on (post)racism

dsc00004 This picture is from the coffee shop where I buy my Arabic coffee every morning across the street from the university. One cup of Arabic coffee costs me $.28 (what exactly are those who buy their lattes from Starbucks–when they should be boycotting–paying now?). I started my day as usual buying my coffee, walking to class, greeting students. But from the very moment I arrived at the coffee shop and for the rest of the day I was confronted by happy Palestinians who were so excited that Barack Obama would bring them change. Like many Americans who should know better, too many Palestinians drank the Koolaid. I was confronted by this phenomenon more than usual as we had another teacher’s strike today and so I spent a large part of the day in the university cafeteria where everyone wanted to share their hope with me. Unfortunately, I cannot share it with them.

I would like to believe. But I can’t. Domestically I would like to believe that America has changed, that it is a post-racist society–as so many journalists were quick to call it today–but I know better. It is clear from Obama’s platform that he does not care about the main issues affecting the things that make African Americans suffer most (though the other African American candidate, who I voted for, Cynthia McKinney takes a strong stand on all of these). I don’t see how electing a Black president is anything other than symbolic. What matters more is the candidate or president’s politics and policies. Where is his position on reparations for slavery? His position on the prison industrial complex? On the tremendous class/race divide in the U.S. that is intricately connected to the poverty of so many African Americans and people of color? Indeed, where is is commitment to the poor or homeless? In this election we saw race baiting of Arab Americans and a rise in Islamophobia. Therefore I find it very difficult to believe that somehow the U.S. magically entered a post-racial epoch. Moreover, aside from American myopia that places Americans and their concerns at the center of the universe, Obama’s foreign policy is really no different than any other. Thus, the euphoria here–as well as other parts of the world as displayed on Al Jazeera–is mind boggling. Only in Kabul, Tehran, and Baghdad did I hear any expression of caution or concern that things would remain the same.

obama_racismisoverFortunately, not everyone has lost their minds. Kabobfest posted yet another one of their lovely satiric buttons. And Angry Arab sums up what we can expect from President Obama in this part of the world in contradistinction to the Arab media. One of the most brilliant African American novelists, Ishmael Reed has a rather different take on this Obama-fever sweeping the world. Thankfully, he did not drink the Koolaid:

To many, Martin Luther King’s dream has been realized. He said, ” I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Obviously me and my over sixty pals are still lingering in those crooked places and refusing to process the sunlight that is available to everybody else. (Tavis Smiley is our leader). People like us are going to have to adjust to this post race America which resembles a painting by Edward Hicks. A place where Blacks have reached the Promised Land?

What does this promise land look like? This Obamerica? Shortly after Obama is sworn in, the police, instead of subjecting blacks and Hispanics to capricious traffic stops, will only stop them to offer free tickets to the policeman’s ball. Throughout the country, they will address blacks and Hispanics as sir and ma’m. The overcrowding prison problem will end, because all of the blacks and Hispanics who’ve been sent there as a result of prosecutorial and police misconduct – probably half – will be set free. And all of those police who have murdered unarmed blacks only to be acquitted by all-white juries will be retried. Blacks will have the freedom to shop in department stores without being watched.

In the media, all of the black Hispanic and Native American and Asian American journalists, who, according to the Maynard Institute’s media watcher, Richard Prince, are being “shown the door,” will be rehired. The progressive media will spend as much time on the torture of black suspects in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles as they do torture at Gitmo. Blacks will be liberated from the crime, entertainment and sports pages exclusively and appear in other sections. More cerebral sections as scientists, engineers, astronomers. Jonathan Klein and other cable producers will stop managing black opinion so that it doesn’t alienate its white audience and voices other than those of black correspondents from Rev. Moon’s church will be awarded air time. Global warming denier Michelle Bernard will be replaced by Jill Nelson.

