Monday, June 23, 2008

Obama and Black Fathers: Targets of Opportunity

There is no rhetorical maneuver in American politics that comes more naturally than blaming Black men for the problems of society. The foundation of the republic upon the slavocracy in the South and that regime's rationalization of the brutality of slavery with the alleged indolence of Africans, the use of tropes of Black irresponsibility to motivate the overthrow of reconstruction, the segregation and race riots fed by myths of Black sexual depravity, and the shadow of the Black criminal constantly projected onto the white imagination today have given those who would scapegoat African Americans an incredible arsenal of oratorical tactics. The latest politician to wield this arsenal? Barack Obama.

Obama's now-famous Father's Day speech, as Glen Ford points out, falls into his now familiar routine of throwing Black folks under the bus in order to prove his allegiance to corporate America. First Reverend Jeremiah Wright, then Obama's entire Trinity United Church of Christ, and now fully half the Black race finds itself slandered in the interests of passing the test of political correctness for the ruling class. In African American history, there is an old and developed discourse of "lifting as we climb": that is, Black folks who manage to achieve prosperity in spite of racism have a duty to help those of the race who are not so fortunate. Obama is not so much lifting as he climbs as tossing Black America onto a mound from which he can climb to the presidency.

Indeed, the cynicism of the Father's Day speech was so naked that even the New York Times reporter felt compelled to comment "While Mr. Obama’s remarks were directed at a black, churchgoing audience, his campaign hopes they resonate among white social conservatives in a race where these voters may be up for grabs." (Note: the Times removed this passage from the version of the article accessible from its website.)

The irony of all this is that in performing the useful service of legitimizing racism for the ruling class, Obama is lending a helping hand to the McCain campaign, which will most certainly employ every trick in the book to demonize Obama as "the Black candidate." While the right wing certainly has no lack for racist lunacy, in this election cycle it has undoubtedly been the Democrats (led first by the Clinton campaign, and now by Barack) who have done the most to resuscitate racism on the campaign trail. To prove his worthiness of being head of the "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie," Obama must debase himself by providing the slings and arrows of his opposition. Such is the lot of the Black Bourgeoisie.

To round out the critique of Obama's speech, Michael Eric Dyson has written a wonderful article in which he debunks the main propositions put forward by the candidate of "change." Dyson points out several relevant details. First, Black fathers are much more likely than those of other races to maintain contact with children from a former relationship. Second, the reason said fathers often leave such relationships is not, as Obama suggests, some lack of "manhood," but a real and devastating despair over being unable to provide for their families due to the lack of economic opportunities afforded to African Americans. As Dyson puts it, "these men needs jobs, not jabs." Finally, the reference to Black men as "boys" is belittling in the extreme, reminiscent of the rhetoric of racist Southerners in the early twentieth century. If Obama continues in this direction, it will be an open question as to how long he can maintain the mantle of "change" and avoid the company, in Black opinion, of Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas.

Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor from Socialist Worker and Ishmael Reed both have excellent articles thoroughly debunking Obama's speech.