Trickle Down Identity Politics and Obama

I freely admit a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat the day Barack Obama was inaugurated. I never expected in my own lifetime there would be a black president. Perhaps in my children’s lifetime, but never my own. WTF! Sometimes humanity has a way of showing itself to be better than I had assumed it to be.

Then came the bailout. Obama proved his loyalty to the constituency to which he answered. Just like all the rest of them, the filthy rich. Bankers printed Monopoly money, threw it up in the air, and nary a bill landed in the hand of a ripped-off homeowner. Before the ink was dry, it was gone. The loot was all gone. The houses foreclosed.


It was then I knew Obama was a fraud. Later, I had a realization. Just as trickle-down economics – you know, making it legal for rich folks such as Donald Trump to not pay taxes –  didn’t benefit me or those foreclosed homeowners in the slightest, so it became apparent Barack Obama’s “blackness” did not benefit black people in general.

For some folks it was the assassination of JFK, suspicious the CIA and LBJ had betrayed Americans. For some folks it was Dubya and the Weapons of Mass Destruction bait-and-switch scheme, the mainstream media complicit in the lies. For me, it was the mortgage crisis of 2008, seeing Barack Obama bailout the boats… er, the yachts of the people who didn’t need the money, and ignoring everyone in row boats, and those clinging to floating pieces of wood which weren’t boats at all.

The government betrayed us. Not just those who lost our homes. All of us. And everyone knew it. Homeless guys knew it. Hotel owners knew it. When the shit hit the fan, there was no help. There was only funneling money to the casino capitalists who had gambled away a trillion dollars on collateralized debt obligations (CDO), which are still legal, by the way.

And Obama rewarded them for it. Rewarded all the vampire squid bankers for stealing money from the pensions of old folks… the sort of investors who were naive enough to buy these CDOs. Ruined the retirements of millions of Americans.Americans left to study the ingredients on a can of Mr. Whiskers’ cat food to wonder what will happen when it is consumed by humans…

But hey, it’s just white-collar victimless crime, right? Hope and Change, right?

He’s still Black Jesus to the average Caucasian liberal, isn’t he?

Don’t you dare say a bad word about Obama, or you’re a racist, aren’t you!


Truth is Obama didn’t get us out of the Great Recession. What he did was prevent us from getting a New Deal.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Brother Cornell West:

“This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment. We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe.

I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone. Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?


If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk. The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways.

We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful. It is a truth against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. We’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties.”

Don’t take my word for it, listen to Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report. The success of a prominent black figure like Barack Obama did not improve the life of the average black person. Black folks are not sure Obama even tried to do so.

Black Unity Behind Black Candidates Helps Whom? Us or Them?

Ten years ago it was 2008. With the presidential election less than two months away the single minded focus of political conversation in black America was electing Barack Obama the first African American US president. I want to say it was a peculiar political moment, but it was way longer than a moment, it was a whole peculiar political season which began more than a year before his election and lasted for some during most of Obama’s entire eight years in office.

If you were black, and you had a demand or a criticism of the black presidential candidate it was your obligation, many of us told each other, to sit down and shut up and unite behind the man so he could get elected. As a prominent black Atlanta pastor fresh back from several campaign stops with Obama told me in 2007

We’ve got to unite and build a wall, a solid black wall around Brother Obama…If we can build that solid black wall, if we can unite black people behind Brother Obama, he will have the power to do anything he wants to do. Can’t you see it? If we do that, nothing any of his opponents say or do will be able to touch him.”

The pastor pretty much got his wish, and that wall of black unity erected around President Obama proved among his most valuable assets.

But it didn’t protect him against the charter school sugar daddies intent upon privatizing public schools and throwing a hundred thousand qualified black teachers in the street. It didn’t protect President Obama from letting go the too-big-to-fail or jail banksters at a cost of trillions, while allowing 3 million families, an outsize chunk of them black families, to lose their homes. The black wall around President Obama didn’t protect him from bombing seven or eight countries, keeping troops in Iraq, escalating the war in Afghanistan, bombing Somalia, Yemen and letting torturers go without prosecution.

In the end, the wall of black unity around Barack Obama freed his hand to ignore black demands upon him, if we’d possessed coherent political sense to make any in the first place.

You’d think there would be a lesson we could draw from the Obama experience, or for that matter from the election of black mayors in scores of big and medium sized cities throughout the country in the last generation. The politics of black representation – that is, putting black faces in high places only benefits a narrow section, a small class of black people – elements of the professional and business classes and aspirants.

Unity behind black mayors don’t prevent black neighborhoods from being gentrified out of existence, electing black prosecutors and police chiefs don’t prevent racist cops from gunning down black citizens with impunity. The black president didn’t prevent hundreds of thousands of black families from losing their homes. Choosing black sheriffs and prison officials doesn’t stop them from locking up black juveniles with adults, and it doesn’t bring educational programs or medical or mental health care into the prisons, which are disproportionately black and brown.

It’s pretty obvious the politics of black representation are fraudulent. It’s a fraudulent politics because real life experiences within and without what we’re accustomed to calling “the black community” are determined by class, and the income and wealth differentials among black Americans are wider than those among whites.

The wall of black unity that was built around Barack Obama protected him from accountability to the precarious working class to which most of the black population actually belongs. It enabled Barack Obama to make promises – like raising the minimum wage, and making it possible for people to join unions – promises he immediately forgot once assuming office.

But there are no organized forces in our community which really represent the class of black people whose job and housing situations are balanced on the knife edge of precarity, who are being bled white by payday lenders, who cannot afford medical care even if they have what passes for insurance under Obamacare, who need child care and would join or form a union if federal and state laws didn’t favor the bosses at every turn. There are simply no institutions in the black community which can hold any supposedly progressive politician’s feet to the fire.

We have the power to elect them, after wealthy donors have conducted what Paul Street calls “the money primary.” But we don’t have the power to make them DO anything, especially if we build that wall of black unity around them. A class-blind black politics, as elder Adolph Reed reminds us, is also the politics of a particular class. That’s what’s real.



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