More on Mr. Obama – Part Two: A Critique of ‘A More Perfect Union’

I originally wrote this on March 25th, 2008. I’m not sure why I didn’t continue with it. But, as I’m trying to get rid of all my unpublished posts, I’m posting those which may be worthy of stimulating conversation and deleting the more rough versions (consisting of little more than a sentence in some instances!). My hope is to start 2012 without these posts haunting me in the ‘draft’ section… Part One may be found here.

Mr. Obama’s speech, entitled ‘A More Perfect Union’ was, I accept a well-articulated speech, very well written, and, by virtue of its publicity via the mass media, of immense importance for the continued discourse on race, specifically for the citizens of the USA, but also for Bermuda.

Apart from Cde Rowland, I appear to be in a distinct minority in the Bdian blogosphere in not being in awe of this speech of Mr. Obama. Even within the activist circles I seem to be a distinct minority, something that I found initially suprising.

I will concur that the fact that such a major figure as a likely US Presidential candidate has given a major speech that has been broadcast widely by the US mass media touching on racial issues is important. It will and is being seen as important in this manner, at least within the activist circles I know of, with the hope that it will spark a greater debate on the USA’s continuing festering racism, as well as spark discourse within Bda along these same lines, amplifying the Bdian ‘Big Conversation.’

To that much I can understand and even agree. My concern however is that Mr. Obama’s speech gives a rather flawed argument in relation to the current racial situation, and far from serving as a catalyst for racial reconciliation in the USA it instead will more likely serve to further entrench the policies, structures and practices of existing institutional and social racism in the USA. Similarly, and I believe my fear has been realised within the Bdian blogosphere (as seen in these threads on the Bda Sucks forum, the Bermuda is Another World forum, as well as IMHO and Politics), I believe this speech and its sentiments will be applied to the local context, being latched on by the White community as support for their fear-driven hysterics for colour-blindness now and belief that the PLP is causing racial division rather than attempting to merely articulate it in order to deal with it. The PLP itself has to date appeared to be very much pro-Obama, as evidenced by Dr. Brown’s epistles, and general indications from PLPers online and elsewhere. While these individuals have also applauded this speech, I feel that to a large degree they are substituting critical thought here with identity politics, and will only trap themselves into more and more doublespeak. Rather than seeking greater truth and justice they appear to becoming greater oppurtunists in this regards.

Some of this (PLPer support for Obama, as well as general activist support) stems from crude identity politics, but some of it also stems from a desire to have a ‘progressive’ candidate in reaction to the reactionary Bush years, a desire so strong that some are taken in by the superficial progressiveness that Mr. Obama’s eloquence, despite his deference to the USA imperialist status quo.

The Speech Itself

I advise readers to review the original speech in its entirety. I am using this copy in relation to my discussion here.

I found Mr. Obama’s speech to essentially an exercise is politrickal spin. Essentially I saw its primary goal to be to portray Mr. Obama as a ‘good Black’ in the eyes of White America, by contrasting him with an ‘angry Black’ personified by his former pastor, Reverend Wright. He sought to distance himself from the uncomfortable discussion of truth and justice concerning the racial issue – of which Reverend Wright was speaking of; a discussion that would turn White America away from him, and instead accomodate to the ‘reasonable position on racism’ of polite White America.

Mr. Obama had an oppurtunity here, an oppurtunity unlike any other Black American, to truly articulate the truth of the US class and race system, and initiate debate that could serve as a catalyst for genuine progressive change. Instead he backed away from such a discussion, applying soothing rhetoric like a balm to the collective consciousness of White America. Its hard to tell whether he did this purely for the sake of political ambition or if he genuinely believes this rhetoric. On a quick review of his essays, speeches, books and voting record, as well as an analysis of his background (family, academically and professionally) I am inclined to believe he truly does believe what he says here in this rhetoric. He is a member of the Black bourgousie, and the viewpoint he is articulating is largely that of this bourgousie.

‘I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.’

This one is a bit of a personal peeve of mine, but as Mr. Obama is constantly harping on about it its really begining to bug me. This is part of Mr. Obama’s appeal to the ‘American Dream’ and general US superiority. It is also part of his general mythology being built up around him.

For one thing, I know of several people, many very close friends of mine, who have lived in rich countries and poor countries, although not all had the oppurtunity to attend elite schools like Mr. Obama was able to. His story is not all that original. Actually, when you think about it, one could argue that its an example of a particular crass interpretation of the American dream, of kissing up to and accomadating to the USA’s highly unequal and class stratified society.

“But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effor to speak out against percieved injustice. Instead, they expressed a 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; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Isreal, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.”

There is alot to respond to in this paragraph. On the situation in the Middle East, I found them shocking and woefully ignorant. I’ll accept that Isreal isn’t the sole cause of the problems over there, but the USA’s protection of Isrea;s apartheid system and military aggression (note the war against Lebanon recently) certainly add the bulk of the fuel to the firestorm of the Middle East conflicts. US Imperialism’s overt actions in Afghanistan and Iraq certainly are contributing greatly to this at the moment as well, but perhaps more serious is the covert imperialism in the region. The USA’s longstanding support of corrupt and dictatorial states over there (Saddam was only one, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most important though), and the aiding and abetting of Islamic fundamentalism initially to shore up these corrupt dictatorships and to harrass the progressive forces, as well as proxy wars in carving spheres of influence, has contributed greatly to the situation over there.

On the racism front we get to the meat of the issue here. As far as I can tell racism remains endemic in the USA…

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