Barack Obama versus Black Self-Determination
by BAR executive editor
"Obama has repeatedly telegraphed his contempt for any
worldview that fails to glorify the U.S. rise to global dominance."
Obama-ism - a thoroughly corporate political concoction
soaked with banalities and wrapped in fraudulent brown packaging - presents a
clear and present danger to perhaps the greatest legacy of the Black Freedom
Movement: African Americans' embrace of their right to self-determination. Although African American yearnings for
self-determination are evident in all previous eras, the general and dramatic
emergence of this fundamental understanding among Blacks of their distinct
"peoplehood" and inherent right to shape their own collective destiny, free of
veto by or need for validation from dominant whites, marks the Sixties as a
transformational period in African American history.
Barack Obama, whose disdain for what he calls the "excesses
of the 1960s and 1970s" is palpable, seeks to eradicate all vestiges of
Black self-determination, root and branch. The Senator has never made a secret
of his intentions, dating from his 2004 Democratic National Convention
declaration that "there is no Black America," to his categorical rejection
of the Black counter-narrative of American history, as preached by Rev.
Jeremiah Wright and understood by most African Americans.
Obama has revealed himself as a rabid nationalist of the
standard, white America variety. "I categorically denounce any statement that
disparages our great country," says Obama - which pretty much says it all. The
candidate has repeatedly telegraphed his contempt for any worldview that fails
to glorify the U.S. rise to global dominance - a ritual that collides instantly
with truth as it actually exists, with history as Black people have known it,
and with Black aspirations to make their own way in the world unencumbered by
the burden of white lies. Obama promises that he will oppose, with all the
powers of his office, those who, like Rev. Wright, "use incendiary language to
express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but
views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that
rightly offend white and black alike." (Philadelphia "Race"
speech, March 18.)
If Obama were already president, dissidents would have cause
to shop for a safehouse or foreign getaway.
Victims as Perpetrators
Clearly, if the United States is inherently good, then Black
people and Native Americans must have done something catastrophically wrong to
bring down upon themselves such suffering at the hands of the U.S. government -
not to mention the sins committed by Vietnamese, Nicaraguans, Angolans and all
the other peoples that have gotten in the way of white American Manifest
President Obama will wage war against the heresies of
deviant worldviews that dare to question America's moral superiority - as
exemplified by Rev. Wright's "profoundly distorted view of this country - a
view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with
America above all that we know is right with America."
If racism is merely an aberration in American life, as Obama
believes - and which is the greatest concession that general white society is
prepared to make to Blacks - then all the fuss about institutional racism,
endemic police brutality and such are insults to the "national honor."
Certainly, Obama behaves as if he thinks so. Every manifestation of Black
entitlement to self-determination - that is, the right to rely on one's own
people's collective memory and sense of the truth - must, from Obama's
standpoint, be resisted, denounced and suppressed as "divisive" and, in
general, against the national interest.
In order for Obama's vision of America to be true, most of
Black America must be liars, Black self-determination equals treason, and the
Sixties era was the Mother of Corruption.
A half-century ago, in a veritable end-of-marathon sprint to
self-emancipation, Black Americans not only achieved full legal citizenship
within barely the space of a decade, but in the process threw off the chains of
subservience to the oppressor's national historical narrative, the legitimizing
mythology of white American Manifest Destiny. Inevitably, and in the glare of a
global anti-colonial firestorm, African Americans finally perceived en masse
the true nature of the centuries-old crime still-in-progress - that distinct
and peculiar monstrosity, U.S. imperialism. Born of the Middle Passage and
Pilgrims making bonfires of Pequot Indian women and children, 20th
Century U.S. aggression against mainly non-white peoples abroad was
inextricably linked to chain gangs and street cop justice at home. African
Americans focused their "third eye" that could see across oceans and centuries,
a political optic that discerned not just blood kin on The Continent, but
peoples on other, distant shores, also victims of Euro-American predation, and
equally deserving of Black solidarity.
"U.S. aggression against mainly non-white peoples abroad
was inextricably linked to chain gangs and street cop justice at home."
African American solidarity with continental Africans - and
with Vietnamese who "never called me nigger" - grew in tandem with the Black
domestic struggle for self-determination: the fight for political rights with
which to defend, control and shape the futures of Black communities. It is a
truism that those who are engaged in struggle for their own people's
self-determination are most sincerely empathetic towards others seeking
liberation - especially when it is understood that the two peoples share a
common antagonist. The period loosely defined as The Sixties saw not only
unprecedented popular mobilization on domestic issues (10,000 separate
demonstrations in 1965, alone, the vast bulk of them "civil rights" related),
but soaring Black identification with liberation movements elsewhere in the
world. African Americans were preparing themselves to become full fledged
citizens of the planet, not just the United States.
