Left-right Racism, Continued

by Karoli on May 17, 2011 · 322 comments

As much as it pains me to include more on this, it’s more or less mandatory, given that Dr. Cornel West has piped up with this:

“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” he says. “It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties.

That bit of tirade followed this:

I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.

I happen to be reading Janny Scott’s biography about President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. It naturally includes stories of his time in Indonesia, including those of friends and colleagues of hers. One tells the story of a young 9-year old Barack having rocks thrown at him by Indonesian locals because they do not care for black people. From the book:

He seemed unfazed, dancing around as though playing dodgeball “with unseen players,” Bryant remembered. Ann did not seem visibly to react. Assuming she must not have understood the words, Bryant offered to intervene. “No, he’s okay,” she remembered Ann saying. “He’s used to it.”

“I’ll tell you what both of us felt,” Bryant told me. “We were floored that she’d bring a half-black child to Indonesia, knowing the disrespect they have for blacks. It was unusually bad. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, they’re more racist than the US, by far.'” At the same time, she admired Ann for teaching her boy to be fearless. A child in Indonesia needed to be raised that way — for self-preservation, Bryant decided. Ann also seemed to be teaching Barry respect. He had all the politeness that Indonesian children displayed toward their parents.

Adam Serwer has an opinion about West’s words, particular his musings about President Obama having “a fear of free blacks”:

To some degree this is just a part of adolescence, but most people have grown out of this kind of racial pageantry by middle age. West has not, but perhaps worse, he assumes the president has not. Perhaps he did not read the president’s autobiography, or he would have realized that Obama is not a lost little mulatto child who is willing to give West something in exchange for that which is not West’s to trade. Obama’s struggle to find peace with himself is essentially the opposite of “deracination,” a term that takes on all the force of an epithet here. Obama is lambasted as a Kenyan anti-colonialist by the likes of Newt Gingrich, and as a wide-eyed surrogate of “upper middle class white and Jewish men” by the likes of West. To have one group of morons question your citizenship while others question your blackness. To have one’s very being interrogated by those who, because of their own pathologies, see your difference as a kind of terrible mistake, an anomaly to be soothed with toxic balm of archaic social binaries, this is what it means to be black, and also a mutt.

Read the whole post of Serwer’s. He speaks with the authority of one who has the right to speak.

Another person with the authority to speak is Melissa Harris-Perry:

This comment is utter hilarity coming from Cornel West who has spent the bulk of his adulthood living in those deeply rooted, culturally rich, historically important black communities of Cambridge, MA and Princeton, NJ. And it is hard to see his claim that Obama is “most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they” as anything other than a classic projection of his own comfortably ensconced life at Harvard and Princeton Universities. Harvard and Princeton are not places that are particularly noted for their liberating history for black men.

Even though I promised to only listen, I’m going to say one thing here. West’s wanderings through the forest of racial identity politics was reported by a white guy with a reputation for being brilliant, incredibly negative, and very disappointed that President Obama didn’t fulfill his expectations for what he thought he might be. Hedges is one who didn’t hear the word “we” in the exhortation that “we are the change WE’VE been waiting for.” There are others. But that prism is the one through which West’s words were heard, and reported.

Those words are destructive. Don’t believe me? Go read this post, written in 2009, before Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts and the tea party rage rolled through the 2010 midterms. As I write, division in CA-36 may hand a solid blue district to a Republican. Why? TURNOUT.

So please, let’s work this out and move to higher ground before we hand this nation over to lunatics.

Previous post:

Next post: