Questions of competition, decisions forced by a market economy and majoritarian rule; issues of power. It was this unyielding reality - that whites were not simply phantoms to be expunged from our dreams but were an active and varied fact of our everyday lives -- that finally explained how nationalism could thrive as an emotion and flounder as a program. So long as nationalism remained a cathartic curse on the white race, it could win the applause of the jobless teenager listening on the radio or the businessman watching late-night TV. But the descent from such unifying fervor to the practical choices blacks confronted every day was steep. Compromises were everywhere. The black accountant asked: How am I going to open an account at the black-owned bank if it charges me extra for checking and won't even give me a business loan because it says it can't afford the risk? The black nurse said: White folks I work with ain't so bad, and even if they were, I can't be quitting my job -- who's gonna pay my rent tomorrow, or feed my children today?Barak Obama, Dreams from My Father (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995, 2004) at pp. 203-204.
Rafiq had no ready answers to such questions, he was less interested in changing the rules of power than in the color of those who had it and who therefore enjoyed its spoils. There was never much room at the top of the pyramid, though; in a contest framed in such terms, the wait for black deliverance would be long indeed. During that wait, funny things happened. What in the hands of Malcolm had once seemed a call to arms, a declaration that we would no longer tolerate the intolerable, came to be the very thing Malcolm had sought to root out: one more feeder of fantasy, one more masy for hypocrisy, one more excuse for inaction. Black politicians less gifted than Harold [Washington] discovered what white politicians had know for a very long time: that race-baiting could make up for a host of limitations. Younger leaders, eager to make a name for themselves, upped the anted, peddling conspiracy theories all over town -- the Koreans were funding the Klan, Jewish doctors were injecting black babies with the AIDS virus. It was a shortcut to fame, if not always fortune; like sex or violence on TV, black rage always found a ready market.
Nobody I spoke with in the neighborhood seemed to take such talk very seriously. As it was, many had already given up the hope that politics could actually improve their lives, must less make demands on them; to them, a ballot, if cast at all, was simply a ticket to a good show. Blacks had no real power to act on the occasional slips into anti-Semitism or Asian-bashing, people would tell me; and anyway, black folks needed a chance to let off a little steam every once in a while -- man, what do you think those folks say about us behind our backs?
Just talk. Yet what concerned me wasn't just the damage loose talk caused efforts at coalition building, or the emotional pain it caused others. It was the distance between our talk and our action, the effect it was having on us as individuals and as a people. That gap corrupted both language and thought; it made us forgetful and encouraged fabrication; it eventually eroded our ability to hold either ourselves or each other accountable. And while none of this was unique to black politicians or to black nationalists -- Ronald Reagan was doing quite well with his brand of verbal legerdemain, and white America seemed ever willing to spend vast sums of money on suburban parcels and private security forces to deny the indissoluble link between black and white -- it was blacks who could least afford such make-believe. Black survival in this country had always been premised on a minimum of delusions; it was such an absence of delusions that continued to operate in the daily lives of most black people I met. Instead of adopting such unwavering honesty in our public business, we seemed to be loosening our grip, letting our collective psyche go where it pleased, even as we sank into further despair.
The continuing struggle to align word and action, our heartfelt desires with a workable plan -- didn't self-esteem finally depend on just this? It was that belief which had led me into organizing, and it was that belief which would lead me to conclude, perhaps for the final time, that notions of purity -- of race or culture -- could no more serve as the basis for the typical black American's self-esteem than it could for mine. Our sense of wholeness would have to arise from something more than the bloodlines we'd inherited. It would have to find root in Mrs. Crenshaw's story and Mr. Marshall's story, in Ruby's story and Rafiq's; in all the messy, contradictory details of our experience.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The Ready Market for Rage
Stemming from a discussion of Louis Farrakan, black nationalism, and the attempt of market black POWER products, including toothpaste, Barack Obama wrote:
Posted by klady at 12:26 PM