Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Big Let Down vs. An Opportunity to Fight for Change


The always intellectually provocative and profoundly challenging novelist, poet, cultural critic, journalist, playwright, activist, and cantankerous gadfly Ishmael Reed wrote the following essay on Barack Obama for Counterpunch magazine on June 24. While I find many (but not all) of Ishmael's criticisms to be right on target, highly insightful, and even politically necessary to a certain degree I seriously hope Reed doesn't mean that he thinks voting for Obama is a waste of time or that it won't make a difference who wins the election in November. That conclusion, for all of Obama's obvious and not so obvious contradictions, shortcomings, and weaknesses, would be a very serious mistake and severe misreading of the current American/global political reality on Reed's part. As for Ishmael's specious last paragraph in his article about the masses of African Americans agreeing with that mindless 'cullud' reactionary John McWhorter on the future of the eradication of racism if a 'black President' is elected: There isn't a chance in Hell that the overwhelming majority of black people in this country believe any such thing. Contrary to racist white America's psychotically delusional beliefs, African Americans are far from being the pathological idiots we are habitually portrayed as being. Which as I understand it is one of the major reasons why Ishmael wrote the rest of his otherwise often highly accurate and critically erudite piece in the first place...


The Big Let Down
Obama Scolds Black Fathers, Gets Bounce in Polls
June 24, 2008

It’s obvious by now that Barack Obama is treating black Americans like one treats a demented uncle, brought out from his room to be ridiculed and scolded before company from time to time, the old Clinton Sistah Souljah strategy borrowed from Clinton’s first presidential campaign when he traveled the country criticizing the personal morality of blacks and wooing white voters by objecting to what he considered anti -white lyrics sung by rapper Sistah Souljah.

As in Clinton’s case, Obama’s June 14th finger wagging at black men was a case of pandering to white conservative voters. This follows a pattern of using public perceptions of black men fanned by the media and Hollywood to win political favor. Bush One and his sleazy cohorts won votes by depicting black men as dangerous. After the Willie Horton ad, featuring a black rapist, was aired, support for Bush soared among southern white males, according to Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor. Obama, by depicting them as irresponsible, saw his poll numbers climb to a 15% lead over McCain, according to a Newsweek poll. With his speech, he received a bounce in the polls that was denied to him after he gained the democrat nomination. He also enjoyed the bounce in the polls from Pennsylvania and Ohio.

According to pundits, the reason he lost these states during the primary was because he couldn’t bowl His Father’s Day speech was meant to show white conservative males that he wouldn’t cater to “special interests” groups, blacks in this case. This was the consensus of those who appeared on MSNBC and other opinion venues of the segregated media on 6/16/2008 even the progressive ones. (Segregated? Not quite. The two percent of African Americans who support Bush all seem to have jobs as pundits, columnists and Op-eders). Michael A. Cohen, writing in The New York Times, June 15, 2008, acknowledging Mr. Obama’s Sister Souljah moment wrote “Indeed, just yesterday, Barack Obama had his own mini- “Souljah moment” as he decried the epidemic of fatherlessness and illegitimacy among black Americans. While it is a message that Mr. Obama has voiced before to other black audiences, speaking unpleasant truths about issues afflicting the black community may provide political benefit for a candidate whom some working-class white voters are suspicious of — just as it did for Clinton 16 years ago. ” (When is Cohen going to air “unpleasant truths about issues afflicting” his community?).

The talking heads also concluded that Obama’s speech before a black congregation in which he scolded black men for being lousy fathers and missing in action from single parent households and being boys, etc. , was cleary aimed at those white male Reagan democrats, who, apparently, in Obama and the media’s eyes, provide the gold standard for fatherhood, which fails to explain why there are millions of destitute white women, “ displaced housewives”and their children whose poverty results from divorce, or why, according to one study, 90% of middle class white women have been battered , or have witnessed their mothers sisters, or daughters being battered. A smug John Harwood of The New York Times said that Obama was telling black men to “shape up. ” As long as men of Mr. Harwood’s class dominate the avenues of expression, who’s going to tell white men to “shape up?”Judging from my reading American men of all races, ethnic groups and classes need to shape up when it comes to the treatment of women.

