Obama and Betting on Black

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.


Oil & Transparency

Stopped by Evan Lieberman’s blog and stumbled upon a working paper  by the International Budget Partnership has brought up the question of transparency among extractive industries. His paper holds that there is no link between transparency and mineral/oil wealth in democracies, but there is an issue of transparency within autocracies. In this paper he drops this little nugget of information — In 2009 petroleum counted for fourteen percent of the world’s trade. That’s an extremely large number for the majority of the world to be completely clueless about. In years of record profit we go, “wow, this is proof that oil is bad” if this is the case I think it’s time to know how/why, exactly.

Let’s find some real information to do the talking and the data we have on oil’s causal effect on democracies and autocracies alike may be misleading (Haaber and Menaldo 2011). We need to make claims based on newer, bigger, badder, bolder and nacho cheesier data sets, which I’m sure is on the way(minus some of those adjectives). This information should be the first step in true transparency, in a world where one can feel comfortable about fourteen percent of its trade. Maybe with the correct information we can create policy that adjusts the approach institutions, democratic or not, take with oil. Could transparency in the international trade be the answer to removing the resource curse? I don’t see why it wouldn’t.  Attempts at finding a way around the transparency issue are already starting to surface (Gelb and Mejerowicz 2011), but I would consider the suggestion in that paper to be nothing more than an unfeasible pipe dream. It still serves as a good example of people trying to find a solution to the problem.

Thinking off the top of my head would be increasing the barriers of entry when it comes to trading resources. Why wait until gross human rights abuse to start sanctioning the oil trade of an autocracy? A high standard of accountability and transparency should be the norms before you toss your barrels out to sea, before the firms that are private or state use their technology to begin extraction on foreign soil or offshore. Are we really so needy for the black stuff at a time where we are definitely not at peak oil, and we are getting more and more use out of extraction sites than ever before? Raising the barriers of entry, and making transparency the norm would make newly resource rich nations like Uganda and Angola think twice about corruption. Chances are, until they get their operation off the ground, they are more likely to need and accept conditional loans (that call for certain freedoms, and developmental goals, blah blah). In the event a state meets all of its requirements to enter the market, the increased capital is a very nice incentive to remain transparent, at least in the oil trade. The international community should be more than capable of enforcement, as developing nations often lack the technological prowess to make continued oil exploration and extraction an economical decision – assistance is often needed to turn a profit.

Just something to think about, and just because I’m blogging it, doesn’t mean I speak with certainty. This blog needs/is many an exercise in throat clearing. Note that I haven’t exactly said what these barriers of entry would be. The reason why is because I have no earthly idea.

Oil Can Be Cool As Hell

As long as nobody dies for the profits…

On a more serious and disappointing note, I have another hastily written entry to share. A couple of things drove me to make this post. People bitching about gas prices(observed FROM MY BIKE), an FT article on young American bros putting handlebars before cars, and Argentina’s recent decision to nationalize their oil. All three of these items are good news to me, and I am in no way in league with big oil. I don’t even use vegetable oil.

The rise in oil prices mean resource nationalist countries that love(are smart enough) to use their nation’s energy to fuel social spending has a couple megabucks on the way. I’m cool with this because I just happen to be fond of socialist programs that are almost certainly propped up by liquid gold. one example of this would be Venezuela’s improved education system that has them sitting with a relatively high Education Development Index(EDI) score in comparison to its neighbors. Now one could argue that energy prices are too volatile to rest a nation’s future on, but what is stable? disequilibrium is a constant in capitalism, trotting along with vicious cycles, booms and busts- all depending upon who you ask(not horrible monsters). Shit that literally came from your piece of earth isn’t a completely bad thing to hang your hardhat on. I say go for it, enjoy your finite but nowhere near close to finished natural fossil based money machine while you can.

In the case of Americans turning away from cars- how is this not a great thing? I don’t know anyone who would interpret this as a negative outside of automobile companies, but oh well. I lived in NY, DC and now in LA(I feel like I lived a full life by saying this but I’m just a first year grad with the emotional maturity of a feral child), and at this stage in my life, a car is nothing but a status symbol, not a necessity. Public transportation works just fine, and I think a reasonable system is something every town or city with big aspirations should invest in. I also lived in a sort of small college town that had a bus and personal rapid transit system that also operated smoothly(assuming the rapid transit system was working). Cars were only truly needed at night when the PRT was down.

