In this country, the U.S., obsessed with race
and blood, certain minds devised insidious ways to classify
human beings as something other than themselves. Resembling
white America, that is, assimilating to another’s social,
cultural, and economic values, could get you social, cultural,
and economical breaks in life. It was much easier if you were
descendent from a mulatto mother or father. To not be a descendents
from American slavery is even better! As Toni Morrison wrote,
at one time, if an immigrant to the U.S. could pronounce the
word, nigger - he or she would instantly become an American
citizen. So goes the “grassroots” understanding of how race
operates in the U.S.
No one comes to the U.S. and wants to be
a Black American, that is, truly embraces the Black
American experience of struggle and oppression! Nice to sing
some hip songs and shout “Yo,” but it’s another thing to be
treated Black by white and privileged immigrants.
This is the heritage of brutal struggle and oppression in
the face of Anglo American control of social and economic
conditions, as well as the narrative surrounding the Black
American experience in America. People of color, Europeans
and Eastern Europeans come to America and eventually assimilate
to whiteness. The closer an immigrant of color looks, sounds,
and thinks like an Anglo American, the better it will
be for that individual, despite the fact that U.S. imperialism
utilizes the labor of that individual’s people and kills for
what it wants from that individual’s homeland.
Until recently, Africans visiting or living
in the U.S. used to be considered by whites to be “exotic.”
It is not PC to verbalize that distinction anymore. Africans
experience color prejudice and they, along with other immigrants,
experience from whites and even some Blacks that prejudice
of being different, as in foreign. But full-blown white supremacy
as practiced in this country targets Black Americans with
U.S. enslaved ancestry. It is what white America sees when
it looks into the face of a Black American with enslaved ancestry.
American sees slavery; it thinks slavery. It is that word
and those nightmarish images of rape for breeding and for
sport, of whippings for any transgression, of acts of cruelty
and torture, castration and selling a mother’s child. It is
those images, along with the political and economic benefits
of Black servitude to white Americans, to white interests,
to white success, white affirmative action that continued
until the late 1960s, that white America fears.
It is this history that it wants to forget
because it needs to forget. It is this history that can’t
receive the benefit of years of reconciliation and reparations
because it would mean equality and justice, freedom and democracy.
What it can’t come to grips with, what it can’t confront,
it sees in the face of a Black American with slave ancestry.
White America’s resistance struggle meant 150
years of more violence - lynching and raping and establishing
law after law that would segregate and make it impossible
for Black Americans to lift themselves up in the morning.
Nixon and Reagan, particularly the latter, said to white America
- I understand our problem and will work to eliminate it by
eliminating the symbol: the Black American. We will spiritually
and culturally maim their minds and the minds of their children,
incarcerate their bodies in metal and geographical cells,
and stifle their collective posture of opposition. In short,
we will stomp them to a pulp and bury them alive!
The atmosphere of “reconciliation” will focus
around “militants” and “agitators” whom we will engulf in
chilling frost so that would-be “militants” and “agitators”
are frozen in their tracks. War will be peace, freedom will
be slavery, and ignorance will be strength. If any of the
ordinary Black citizens should want to escape this torture,
they will have to come to us, crawling, willing to submit
to our think tanks for the re-education process. The “thought”
of reparations, of slavery, of white American violence will
be considered inappropriate language subject to denunciation
of the speaker. Resistance, on the part of Black Americans
is futile because, according to our textbooks and newsprint,
it will be absurd. Only idealists, crazies, still insist
on a distinction between the narrative of liberation and the
narrative of white supremacy.
now - am I to believe that white Americans are willing to
sending a Black to the White House? Am I to believe that
white Americans want to reconcile with Black Americans? Am
I to believe that white America now wants to talk about white
privilege and discuss ways to really institute equality and
justice? No. No. It is not about love, as Faulkner’s Quentin
Compson reminds us. It is not about love unless it is love
of whiteness, love of self and self-interests. No. We are
not to believe that white America wants to “unite” all Americans
(as Obama’s rhetoric goes) because we know that in this country,
that lingo means white Americans will consume the Black spirit
of our ancestry and thus our future. I am afraid that all
this talk of “unity” and “all Americans” means we Black Americans
will suffer more injustices.
Those of us who have been Black in this country
for a long time know this feeling of apprehension. The gloves
will be off! Controlling internal “insurgents” will be an
open task of federal and local teams working in “unity” domestically
and in so-called “foreign” lands of U.S. occupation. As an
advanced configuration of imperialism, the U.S. has worked
to contain opposition to its goal of sustaining Empire. So
when anything like Rodney King or Jena 6 happens, when Black
Americans with a slave ancestry are rounded up and find ourselves
in detention camps, will newspeak attribute it to “a few bad
apples on the night shift” while they throw away the keys?
I am wondering if we are not being taken back
to the days of Reagan just a bit, just enough to justify an
all-out rounding up of “militants” and “agitators” - again
This time, the face of Reagan will be Black, someone who stirs
of that obsession for the “exotic” Black face with Nordic
features, who sounds like white America and even utters the
slogans of an American brand of totalitarian regime: War is
peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.