Jesse Jackson will be appointed lead editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal. and Al Sharpton will assume duties at The National Review. Rush Limbaugh will inaugurate a series called “Great African American Inventors.” Spike Lee will be invited to run Columbia Pictures and Amy Goodman will take over at NBC. The Newspaper Society of America will apologize for the lynchings and civil disturbances caused by an inflammatory media over the last one hundred or so years. A choked up Rupert Murdoch will read the statement on behalf of his colleagues.

In an emotional press conference, John McWhorter, Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele will admit that they have been tools of the Eugenics movement and donate all of the millions they have received from far right organizations to scholarships for black and Hispanic students. Blacks will have as much access to a good education as those members of Al-Qaeda and Saddam’ s government who studied in the United States. This will end the policy of you educate them, we fight them.

Gertrude Himmlefarb and Lynne Cheney will insist that the works by Hispanic, black and Native Americans be added to the cannon. Cornel West will co-host a show with Dr. Phil. The New York Review of Books will end its white only policy and begin to resemble America. Phillip Roth will admit that all of his novels are autobiographical. Several prominent abstract expressionists will confess that they can’t draw.

All of the blacks and Hispanics who have been driven out of New York, Oakland, and San Francisco, as a result of the policies of ethnic cleansing, advocated by Jerry Brown, Giuliani and Newsom, will be invited to return. The banks that aimed toxic mortgage loans to blacks and Hispanics, who would have qualified for conventional loans had they been white, will halt the foreclosure process and renegotiate these loans. CEOs on Wall Street will forego bonuses and golden parachutes. Sales conferences will be held at Day’s Inn. For rent signs will go up on K street. The American Enterprise Institute will close its doors.

“Obama will call for an end to warfare by air so that these forces will at least look their victims in the eye before murdering them.”

The right will stop using worn out phrases like “political correctness,” and “victimization” and hire Sean “Puffy” Combs to provide them with some hip language.

An Obama administration will launch the Obama doctrine, which will advocate friendly aggression and soft diplomacy in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other global spots where American forces are killing people. These trouble spots will be inundated with artists, writers, dancers and musicians, engineers, doctors and people who speak their languages.

American students will be required to lean an Asian and African languages well as a western one. He will call for an end to warfare by air so that these forces will at least look their victims in the eye before murdering them. No more drones. Missiles. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will address him as Mr, President, both in private and in public. The white house, haunted by the ghosts of the Indian fighters and slave owners and KKK sympathizers like Woodrow Wilson, who once ruled from there, will be demolished and the first family will reside in a St. Louis condo as the country seeks a fresh start. Cindy McCain will sell her wardrobe and donate the proceeds to rebuilding New Orleans’ 9th ward. Any one outfit that she wears on a given day would help to rebuild a block. John McCain will acknowledge the black members of his family whom he has snubbed up to now. Obama critic Governor Schwarzenegger will be among the new president’s well wishers. He will offer to improve president Obama’s physique by sending him some steroids from his private stash. And, by the way, doesn’t an effort to put some meat on somebody’s bones begin at home?

A big step toward a green America would be to return the land that was stolen from Native Americans. (The southwest will be returned to Mexico).

And as a gesture to this new Era of Good Feeling, George Bush, Condi Rice, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, Judith Miller, Osama Bin Laden and Jonathan Klein will turn themselves in at the Hague.

By way of contrast, Michael Eric Dyson seems to believe that this election could signal a post-racist society (re-read Reed’s piece if you believe that…):

Contrary to many critics, his election does not, nor should it, herald a post-racial future. But it may help usher in a post-racist future. A post-racial outlook seeks to delete crucial strands of our identity; a post-racist outlook seeks to delete oppression that rests on hate and fear, that exploits cultural and political vulnerability. Obama need not cease being a black man to effectively govern, but America must overcome its brutal racist past to permit his gifts, and those of other blacks, to shine.

Our belief in Obama must become contagious; it must spread and become a belief in other blacks who have been quarantined in racial stereotype. Regarding Obama as an exceptional black man — when he is in fact an exceptional American — hampers our whole nation’s desire to clear the path to success for more like him. Obama is not the first black American capable of being president; he’s the first black American who got the chance to prove it.