Blaming black men exclusively for the abuses against women is a more profitable infotainment product. Hypocrisy is also involved. MSNBC host, Joe Scarborough, who welcomed Juan William’s latest demagogic attack on blacks, printed in The Wall Street Journal , still hasn’t addressed the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his staffer, Lori Klaustis (http://www. whoseflorida. com/lori_klausutis. htm) who was found dead on the floor of his office or why he had to resign abruptly from Congress. And is Juan Williams, whose career has been marred by repeated sexual harassment complaints against him really one to criticize the personal morality of others? Is Bill Cosby?

According to the Census, a woman’s income on the average is reduced by 73% after divorce in a country in which 50% of marriages end in divorce. Moreover the Times revelation, shocking to some, that elderly whites are taking to cocaine and heroin, a genuine epidemic, hasn’t drawn a response from the legions of columnists and commentators and book publishers who profit from any signs of social”dysfunction” among blacks. Nor has Harwood, George Will, David Brooks, Pat Buchanan, who are always scolding blacks for whatever , commented on the rising incarceration rates of white women. Apparently, Lindsay and Paris are not alone, nor are the Barbie bandits.

Don’t expect Obama to bring up this rampant substance abuse before a white congregation. He had to just about whisper about the values of blue-collar whites, those whom he said clung to guns and religion;he was exposed by a woman who recorded his comments, furtively. Even though the media, which rank ratings above facts, continue to criticize him for these remarks and have made them a campaign issue, sixty percent of Pennsylvanians, according to an April 17, Zogby poll, agreed with him. (The media were also wrong to suggest that Hillary got the worst of it from the press during the primary. A Pew study from Harvard contradicts this.)

Predictably, Obama’s verbal flagellation of black men, who don’t have the media power with which to fight back, was cheered on the front page of The New York Times, which places a black face on every story about welfare, domestic violence and unmarried mothers, and uses Orlando Patterson to parrot these attitudes on the Op-ed page, yet a study published by the Times showed a steep decline in the rate of births to unmarried black women over the decade while the rate among Hispanic women has increased, contradicting what Cohen described as an “epidemic of illegitimacy” among blacks. An indication that the Op ed editors at the Times are so willing to believe the folklore perpetrated by such writers as Cohen that they don’t fact check a writer whose assumptions are at odds with the reports from The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that they published on Dec. 6, 2007, and at odds with their token black columnist, Bob Herbert, who said on 6/20/08 that illegitimate births have “skyrocketed” over the decades.

Patterson, Williams and Herbert have to rough up the brothers and sisters from time to time in order to hew the editorial line set by their employers. This was the conclusion of a study (Times, 6/23/08) by Bob Sommer, who teaches public policy communications at Rutgers and John R. Maycroft, a graduate student in public policy. They examined 366 opinion articles published in The Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Star-Ledger. “At each newspaper” they found, ” 90 to 95 percent” of the published article agreed with the editorial page stance on the issue at hand. ”

Moreover, why aren’t Obama and other tough lovers acquainted with a study cited by Michael Eric Dyson in Time magazine, 6-30-08? In his Viewpoint piece, The Blame Game, in which he also takes Obama’s blame the victim speech, he refers to research by Boston College social psychologist that found “black fathers not living at home are more likely to keep in contact with their children than fathers of any ethnic or racial group?”

I asked for a correction of both Herbert and Cohen’s assertions and received an automatic reply from the Times. Since the CDC report indicated a higher rate per thousand of births to unmarried Hispanic women, why don’t the legion of politicians like Obama, writers like The Manhattan Institute’s John McWhorter, Fox New’s Juan Williams, Harvard’s talented tenthers, all of whom scold blacks under the guise of tough love, love Hispanics, the country’s largest minority group? No box office appeal? No publishing contracts? No votes from Reagan democrats?

