, "Psst -- While You Were Gibbering, the Ruling Class Rigged the Game and Won Everything," I discussed the overwhelming number of lies told on every subject of importance in America today and the ease, indeed the enthusiasm, with which most Americans accept and spread those lies. As I often do these days, and as is necessary given the huge number of lies attendant upon his person and candidacy, I mentioned Barack Obama: " All this means that it is Obama himself who has adopted the white racist framework. Yes, I repeat that: Obama has adopted the white racist framework with regard to every issue of importance."

I expressed a crucially related aspect of the same idea this way:
Very interestingly, however, [Uri] Avnery neglects to mention a further critical reason for Obama's identification with "American whites," although he hints at it. That reason is one I discussed in the first part of my "Triumph" series, and it must never be forgotten. It's a simple and terrible reason: Obama wants power. This is not a secondary or related, tangential issue: we are talking about politics here, so it is the reason. He wants power. In America, if you want power, you must be white -- or you must adopt all the trappings of the white rulers. That's it, that's the whole thing. Power accrues to the white, male ruling class. Period.
I have developed this theme at length in a number of essays over the past months:

Obama's Whitewash

The Triumph of the White, Male Ruling Class

Choosing Sides: Part I ("'Why America May Go to Hell,' and Feeling Young Again")

Part II ("Killing Truth and Hope -- The Fatal Illusion of Opposition")

Part III ("Let the Victims Speak")

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been...a Racist?

Songs of Death

The Hideous Horror of the Biden Selection

You will find a fascinating and provocative discussion of these ideas and many related issues, illuminated by much personal detail and by carefully developed arguments, in an extraordinary essay from February of this year which I just happened upon: Juan Santos', "Barack Obama and the 'End' of Racism." I strongly recommend that you set aside some time to read the entire article so that you have the opportunity to take it in fully and reflect upon it. Here I will offer only selected passages.

We should note this autobiographical background at the beginning (the italics in these excerpts are his, the highlights are mine):
Barack Obama deeply troubles me. As a Mexican who grew up in a Black neighborhood in the U.S. at the height of the Black Power era, I absorbed Black people's rage- their righteous rage with the aim of justice and, ultimately, with the aim of healing - until it had sunk into my very bones. It was not a rage aimed at me; and no one "taught" it to me, no one schooled me in it. School was just everyday life...
When he was older, Santos collided with the white middle class:
Growing up on the border I grew up on was not exotic; nor did I think of it as a kind of crucifixion or torment. It was just normal. The Black world and my odd presence in it were just normal. The sense of torment would only come later, when I learned that I reacted to white middle class bullshit – the "polite" evasions of naming the daily realities of power and pain that characterize the white middle class – just the way any Black youth of my time would have reacted. They dumbfounded and enraged me. It took a long time to get that they are not just outright phonies, straight-up deliberate hypocrites, almost every one of them - but that they don't see - and that for that reason, they are very dangerous to those who do. My reality was not their reality.

Today, I am blessed to have a radical white friend, Tim Bennett, who gets this clearly. He calls white people like this "Not-Sees." His pun is intentional. But I didn't get the white world at all as a kid. They just enraged me. Not one of them talked straight, as far as I could see. The "nicer" they were the more they enraged me.

The real torment came later, when I had to learn, not only to see, but to fully articulate what I see.
The following is crucial. I recommend that you read it more than once, and think about it for a long, long time:
Millions of people from the oppressed nationalities in the US remain silent; and it’s not just that white people don’t care about oppression – it’s that we are punished for speaking out, for saying what we really see.

Here’s one simple example. About half the workers at my place of employment are people of color. Supervisors are hired in-house, as a rule. The boss is a “liberal” white woman in a company whose work is devoted to “liberal” causes. She came to our office after busting a union on behalf of the company in another city. In her first year and a half here not a single person of color became a supervisor. In my case, she tried to fire me – she sent my case to the corporate president and the corporate lawyers to see if they could fire me for having organized a union in another, similar workplace in the past. I came to work every day for four and a half months last year not knowing, if, that day, I would be fired. That’s the way it is, that’s the atmosphere white Amerikkka - liberal and conservative alike - has created for poor people and minorities.

Yes, of course, those of us who work there are the working poor. The “passionate” liberals who run the company act like they never heard of a living wage - but there is a shelf in the kitchen with “free food” for the people whose paycheck didn’t stretch far enough this week. It’s bought with money the liberal boss solicits from the workers. No one says anything. We all know the nature of the white liberal façade; We all know we’ll be punished if we speak up, if we demand equality in hiring or a raise, much less a living wage. So, our rage simmers in a pot with a tight lid. There’s one guy, though, who has blown up at work a couple of times over racist incidents at work. He’s one of the company’s most productive employees. I was told by a lower level supervisor that he was passed over for a promotion only because he’d gotten angry on the floor about racism – he’d created “conflict.” He wasn’t trustworthy.

So we stay silent, as a rule, on the job. We stay silent as a rule, in the white world.

Barack Obama is the living symbol of our silence. He is our silence writ large.

