Much of the liberal-left media is currently claiming that Obama’s election has ended or at least irrevocably damaged racism. Michael Albert concludes that "you can’t have a society that has a black president who polled better among whites than his opponent in most states… and still claim it is the days of fiercest virulent racism." Michael Moore and others meanwhile celebrate not only the end of the "fiercest virulent racism" but also predict that racism will soon disappear altogether.
This is a mistaken argument, minimizing or obscuring the fact that material conditions haven’t changed an iota with the election of an . Beyond the persistence of intrinsically racist policing, courts, and prisons, for instance, is the post-November 4th continuation of intrinsically racist city design. The very architecture — not to mention thought and language — of our lives is racist, and ideology cannot be magically divorced from its material basis. A shifting ideological conception declaring progress atop actual racist continuity indicates nothing so much as the progress of racism itself.
On a somewhat abstract level, let us just say that identifying success with assuming executive power is comparable — on a numerical level — to equating it with winning the lottery. Yes, Obama now personifies state power, and this indeed has symbolic significance. But what of it? There are Black heads of state throughout Africa as well as in Haiti. Do you think they’re any more liberatory for their skin color? Similarly, is a Supreme Court Justice — surely one of the most powerful judges in the world — while and held positions that were awfully close to the most powerful person in the world. But now we celebrate a Black (hawkish) president. So if the state ever imprisons me, executes me, drafts me, medically tests me, spies on me, or sterilizes me, I should be comforted by the historical irony that Black people can be oppressors too.
Strangely, the liberal-left is interpreting Obama as a Black Horatio Alger figure. He made it, so everyone else, it can be inferred, can also. However, the problem with both Obama and Horatio Alger myths is that, while any individual (Black or poor, respectively) can theoretically "make it" in capitalism (drop bombs on foreigners or drive BMWs, respectively), everyone, by definition, cannot. Why? Because capitalism produces and reproduces a class stratified society, and racism is such a perfect ideological justification for explaining the permanent underclass that if racism didn’t exist it would have been invented. And, of course, it was invented. And, thanks in part to Obama and his fans, it’s presently being reinvented — and this makes no mention of traditional white racists who in fact voted for Obama.
Imagine if a Jewish president were elected on the argument that "they’re good with your money." Or a Latino was voted in with the rationale that the White House could use a little spicing up. Unacceptable? Then why are liberals-lefties supporting Obama? It certainly isn’t for his terrible, right of Clinton, politics. Obama’s enormous support is at least partly attributable to the fact that he has brilliantly marketed, and his supporters have blindly projected onto him, the racist construct known as the "Magic Negro." A century-old stereotype embodied in movie roles played by actors like Sydney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, and the eternally obsequious Will Smith, the Magic Negro is a saint, completely lacking self-interest or sex drive, whose sole aim is to redeem white people from their perpetual sins. One — of many to be sure — problem with this "positive" racist objectification is that it is as romantic as it is shallow, setting up Obama for completely unacceptable racist resentment when he invariably reveals himself for the politician that he assuredly is — or, more precisely, when he reminds the left that the state and its steward are the enemy. Obama should be despised no doubt, but as a politician who wanted to be and became the ruler, not as a "corrupt" or "cowardly" "sell out." As historian Thaddeus Russell remarks, "any left I care about would have no interest in driving the death machine."
Some might say, well, do you mean to say that we can’t support a Black president because it would be reproducing racism? And I’d say, no, you shouldn’t support ANY more presidents at all; that is the point.
Joshua Sperber can be reached at