A 2007 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed some alarming statistics. “Latino high school students use drugs and attempt suicide at higher rates than their black and white classmates.” In addition “Latino students were more likely than either blacks or whites to… ride with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, or use cocaine heroin or ectasy. ”

Other studies show that of the 300 gangs located in Los Angeles, over sixty percent of their members are latino. Most of the nation’s drive by shootings occur in Los Angeles. Over fifty percent of the nation’s school dropouts are Hispanic.

It’s been over a month since the 2007 report and I haven’t read a single tough love column about the conclusions. Not even from the handful of Hispanic commentators or syndicated columnists, who, like the Colored Mind Doubles, are restricted about what they say lest they alienate the white viewers or readership by appearing to be angry. I asked Jonathan Capehart, the genteel editorial writer for The Washington Post, whose assignment from MSNBC is to link Rev. Wright to Barack Obama, why he didn’t explore the relationship of Senator Clinton and John McCain to pastors who’ve made outrageous statements? I mentioned McCain’s buddy, the late Rev. Fallwell’s remark that the Anti Christ was a Jew. Capehart answered that this wasn’t the topic.

While white commentators might range over a number of topics, the black commentators have to stick to their assignment lest they appear to be out of control or “angry. ” That’s why the black commentator who spends the most time on camera at MSNBC and elsewhere is Michelle Barnard, president of the far right Independent Women’s forum. She apparently puts the white audience at ease. People For The American Way provides some information about The Independent Women’s Forum at their website:

* The International Women's Forum (IWF) is an anti-feminist women’s organization founded to counter the influence of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and "radical feminists" on society.

* Frequent targets: Title IX funding, affirmative action, the Violence Against Women Act, full integration of women in the military, and those who oppose President Bush’s controversial judicial nominees.

* Opposes the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

* IWF’s credo/mission: "The Independent Women's Forum provides a voice for American women who believe in individual freedom and personal responsibility. We have made that voice heard in the U. S. Supreme Court, among decision makers [sic] in Washington, and across America's airwaves. It is the voice of reasonable women with important ideas who embrace common sense over divisive ideology."

* IWF was organized in defense of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his controversial nomination hearings.

* In the words of Media Transparency, “The Independent Women’s Forum is neither Independent, nor a Forum. Not independent because it is largely funded by the conservative movement. Not a forum because it merely serves up women who mouth the conservative movement party line. " Two other black MSNBC favorites are Ron Christie, former aide to Bush and Cheney and Joe Martin, Republican strategist.

Either Obama and the pundits don’t love Hispanics or there’s more money and political opportunity in exhorting blacks. Racist appeals played a role in the election of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Both Bushes and even Clinton, but there is such euphoria among many African Americans about the possibility of a black presidency that his dumping of a bunch of lazy clichés on them will be forgiven. They will forgive him for throwing them under the bus as he did Rev. Wright, whose criticism of American foreign policy and remarks about the toxic attacks on the inner city were based upon facts. He provided his corporate media critics with a bibliography, but they apparently were too busy paling around with the people whom they cover to read it.

Blacks will overlook Obama’s snubbing of the distinguished panel of black educators politicians and intellectuals who appear on Tavis Smiley’ annual “State of the Black Union, ” and overlook the fact that he found the time to appear before AIPAC where he made belligerent threats against Arab nations and even promised Israel an undivided Jerusalem, he got so carried away, which undercuts a notion held by Maureen Dowd, and Susan Faludi that he is the feminine candidate. When it comes to seeking Jewish votes and putting down black men, in order to obtain votes from white male conservatives, he can become John Wayne.

Finally does anyone doubt that the hypocrisy exhibited by some leaders of the conservative movement in recent years doesn’t trickle down to many of their white working class followers in both states, who are idealized like a Norman Rockwell by talking heads like Hitler apologist Pat Buchanan.

I had a glimpse of these talking heads’ lifestyle when walking toward a restaurant called The Bombay Palace, last May, located across the street from CBS. The street was lined with chauffeurs awaiting the talking heads, who pose as experts on the white working class.