He is our Silence running for president –

With respect to Black interests, Obama would be a silenced Black ruler: A muzzled Black emperor. A Black man at the head of the White Amerikkkan State – one who’s unwilling to speak truth to power, but more than willing, like a Condi Rice or a Colin Powell, to become that power and to launch wars of aggression against other people of color
The following are some of the points Santos explicates in his deeper analysis:
[T]hat’s the Obama equation. Keep your Black/ Brown mouth shut and you can “succeed.” And you can still feel “clean.” Here we have the real story behind Obama’s portrayal of his squeaky clean-ness. Yes, Black man, yes, Black woman, you can have power in this killer-racist system and stay “clean.” In Obama’s carefully constructed image lies a symbolic resolution of a profound inner conflict that all people of color in the US face in their daily lives.

Obama plays the role of a Black Cinderella. He does for Black folks what Cinderella does for girls. He shows that oppression and silence can be good for you – at least if you are the one the prince chooses, or if you are the one who gets to be the prince. It’s total fantasy. It’s a glass slipper that will break at the arch and be turned on us like a broken beer bottle or a jagged-edged knife; the same knife Obama has threatened to turn on the people of Iran and Pakistan


Many people, nonetheless, think Obama is the realization of Dr. King’s dream. The power of this archetype is immense. It’s why the completely empty catch-phrase “Change” works for him, and it’s the deeper reason for the quasi-religious wave of “Obama fever.” Obama is Cinderella and King’s Dream rolled into one. He’s even had the myth of Kennedy’s so-called “Camelot” invoked on his behalf. For many, he’s not only phenomenally charismatic, but irresistible. There’s even been talk of an “Obama Cult.” {The comments at this link, many of which attack the essay, are every bit as interesting as the essay itself.}

But, if Obama is the realization of King’s dream, then the price of the dream is silence. And, as the slogan goes, “Silence = Death.” If Obama is the realization of King’s dream, then the price is silence about the oppression of Black people - and the abandonment of the millions locked away under the conditions of mass incarceration that have replaced Jim Crow. If Obama is the realization of King’s dream, then being Black means being white – then Black is white, or at least it’s Black on white terms. It’s a Blackness that dare not speak its name.

Obama’s shot at the presidency doesn’t signal the end of racism in the U.S. It is made possible, rather, by the new form racism itself has taken, a form that offers a prison cell to poor people of color, and, for the middle class, on the other hand, an Apartheid-style pass card stamped “SILENCED.”


Obama knows the rules of the game, after all - he is the rules of the new race game- his candidacy itself is a manifestation of the new system of racism.

He knows how to make white Amerikkka feel good about the status quo, here and abroad.

There’s a reason for that.

If he told the truth, if he stood up for justice, and on that basis, authentic healing, he couldn’t be president.

Under those circumstances, if he’d attracted any measurable attention, much less the global attention he’s gained today, more likely be dead.

Like King.

Like Malcolm.


Barack Obama, in the meantime, says that the invasion of Iraq was misdirected. It was the wrong war. The Empire’s real enemy, he says, lay elsewhere.

He says nothing at all about the War at Home against his own people.

It’s not after all, that racism is over. It’s that whites imagine that they can now be at peace about it – that the race war in Amerikkka is over as a two-sided affair. Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, in a fascinating and important debate with Michael Eric Dyson, says the Obama campaign is "relentlessly sending out signals to white people that a vote for Barack Obama, an Obama presidency, would signal the beginning of the end of black-specific agitation, that it would take race discourse off of the table." Ford says, “Barack Obama does not carry our burden, in addition to other burdens. He in fact promises to lift white-people-as-a-whole’s burden, the burden of having to listen to these very specific and historical black complaints, to deal with the legacies of slavery. That is his promise to them.”

An exhaustive NAACP report indicates that there is very little difference between the stances of Obama and Clinton on issues important to Blacks. Others have noted the centrist nature of the Obama campaign more broadly. Black legal scholar Vernellia Randall, of the University of Dayton, Ohio, says that Obama has No specific plan for addressing institutionalized racism, and that he doesn’t even acknowledge the issue. (Others have noted the centrist nature of the Obama campaign more broadly.)

In the white imagination, Barack Obama represents, not the “End of Racism” (racism has an experiential, existential meaning for only the barest sliver of the white population), but, he represents, rather, the end of the struggle to end racism.


Obama doesn’t represent a new system or the new way of life we dreamed of and fought for and that has been suppressed - he represents the old one. He represents a system that is fundamentally rooted in exploitation, oppression and destruction on a global scale, and he is living proof that no fundamental change for the better can – or will - come about under the system he represents and upholds. It doesn’t work that way. To tell the truth is to betray the system, and he can’t bring himself to do it, even though he is far too conscious not to know it.

Attaining authentic freedom requires, as its barest starting point, the naming of what keeps us subjugated. What keeps us subjugated is the very system Obama wants to rule. The system, even with Barack Obama as its first Black emperor, is not our hope. It’s our enemy, the enemy of the world, and, because this system is rapidly undermining the ability of the planet to foster and sustain life, it is the enemy of all Life on Earth. This is exactly the understanding that the Christian fascists like Weyrich and Heubeck wanted to crush out of our awareness, and the lack of such awareness is exactly what Barack Obama depends on if he is to remain a symbol of the impossible dream that the system can be something other than what it is.
Santos has much, much more. You should read it. It is truly extraordinary.