I think of community organizing in Chicago,
and I think of dimly-lit places, with squeaky, dark-wooden
floors, old wooden, scratch-marked desks, and chairs that
had to be tested because there always seemed to be more broken
chairs than not in these rooms. There was always the smell
of dust. Cold in the winter and humid in the winter, we learned
not to complain. We understood that we had to take whatever
was available. We were the Youth Division of Operation Breadbasket
in late 1969 and 1970 and the organization Breadbasket itself,
before and after it broke from the Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s
SCLC. We boarded raggedy school buses to protest at the Capitol
building in Springfield and rode on buses or whatever cars
were available to march downtown on State Street for a first
Black school president or to boycott a store.
I came to understand that community organizing
meant organizing to agitate. Organizing to agitate also meant
meeting in less than comfortable places and always involved
the risk of interaction with the police or some form of white
authority (and its surrogate Black figures) who would stand
opposed to any activity intended to unite, organize, and teach
In later years, I remember one non-profit or
community center room after another. We had to work in cramped
spaces with limited material and financial resources. If
I received a salary, it was just enough to pay for an apartment
where the rent couldn’t be higher than $475 a month. I remember
the Federal Building rallies and the door-to-door petition
drives. I remember writing for small neighborhood publications
for no pay or teaching GED or adult continuing education where
students were in need of basic assistance that fell to us
teachers sent to the community. Later, in the 1990s, with
a doctorate degree, I taught part-time at universities and
worked on community projects, still barely able to move above
an income of $10,000 or $12,000 a year.
Community activity wasn’t a career option nor
did we think our work would garner respect and admiration
from white authority. Until recent months, I have had to conceal
my activist politics and my pedagogy of the oppressed, bottom-up
teaching approach for fear that I would not secure or maintain
employment in academia. In the end, I was asked directly
by the hiring staff about my “perspective.” Remaining “oppositional”
and working from the perspective of the oppressed has always
been at odds with white authority as well as bourgeois Black
Americans. There are no rewards for the kind of community
organizing or activism (in which I include teaching) that
challenges the way white America believes Blacks should live
and endure institutionalized racism.
Senator Barack Obama seems to have thrived
during the Reagan years. As I read of his “community organizing”
and “community activism” in Chicago, I am remembering those
Reagan years well. The Black communities in Chicago were
undergoing change - not good change. Guns and drugs were
pouring into the communities and people were paid to burn
as many buildings as possible to make room, first for desolation
and the flight of the middle-class Blacks, but ultimately
for progress - called gentrification. Whites came back into
the city. Middle-classed Blacks purchased buildings and become
landlords. Some remained in Southside neighborhoods like
Bronzeville or Chatham while others moved to suburbs. If,
as a Black American, some of us opted to remain focused on
the conditions of Black Americans, the poor, and working class,
we were treated with utter distain by whites and Black bourgeois
alike. The latter capitulated to the materialism of the Reagan
era and submitted to the re-education process. They talked
about the price of their clothes and the purchase of rehabbed
homes in the Black community. At the time, the façade of
“upward mobility” for the Black bourgeois in Chicago was pretty
much the "in" thing.
I came across a Chicago Reader article
entitled, “What Makes Obama Run,” written in 1995, and I am
left with many questions. What did Obama do in the Roseland
and Altgeld Gardens neighborhoods in Chicago? What kind of
rebel was he? Was his perspective an issue with those in authority?
Was Obama considered by them to be a troublemaker or confrontational?
Was he, as Mumia Abu-Jamal writes of Bill Clinton, someone
whose lifetime “coincided with the rise and emergence of the
Civil Rights Movement,” but who stood to gain by exploiting
Mike Papantonio, host of Air America’s Ring
of Fire, is furious with Obama because the latter does
not “get mad.” Papantonio argues that Obama has this “get
along” attitude with the “criminals” in political power instead
of pursuing accountability! Why won’t Obama SHOUT to the rooftop
against these criminals?
Well, Mike, they’d have him in prison; Obama
is not mad! He knows what happens to Blacks in America
- the land of the free and the home of the brave! A Black
American rebel, a radical, would hold criminals accountable
for the deaths of over one million Iraqis and nearly four
thousand (at this writing) U.S. soldiers. A Black American
rebel, allowed to be and to speak on behalf of the suffering
Black Americans in New Orleans or those losing homes because
of sub prime predatory lending, would SHOUT. But that AIN’T
Obama, Mike! He can’t be a likable African American man and
“get mad” about Black life in America too!
came back to Chicago in 1991 and he didn’t “get mad.” In
his memoir, Dreams
from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,
he presented an image of 1990s Chicago that offered little
hope for Black Americans because everywhere he looked, it
was desolate. But he didn’t “get mad.” Did he roll up his
sleeves and get to work in some grassroots organization,
for better education and educating to transgress? No, Obama
purchased a lakefront condo in Hyde Park, I said, in Hyde
Park! Then he worked his way through foundations - (the Woods
Fund and the Joyce Foundation)! The climber was rewarded
a position as executive director at the Annenberg Challenge
Grant Foundation. Wow! I missed this version of “community
organizing” in Chicago.