And if many African-Americans agree with John McWhorter that racist attacks on African Americans, including predatory mortgages, racial profiling, capricious traffic stops, racism in the criminal justice system, job and medical discrimination, outlaw drug experiments and the exoneration of police who murder unarmed blacks will end the day after the election of a black president, they’re in for a big letdown. Again.

Ishmael Reed is the author of 22 books and a MacArthur fellow whose work has been nominated for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His latest book is “Mixing It Up, Taking On The Media Bullies.” He appears in Stefan Forbes new movie, “The Boogie Man, The Lee Atwater Story”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hollywood, 'Hancock', and the Policing of the Black Imagination

By Duane Deterville

Film Review

Now before anyone starts dismissing super-hero movies as trivial pop-culture fare let me contextualize this commentary about “Hancock”, a super-hero movie starring Will Smith, by saying that the figure of the hyper-masculine super-hero is probably the first image that young males encounter as the imagination’s cornerstone for creating a public personae. If the aforementioned figure is decidedly white, male and wealthy we have a problem of existential proportions for those youth that don’t expect to wield white privilege in this American empire.

Myths are created to give groups of people a sense of identity that transcends their actual recorded history. Myth empowers the psyche of these groups of people by the telling and retelling of a story until a belief in the principles conveyed in the story outweighs the plausible existence of the story’s characters. According to Joseph Campbell (probably the most widely recognized authority on the subject) myths serve four purposes. The first two are mystical and cosmological. The third is “…the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order.” The fourth “…is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.” (The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell) In short, myth builds individual and collective self-image.

Arguably, the two greatest purveyors of secular myth making in America are the Hollywood film industry and the comic book/graphic novel industry. As early as 1915 with DW Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” white American filmmakers have used cinema to perpetuate myths that bolster the mythic notion that the righteous vigilante is embodied in the image of the white male. “Birth of a Nation” is now universally recognized for the dubious dual distinction of bringing the image of KKK lynching to its first mass media audience (with a decidedly sympathetic portrayal of the KKK) and for being the first Hollywood blockbuster. It was Hollywood’s highest grossing film prior to World War Two. The comic book superhero was codified by the creation of Superman in the 1930s by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. With the character Superman and the rise of the comic book as a popular form of entertainment amongst teenagers the hero with godlike or “superhuman” powers emerged as a powerful image in the minds of young males in America. These secular myths were often times merged with wartime patriotism. An example of this is the character Captain America. Even the popular Superman television show explained him as fighting for “…truth, justice and the American way.” Although these characters were portrayed in movie screen serials, none of them used any movie actors of Hollywood “star” status.

The figure of the Hollywood movie star is a key component of the power built within the secular myths created in American films. Joseph Campbell observed, “There is something magical about films. The person you are looking at is also somewhere else at the same time. That is a condition of the god. If a movie actor comes into the theater, everybody turns and looks at the movie actor. He is the real hero of the occasion.” Recently, we have witnessed a powerful synthesis of iconic secular myths in the form of Superhero movies that blend movie star myth with comic book superhero myth. With the rise of computer generated imagery the comic book movie adaptation has been transformed from B-movie status to multi-million dollar Hollywood summer blockbuster status employing A-list academy award nominated actors playing the leads.

This summer we have Robert Downey Jr. as Ironman, Edward Norton as the Hulk, Christian Bale as Batman and Will Smith as “Hancock.” Hancock!?! Hancock is obviously not an iconic superhero but it is obvious that a considerable amount of money was spent on special effects. As a result we can conclude that this movie is expected to compete in the same arena as the other iconic superhero movies released this summer.

Here’s where things get strange. We seldom see the role of the superhero in comics or otherwise where the main character is a Black man. When we do, it’s downright startling. Anyone remember Wesley Snipes brilliant portrayal of the vampire hunter “Blade” in 1998? Village Voice critic Greg Tate called Blade “…hands down the most dynamic portrayal of a Black superman in the history of cinema.” It’s as if Hollywood understood the threat of that notion and promptly crash-landed what could have been one of the greatest superhero myths to come to the screen with two of the worst sequels that one could imagine.