We should not be seduced by the notion that Obama’s presidency signals the end of racism, the civil rights movement, the struggle for black equality or the careers of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. A President Obama would not have come to be without the groundbreaking efforts of Shirley Chisholm, and especially Jackson. Obama is able to be cool and calm because leaders like Sharpton, at least in the past, got angry.

Or consider Shelby Steele’s assessment (referenced in Reed’s article above):

Does his victory mean that America is now officially beyond racism? Does it finally complete the work of the civil rights movement so that racism is at last dismissible as an explanation of black difficulty? Can the good Revs. Jackson and Sharpton now safely retire to the seashore? Will the Obama victory dispel the twin stigmas that have tormented black and white Americans for so long — that blacks are inherently inferior and whites inherently racist? Doesn’t a black in the Oval Office put the lie to both black inferiority and white racism? Doesn’t it imply a “post-racial” America? And shouldn’t those of us — white and black — who did not vote for Mr. Obama take pride in what his victory says about our culture even as we mourn our political loss?

Answering no to such questions is like saying no to any idealism; it seems callow. How could a decent person not hope for all these possibilities, or not give America credit for electing its first black president? And yet an element of Barack Obama’s success was always his use of the idealism implied in these questions as political muscle. His talent was to project an idealized vision of a post-racial America — and then to have that vision define political decency. Thus, a failure to support Obama politically implied a failure of decency.

Also, compare Reed’s witty and accurate portrayal of what America and the world will decidedly NOT look like with a President Obama with some of these naive reports about America’s so-called post-racial society–the first one is from a story quoting President Bush if that is any indication:

“They showed a watching world the vitality of America’s democracy, and the strides we have made towards a more perfect union.

“They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story – a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation.

“Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day.

“This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes – and four decades later see the dream fulfilled.”

Even during the darkest hours of his presidential campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois held on to his improbable, unshakable conviction that America was ready to step across the color line. On Tuesday, America leaped.

Obama Is Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls

We’ve come a long, long way: With Barack Obama’s election, no longer is a black candidate the champion of a minority. He has triumphed as the choice of a majority

In this way, Obama redefined the country for us, but our responses involved generational differences. For younger people, white and black, his vision seemed entirely straightforward. It is the country they already know, and they expressed great enthusiasm. Finally, they said, a politician who recognizes the racial differences that are part of their lives and no big deal. For young blacks and other minorities, Obama’s place at the pinnacle of official power lifts a coarse cloak that has blanketed their lives and dreams–the stultifying burden of being judged, whether they succeed or fail, on the basis of their race.

Some are more cautious in their analysis, indicating the fact that there is still a racial divide in the U.S.:

Analysts from both parties hailed Obama’s victory as a “milestone” in the troubled and often violent history of U.S. race relations given widespread scepticism as recently as six months ago that a black man — Obama is actually biracial — could be elected president.

Obama did not get as many white votes as Mccain, the split being 55-43 percent in Mccain’s favor. But some 95 percent of black voters, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, voted for Obama.

There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies, and so do not see how this election could offer them any lessons about themselves.

To be sure, if Obama wins, it will not mean the end of racism. Prepare for a backlash. And prepare for a generalized sentiment in the white population that there no longer is any need for affirmative action once a black man sits in the Oval Office.

And to be sure, if Obama wins, it will not mean the end of injustice in America.

No Obama’s win will not only not mean an end of injustice in the U.S. It also will not mean an end of injustice in the world. For we can expect more of the same over the last four years. Rania told me this morning she had hoped McCain had one. I agree. If McCain had won the world would still have an American president in power who is obviously vying for American empire and hegemony. With Obama it may look more like Clinton. For the war in Iraq–and the bombings in Sudan for that matter and many covert operations around the globe–continued unabated throughout the Clinton administration in the form of sanctions and continued air strikes. We may not have had troops on the ground, but there was decidedly a war in terms of tremendous civilian casualties. With a Bush or McCain administration the racism in America is more obvious, too. To be sure, it exists under all American presidents and will continue under Obama, but when it is obvious it makes it easier to fight.

