Saturday, April 14, 2012

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2012, April 14: Obama and the changing "colorline" in the US

This has also partially been Chauncey DeVega month here, since I've had occasion to quote him more than once in connection with the Trayvon Martin case. In WARN Diversity Games: Barack Obama and the Rise of "Multiculturalism Incorporated" 04/12/2012, he has some interesting thoughts about the current evolution of race relations in the US, with particular reference to President Obama's election and role as President. He relies in part on a 2008 essay by Manuel Garcia, Jr., Obama and the Psychic Auto-Shrink-Wrapping Called Race in America Counter Punch 03/20/2008. DeVega writes:

To many Americans, the symbolism of a black man as President of the United States is an epitaph for racism's death--despite all of the available evidence which demonstrates how race impacts life chances in the present. In all, many across the colorline confuse an increasingly diversified class of (token black and brown) political elites, and a myth of an inclusively diverse America cooked up by the dream merchants on Madison Avenue, with a progressive vision and politics that actually empowers people of color by addressing hard questions about the maldistribution of resources in this country--inequalities that track very closely to the dividing lines of racial hierarchy and privilege. [my emphasis]
The problem of the "colorline" can't be solved by trying to pretending it doesn't exist or by falsifying its realities. It's one of the most unfortunate aspects, tragedy might be an appropriate word, for the Obama Presidency that Obama himself apparently feels such a mission to reconcile people across racial and well as political colorlines with an approach that tries to bypass the problems involved rather than resolve them.

Garcia writes:

Ascribing White-on-Black racism to simple emotional hatred is the most comfortable overt explanation, as is clear from its prominence in the depictions of racism in popular culture (e.g., movies). The dominant culture finds it comforting to imagine that racism is confined to people with ungovernable hatreds and undisciplined minds. This relieves the majority who are comfortable with inequitable economic arrangements from any responsibility for the inevitable consequences of those arrangements; and even from any reproach in the eyes of recognized public opinion. [my emphasis]
While Garcia seems to generalize carelessly in some places in his short essay, and it conveys some of the sense of The Powers That Be Always Control Everything that plagues some of what people write from a left perspective that stays at the metaphorical 30,000 feet level. But what Garcia says here, reflecting on Obama's 2008 speech on race and his distancing himself from his long-time pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, holds up well four years later:

So Obama is "change," Obama is "hope" when we shrink-wrap our minds with elastic and impenetrable delusions. Obama is not Thurgood Marshall, nor Martin Luther King, Jr., nor Malcolm X, which is why you see him in our televised Pantheon. This is also why Jeremiah Wright must be dispatched with contempt from public consideration, and why Barack Obama must elevate himself stratospherically from his once upon a time pastor, and once upon a time flock.

I think commentary on racism is most incisive when it keeps its focus on the economic dimension — which I believe is central — rather than the emotionalism about "hate" wallowed in to excess by infotainment for the unthinking. It is better to focus on the intent and the purposes of the racism, which are to create and maintain economic disparities. From such focal points, one can advance policy and law enforcement arguments to eliminate these imbalances. Then, you are speaking about the here and now in a clear, unvarnished and rational manner.
There have been many decades of discussion over the relative weight of economic, cultural and psychological factors in racism, and there are likely to be many more. But what DeVega calls the "colorline" in the US has always been heavily defined by economic factors with the restriction of chattel slavery in the US to black Africans and people of African descent.

DeVega makes the following provocative observation about Obama's position in the long story of how those who we lately have been calling the One Percent have exploited and managed reform impulses in American politics:

The election of Barack Obama is central to this story. It is clear that the colorline has been renegotiated in America since the time of the founding. However, it still remains. The Civil Rights Movement was successful as much because of peoples' activism and resistance, as for how elite actors realized that Jim and Jane Crow white supremacy was a national embarrassment in the context of the Cold War.

More broadly, the Racial State evolved over time because the type of personal, intimate, and directly violent exploitation of the plantation (with its old fashioned "dominative" racism) was not suited for a growing industrialism, or many years later, an economy that would evolve into a global, service based, information age set of international markets and actors. As Wendy Somerson notes, in this model "structural racism and sexism are thus denied through visual inclusion within corporate culture."

White supremacy in the United States (and Europe) had to "evolve" from the personal to the structural and institutional if it was [t]o remain effective at allocating resources, and the gains of the in-group and its elites were to be preserved. By comparison, South Africa's herrenvolk society failed to adapt and was subsequently torn down. The genius of American racism is how it adapted in order to survive--all the while maintaining many of the same core inequalities and hierarchies of years and decades past.

The election of Barack Obama was the culmination of this transition. Multiculturalism incorporated won out. Diversity, even a type that is driven less by "justice" and more by profit maximization and the exploitation of human capital, is taken as a given. However, there is nothing at all radical about it. Ironically, I would suggest that the election of the country's first black President is the death knell for justice claims about racial equality and redistribution. [my emphasis]
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1 comment:

chaunceydevega said...

How mighty kind. You make me feel special and loved ;)

thanks again.