Prior to “Hancock’s” release the teaser trailer that announced it opened with the words “There are heroes”, “There are superheroes” “And then there’s Hancock.” This obviously distances the image of Hancock from the legacy of the mythic superhero even before we see him. Right from the beginning the encoded imagery and music in “Hancock” is highly damaging to the project of building the myth of the Black man endowed with superhuman powers. The first image in the movie is of Hancock, a poor disheveled homeless Black man in an obviously inebriated state laying on a park bench. This image is accompanied by a soundtrack using the classic folk Blues voice of John Lee Hooker wordlessly invoking the history of Blues people, Africans in America, as only he can. The soundtrack shifts from folk Blues to contemporary Hip Hop with Ludacris’ sexist anarchic song “Move Bitch” as we watch Hancock drunkenly flying through the air, crashing through a freeway sign while taking a swig from a bottle of liquor. The music connects the history of Black folks in America to the figure of Hancock by drawing a line from seminal folk Blues to contemporary Hip Hop with an obviously condescending commentary on the results of that lineage.

Hancock is basically a flying wino. This may be a cinema first. The depiction of a man endowed with the power of flight, drunkenly soaring through the air. They didn’t even break this one out for Ironman and in the comic character’s story line his alter ego, Tony Stark is actually an alcoholic. Such a depiction may have been too close to home for Robert Downey Jr. but they didn’t spare Will Smith this image. Unlike the millionaire alter egos of Ironman (Tony Stark) and Batman (Bruce Wayne) who dwell in mansions, Hancock is homeless and has no other alter ego personae than the one the public sees. There is no complex pathos driven by a life as a superhero and a secret civilian life. This is important because this tension in the superhero character is what gives them nobility and fosters a sense of empathy in the viewer because they are in someway like us.

The alter ego is a primary element in the construction of the superhero myth. Most people don’t consider that the circumstance that creates the superhero is often times their superior intellect. An article in the June 1st 2006 BusinessWeek magazine listed the eleven smartest superheroes. Eleven is an odd number in more ways than one. In this case it is probably because someone noticed that all of the superheroes chosen for the list were white and male. Barbara Gordon the alter ego of the less than iconic character Oracle was probably added as the token woman. The fact that all of the characters were white didn’t seem to pose any additional problem. Further, the article stresses that these superheroes prior to obtaining their superpowers were scientists, college professors and inventors. Ironman’s alter ego Tony Stark attended MIT and Bruce Wayne, the alter ego of Batman, attended Harvard. These are two characters in this summer’s spate of comic book movie adaptations and it is important to note that neither of these characters have superpowers other than the ones given them by the intellect that led them to create their superhero technology. In Batman’s case it’s also his tireless training work ethic that gives him his peak physical conditioning. In addition to superior intellect, both of these characters in their movie portrayals are using weaponry that’s manufactured by the US Military. So we see that the encoded imagery of Ivy league white boys endowed with the technological power of the military industrial complex get superhuman powers along with the moral and ethical validation to use those superpowers as they see fit. On one hand these are empowering principles for the white male youth who resemble these images. On the other hand, these encoded images police the imaginations of Black people and others who do not empathize with the myth created by those images.

Somehow the writer of the BusinessWeek article omitted probably the best Black comic book superhero that was ever created, the Black Panther. The invention of the legendary team of Marvel comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The Black Panther’s alter ego is T’challa the ruler of the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda. Evidently, even though T’challa has a PhD in physics from Oxford and is a statesman that rules a country, that wasn’t enough intellect to get the brotha’ on BusinessWeek’s list. Special acknowledgement is due for Lee and Kirby for inventing this character in the late 1960s at the height of the Black Power movement. In addition to that, they magnificently sidestepped the temptation to create a character that could easily have fallen into the trap of being a primitive stereotype of some sort. Instead they invented a technologically advanced independent African Kingdom for him to rule! In doing so, these two ingenious Ashkenazi mythmakers made a unique contribution to the legacy of Afri-futurism. For years there has been Hollywood buzz that Wesley Snipes was to portray T’challa in a Black Panther movie. He actually began the project before “Blade.” Now rumor has it that Djimon Hounsou (Amistad) will portray him with John Singleton directing. It makes one wonder what the hold up is, since plans for this movie started long before Ironman and others. In the meantime we have “Hancock” as the Black superhero image sufficiently diffused as an empowering myth by making him into a comic relief character.

