Obama and the Black community


Presentation given on Dec. 14 in New York City by Glenn Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report (www.Blackagendareport.com). Ford’s speech was at a forum, “Post-presidential Election Analysis: Domestic & Global Impact — Will Things Fall Apart?” Transcription and slight editing by Marty Goodman.

Usually when people talk about post-election assessments they want an account of who won what in the Senate and the House and various electoral contests. But I think that we need to start off this conversation by saying that Black folks didn’t win anything.

President Obama won, and those who contributed to his billion-dollar campaign won. The people that he represents won. But we did not win anything, and we could not possibly have won anything because for the second time in a row Black folks collectively made no demands or even polite suggestions to President Obama about what they wanted. So we could not have won anything because they did not ask for anything. And certainly will not get anything.

My friend [lecturer in African American studies at Temple University] Dr. Tony Montiero likes to quote Malcolm on this kind of situation. Back in 1960, Black folks were basking in the glow of electing President Kennedy, but a year into Kennedy’s term in the White House it was very clear he was avoiding doing anything substantive about civil rights. People were wondering what’s up with that?

Malcolm had the answer. He said, “You put him first and he put you last.” And that, in effect, is what we like to call the Black misleadership class. That’s the predicament they’ve put us in for the second election cycle in a row. They’ve put Barack Obama first and they have put us last.

So when we discuss the failings of the Obama administrations, we can’t do that without talking about the failures of the Black polity at this very unique and unexpected stage of a Black president. Clearly, they have caught us in our Achilles heel—a situation in which we have no defenses or offense. We certainly have no movement. So we really can’t talk about winning anything until we have a movement capable of making demands.

In the Obama delusional state—we could call it that [since] from before 2008, for four years now, Black politics have been neutralized long enough that it is proper to ask. “What harm has been done to the historical Black political consensus?” Such a thing most assuredly did exist. You can discern its existence historically, not just by the actions of Black folks but by every opinion poll ever since Black people have been included in opinion polls (that was about 1960).

But, every poll has shown the unique political character of Black America relative to the rest of the country. I mean unique in that it is not just a matter of degree; there appears to be a very different worldview among African Americans.

And I was reminded of this in February 2003 by a poll of the Zogby organization. Zogby asked a straightforward question. Everybody knew by February of 2003 that the U.S. was going to invade Iraq. That was no secret at all. Just like it’s no secret that the U.S. is trying to break down the Syrian government; that’s quite obvious. So, in the poll, they asked, “Would you support an invasion of Iraq if it would result in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians?”

About 70% of white males answered “yes.” A little bit more than half of white women answered “yes.” A little less than half of Hispanic Americans also favored an invasion under those circumstances. But only 7% of Black America said yes, that they would favor invading Iraq and killing thousands of civilians. Now that is not just a difference in degree of peace lovingness or war likeness. That is a different order of worldview, quite clearly. The 7% that favored an invasion under those circumstances have to be called highly marginal in terms of Black opinion.

So we’re really looking at the constituency that as recently as 2003 when the sensible question was asked—I haven’t heard them asking a sensible question since—that as recently 2003 was solidly antiwar.

What did that mean? Most of us didn’t know any Iraqis. I venture to say most folks could not locate Iraq on the map. But they knew that it was not in Europe and they knew that the United States was up to no good and that the United States is always up to no good when it’s dealing with non-Europeans. That is the product of our historical consensus on U.S. military adventures abroad.

So now let’s transport ourselves to the present. We see the horrible and shameful spectacle of almost unanimously, certainly the Black misleadership class—those folks who pass for Black leadership—heartily, ferociously endorsing UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who is the most warlike Democrat that one could imagine. [Rice] has been central to U.S. policy in Africa, where much of that expanding aggressiveness is taking place.

Yet we see 12 Black female congresspersons holding a press conference affirming what a dedicated public servant Susan Rice is. That included Barbara Lee, who’s thought of as one of two of the most progressive members of Congress and was the only one to vote against the invasion of Afghanistan, and yet she is part of the circling of wagons around Susan Rice.*

So the question becomes, ‘has something changed in Black America in these nine years?’ I cannot believe that that is true. We cannot give up the ghost in terms of the inherent progressiveness and peace lovingness of Black America based upon reactions of the Black misleadership class and even general Black behavior under this very unique, unexpected situation of having a Black president and the delusional effects that it has. But it does mean that we have a lot of work to do.

I believe the veil for Black people around Barack Obama began to be lifted when the returns came in. From that moment on, even though he was basking in the glow of victory, he entered the status of lame duck.

I think that’s why we see that Black misleadership class gathering itself in an ad hoc fashion last week in Washington for a four-hour closed-door meeting of all these self-appointed people and coming out with a ridiculous list of five items that somehow pretend to be demands. Clearly, they are responding to a bubbling up from the bottom that says, “Well, what are ya’ll going to be asking for, what are you going to demand? Do we have anything to say?”

I think part of that is finally the realization among masses of Black folk that this first Black president is not going to be here forever.  There has to be an assessment of what has been the experience. So just as the Black misleadership class feels that it necessary to fake it and front it and pretend that they have a nascent list of demands stewing for some later date, it is incumbent on the left, especially the Black left, to get serious about doing a real agenda.**

Now, even if we had a full house tonight, it would not be the time to start talking about what that agenda would be. The first thing one does before setting an agenda, is to do an assessment of what is the objective reality in which we’re working. That’s what Black Agenda Report attempts to do to make a contribution toward advancing the discussion.


* Rice was seen as a possible replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. However, following attacks on her by right-wing critics over security issues at the U.S. embassy in Libya, she withdrew her name. Sen. John Kerry, who during his 2004 presidential run called for more U.S. troops to Iraq, has accepted Obama’s nomination.

** During the forum discussion, Ford spoke of weak “virtual demands” made during a post-election meeting of the Black misleadership, as represented by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP, the Urban League, the National Council of Negro Women, and other Black organizations in the orbit of the Democratic Party. They, said Ford, “are the usual suspects and represent the class we are talking about.” They create “a simulation of a demand in order to not make a demand.”

Photo of Glenn Ford by Tony Savino / Socialist Action

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