The Black Caucus’ Relentless Pursuit of Insubstantial Symbolism

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

If only the Congressional Black Caucus would pay as much attention to the substantive areas of government policy – “how government policies affect the great mass of Black people” – rather than huff and puff over the symbolic trappings of power. Unfortunately, for the Caucus, “it’s the appearances that count.”

 

The Black Caucus’ Relentless Pursuit of Insubstantial Symbolism

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

Obama’s cabinet in his second term looks just about right: its full of rich white folks, the same class that his administration really works for.”

Marcia Fudge, the Cleveland congresswoman who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, is pressing forward with her campaign to get more African Americans on President Obama’s cabinet. Fudge is saying, in effect, that Obama isn’t rewarding his most loyal constituency commensurate with the support Blacks have given him at the polls. The kind of reward she’s talking about is symbolic. She’s not talking about policy – that is, how government policies affect the great mass of Black people – but about the appearance of things.

Obama has lost two of his Black cabinet members, two Hispanics, and two Asians. However, these exits didn’t have anything to do with policy, but with personal career decisions. Black employees were treated viciously in the Environmental Protection Agency when an African American woman, Lisa Jackson, was in charge, according to the No Fear Coalition, and environmental racism was never a priority of the EPA under Jackson’s watch. Why, then, is the absence of Lisa Jackson, or some other Black person just like her, considered a loss to Black America as a whole?

The congressional Black Caucus would do better to push for specific policies at each of the cabinet level departments of government; that would be something substantive and useful to do. But instead, they complain that Obama isn’t providing enough symbolism. Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel says its damn “embarrassing” that Obama’s cabinet is so devoid of color. But, what he should be embarrassed about, is that the Obama administration does not take race into consideration, at all. The Black Caucus keeps saying that the cabinet should “look like America.” However, I think it is best that an administration look like the people it actually serves, the people who benefit from it, so that everybody will understand how policy is really formulated, and for whose benefit. In that sense, Obama’s cabinet in his second term looks just about right: its full of rich white folks, the same class that his administration really works for.

It’s best that an administration look like the people it actually serves, the people who benefit from it, so that everybody will understand how policy is really formulated.”

The Congressional Black Caucus and the whole of the Black Misleadership Class were greatly disappointed that Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice didn’t get the Secretary of State job. The fact that Rice is a rabid militarist who was in some ways to the right of the Bush administration on Africa policy, and has sheltered those who are responsible for the death of millions in the Congo, doesn’t bother the Black Caucus. U.S. Africa policy is not the Caucus’s real concern; it’s the appearances that count.

The Black Caucus once put forward Congressman Sanford Bishop’s name for Secretary of Agriculture. Bishop is one of two Black members of the Blue Dogs, a coalition of right-wing Democrats. Bishop was one of four Black congresspersons to vote in favor of George Bush’s War Powers Act, in 2002, while the vast majority of Black people opposed the war. So, how would appointing Sanford Bishop to the cabinet reflect the political will of Black America?

Frankly, I wish Obama wouldn’t appoint anybody Black to high positions in his rich man’s government. You can be sure that any Black person who gets a significant job in this administration will be worthless to the rest of us – unless, of course, you're counting Black faces in high places.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.