Argentina’s story is the most interesting of the three because as far as I know, it’s pretty unique. There’s always some level of backlash when a country decides to nationalize their oil/gas, and these cries are usually heard from morbidly obese pigs/private entities who fed on oil long enough. The claim is investment is no longer desirable if Argentina plans to sell the majority of the oil at home and at door buster prices, and this is true if that’s actually the case. I seriously doubt this though. What I’m wondering is just what percent of this oil will be sold on the cheap to keep domestic firms competitive. If it’s just a drop in the bucket, then clearly the likes of Spain are overreacting. If not, and Argentina manages to go through with this- will there be any measurement of just how successful this move was? Only time will tell. I’m glad I blogged about this, otherwise I may end up forgetting to check it out in the future.

It has come to my attention(in the form of a tweet), in the middle of writing this – that prices have experienced a bit of a drop in the past couple days. This doesn’t really change what I said since none of its validity is dependent upon constantly rising prices in the now. Just something to keep in mind. Btw, I wrote this on the way home from the beach and on my iPhone, heh.

Damn, It Kinda Sucks For Me Here

In the January 28th print edition of The Economist, I read an article that glossed over the subject of affirmative action in Brazil. I have some issues with piece, but it’s still pretty informative if you’re clueless about Blacks in Brazil. If you thought I was talking about a porn title(Even if you know better, click, I will reference it constantly without providing quotes), then the link is a definite pro-click. Brazil is currently the holder of the second largest black population in the world. Nigeria owns the title, and boy is the crown/head heavy over there. Second blackest is a pretty interesting title to hold for a country not in Africa, and Brazil responded with mix results. One of the mixed results is affirmative action. Here is part of an argument for getting rid of it,

Importing American-style affirmative action risks forcing Brazilians to place themselves in strict racial categories rather than somewhere along a spectrum, says Peter Fry, a British-born, naturalised-Brazilian anthropologist. Having worked in southern Africa, he says that Brazil’s avoidance of “the crystallizing of race as a marker of identity” is a big advantage in creating a democratic society.

The idea of affirmative action being unwanted because they can’t pretend that they’re the rainbow nation, is making me twitch in disgust. Oh no, we have to admit race exists within our class consciousness and respond appropriately! The Black Brazilian experience is clearly different from that of the Americans, but similarities do exist. There are a several quotes pointing this out. This is one of the more explicit,

In Brazil you have an invisible enemy. Nobody’s racist. But when your daughter goes out with a black, things change,

Things change, because like in America, black people are expected to play certain roles. One of these roles is not the guy carving out a future with your daughter. Parents are uneasy about a black boyfriend because he is believed to be inferior in a variety of ways. Racial stereotyping isn’t exclusive to white parents. Just try being black, and in an interracial relationship involving Arab, Asian, Hispanic or Centaur(it really doesn’t seem to matter) parents. In many cases your love will be a huge no-no. Why is this? All across the world, being black carries a set of negative connotations. Being black supposedly means you aren’t smart and/or hard-working enough: you’re just a physical specimen good for hard labor and entertainment. In Brazil, many are comfortable with them on farms, in something as gross as favelas, in the service industry and on the pitch, but not in the office- not in their blue-eyed daughters. People are usually color-blind until you invade their personal space with all your blackity blackness.

I’m sorry, but you just don’t become the last nation to abolish slavery, and get to say you’re in a post-racial society. It just doesn’t work like that. IPEA’s empirics, supplemented by personal anecdotes(in the article), should be more than enough to make the case for affirmative action. It still managed to make Brazilians of European descent swoop down on the article’s comment section, to complain about providing benefits to those of African descent. The rejection of opportunity is a direct attack on the humanity of blacks, and very powerful psychological blow. They come in, make their case for dumping it and leaving blacks exposed to what they believe to be a merit based society. The reasoning lends itself to the narrative of black failure being the natural outcome of  inferior people competing with white excellence. The reality is the system had marginalized these people, and then failed them. How do you expect someone to move up without access to higher education?

Affirmative action isn’t a state response to hatred for someone’s color, it is a direct challenge to ill-gotten privilege. The policy creates social remittances that will reverberate throughout the black community. It will help change the black identity for the better, as long as the Brazilians response to recognizing race is a positive one. It isn’t the occupation of undeserved roster spots, it is host to the transformation of the franchise. Education is the key to making the transition from provincial people to global citizens. To deny this only reinforces existing inequalities – it is also a selfish and morally bankrupt act. The state made the correct decision in bringing affirmative action to its institutions. Keep up the good work.