The language of self-determination, always a strong current
in historical Black political thought, entered the popular Black vocabulary
through Malcolm X. "We
assert that we Afro-Americans have the right to direct and control our lives,
our history, and our future rather than to have our destinies determined by
American racists," declared Malcolm's Organization of African-American
Unity (OAAU), in a
document scheduled for release on the day of his assassination, February 21,
1965. "[W]e are
determined to rediscover our true African culture, which was crushed and hidden
for over four hundred years in order to enslave us and keep us enslaved up to
Self-determination was item number one of the Black Panther
Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point
Program, promulgated in 1966:
"We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of
Our Black Community. We believe that Black people will not be free until we are
able to determine our destiny."
Two years later, 100 Black nationalists in Detroit declared
the founding of the Republic of New Africa (RNA),
to further Blacks' entitlement to the full rights of a nation. Following the
Nation of Islam's ideological lead and citing Malcolm X as the "Father of the
Black Nation," the RNA identified five southern states - Mississippi,
Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina - as the "Promised Land" for
The embrace of self-determination was not limited to the Black
Left and land-seeking nationalists, but resonated throughout Black society,
from Black capitalists to Marxists and everyone in between. There can be no
doubt that the people who Dr. Martin Luther King was certain would "get
to the promised land" were on a conscious, mass journey of
self-determination. It was up to Black people to decide precisely where the
ultimate destination might be - a question over which Dr. King agonized during
the last years of his life. "I think we'll be integrating
into a burning
house," King told entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte, in 1968 - a clear
acknowledgement that African Americans were not simply a darker variety of
citizens, but a distinct people within the United States. King imagined that
Blacks would play the role of firemen in the "American" house - but at any
rate, that would be their choice to make.
"The call to self-determination was not limited to the
Black Left and land-seeking nationalists, but resonated throughout Black
By definition, the right to self-determination is
independent of minority or majority status - otherwise, no such right can exist
in the face of white majority power. Therefore, self-determination transcends
simple one-man, one-vote rule which, in the United States, affords historically
hostile white majorities a permanent veto over Black aspirations. U.S. history
has provided ample proof that electoral "democracy" is no cure for
institutionalized suppression of racial minorities. With Voting Rights
legislation secured by the mid-Sixties and understanding the limits of
winner-take-all ballots, African Americans, including Dr. King, insisted on the
right of Blacks to exercise effective power over their own lives as Blacks.
Naturally, such rights would obtain in the growing number of localities in
which Blacks were emerging as majorities. However, the principles of
self-determination, as interpreted at the time, demanded that Blacks and others
claiming "peoplehood" be entitled to control those resources necessary for the
development of their group independent of the majority's wishes - "rather than to have our destinies
determined by American racists," as Malcolm's organization put it.
domestic Black American application of self-determination principles were
adapted from United
Nations language that states: "All peoples have the right of
self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their
political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural
The UN's International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and
Economic Rights fit the Black liberationist sentiments of The Sixties to a tee.
Just as small nations have rights that powerful nations are required to
respect, so the Black minority in the United States has the right to speak and
act for itself, and to claim a share of the national treasure for
itself, regardless of majority claims and sentiments. In a world of
evolving standards of civilization, true "democracy" does not allow the big to
lord it over the small.
Although there was not to be a land-based Black "nation"
within U.S. borders, the core principles of Black self-determination have been
largely incorporated into the political outlook and expectations of African
Americans, and grudgingly acquiesced to by most whites. Blacks and, later,
other minority groupings in white institutions, most notably academia, demanded
and received resources based on their standing as Blacks within the
larger body. The autonomy of Black political sentiment has, until recently,
been at least paid lip-service by whites throughout U.S. society. Indeed, much
of what some whites mean-spiritedly call "playing the race card" is simply
Black assertion of group rights and prerequisites that should not be curbed by
white majorities. Television programs produced by and for Blacks, now nearly
extinct, were responses to demands that Black people be allowed to speak for
themselves - a right under the umbrella of self-determination. In Democratic Party
circles, at least, "the Blacks" cannot appear to be left out of decision making
exercises, which usually require the (cosmetic) presence of trustworthy African
Americans as a semblance for Black group inclusion. The moral authority of
Black caucuses (including that which has been frittered away by the
Congressional Black Caucus) is derived from the larger authority of
The 1960s Black embrace of political self-determination
freed African Americans from the burdensome inheritance of United States'
enemies. As Muhammad
Ali is said to have declared in 1966, "No Vietnamese ever called me
nigger." Self-determination meant the right to declare solidarity with whomever
one chooses, to side with African kin in the struggle for decolonization of the
continent while the U.S. thwarted true liberation at every turn; and to
identify as friends those who shared status as designated enemies of the U.S.
