Barack Obama versus Black Self-Determination

Obama-ism - a thoroughly corporate political concoction soaked with banalities and wrapped in fraudulent brown packaging - presents a clear and present danger to perhaps the greatest legacy of the Black Freedom Movement: African Americans' embrace of their right to self-determination.  Although African American yearnings for self-determination are evident in all previous eras, the general and dramatic emergence of this fundamental understanding among Blacks of their distinct "peoplehood" and inherent right to shape their own collective destiny, free of veto by or need for validation from dominant whites, marks the Sixties as a transformational period in African American history.

Barack Obama, whose disdain for what he calls the "excesses of the 1960s and 1970s" is palpable, seeks to eradicate all vestiges of Black self-determination, root and branch. The Senator has never made a secret of his intentions, dating from his 2004 Democratic National Convention declaration that "there is no Black America," to his categorical rejection of the Black counter-narrative of American history, as preached by Rev. Jeremiah Wright and understood by most African Americans.

Obama has revealed himself as a rabid nationalist of the standard, white America variety. "I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country," says Obama - which pretty much says it all. The candidate has repeatedly telegraphed his contempt for any worldview that fails to glorify the U.S. rise to global dominance - a ritual that collides instantly with truth as it actually exists, with history as Black people have known it, and with Black aspirations to make their own way in the world unencumbered by the burden of white lies. Obama promises that he will oppose, with all the powers of his office, those who, like Rev. Wright, "use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike." (Philadelphia "Race" speech, March 18.)

If Obama were already president, dissidents would have cause to shop for a safehouse or foreign getaway.

Victims as Perpetrators

Clearly, if the United States is inherently good, then Black people and Native Americans must have done something catastrophically wrong to bring down upon themselves such suffering at the hands of the U.S. government - not to mention the sins committed by Vietnamese, Nicaraguans, Angolans and all the other peoples that have gotten in the way of white American Manifest Destiny.

President Obama will wage war against the heresies of deviant worldviews that dare to question America's moral superiority - as exemplified by Rev. Wright's "profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America."

If racism is merely an aberration in American life, as Obama believes - and which is the greatest concession that general white society is prepared to make to Blacks - then all the fuss about institutional racism, endemic police brutality and such are insults to the "national honor." Certainly, Obama behaves as if he thinks so. Every manifestation of Black entitlement to self-determination - that is, the right to rely on one's own people's collective memory and sense of the truth - must, from Obama's standpoint, be resisted, denounced and suppressed as "divisive" and, in general, against the national interest.

In order for Obama's vision of America to be true, most of Black America must be liars, Black self-determination equals treason, and the Sixties era was the Mother of Corruption.

Sixties Transformation

A half-century ago, in a veritable end-of-marathon sprint to self-emancipation, Black Americans not only achieved full legal citizenship within barely the space of a decade, but in the process threw off the chains of subservience to the oppressor's national historical narrative, the legitimizing mythology of white American Manifest Destiny. Inevitably, and in the glare of a global anti-colonial firestorm, African Americans finally perceived en masse the true nature of the centuries-old crime still-in-progress - that distinct and peculiar monstrosity, U.S. imperialism. Born of the Middle Passage and Pilgrims making bonfires of Pequot Indian women and children, 20th Century U.S. aggression against mainly non-white peoples abroad was inextricably linked to chain gangs and street cop justice at home. African Americans focused their "third eye" that could see across oceans and centuries, a political optic that discerned not just blood kin on The Continent, but peoples on other, distant shores, also victims of Euro-American predation, and equally deserving of Black solidarity.

"U.S. aggression against mainly non-white peoples abroad was inextricably linked to chain gangs and street cop justice at home."

African American solidarity with continental Africans - and with Vietnamese who "never called me nigger" - grew in tandem with the Black domestic struggle for self-determination: the fight for political rights with which to defend, control and shape the futures of Black communities. It is a truism that those who are engaged in struggle for their own people's self-determination are most sincerely empathetic towards others seeking liberation - especially when it is understood that the two peoples share a common antagonist. The period loosely defined as The Sixties saw not only unprecedented popular mobilization on domestic issues (10,000 separate demonstrations in 1965, alone, the vast bulk of them "civil rights" related), but soaring Black identification with liberation movements elsewhere in the world. African Americans were preparing themselves to become full fledged citizens of the planet, not just the United States.

