The Democratic Party is not anti-racist because of its “diversity”; it is in fact becoming a more effective agent of a racist and imperialist state.
“Obama’s legacy continues to haunt the Left in ways that have gone unrecognized to the naked eye.”
The year was 2011 and Occupy Wall Street protesters were gathering, and sleeping, at Zuccotti Park every single day to bring attention to the perils wrought on the “99 percent” by the “one percent.” I was interning for a labor union at the time, and regularly visiting the Occupy Wall Street encampment to participate in its marches and rallies. The internship was coupled with labor studies courses that I attended with a mixture of union workers and students interested in the labor movement. A committed Occupy Wall Street organizer made an announcement in one of my courses that activists were planning a demonstration at Broadway Junction train station as part of a series of actions targeting the city’s public transit riders. The organizer claimed that these actions had successfully brought thousands of people into the movement.
Broadway Junction is located in East New York, a majority Black neighborhood in Brooklyn. Occupy Wall Street protesters organizing at Zuccotti Park were overwhelmingly white and Occupy Wall Street organizers often treated racism as a peripheral problem that could be resolved through caucuses. I asked what kind of relationship Occupy organizers had developed with the Black community they hoped would join their rally. The answer was none. The demonstration ended up being a resounding failure, drawing just a fraction of the number of people that had turned out in more capital and student-intensive (white) areas of the city.
“Occupy Wall Street organizers often treated racism as a peripheral problem that could be resolved through caucuses.”
This experience provided a profound lesson in the failures of the politics of color-blindness. The Obama administration eventually deployed the FBI and DHS to assist local police in crushing Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street activists rendered politically homeless made up a large portion of the forces behind Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign of 2016 and the push to elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, among others, to Congress two years later. These campaigns galvanized millions of young people and workers to vote on a platform of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, student debt cancellation, and other universal policies.
That was the good. The bad was that racism and white supremacy remained a peripheral or non-existent issue in a struggle to elect progressive-sounding Democrats to implement a welfare state that the United States has never fully possessed in its two centuries-plus of existence. Just as Occupy Wall Street demanded nothing directly from the Obama administration, so too did newfound progressive Democratic Party activists largely avoid any kind of synthesis of eight years of Obama-rule. This allowed the capitalists in control of the party to wage an ideological war on mythical “Bernie Bros” and exploit color-blindness to their advantage. The masses of people supporting Sanders were all racist, we were told by the corporate media, because they did not specifically address issues particular to Black people.
“Racism and white supremacy remained a peripheral or non-existent issue in a struggle to elect progressive-sounding Democrat.”
Bernie Sanders did not help himself in this regard. While his policy agenda of Medicare for All and other universal policies would disproportionately benefit Black Americans, his unwillingness to publicly support reparations (despite no real commitment among the establishment of what form it would take) and his reluctance to focus campaign resources in heavily Black areas of the country opened a lane for his foes in the Democratic Party establishment to take the lead on the age-old debate of “race versus class.” Obama was summoned to whip the Democratic Party into shape, and the Black misleadership class coalesced around an “anybody but Bernie” political agenda. The elevation of Biden to the presidency, a barely functional modern-day corporate Dixiecrat, was the result of two consecutive primaries where Sanders stood silent as establishment Democrats took every measure possible to prevent his nomination.
It has been more than four years since Barack Obama was president of the United States yet his legacy continues to haunt the Left in ways that have gone unrecognized to the naked eye. Obama neutralized the left and consolidated the farce that the Democratic Party was an “anti-racist” institution because it was a diverse institution. At the same time, many in the Democratic Party, including large numbers of Black Americans, believed that white supremacy had been handed a significant defeat with the election of Barack Obama. This predictably angered many white Americans committed to the racist roots of American “democracy.” With the wages of whiteness diminishing, it was quite easy for Donald Trump to take hold over the White Man’s GOP with a more enthusiastic brand of racist red meat posing as “working class” politics.
“The Black misleadership class coalesced around an ‘anybody but Bernie’ political agenda.”
These developments were given birth on a bed of lies. The Democratic Party was not anti-racist because of its “diversity;” it was in fact becoming a more effective agent of a racist and imperialist state. Obama and his political minions helped fan the flames of heightening white anxiety by focusing all of their attention on the neutralization of the Left. And this didn’t begin with the direct suppression of the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements or the broad assault on the left vis-à-vis Russiagate. It began when Obama was elected and the Democratic Party establishment began the work of normalizing endless war, austerity, and state sanctioned white supremacy to the point of rendering any kind of ideological coherence around these machinations of imperialism too difficult for so-called progressive forces to muster.
The Democratic Party has thus played a key role in both stoking color-blind racism and its ideological counterpart on the far right. Democrat-led anti-Russian racism justified U.S. aggression toward Russia and directly led to Trump’s New Cold War on China and the Yellow Peril racism required to wage it. The mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, the mass transfer of military weaponry to localized occupation forces in the Black community otherwise known as the police, and the militarization of the African continent through the expansion AFRICOM are just a few of Obama’s policies that helped expand the scope of racist wars of aggression at home and abroad. Over the course of two presidential terms, the most left-leaning section of the United States, Black America, became increasingly conservative and captive to the Democratic Party’s political vise grip.
“The Democratic Party establishment began the work of normalizing endless war, austerity, and state sanctioned white supremacy.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the first anti-establishment steps taken out of the crisis of capitalism in the United States are color-blind in character. But this doesn’t make color-blindness correct. The Democratic Party is not an anti-racist institution and does not hold on a monopoly on the struggle against white supremacy. White supremacy forms the core of why the United States never had a welfare state to begin with and why, even at its height, the labor movement in the United States could barely reach half of the country let alone take state power. Furthermore, to paraphrase Dr. Charisse Burden-Stelly’s commentary on Luqman Nation, Black Americans have literally existed as capital in the form of slaves for longer than they have participated in the wage labor force in the United States. Continued racial disparities in healthcare, housing, incarceration, employment, and across all indicators of class antagonism cannot be fully explained without acknowledgement of the fact that the U.S. power structure has always been, and will always be, rooted in white supremacist domination.
The ongoing struggle for peace and socialism in the United States will need to wrestle the narrative of white supremacy away from the corporate jaws of the Democratic Party, which is fully invested in the profits enjoyed from the neoliberal decay of the capitalist system. This doesn’t mean avoiding the question of white supremacy in the quest for an “American” unity that has never existed in any mass way in the United States. It means engaging in struggle with the people directly in a manner that raises the contradictions of U.S. imperialism into full visibility and generates a real public debate. There will be no color-blind road to socialism in the United States but it is a forgone conclusion that white supremacy is the biggest impediment to actually traveling on a socialist path in the correct direction.
Danny Haiphong is a contributing editor to Black Agenda Report and co-author of the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror. Follow his work on Twitter @SpiritofHo and on YouTube as co-host with Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report Present's: The Left Lens. You can support Danny at www.patreon.com/dannyhaiphong.
Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/blackagendareport
Or, you can comment by emailing us at [email protected]