Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The So-called "Racial Divide," Which Is Racism

February 13, 2008

There is no such thing as what The New York Times and of course many others refer to as a "racial divide." This incredibly reductive and vapid use of language is inherently absurd and misleading. It is also MEANINGLESS. What separates and divides various people in the United States is not merely the "color of our skins" (and by the way hasn't anyone noticed the utterly banal fact that every single so-called 'ethnic group' in the nation has what are considered to be "different skin tones"-- which we all choose to designate as 'white', 'red', 'yellow', 'brown', and 'black', etc.?). In and of itself alone however there is NOTHING intrinsically or inherently significant about the "color" of anyone's skin--anymore than the size of one 's earlobes, fingers, or toes are intrinsically significant in and of themselves. NO. The rhetorical framing of this so-called (false) "issue" of color that far too many whites and even many blacks, browns, yellows, and reds alike think or are taught to think is so important on their own fundamentally OBSCURES AND DISTORTS what the ACTUAL problem is between different ethnic/"racial"/cultural groups in the United States. And that problem (unlike the completely false issue of color) IS HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT AND IS NOT ONLY REAL BUT ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR VERY DEEP AND ONGOING DIVISIONS BETWEEN VARIOUS PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY).

That problem is RACISM. As the suffix of the word (i.e. 'ism') clearly indicates, racism is a philosophy that defines the form and content of how SOCIAL and thus political, economic, and cultural relations between 'different people' should be defined and acted upon. Just as in the words capitalism, socialism, existentialism, sexism, anti-semitism, etc. etc., the word 'racism' has a very clear meaning that is given empirical weight , meaning, and identity within the very real historical context of the institutional and philosophical STRUCTURES that actually regulate and control how we live and thus determine the meaning of our lives IN SOCIETY. Thus it is not possible to speak coherently or rationally about what is very clumsily and rather stupidly referred to as "race" (which is a delusional concept) in this country without properly identifying and confronting the REALITY OF RACISM. That is, one's "color" only becomes or is considered to be important (or conversely unimportant) when one is being consciously or unconsciously subjected to the concrete oppressive and/or exploitive imposition of another's definition of them as somehow "superior" or "inferior" because of something as completely arbitrary or incidental as the color of one's skin. In other words racism is the philosophy that allows one to justify, advocate, rationalize, excuse, and defend one's oppressive and exploitive treatment of another on the absurd and inherently IRRATIONAL and clinically insane basis of the color of someone's skin. Thus any discussion of HOW AND WHY people are 'divided' in this context cannot possibly be attributed to the mere fact that one human being is different in some physically external way than another human being. Rather the REASONS why people are divided by something erroneously referred to as "race" doesn't at all address or even acknowledge the stark reality that various people are being defined by and exposed to oppressive and exploitive behavior by others (both 'individually' and 'socially') that come under the rubric of RACISM. The specific manifestation of this reality in the American context is represented by, and defined as, the doctrine of white supremacy

This means, among many other things, that one cannot hope to "transcend" racism anymore than one can "transcend" their height or the size of their ankles. Racism is an integral and irreducible part of the very political, cultural, social, and economic DNA of this nation and one cannot possibly "rise above" or "beyond" it in any rational or realistic way. One must instead (if one cares at all about seriously trying to deal with its inhumanity) STRUGGLE with and COMBAT it. This means that some people will understand and work to eliminate or curtail it and (many) others won't. Some people will recognize and seek to address and advocate the resolution of the concomitant and inherently linked issues of "justice", "equality", "fairness", "self determination",and "freedom" etc. and (many) others won't. Some will strive to oppose and organize against its insidious and destructive influence and its viral contagion in American life and culture and (many) others won't.

As far as Barack Obama is concerned his seeking "unity" among the (so-called) "races" has absolutely nothing to do with trying to use the also delusional notion of "colorblindness" to bring people together in the United States. Neither he nor anyone else could ever possibly do that and Obama is not foolish enough to try. What Obama is proposing (as Dr. King for instance tried to propose--before, that is, he was murdered by a RACIST) is that the very real spectre and power of racism be openly acknowledged and opposed in both our daily lives and in our institutional structures and infrastructures through COLLECTIVE awareness, agitation, and organization. Meanwhile, because of racism's inextricable and divisive force Obama (like the rest of us) is forced to both address and/or ignore it. As always no matter what one decides to do or not do about it there are ALWAYS unavoidably severe consequences attending either one’s action or inaction with respect to it precisely BECAUSE racism is such a deadly, ever present, and pervasive force.