"International law is treated as a dead letter, by
corporate Democrats as well as Republicans."
During the Sixties, it was discovered that African
Americans, whose foreign policy opinions had previously been only sporadically
surveyed, were more opposed to American military adventures abroad than any
other U.S. ethnic group. The basis of Black anti-war sentiment was rooted in,
not some vague group pacifism, but the conclusion that Washington is a bully
who revels in abusing persons of color (and gets rich doing it). African
Americans had amassed centuries of experience as victims of U.S. government
policy, treated as foreigners in their own land. Blacks, therefore, harbor the
healthiest skepticism about U.S. motives, especially regarding non-white
peoples. The right of self-determination, as African Americans understood it,
liberated Blacks from any obligation to support Washington's depredations
around the world. Moreover, bonds of solidarity with Africa required
active opposition to U.S. foreign policy.
For many Blacks, the "newfound" knowledge of
self-determination principles meant, literally, the right to enjoy freedom of
speech for the first time! African Americans had always understood that
Washington cared as little for the interests of foreign non-whites as it did
for "colored" folks at home. Now, they could shout it, without fear of being
branded traitors - at least, not by other Black people. By 1967, Dr. Martin
Luther King found his true
voice and began speaking in what was essentially solidarity with the
Two generations later, the contradictions of ailing U.S.
imperialism become ever more acute. The United States challenges as never
before the rights of smaller nations to manage their own resources and
political affairs as they see fit. International law is treated as a
dead letter, by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans. Barack Obama
is no different - except in the imaginations of his fans.
Obama plans to leave 60-80,000 U.S. troops in Iraq
indefinitely, retain the services of many of the 140,000 private mercenaries
(contractors) currently in the country, and add 92,000 additional soldiers and
Marines to overall U.S. force structures - the same number the Bush regime
requested from Congress. Far from being a peace candidate, Obama favors a huge
increase in U.S. war-making capacity, in order to fight yet a third war while
still mired in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Washington will have no problem finding locations for its
Outside of the Middle East, the fault lines run through
Africa and Latin America. George Bush has already begun the occupation of the
Horn of African under the ruse of "anti-terror," with Ethiopia's brutal
dictatorship acting as U.S. surrogate. Backed by every military resource of the
United States, including the huge American base in Djibouti, the might of U.S.
Indian Ocean naval and air power, and with U.S. Special Operations "advisors"
deployed down to the company level, Ethiopia in late 2006 crushed the only
stable government Somalia has had since 1994. The U.S.-Ethiopian
aggression created what United Nations officials describe as the "worst
humanitarian situation in Africa" - worse than Darfur.
Barack Obama has had nothing to say about Somalia except to
express outrage at his opponents posting pictures of himself dressed up in the
garb of a Somali
elder, during a visit to neighboring Kenya (Obama's father's homeland)
several years ago. Suppression of Somali resistance to occupation threatens to
destabilize Kenya, with its large Somali population, and Ethiopia, itself,
where ethnic Somalis and others are in rebellion against the dictatorship.
It is fair to say that Somalia is the first African war to
be tackled by the new American military command, Africom. So widespread is public opposition
on the continent, fearing an attempt to re-colonize the region, no country has
agreed to host Africom. But Barack Obama
fully supports the robust U.S. military presence. "There will be
situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa
to fight terrorism with lethal force," said Obama. "Having a unified command
operating in Africa will facilitate this action."
Obama's enthusiasm for swamping Africa in an ever-expanding
"war on terror," is obvious.
On the western shores of the continent, Obama was rumored in
early May to have proposed a cease
fire in the guerilla war over oil resources in Nigeria's Niger River delta.
The insurgents, who claim the central government excludes delta residents from
the benefits of oil production, have also asked former President Jimmy Carter
the dispute. Whether anything comes of either request, it is certain that
Nigeria, Africa's number one oil producer, will always be a leading candidate
for Africom intervention. The presence of guerillas in the delta is all the
Americans - including Obama, based on his own words - will need to invoke the
"Far from being a peace candidate, Obama favors a huge
increase in U.S. war-making capacity."