The language of self-determination, always a strong current in historical Black political thought, entered the popular Black vocabulary through Malcolm X. "We assert that we Afro-Americans have the right to direct and control our lives, our history, and our future rather than to have our destinies determined by American racists," declared Malcolm's Organization of African-American Unity (OAAU), in a document scheduled for release on the day of his assassination, February 21, 1965. "[W]e are determined to rediscover our true African culture, which was crushed and hidden for over four hundred years in order to enslave us and keep us enslaved up to today...."

Self-determination was item number one of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense Ten-Point Program, promulgated in 1966:

"We Want Freedom. We Want Power To Determine The Destiny Of Our Black Community. We believe that Black people will not be free until we are able to determine our destiny."

Two years later, 100 Black nationalists in Detroit declared the founding of the Republic of New Africa (RNA), to further Blacks' entitlement to the full rights of a nation. Following the Nation of Islam's ideological lead and citing Malcolm X as the "Father of the Black Nation," the RNA identified five southern states - Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina - as the "Promised Land" for Black Americans.

The embrace of self-determination was not limited to the Black Left and land-seeking nationalists, but resonated throughout Black society, from Black capitalists to Marxists and everyone in between. There can be no doubt that the people who Dr. Martin Luther King was certain would "get to the promised land" were on a conscious, mass journey of self-determination. It was up to Black people to decide precisely where the ultimate destination might be - a question over which Dr. King agonized during the last years of his life. "I think we'll be integrating into a burning house," King told entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte, in 1968 - a clear acknowledgement that African Americans were not simply a darker variety of citizens, but a distinct people within the United States. King imagined that Blacks would play the role of firemen in the "American" house - but at any rate, that would be their choice to make.

"The call to self-determination was not limited to the Black Left and land-seeking nationalists, but resonated throughout Black society."

By definition, the right to self-determination is independent of minority or majority status - otherwise, no such right can exist in the face of white majority power. Therefore, self-determination transcends simple one-man, one-vote rule which, in the United States, affords historically hostile white majorities a permanent veto over Black aspirations. U.S. history has provided ample proof that electoral "democracy" is no cure for institutionalized suppression of racial minorities. With Voting Rights legislation secured by the mid-Sixties and understanding the limits of winner-take-all ballots, African Americans, including Dr. King, insisted on the right of Blacks to exercise effective power over their own lives as Blacks.  Naturally, such rights would obtain in the growing number of localities in which Blacks were emerging as majorities. However, the principles of self-determination, as interpreted at the time, demanded that Blacks and others claiming "peoplehood" be entitled to control those resources necessary for the development of their group independent of the majority's wishes - "rather than to have our destinies determined by American racists," as Malcolm's organization put it.

The domestic Black American application of self-determination principles were adapted from United Nations language that states: "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

The UN's International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Economic Rights fit the Black liberationist sentiments of The Sixties to a tee. Just as small nations have rights that powerful nations are required to respect, so the Black minority in the United States has the right to speak and act for itself, and to claim a share of the national treasure for itself, regardless of majority claims and sentiments. In a world of evolving standards of civilization, true "democracy" does not allow the big to lord it over the small.

Although there was not to be a land-based Black "nation" within U.S. borders, the core principles of Black self-determination have been largely incorporated into the political outlook and expectations of African Americans, and grudgingly acquiesced to by most whites. Blacks and, later, other minority groupings in white institutions, most notably academia, demanded and received resources based on their standing as Blacks within the larger body. The autonomy of Black political sentiment has, until recently, been at least paid lip-service by whites throughout U.S. society. Indeed, much of what some whites mean-spiritedly call "playing the race card" is simply Black assertion of group rights and prerequisites that should not be curbed by white majorities. Television programs produced by and for Blacks, now nearly extinct, were responses to demands that Black people be allowed to speak for themselves - a right under the umbrella of self-determination. In Democratic Party circles, at least, "the Blacks" cannot appear to be left out of decision making exercises, which usually require the (cosmetic) presence of trustworthy African Americans as a semblance for Black group inclusion. The moral authority of Black caucuses (including that which has been frittered away by the Congressional Black Caucus) is derived from the larger authority of self-determination principles.