Seeking Unity, Obama Feels Pull of Racial Divide

Published: February 12, 2008

WASHINGTON — It was November 2006 when Senator Barack Obama first gathered friends and advisers at a Washington law firm to brainstorm about what it would take for him to win the presidency.

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Senator Barack Obama on Monday at a rally at the University of Maryland in College Park. His campaign has worked to strike a balance in its message as it tries to avoid being defined by race.

Those who attended the meeting said the mix of excitement and trepidation at times felt asphyxiating, as the group weighed the challenges of such a long shot. Would Mr. Obama be able to raise enough money? What kind of toll would a campaign take on him and his family? What kind of organization could he build?

Halfway into the session, Broderick Johnson, a Washington lawyer and informal adviser to Mr. Obama, spoke up. “What about race?” he asked.

Mr. Obama’s dismissal was swift and unequivocal.

He had been able to navigate racial politics in Illinois, Mr. Obama told the group, and was confident he could do so across the nation. “I believe America is ready,” one aide recalled him saying.

The race issue got all of five minutes at that meeting, setting what Mr. Obama and his advisers hoped would be the tone of a campaign they were determined not to define by the color of his skin.

As he heads into a fresh round of contests Tuesday, the Potomac primaries, in a tight rivalry with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and with an impressive record of victories across the nation in which he drew significant white votes and overwhelming black support, he claims to have accomplished that goal. Some South Carolina supporters summed up his broad appeal and message about transcending differences in a chant: “Race Doesn’t Matter.”

Glimpses inside the Obama campaign show, though, that while the senator had hoped his colorblind style of politics would lift the country above historic racial tensions, from Day 1 his bid for the presidency has been pulled into the thick of them. While his speeches focus on unifying voters, his campaign has learned the hard way that courting a divided electorate requires reaching out group by group.

Instead of following a plotted course, Mr. Obama’s campaign has zigged and zagged, reacting to outside forces and internal differences between the predominantly white team of top advisers and the mostly black tier of aides.

The dynamic began the first day of Mr. Obama’s presidential bid, when white advisers encouraged him to withdraw an invitation to his pastor, whose Afro-centric sermons have been construed as antiwhite, to deliver the invocation at the official campaign kickoff. Then, when his candidacy was met by a wave of African-American suspicion, the senator’s black aides pulled in prominent black scholars, business leaders and elected officials as advisers.

Aides to Mr. Obama, who asked not to be identified because the campaign would not authorize them to speak to the press, said he stayed away from a civil rights demonstration and did not publicize visits to black churches when he was struggling to win over white voters in Iowa. Then, a month after Representative John Lewis of Georgia endorsed Mrs. Clinton, setting off concerns about black voters’ ambivalence toward Mr. Obama, the campaign deployed his wife, Michelle, whose upbringing on the South Side of Chicago was more familiar to many blacks than Mr. Obama’s biracial background.

The campaign’s strategy in the first contests left Mr. Obama vulnerable with Latinos, which hurt him in California and could do the same in the Texas primary on March 4.

Faulted by Latino leaders as not being visible enough in their communities and not understanding what issues resonated with immigrants, the campaign has been trying hard to catch up, scheduling more face-to-face meetings with voters, snaring endorsements from Latino politicians and fine-tuning his message.

Mr. Obama has resisted any effort to suggest that the presidential primaries were breaking along racial lines.

“There are not a lot of African-Americans in Nebraska the last time I checked, or in Utah or in Idaho, areas where I probably won some of my biggest margins,” he said Sunday in an NPR interview.

“There’s no doubt that I’m getting more African-American votes,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that the race is dividing along racial lines. You know, in places like Washington State we won across the board, from men, from women, from African-Americans, from whites and from Asians.”

A Rhetorical Tightrope

David Axelrod, the chief strategist of the Obama campaign, said in an interview that although he and Mr. Obama did not map out a detailed strategy for dealing with race when plotting a presidential run, they were well aware it would weigh on his campaign.

Jeff Zeleny and Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.