An important reminder from Glen Ford that color is only skin deep . . . while imperialism cuts straight to the bone.
"Barack Obama is our son and he deserves our support," declared Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., speaking to a gathering of Black Democrats at the party's winter meeting, in Washington, earlier this month. By Jones' logic, Condoleezza Rice deserves automatic African American support as "our daughter," and Colin Powell, her predecessor as George Bush's Secretary of State, was due fealty as "our brother."
Jones' embrace of the entire African American family tree must also, therefore, extend to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the most reactionary, anti-Black member of the High Court; and to "our brother" J. Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State whose consuming mission in 2004 was to deny the franchise to as many fellow Blacks as possible.
Although the winter meetings are traditionally showcases for candidates to display their positions on the issues of the day, State Sen. Jones saw no need to present his appeal on Obama's behalf in any packaging other than race. In effect, Jones attempted to relieve Obama of any political obligation to Black people. Under Jones' formula, the relationship between the Black office-seeker and the African American public is reversed: it is the people that owe allegiance to the candidate, who is in turn set free to woo groups and promote interests that may be inimical to those of the Black public.
Jones and the larger political current he represents would utterly gut Black politics of all substance, rendering the entire electoral process worthless to the Black masses. Perhaps the greatest irony of Jones' issue-less directive is that it masquerades as a Black empowerment strategy. In a transparent bid to shame Blacks in the Hillary Clinton camp - another political desert - Jones said African Americans don't "owe" anyone. Jones elaborated later, in a conversation with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter. "How long do we have to owe before we have an opportunity to support our son?" he said.
In other words, Black people's "debt" to the Clintons - as if such ever existed - has been paid, and now it's time to herd Black voters behind Obama, like so many cattle. Jones' brand of politics holds that Black people don't have interests or political ideals, only obligations to one politician or the other. In Jones' world, African Americans are constantly indebted, but nobody owes them anything - certainly not Obama, "our son."
The Emil Jones brand of Black politics is based on the assumption that African American aspirations are limited to a simple desire to see Black faces on display in high places, no matter the public policy content of that representation. It is as if emancipation of the slaves could be achieved by moving Ol' Massa out of the Big House, and installing the Black butler in his place, while the conditions of life and labor in the fields remain unchanged. After all, the butler is one of "ours." The slaves should be happy to experience a vicarious freedom, through their "son." Further, it would be downright unfamily-like to pester our own kin about the need for forty acres and a mule per household.
Jones' remarks exemplify an extraordinary vulgarization of African American politics, the product of uncritical, Jim Crow-era reflexes that linger within the Black polity, combined with the growing influence of corporate money in the Black leadership-creation process. The advent of Barack Obama's stealth corporate presidential candidacy could create the conditions for a "perfect storm" that sweeps away what remains of issues-based coherence in Black electoral and institutional politics. Should that occur - and there is much evidence that the unraveling is already well advanced - the collapse of progressive American politics becomes inevitable, a high price to pay for a Black face in the Oval Office.
African Americans will pay a special, historical price if a corporate-molded Black politician becomes the titular leader of an unreconstructed U.S. imperial state - and, make no mistake about it, Barack Obama is an imperialist. No one but a deep-fried imperialist could describe U.S. behavior in Iraq as "coddling" the Iraqis, as Obama said to an establishment foreign policy gathering in Chicago, late last year. His Iraq War De-escalation Act, carefully calibrated to make him appear slightly less belligerent than Hillary Clinton, allows the U.S. to wage war until March 31, 2008, at the very least, and to maintain a military presence in the country thereafter. It is a sham measure, more helpful in buying time for Bush than in encouraging effective dissent.
At his core, Obama is not opposed to U.S. violations of other nations' sovereignty; he simply opposes "dumb wars" - as he told a reporter for the Chicago Reader - meaning, aggressions executed by less-than-bright American Commanders-in-Chief. U.S.-designated "interests," not adherence to international law, are paramount - the fundamental tenet of imperialism.
Of the declared Democratic candidates, only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich can pass anti-imperialist muster; thus the near-certainty of another imperialist in the White House in 2009. Which brings us to the special price that African Americans will pay if the face of U.S. imperialism, is Black.
The New Face of Aggression
There was a time not that long ago, when the historic struggles of Black Americans for racial equality, decolonization and peace were admired throughout the African Diaspora and beyond. Especially in what was called the Third World, African Americans were perceived as different than the arrogant, racist "ugly Americans" - the whites that strutted around other people's nations as if they owned them. In the early years of the Vietnam War, there were many reports of Viet Cong attempts to spare Black American soldiers' lives, if practical, as an acknowledgment of shared suffering under white rule. When Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, in 1979, African Americans were soon released, along with female staffers.
It is difficult to imagine such differentiations being made on foreign shores, today. General Colin Powell emerged from Gulf War One as the personification of American military might - and threat. As George Bush's Secretary of State, Powell sacrificed his reputation - and an immeasurable portion of remaining African American planetary good will - in a lie-soaked justification of the impending invasion of Iraq before the United Nations.
Colin Powell became the Black face of international piracy, to be succeeded by Condoleezza Rice. In her first act as the Black American female face of imperial aggression, in April, 2002, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice could not contain her disappointment at the failure of a U.S.-backed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "We do hope that Chávez recognizes that the whole world is watching," she sneered, "and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."
As Secretary of State, Rice is the reigning imperial drum major. Despite a string of Chavez victories in fair elections and his overwhelming support among the poor and mostly non-white Venezuelan majority, Rice last week loosed another transparent threat against his government. "I believe there is an assault on democracy in Venezuela," she told a congressional committee. "I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really, really destroying his own country, economically, politically." What a spectacle: American imperialism in black-face, threatening a mixed-race president whose government has arguably adopted the most racially progressive and inclusive policies on the South American continent.
When Rice claimed that the U.S. had been meeting with Venezuelan Catholic leaders who were "under fire" from Chavez's government, the vice-president of the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference - no friend of Chavez - called her a "liar." Contrast this with Barack Obama's exchange of pleasantries with Rice before voting to confirm her as chief diplomatic operative of the Bush endless war doctrine.
From Beirut to Caracas, Condoleezza Rice is the Black, snarling symbol of U.S. lawlessness - a perception of our African American "daughter" that the NAACP must not have anticipated when it bestowed on her its Image Award, in early 2002. Back then, Rice told the civil rights group's gala affair: "As I travel with President Bush around the world and as we meet with leaders from around the world, I see America through other people's eyes."
African Americans, who care so much for image - some, to the exclusion of all else - should contemplate what the ascension of a Black face to the Oval Office will mean to world perceptions of Black Americans as a group. Would Barack Obama be a worse international criminal than Hillary Clinton? My guess is, they'd function identically, as stewards of empire. But a Barack Obama presidency would leave an unindelible impression on the planet: The Blacks of the United States have arrived! They, too, are "ugly Americans."
Glen Ford is executive editor of the Black Agenda Report can be contacted at Glen.Ford (at) BlackAgendaReport.com.