We can expect more of the same here. The same over the past eight years and the same as literally today. With the breaking of a truce by an Israeli invasion of Gaza overnight, of course supported by U.S. weapons, with the assault on an Afghan wedding today, with increasing attacks in Iraq (my oh my that surge is a-workin’!), with the continued sonic booms from Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) that went on all day over Nablus. These are the modes of racism that the U.S. is complicit in here in the Middle East:

After a wave of bombings yesterday has not abated today. Where at least 11 people were killed and 26 wounded in two separate blasts–one in a car park in eastern Baghdad, the other on a roadside in northern Baghdad.

A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured. The violence represented the most serious break in a ceasefire agreed in mid-June, yet both sides suggested they wanted to return to atmosphere of calm.

Israeli troops crossed into the Gaza Strip late last night near the town of Deir al-Balah. The Israeli military said the target of the raid was a tunnel that they said Hamas was planning to use to capture Israeli soldiers positioned on the border fence 250m away. Four Israeli soldiers were injured in the operation, two moderately and two lightly, the military said.

One Hamas gunman was killed and Palestinians launched a volley of mortars at the Israeli military. An Israeli air strike then killed five more Hamas fighters. In response, Hamas launched 35 rockets into southern Israel, one reaching the city of Ashkelon.

There were also house demolitions today in Al Quds by the ITF:

The Israeli military wounded on Wednesday 12 Palestinian residents and detained several others as the residents defied an Israeli army bulldozing of two homes and weddings hall in the occupied east Jerusalem.

The demolition took place in the Shu’fat refugee camp in the eastern outskirts of the occupied city, as crowds of angry inhabitants attempted to prevent the demolition.

Israeli soldiers, accompanying the bulldozers, clashed with the residents, causing the injury of 12 and the arrest of several others, media sources and witnesses reported.

In Nablus, where I live, last month saw 40 Palestinian political prisoners kidnapped according to a report released today:

Israeli arrests in the northern West Bank’s Nablus reached 40 during the month of October as invasions continued nearly daily.

The military checkpoints surrounding the city were also the scene of frequent arrests this month including 16 year old Ibrahim and an unidentified 17 year old accused of carrying an explosive at Huwara. Mosques were also raided, along with Nablus Governorate villages.

I wish i could believe in the hope that many Americans are feeling today. I wish I could imagine an American president changing the society–mostly in ways that are in line with Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader. But I just can’t. This in spite of the glaring racism of Israeli society (they’ve learned well from the Americans):

No declaration of support and no promising statements can diminish the fear many Israelis’ have of U.S president – elect Barak Obama.

An elderly woman of Iraqi descent tells her daughter: “I saw them dancing. They’re like the Arabs.” The daughter replies: “I know – he’ll support the Palestinians.”

“This is the end of us. He will take away our military foreign aid grants,” another man states. These recent responses to Barak Obama’s election are typical of many Israelis.

These people identify Obama, black and bearing Hussein as a middle name, as a supporter of the oppressed in Third World countries, and fear that he will automatically side with the Palestinians.

Khalil Bendib "Party's Over"

So I don’t believe in change. Not now. Not until I see it with my own eyes. Call me cynical. Maybe I am. But I see no signs of this election meaning anything for the end of racism in the U.S. nor the end of America’s racism and imperialism directed against the rest of the world. Perhaps what is most appalling and disappointing to me with this election and why I found it so deeply upsetting is the way in which this euphoria made smart people make stupid choices, made leftists and radicals go into hiding. I want change I can believe in, too. I want a democratic electoral system that doesn’t thwart the ambitions of independent or third-party candidates rather than the usual suspects who hinder the democratic process so we cannot even hear them in the debate or read how they fared in the election. I want an end to racism AND imperialism, too. But I need evidence first that there is actually someone in power who is committed to those goals. And I don’t see it in a coward like Obama who showed his true colors when he refused to defend Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, and Rashid Khalidi. I would have much preferred any of the latter three running for president. Now that might be change I can believe in.


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