Ishmael Reed, Amiri Baraka and the Black Radical Dilemma

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball

The Obama Phenomenon creates strange effects. Among the most peculiar involve Blacks who have long been identified as “radical,” yet are staunch supporters of the center-right First Black President. Such left luminaries now “think that radical positions are the problem.” Yet, without radical solutions and radical leadership, where do we come up with “our plan to get out of this damn mess?!”

 

Ishmael Reed, Amiri Baraka and the Black Radical Dilemma

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball

In the end Obama is a Democrat and not a Black leader.”

After another semi-hostile run-in with an elder statesman over Obama I am further convinced of the brilliant strategy the president represents in complicating real left-of-center discussion and organization. I am also further convinced of the serious dilemma facing the real Black left. And by that I don’t simply mean progressives who may have one or two things to say about Obama’s shortcomings but who ultimately support him. I’m talking about those of us who would hope for more radical left politics to at least be put on the table. And big stuff too. So not just some mild concessions on health care or vague orders to end wars. I mean like real universal health care or actual and immediate removal of troops. Better yet, how about a reduction of the military budget, a freeze on foreclosures and an actual declaration of an end to police brutality and mass incarceration as national policy and as a bedrock of the national economy?

But again, in 2008 it was Amiri Baraka, and this past week it was Ishmael Reed as guests on my radio program telling me that I am part of a foolish radical “fringe” who is out of touch with the real community. “Ninety percent of the Black population supports the president” Reed told me. “Segregated” White America and media are attacking him and, therefore, as he says, we must defend Obama against those attacks as Israelis defended their “odious” former prime minister Ariel Sharon from “outsider” critics. But, as I asked him, to Israelis Sharon was defending their nation, defending them. But even Reed acknowledges in his latest book that Obama treats Black people as a “demented uncle,” something far from our protector or advocate. So why should we not critique the president? Why should we not declare that he has done too little not only for Black people but for the entire world? Ultimately, where is our agenda? Our platform? Where is our plan to get out of this damn mess?!

How about a reduction of the military budget, a freeze on foreclosures and an actual declaration of an end to police brutality and mass incarceration?”

Reed makes many good points and his new book, Barack Obama and The Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers, does include some criticism of the president. And Reed is dead on when talking about how White and “segregated” mainstream, liberal and “progressive” media are ignorant and vicious when it comes to Black people. But in the end Obama is a Democrat and not a Black leader. His allegiance to that party and to the powerful interests that run it has been made clear. So that we should defend him as others would defend a national leader is conceptually unsound. So too are the arguments Reed offered about how a Black left critique comes from the “northeast academic elite” and the silly radical grassroots both of whom interestingly are equally distant from the real community.

On the one hand, as I attempted to say, most of Obama’s Black critics seem to be coming from the grassroots as much of the academic establishment is in his camp. What I see increasingly among the Black working class and non-professional intellectuals is a tiring of Obama. Those 90% numbers may be more the result of survey myopia or the trickery of polling. Perhaps not many Black people are willing to publicly critique Obama or they are simply responding to the phrasing of questions. If asked who would they prefer, Obama or the White republican, what else would they say? Recently, for example, Al Jazeera found a number of everyday Black folks who are through with the president, several of whom were shown calling into the Chicago-based Salim Muwakkil radio show. Is it possible that those Black residents would know a thing or two about the man who we are told did community organizing in their city?

Reed also argued that my position came from the old failures exposed by Harold Cruse and suggested that our liberation struggle has been hampered by Black radical thought. I suggested that probably COINTELPRO, assassinations and mass imprisonment might have more to do with it. But I am more concerned with any tendency among those of our brightest minds who think that radical positions are the problem. Reed said we have had “50 years to build a movement” and have not. But unless his movement was to have us all support another Wall Street Ronald Reagan Democrat those same 50 years have been wasted.

The real dilemma though is placing Black radical politics. If Black radicalism is seen as hindering progress what precisely are we “progressing” toward?

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Jared Ball. On the web go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

Jared A. Ball can be reached via email at: freemixradio@gmail.com.