An overwhelming 95 percent of black voters cast their ballots for
Barack Obama. The scenes on the streets in Chicago and around the
country were full of jubilation, as many working people, both Black and
white, fervently believe that change is now on the horizon.
commentators from the mainstream media share this exuberance, and have
even compared Obama to Moses. Spike Lee, the famous director of such
films as Do the Right Thing, Bamboozled, Malcolm X, and others, has
gone so far as to say that America has moved beyond race. The day
after the election, he said the following on MSNBC: “It’s a new day.
It’s a new dawn. It’s a new beginning.” When questioned about
lingering racism, specifically in relation to his 1989 film, Do the
Right Thing, he replied, “That is history. 1989 is last century.
We’re in a new day…This is a new America, and America’s made a seismic
shift, as I said, and I’ll continue to keep saying, as far as race
goes.” Has America made such a “seismic shift”? Has the U.S. truly
moved beyond racism? We don’t think so.
Racism is interwoven into
the very fabric of capitalism. Malcolm X once said: “You can’t have
capitalism without racism.” We would add: “You can’t have racism
without capitalism.” In other words, we cannot end the scourge of
racism, while leaving capitalism intact, and ending capitalism is
something that Barack Obama will not, and cannot do. Obama actually
beat McCain by 6 percent amongst voters making $200,000. This is just
one indication that the wealthy feel that he is a “safe” choice as far
as their interests are concerned.
The fact is, systemic racism
still plagues America. One-quarter of Black Americans live in poverty,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau, twice the percentage for whites.
Currently, due to a racist judicial system, more Black men are in
prison than are enrolled in college. In fact, despite the immense
turnouts of Black voters in this election, over 1.5 million Black men
were prevented from voting at all, due to felony disenfranchisement.
what can we expect from a President Obama to address this systemic
problem? Well, not much. In fact, racism is an issue that Obama has
avoided like the plague. To the extent that he has raised the issue,
as we have explained in previous articles, he sees the discrepancy in
achievement as stemming from a lack of personal drive and from children
“being ashamed in educational achievement,” rather than flowing from
institutional racism and class oppression.
In his victory speech,
Obama announced that he believes in the core values of the Republican
Party: “self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity;” the
first and third being little more than code words for scapegoating and
obscuring class differences, respectively.
Shelby Steele, a
self-described “Black conservative” author, columnist and senior fellow
at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, addressed the issue thusly
in a column following Obama’s victory: “There is nothing to suggest
that Obama will lead America into true post-racialism. His campaign
style revealed a tweaker of the status quo, not a revolutionary.
Culturally and racially, he is likely to leave America pretty much
where he found her.”
analysis is interesting and insightful, especially coming from a
self-styled conservative. However, the problems facing all working
Americans, and Black workers in particular, cannot be solved through
mere “tweaking.” We need fundamental change.
The sincere hopes
that millions of working people have in Obama do not change the fact
that he is a defender of the capitalist system, a system in which
racism and war play an essential role. Obama, in his first move after
being elected, selected Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. This is
what the Black Agenda Report had to say about this decision:
sorry to burst the bubbles of those of you who wept in ecstasy just two
days ago, but the truth is still the truth. Obama’s chief of staff is a
pro-war democrat who couldn’t figure out how to beat republicans when
the voters had turned against them. His appointment is a signal not
only that endless war will remain on the table, but that the choice of
Obama over Clinton was a meaningless one. Obama is smarter and savvier
than Hillary Clinton and he used those skills to be favored by more big
money people than she was. That is why he is the president elect.”
We couldn’t agree more. Socialist Appeal
has always explained that behind Obama’s rhetoric of “change” lurks
more of the same. Yet millions of people have filled his message of
hope with their own content. A reporter for NPR asked a group of Black
workers and youth on the streets of Chicago: “What does Obama’s
election mean to you?” A young man screamed out, “Jobs, baby!” This
is the content with which workers of all races and ethnicities have
come to fill the slogan of “change,” and this is what explains the
scenes of adulation. But this is a far cry from what the rich have
voted (and paid) for. When the expectations of these millions of
workers and young people are not met – and within the capitalist system
they cannot be – we will see new explosions of the class struggle in
the not-too-distant future.
Obama’s victory proves that
integration, not separation, is the deep desire of millions of Black
workers and their white class brothers and sisters. However, genuine
integration can never be achieved as long as the majority of the
population is dominated by a handful of wealthy capitalists. Many Black
capitalists are already planning to cash in on Obama’s victory. As one
commentator pointed out rather bluntly in the Wall Street Journal:
“Black Power Brokers Ready to Rise in Tandem With New President.” These
super rich people have nothing in common with the average worker or
young person, no matter what color they are.
It is certainly
positive to see millions of Black workers and youth energized and
entering political life for the first time. It is equally positive to
see millions of white workers and youth show, albeit in a somewhat
confused way, that they yearn to wipe the stain of racism from the
past. However, as we have explained time and again, only the socialist
transformation of society can truly lay the foundations for ending
racism once and for all. Such a transformation can only result from the
united struggle of all workers against the bosses.
meantime, we need union-controlled hiring halls in the poorest
communities; a crash program of public works to create jobs and rebuild
infrastructure; the outlawing of all forms of discrimination; and an
end to the phony war on drugs that imprisons and disenfranchises
millions. Some of these points were taken up by Cynthia McKinney’s
Power to the People presidential campaign, which the WIL supported.
did not support her because she is Black, but because her program
raised important demands that need to be taken up by all workers,
particularly Black workers, who most acutely experience the effects of
this decaying system. Ultimately, these demands can only be achieved
by uniting the whole of the working class, in a mass party of labor
based on the unions, a political vehicle through which we can fight for
our collective interests. That would truly be “change we can believe