Another technique for diffusing the power of the superhero myth embodied in the Black figure is to make it clear that the superhuman power that the Black figure has is irrevocably attached to white male power. In the “Blade” movie we see the appearance of the white male character Abraham Whistler who rescued Blade as a child and makes his entire arsenal of vampire hunting weapons. But this character never existed in the comic book rendition of Blade. In the original comic book rendition of Blade the character that mentored Blade and taught him his devastating martial arts techniques was a Black Jazz musician from Harlem named Jamal Afari. This character was omitted from the movie. In the first “Blade” film there is a Black woman who actually gives Blade her blood in order to rescue him and strengthen him for battle in a scene that artfully mirrors lovemaking. (Now meditate on that image for a minute.) Also, there is a Black apothecary who evidently provides Blade with the vital serum that prevents him from reverting to vampirism. Both of these characters simply evaporate with no explanation in the second sequel to “Blade.” However, Whistler returns in this trilogy. By the third sequel there are two other white vampire hunters ‘helping’ Blade. Remember, these are constructed fictions that build myth. The first “Blade” movie with a Black woman and a Black man allied to empower a Black man with superhuman power was powerful myth building imagery. Evidently, what those empowering images represented symbolically was a little too uncomfortable for the white collars in Hollywood. Those images needed to be policed and reinscribed in a way that re-empowers myths that are made for the white male psyche.

Does that sound a little too conspiratorial for you? Consider this, on July 2nd Will Smith revealed in an MTV interview that he had been offered to play Superman before the Hancock movie and he turned it down. He said, in what began as a serious comment and ended with laughter, “…you can't be messing up white people's heroes in Hollywood! You mess up white people's heroes in Hollywood, you'll never work in this town again!" Smith understands clearly what the mythic image of Superman represents and for whom. What he revealed on MTV, however brief, is a powerful statement about the policing of the Black imagination and who is given agency with iconic secular myths created by the image of a person endowed with godlike powers.

We should always consider who is building the myths and for what motivation. What principles are being conveyed here and for the psyche of what group of people? Who’s young audiences do these images serve? It’s my contention that the principles being conveyed are that unregulated superpowers are reserved for white males. The exception is when Black men and others can have superpowers, as long as those powers are mentored or governed by white male intellect. The power of the independent righteous vigilante is for white men alone.

Recall Will Smith’s statement when he was offered the role of Superman. He understood clearly that Superman is an iconic hero for white people specifically. The character of Hancock as evidenced by the opening sequence of soundtrack music is clearly an encoded image aimed at Black folks. As a result, despite allusions to gods and angels in this movie, Hancock is not a superhero. At the end of the narrative he is a nameless Black man with superpowers that handles them poorly until he gets a PR man to help him with his image and advise him on how to use his superpowers. The PR man is white and this image protects the myth of inherent intellectual superiority in white men. Even with superpowers the black protagonist requires a white mentor in order to use those powers properly. Smith has portrayed a similar hero in the 1996 sci-fi movie “Independence Day” where he portrays a jet fighter pilot who navigates an alien space ship to save planet earth. However, this only occurs under the supervision of a character portrayed by Jeff Goldblum. Again, heroism is portrayed as intellect when embodied in the White hero and brawn when embodied in the Black hero. Keep in mind that this is all fiction, all myth making, and the process of casting is a premeditated aspect of constructing the myths.

