We are days removed from the judicial manifestation of racist anxiety and pathologies provided by America’s lovely white citizens, in the form of Zimmerman’s acquittal. Responses have varied across the white landscape, where all mainstream narratives reside, but there is overwhelming consistency with African-Americans due to our own anxiety and previous experience with humiliation at white hands. The vast majority of blacks know that Zimmerman’s acquittal is bullshit, and many have seized the notoriously short attention span of white people and spoke up as much as they could on racial issues. For myself, I’m not really interested in a dialogue about race with white people, because I have very little faith in a sustained and honest discussion when there’s 5 million fucking books for them to read if they really cared. Something has got to give, something is always in the ear of white people unless you’re stroking their ego or ignoring their complicity. I’m here to contribute to another discussion, and that’s Obama, race and how it factors into criticism from some people of color.
There’s a certain amount of subversive joy in the African-American community that comes with a black president(just ask jeezy). To know someone like you is capable of sitting in the driver seat of the world’s most powerful machine for change and stagnation in the world, with 360 waves to maintain. A black POTUS tells us we have progressed as a nation, that we have worth, in SPITE of explicit/implicit racism, oppression, marginalization and the threat of being ignored into extinction. Black people who love Obama didn’t forget that they were wronged by a nation and know the degradation of their life will persist. The thrill of the absurd irony of black strivings in a hostile environment is why I believe many are reluctant to give up Obama. to resign from this in conjunction with telling your kid that the jig is up, things are as bad as we thought, better have an ID to vote, better learn how to manage your masculinity in front of suspicious white people in states with stand your ground laws, and get your code switching game up. We never had someone represent us at this stage, and with each black person comes a personalized set of expectations for Obama and characterizations of his representation.
When you(do it now) consider that our ancestors were taken on the absolute worst of voyages, land alien to us, their design for us was to be free labor, dehumanized, declassified from human capital even. Cultures, languages, religions, and our original blackness wiped out. Our naturalization process was tragic to say the least, in comparison with immigrants who attempt to assimilate with prior knowledge of their homeland. As an academic involved in International Relations, I am surrounded by people of color who are not only concerned with America’s actions, but that of the state their previous generations originated from, and a culture, language and shared experience that are still heavily influenced by the past of possibly several countries besides their own. Many African-Americans don’t have this privilege. Instead we have appropriated our own mutated form of Americana in response to the trauma. Part of it involves a brash and combative nature you see in rap, that have kids eager to identify with these men and women balling out in a sea of salty crackers. Jay and Ye told us this, that despite their immense success they are still having these moments. No matter how you got it, being unapologetically black in America is to be in a constant state of conflict. we are accepting the social construct of race, allowing a reductionist viewpoint of Obama that places him as black by having African decent and receiving multiple injuries in America based on race. It’s not too much of a stretch for black Obama apologists to assume Obama is going through this. Him being a brother wanting to do something positive, debilitated by concerned old white men and their system. Because you and I go through it in different(lesser) institutions, solidarity is gonna happen.
With that in mind, I’ve heard a variety of defenses from black folks because of this. Oh he only has so much power because of checks and balances, he can’t talk about race because white people will foam at the mouth and reach their final form, just wait til the second term, wait til the proper lunar phase. In spite of all the external forces provided in the excuses they believe he is doing the best he can. This is convenient since most the indignities(voter laws, school closings, stop and frisk) we are subjected to at the hands of governments are at a state level. On the international level, many aren’t well versed enough to fully grasp Obama’s place in the international sphere — his drone program that has left innocents dead, the zealous defense of Israel’s apartheid regime, the backing of a monster in Rwanda, the list goes on. Those who do know just a little something something, attribute Obama’s poor performances to capitulating. The same song and dance that kept Obama from talking about race is why Obama has a kill list. There are certain monsters that Obama must answer to if he wants to move forward with other agendas. Some of these agendas are completely made up, and I can’t tell you how many grassroot or state benefit programs are attributed to Obama in these streets. Every time he talks to us, we are in love again. This great orator, whose delivery is drenched in the tradition of the black church, but the sermons are reserved enough not to arouse the suspicions of those in fear of unrepentant blackness. the comfort is there, Obama can sell dreams all day as long as he feels a little familiar. That’s why when Obama spoke on Trayvon again and said his son would look like Trayvon and that he could’ve been Trayvon thirty-five years ago, it put a furious wind under the sails of black folks.
When other people critique Obama this obviously isn’t going through their heads. He doesn’t represent them at the same level he does for us. The situation isn’t as complex to them. Obama is killing innocent people in a failed fight against terrorism, with a lack of transparency and respect for the rule of law. The current drone program is unforgivable. I agree, but I am aware of black reluctance to take an appraisal this far and I get it. I know this has to be frustrating to brown people, but this isn’t something African-Americans are just ready to give up. To give up on Obama is to let a corrosive reality into a private space once filled with joy and hope, and have it replaced with pain and despair. Me not buying into Obama doesn’t make me any better than the next negro , it just means I have a sadder disposition towards world politics. The rest of you guys already seen horrible and good people of your color go in and out of the highest office. This is completely unexplored terrain for us. This isn’t something that is going to be figured out on the fly, certainly not happening while Obama’s presidency is ongoing. The black relationship with Obama is going to be a process unlike any other, and it’s going to take a place years beyond this term. It may be a decade or two until everything can be unpacked for an honest discussion about Obama’s role in all of this. Please understand the situation is way more complex than this blog post, this shit is going to fill several books one day.
Understand my own displeasure with Obama has marginalized me several times around black folks. My own personal belief in world citizenship as a way of caring and thinking, has asked me to look beyond my own immediate needs and desires for belonging. There is no traditional way of thinking globally as an African-American man, that I can refer to. After the feedback within my community, I can say I’m not interested in further alienating myself for unabashed Obama critique. The reality of it is it more often than not fails to be constructive with policy suggestions of my own(not that he’d look or care),all I end up doing is eroding my relationships and becoming suspect among my own people. I know this isn’t new to people who experience this fighting for justice in their respective nation, but please don’t make me explain the differences. As an African-American man from a poor part of Brooklyn, I only have so many comforts in this world. One of them is the love I feel for my family and community and I am not interested in losing this to wax poetic about the struggle. Falling back into the arms of Marxism may be sufficient for you, but not me. This floating around beating black people over the head with my Obama opinions is also draped in palpable privilege, assuming one takes my lecturing with a non HBCU education as an affront to the formal/informal black knowledge base and its resources. So yeah, shit aint that simple, shit aint sweet. I will continue to critique American domestic and foreign policy, but I will be careful not to single out and call Obama a shit head like I usually do.