So, how does a twenty-something Black man on
Chicago’s Southside leave behind “community work” in Roseland
and in Altgeld Gardens neighborhoods and enter Harvard’s Law
program in the 1980s? Where was the money coming from? Did
he earn a scholarship or fellowship? How does a twenty-something
come back to Chicago in 1991, purchase a condo on the lakefront
in Hyde Park? How does work with established foundations
connect to lip service about “organizing ordinary citizens
into bottom-up democracies that create their own strategies,
programs, and campaigns and that forge alliances with disaffected
Americans”? - as if Black Americans don’t possess grassroots
organizing and alliance skills running in our veins!
No, Mike, you and Black America shouldn’t expect
Senator Barack Obama to change! Rather than working in the
trenches with the people themselves and making the city of
Chicago accountable for the conditions Black Americans have
to endure, Obama has always invested his efforts with the
authorities, whether it was with the Daley Machine or with
the moneyed foundations. He made a conscious decision to climb
the ladder to civic leadership and perhaps his decisions benefited
him and his family but it did little to help the Blacks he
found in dire straights on his return to Chicago in 1991.
To use Mumia Abu-Jamal’s words, “with a ‘brutha’” like Obama
who needs enemies?
And no, Mike Papantonio, all Baby Boomers didn’t
leave the streets and grassroots organization or activism
to acquire high salaries on Wall Street or on Rodeo Drive.
People like Obama thrived in the 1980s and beyond. While
some Black American residents nearly froze in apartments with
no heat in the winter of 1997, Obama received a financial
donation from Antoin Rezko, landlord of these buildings in
the Englewood Black community in Chicago where Rezko supposedly
couldn’t afford to pay the heating bills! (“Obama Surfaces
in Rezko’s Federal Corruption Case,” Chicago Sun-Times, January
20, 2008). It’s also alleged that Obama worked for a firm
that gave some forty-three million dollars to Rezmar Corporation,
Rezko’s business. There’s more “community activism” of this
nature. Check it out.
In the meantime, the 1960s and early 1970s
activism wasn’t a fade for most Black Americans, Mike. Some
of us Black Baby Boomer activists never left the scene and
some only left the scene because they were killed.
Obama profited from his “community activism”
in ways that the Rev. Edward Pinkney in Benton Harbor, Michigan
certainly hasn’t and can’t anyway in America, since his “perspective”
remains focused Black, working class, and poor. Can’t find
foundation positions fixated on Black folk! Obama would
find himself in the position the Rev. Pinkney is in now unless
he starts talking about the treatment of Black Americans
the need for reparations! White America loves Obama because
he “gets along” with white America and even the worst of
criminals in America! He will never find himself like the
sitting in the Berrien County Jail for almost two months.
The Rev. Pinkney’s reward for his community activism is to
endure, as his wife, Dr. Dorothy Pinkney told me, “very
conditions, where he’s lost twelve pounds and where the authorities
won’t even allow his wife to see or speak to him. The Rev.
Pinkney is “insolent,” according to the authorities at
Berrien County Jail. Black activists like the Rev. Pinkney
And let’s remember that being “insolent” was a crime for
which newly freed Blacks were punished and incarcerated
(see Eric Foner’s Reconstruction,
America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877: America's Unfinished
Revolution, 1863-1877 (New American Nation Series)).
The Rev. Pinkney’s activism represents the
historical struggle against institutionalized oppression.
He isn’t one of “a few bad apples on the night shift,” as
liberals like to tell themselves and others in Latin America,
Europe, Africa, and Asia. He just isn’t about getting along
with the cabal of liberals or criminals!
Historically, Black Americans have been the
face of progressive struggles, progressive activism. Focus
on the Rev. Pinkney because he has sacrificed for the marginalized
people. Contact the Berrien County Jail at 269-983-7111, ex.
7231 and the Sheriff’s Dept. at 919 Port Street, St. Joseph,
MI 49085, (269) 983-7141, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can
also express your outrage by sending post cards demanding
the Rev. Pinkney be pardon (something I am sure Obama would
do with the criminals sitting in the White House) to Gov.
Granholm, P.O. Box 30013, Lansing, MI 48909. Real SHOUT your
anger at Rep. John Conyers - MICHIGAN!!! Call his office at
(202) 225 5126. Ask Rep. Conyers why a real community activist
is in jail while the Black Caucus threw a party for Bill Clinton!
Get on in the movement - the Reconstruction Party is for now!
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Lenore Jean Daniels,
PhD, has been a writer, for over thirty years of commentary,
resistance criticism and cultural theory, and short stories
with a Marxist sensibility to the impact of cultural narrative
violence and its antithesis, resistance narratives. With entrenched
dedication to justice and equality, she has served as a coordinator
of student and community resistance projects that encourage
the Black Feminist idea of an equalitarian community and facilitator
of student-teacher communities behind the walls of academia
for the last twenty years. Dr. Daniels holds a PhD in Modern
American Literatures, with a specialty in Cultural Theory
(race, gender, class narratives) from Loyola University, Chicago.
here to contact Dr. Daniels.