Venezuela claims that recent explorations confirm that the
South American nation has surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil reserves. Barack Obama
is nearly as bellicose as John McCain when it comes to Venezuela's "rogue" leader, President Hugo Chavez, a hugely popular
politician who was fairly elected three times under the watchful eyes of
international observers. But democratic credentials don't matter to American
politicians anxious to prove they can play warmonger with the meanest blowhards in
Obama growls about
bringing sanctions against Venezuela for allegedly undermining its neighbor,
Colombia, Washington's narco-death squad-client-state. With the U.S. guzzling
down 60 percent of Venezuela's oil exports, and plenty of other customers
willing to take America's place, the sanctions threat is just plain silly. But
Obama's hostility to Chavez (who does not return the insult, even when Obama
derides Chavez's "predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric,
authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy") is a bad omen for peace in
The U.S. supports
secessionist efforts by the moneyed classes in Venezuela and two of its closest
allies, Ecuador and Bolivia. Not coincidentally, all three plots are centered
in the countries' main oil or gas-producing regions. Another coincidence: after
60 years deactivation, the U.S. Navy this month revived its Fourth
Fleet, with responsibility for South and Central America. Eva Morales,
President of Bolivia, called it "the Fourth Fleet of intervention."
The spark can come
any time the Americans decide to set off a regional conflict. Barack Obama, the
phony peace candidate, is already providing warlike rhetoric, vowing to support
Colombia if it repeats incursions into neighboring Ecuador or Venezuela in search of FARC "terrorists."
support Colombia's right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its
borders," Obama promised Cuban exiles and their progeny in Miami. "And we will shine a light on any support
for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. This behavior must be
exposed to international condemnation, regional isolation and - if need be -
strong sanctions. It must not stand."
The Southern Color Line
The renewed American threats to Latin American sovereignty
occur when Black, brown and indigenous (Indian) populations throughout the
region are in the midst of a political awakening, a deep social transformation
in which Venezuela's Chavez, Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Ecuador's
President Rafael Correa are major players. The non-whites of Latin America are
asserting their rights to self-determination - that is, their rights as
Indians, or as persons of African descent, regardless of majority or
minority status in society. Where they are majorities, non-whites are seizing
Long retarded by the fiction that Latin America has no
racial problem, people of color are finally confronting the racial dimensions
of Latin American poverty (disproportionately non-white) and oligarchy (always
As usual, the U.S. is on the white oligarchy's side. So is
Barack Obama, whose support for the oligarchic, super-corrupt Colombian regime
amounts to backing a barbaric, color-coded caste system. One need not be fluent
in Spanish to understand the meaning of political cartoons in the newspapers of
the rich that portray Hugo Chavez as a monkey.
African Americans and Solidarity
Wider war is coming to South American and Africa, an
inevitability given the Democrats' failure to choose a real alternative to the
Republicans. There is absolutely no indication that Barack Obama (or his fading
political twin, Hillary) will disassemble the U.S. foreign policy elements that
were put in place specifically as tripwires for and facilitators of wars. Quite
the opposite. Obama will maintain over one hundred thousand military and
civilian personnel in Iraq, with others "over the horizon"; step up the militarization of Africa through Africom, continue
backing the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia, and possibly draw neighboring
Eritrea into a larger conflict; attempt to destabilize Hugo Chavez and other
progressive leaders of mostly non-white constituencies in Latin America, with
the aim of seizing control of fossil fuel resources.
"We have still not forgotten our self-determination right to
declare solidarity as Black people with whomever we choose."
African Americans, despite their
relative quiescence compared to the roiling Sixties, will respond to these
aggressions through solidarity with Washington's victims on both continents.
After 40-plus years, we have still not forgotten our self-determination right
to declare solidarity as Black people with whomever we choose. We can
confidently predict that President Obama will overreact to dissent, especially
to significant Black protest. He already revealed his character and core
worldview in the confrontation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Let us revisit the
Barack Obama's denunciation of Rev. Wright's narrative on
American society's genesis in genocide and slavery - a narrative with which the
vast majority of Blacks are in general agreement - was in fact a demand that
Blacks cease telling their own story, in deference to white opinion and the
foreign policy interests of the United States.
In framing Rev. Wright's critique of the United States as
"not only wrong but divisive," Obama came perilously close to charging the
minister and those who think like him with something resembling "un-American"
activities. Wright's worldview, said Obama, is "divisive at a time when we need
unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set
of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a
chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems
that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that
confront us all."
In short, Blacks of Wright's political persuasion are
culpable for more crimes against the planet than Hitler's propagandists blamed
on the Jews. If any of this were even half-true, most people would agree that
all those who sympathize with Rev. Wright should be silenced and imprisoned,
for the sake of humanity!
Barack Obama is not yet president, or even the Democratic
nominee, but he has already made it clear that he believes African Americans
are obligated to uphold the honor and reputation of the United States under any
and all circumstances, refrain from actions or statements that might create
"division," and avoid agitation for either their own rights to
self-determination or anybody else's.
I think I smell a thug.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].