I wonder how many consider today to be a magnificent symbolic coincidence rather than a Manichean irony: today, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the greatest civil rights leaders of modern United States history—a man who went to jail to defend the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of minorities and to speak against injustice at home and abroad. Today, we will also commemorate the re-election of the President of the Unites States and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner—a man who supports a drug war that incarcerates hundreds of thousands of black and brown minorities; kills U.S. citizens and foreign nationals; eviscerates civil liberties for alleged terrorists and citizens alike; deports 1.5 million migrants and separate parents from their children; protects bankers while allowing poor homeowners to lose their homes; and persecutes whistleblowers without mercy.
There are those who insist that the wrongs of the last four years should be attributed to the malevolent impulses and political calculations of Congress. It is true that Congress can’t be exculpated from its decade-long foaming submission to the American drive to control what it refuses to try to understand, namely the War on Terror. Its shills and hacks have quickly leaped on the bandwagon to push (lean?) forward to sanction a military budget bill that continues the expansion of the drone program and the U.S.’s continued military presence in Afghanistan along with the expansion of bases in large swaths of Africa, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Congress enthusiastically pushed for the renewal of FISA in 2008 (along with the eager support of Senator Obama). In 2013, Congress again with the relentless leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, pushed for the passage of the renewal of FISA (without oversight) for five years, along with the passage of NDAA 2012 and 2013, despite the clear purpose of those bills to eviscerate the separation of powers. Congress eagerly endorsed Obama’s loud requests for unilateral presidential authority to arrest and detain any and all persons that it deems a danger to the United States—US citizens and foreigners alike.
With a couple of exceptions, our politicians in Congress are without initiative or honor. But Congress is not the source of numerous other wrongdoings. My optimism for this Presidency has all but evaporated in the face of Obama’s policies—unhampered by Congress–designed to tear apart families in the United States and around the world. I cannot celebrate the second inauguration of the POTUS, under whose watch in the last 4 years, the minds and lives of thousands of innocents have been broken, if not downright destroyed. By drones, invasions, bombs, torture, solitary confinement, renditions, due process-less proceedings, secrecy, and lack of accountability or transparency. Instead, I will be retracing the steps that have led to the amorality of the Democratic Party and the Presidential Administration that has been able to retain and expand some of the most heinous policies of the previous Republican Administration, and which has been able to initiate some horrifically destructive policies of their own (click on the link to see just a few of the actions I have in mind).
Today, some writers will invoke Dr. Martin Luther King’s courageous April 4, 1967 speech, and rightfully so. King calls for us to see the connections between the fight for civil rights at “home” and the injustice of the U.S.’s incursions, bombings, deaths, and destruction abroad. He tells us of the response by those who are puzzled by his challenge to US continued attack in Vietnam:
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?
In his long, detailed, passionate response—which is as apt today as it was in 1967, Dr. King pointed to one source of his awareness of the links between peace and civil rights:
It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
It is a prescient statement that resonates with the imperialist policies of the United States today. The men and women who enthusiastically endorse sending our young people to war will not suffer the same hurtful ramifications as those men and women who are sent to war–or those on the receiving end of drones, bombs, guns, and destruction. Dr. King’s speech itself is long, insightful, poignant and courageous. Please take some time to read it today if you haven’t already.
What, if anything, has changed between the circumstances of American imperialism in the 1960’s and today? I think it is this: that more and more men and women of color have been invited into the offices of White Supremacy to share in the destruction of other men and women of color who are vulnerable, disfranchised, and rapidly being eviscerated through the policies of a multi-racial white supremacy.
As philosopher and political activist Dr. Cornel West pointed out last week, if Dr. King were alive today, he would have been detained and arrested for his associations with then-terrorist Nelson Mandela, under the auspices of NDAA. Dr. King might have also been arrested for his political speech, namely, his ability to rouse millions with his stirring calls for political justice in the face of American-led atrocities.
By remaining steadfast in their allegiance to illegal overtures in domestic and foreign policy, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Deval Patrick, Susan Rice, Carmen Ortiz, Preet Bharara and other leaders of color have helped the structures of White Supremacy profit and flourish: The imperialist state has extended its hand to brown and black “liberals” in order to help them into the reigning structures of Imperialism. It has been remarkable to watch leaders of color as they refuse to challenge the wrongful legacy of colonialism and Jim Crow. Yes, the civil rights of whites have also been slowly scrubbed away, but—with the exception of poor whites—it is much less than the wide-scale evisceration of the peaceful ability to live for Muslims in the U.S., Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Malians, Afghans, Iraqis.
I think there is another question that we must come to terms with: What is the function of an African American president in a society that has clearly not come to terms with its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, legalized slavery and racial apartheid in the form of mass incarceration and the widespread criminalization of Blacks?
As Prof. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva points out unflinchingly, given the history in this country, how is it even possible that we could have elected a Black man to the presidency in 2008?