It doesn’t seem that Hollywood will dare to allow Black moviestar power to combine with superhero mythology unencumbered. Halle Berry was quite disappointed when the formidable comic book character Storm was reduced to just another ensemble player in the “X-Men” trilogy. Perhaps Hollywood balked at combining the empowering image of an academy award winning moviestar embodied in a stunningly beautiful black woman portraying arguably the most powerful mutant superhero in the Marvel comic universe. “Hancock” it turns out is no more than disempowering images and myth making that underline stereotypes about Black men being ‘naturally’ endowed with extraordinary physical abilities. Physical abilities that require the intellect of white men to be an asset to society. Talk about reinscribing antebellum plantation slave mythology. I won’t bring any young people I know to see it.

The Black Panther character is enjoying a surge in popularity in contemporary comics. In a recent story trajectory T’challa marries the powerful African superhero Storm in a royal wedding. After this Black superhero sabotage the only thing that Hollywood can do to redeem itself is to create a long overdue Black Panther trilogy culminating in the wedding of T’challa with the X-men’s African goddess Storm. Starring Halle Berry of course.

Duane Deterville is a visual artist, writer and Co-Founder of Sankofa Cultural Institute. A former Contra-Mestre of the African Brazilian martial art known as Capoeira, Duane’s primary interest is in African and African Diasporic cultural expression. As the Board Chair and Artistic Director of Sankofa Cultural Institute he produced three symposiums on Jazz: “ Jazz the Black Aesthetic” in 2001, “Bird, Bop, Black Art and Beyond” in 2006 and “The Sacred Jazz Symposium” in 2007. His independent field research includes trips to Haiti and Brazil to research sacred ground drawings and altars. He has recently co-authored the book entitled “Black Artists in Oakland” that was published by Arcadia in 2007, in addition to publishing an article on the painter Raymond Saunders for The Green Magazine. His visual art practice is focused on drawings that address the intersection between symbols and ritual in African Diasporic religions. Duane received his BFA in Drawing from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1982 and he is currently engaged in graduate studies in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of Art located in San Francisco California.

Obama & The Tragic Errors of The Weimar Republic

by Amiri Baraka


The following essay is by renowned poet, playwright, essayist, critic, novelist, and political activist Amiri Baraka. Dig the political and ideological clarity, insight, passion, and long range historical perspective of this piece...As George Clinton said so eloquently: "Think-- It's not illegal...yet"


The post Word War 1 journey of Germany from an Empire, which was overthrown and then a Democratic republic and finally the overthrow of that republic and the emergence and domination of Hitler's Nazi Fascism, is important for us to understand. Because some of the facts of these years still apply to the contemporary United States.

With the withering depression that had set in in the late 20s in addition to German's war losses, and the international stock market collapse (US Wall St) in 1929, a worldwide depression of staggering proportions set in. And it is this depression and the rise and fall of governments in Germany that set the stage for the final takeover by Hitler and the fascists and finally the beginning of WW2.

Although McCain's adviser Phil Gramm says this is a "mental recession", unless he's referring to himself and McCain, today's depression in the US is not just mental. We should also factor in the outright theft of the last two elections, the general public bankruptcy of the Republican party, who have been playing and still are playing a "white card". (The democrats have not won the majority of white male voters since John Kennedy!)

Consider the spreading foreclosure menace of the subprime (fraud ridden) mortgages, now at 6000 foreclosures a day, and the closing of the huge banking mortgage regime, Bear-Sterns. Then the Bush cabal agrees to revalue Bear Stearns stocks so that the historically infamous speculator JPMorgan can get a better payday. No aid for the people losing their homes at terrifying rates. Today the government announced it had a new plan to save more banks. If there's no recession why the plan to save "unthreatened" banks?

Suffice it to say there is a deepening depression in the US, the nation going from a surplus at the end of the Clinton regime until our current massive deficit, much of it caused by the 10 billion dollar a month war in Iraq. Even many straight up backward Americans are convinced of the bold corruption that is the real cause of the war and the spiraling gas price since it is the oil swindlers who hold state power in the US. While they talk bad about the "Arabs" the Bush group is clearly in bed with the Saudi's, Arab Emirates, Dubai now becoming a financial capital to compete with Wall St. and London.