This brutally frank and funny 29 minute interview is worth watching in its entirety. But FF to 4:35 to hear some of Bonilla-Silva’s answer: The successful election of Barack Obama was an invitation to do the dirty work of White Supremacy for it. He points out that in Puerto Rico, where he grew up, it was hardly unusual to see black leaders engage in the same racial apologetics and detrimental politics that the former colonial Spanish and current American government engaged in vis-à-vis Puerto Rico’s inhabitants. It doesn’t surprise him that this can be so.
There are many other such examples that we can choose from that illustrate similar white supremacist dynamics. Take for example, the White Supremacist government of Rhodesia that selected Bishop Muzorewa to take over the daily administration of its racist state.
But we have even more recent and better-known examples: Bush Administration’s former Secretary, Condoleeza Rice, DOJ attorney John Yoo (author of the Torture Memos), and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who created the marvelous quick-sandlike legal structure of Guantanamo and others. Their invitations into white supremacy were still novelties, but identifiable because they did so under the auspices of a Conservative Administration that could make few credible claims to anti-racist activity. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Republicans were able to promote their claims to be non-racist by using the presence of these individuals as cultural symbols to distract many of us—especially and including liberal Democrats in the Senate and Congress—from its overt return to a racial mission in the Middle East under the auspices of a colonizing/civilizing project. The War on Terror could thereby be couched as an ostensible hunt for justice and legitimized aim for retribution.
In order to engage the issue of state-led racism initiated, deployed and conducted effectively by men and women in power, we must address a system of multiracial white supremacy. This is a terrifying and politicized term. But we need to wrap our minds around it. A multiracial white supremacy is a system of power that has invited in—or exploited wherever it could– people of color in order to wage institutional, legal, political assaults on other black, brown, and poor people—at “home” and internationally.
Four years ago, Ethnic Studies Professor Dylan Rodriguez wrote a frank and prescient assessment of the election of the first Black President. It is still painful to read, because it is still relevant. In 2008, Rodriguez wrote:
Putting aside, for the moment, the liberal valorization of Obama as the less-bad or (misnamed) “progressive” alternative to the horrible specter of a Bush-McCain national inheritance, we must come to terms with the inevitability of the Obama administration as a refurbishing, not an interruption or abolition, of the normalized violence of the American national project. To the extent that the subjection of indigenous, Black, and Brown people to regimes of displacement and suffering remains the condition of possibility for the reproduction (or even the reinvigoration) of an otherwise eroding American global dominance, the figure of Obama represents a new inhabitation of white supremacy’s structuring logics of violence.
The only phrase I would change is “new inhabitation.” It is no longer so.
Rodriguez ends his essay with the following:
At best, when the U.S. nation-building project is not actually engaged in genocidal, semi-genocidal, and proto-genocidal institutional and military practices against the weakest, poorest, and darkest—at home and abroad—it massages and soothes the worst of its violence with banal gestures of genocide management. As these words are being written, Obama and his advisors are engaged in intensive high-level meetings with the Bush administration’s national security experts. The life chances of millions are literally being classified and encoded in portfolios and flash drives, traded across conference tables as the election night hangover subsides. For those whose political identifications demand an end to this historical conspiracy of violence, and whose social dreams are tied to the abolition of the U.S. nation building project’s changing and shifting (but durable and indelible) attachments to the logic of genocide, this historical moment calls for an amplified, urgent, and radical critical sensibility, not a multiplication of white supremacy’s “hope.”
Instead, we saw the precise inverse of Prof. Rodriguez’s calls for action: Not only invocations of “white supremacy’s hope,” but languor and denial. In the last 12 months, we heard a constant (white) feminist and (multiracial) liberal moral “shaming” of those—especially whites–who attempted to point to a reality-based truth. In this sense, the last four years have enhanced the wishes of a dominant power structure that deflects charges of racism through the public responses of “post-racist” liberal feminists, Democrats, and pundits who support African Americans and other minorities in leadership positions while marginally attending to the systemic force-feeding of a US military with black and brown bodies; while remaining silent in the face of the mass penalties that brown and black people face in this country under the auspices of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs; massive foreclosures on homes disproportionately affecting minorities; and in one of the latest international affronts to people of color—while insisting on Israel’s “Right of Self-Defense” in the face of what is clearly a bullying and brutish beat-down of a long oppressed Palestinian population.
What is egregious about the latter is not only the clear indifference and neglect of basic human rights for a group of people whose land has been increasingly diminished, but the willful blindness and insistence that those who have been imprisoned, brutalized, emaciated through sanctions, bombs, and sheer daily terror at the end of the legal machinery and weapons of a colonial police state—are on an equal playing field with a state with sophisticated arms funded and supported by the United States.
As we enter the second term of a Presidency that has proved that the wide-scale destruction of black, brown and Muslim peoples for political gain can be conducted spectacularly and quite profitably, I wonder what it will take for Americans to take stock of their racist and imperialist legacy to challenge the injustices waged at home and abroad? Is it even possible to remember the legacy of Dr. King without being ashamed at the intentional destruction of people of color at home and internationally? And if we can, doesn’t that say more about the dessication of the American moral conscience than anything else?