There is no doubt that US forces are losing in the Middle East, just as they got wasted in Viet Nam. The whole ugly scam of removing oil billions from Iraq (all those contracts for privatization of Iraqi oil went to the big US oilies) based on the 911 episode, the reality of which is still covered with crude lies, but now at scam's end with a raging depression setting in and war incurred deficit climbing into the trillions, the stage is set for a stunning rightward surge that will perhaps bring street fighting to the US and a final toppling that will make the current shrinking of the dollar, .60 per Euro, seem mild. China already holds US paper, the US is China's top debtor. Indy Mac Bank has just failed in California.

So that this is a time much like that in Germany, during the last phase of the Weimar Democratic Republic. Ostensibly a democratic republic, the depression caused widespread unemployment and great public unrest. And as the curtain began to rise for fascist takeover, (See Brecht's Berlin) the country, especially the large cities like Berlin were inundated with pornography, sex crimes, business and political scandals and street fighting, usually between the rising fascists and the communists.

What brought the democratic era to an end was a split between the Communists and the Social Democrats, i.e., the Left and the Near Left and the Liberals, which permitted Hitler's National Socialists in a coalition with the Conservatives and Nationalists to win the election, even though the Left Center coalition had more voters objectively. It was the split which allowed the right to consolidate power.

Recently in the US presidential campaign we have seen two tendencies, the one to vilify and distort Obama from the right e.g., the recent New Yorker cover described as "satirical" with Obama as a Muslim, his wife as a machine toting militant with an American flag in the fireplace and Osama bin laden in a portrait of honor on the wall. It is objectively a message from McCain, the US Right and the Israelis.

But as well there is the tendency on the presumed Left and the social democrats and people styling themselves "progressives" to attack Obama for moving to the right, thereby disappointing some very vocal would be Obama voters. One woman publicized prominently in the NY Times said now she "hated him". But as I have said repeatedly this is an imperialist country, with two imperialist parties and a media controlled directly by the 6/10ths of 1 percent of the people that own the land wealth factories, the means of production.

There is no way Obama is even in the presidential race condemning Israel or embracing Cuba. Not to know this is not to know where you are or where you have been for the last forty years. But even with this clear motion to the center for the purposes of the general election, McCain is still a more backward and a more dangerous candidate and exactly the kind of right leaning militarist that would fit the paradigm for the weak chancellors during Weimar's last throes that President Hindenburg removed and then appointed Hitler.

It is this split between the Left and Near Left, that is being exploited by the Right with War & Depression threatening to dump this whole nation on its head, so that Obama will be defeated, McCain elected and with the McCain opening plummet the country headlong into the far far right. Bush 2 has already obviously set the stage for this. Those elections were stolen out of desperation. The fact that Gore & Kerry were such weak liberals, tied clearly and obviously to the ruling class of this imperialist state allowed that theft to take place with minimum real struggle.

So that is the real struggle unfolding before us. First, to oppose the empty idealism which its elitist base allows it to claim to represent the masses but actually have as little to do with them as possible. Allowing seemingly intelligent people to throw their votes away on McKinney or even the racial chauvinist, Nader, thus formalizing a hole in an actual progressive constituency which allowed Bush 2 to seize power in 2000.

We must also oppose the absolutising of Obama's progressive stance and with that drawing away from him as he gets closer to the general election and tacks toward the middle. This would be the other aspect of the tragic Weimar breakup of the fragile democratic coalition that caused millions to die in fascist purges, concentration camps, or World War 2.

On the other hand it should be part of our campaign tasks to create a document of planks of progressive character to submit to Obama and publish and popularize this as well, to exert what pressure we can bring to bear on the campaign and publicly for a reversal of Bush's neo-fascist creations, war, depression, unemployment, violation of democratic rights, diplomatic isolation from the rest of the world, a general weakening morally and politically and economically of the country.

Amiri Baraka, 7/15/08