Straight Talk About Obama and the Oppression of Black People

When Barack Obama was elected a lot of Black people had a lot of hope. But what Black people have gotten is enormous pains.

  • Black males, especially youth, continue to be imprisoned disproportionately, in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world.
  • Inner cities across the country are devastated, stalked by massive unemployment, with no hope of vanished jobs returning.
  • Black people have lost homes during the foreclosure crisis at much higher rates than whites. Between 2009 and 2012, property owned by Black people lost $194 billion of its value.
  • And Obama himself? He doesn’t even pay lip service to the Black youth in prison, the Black families evicted and put into the street, the millions who are stopped and frisked and beaten and even killed by the police. Instead he gives hypocritical and poisonous lectures on “personal responsibility.” And those who do call out these outrages are told to shut up.

The “great expectations” that came with Obama’s election, especially among Black people, have largely been a big disappointment. But now here comes Romney and the openly racist Republicans. A lot of people feel pulled to once again support Obama.

Here’s the thing: we can’t go by what we feel. We must go by what is real. So let’s talk straight about the reality.

Hope and Change, Turbulence and Uncertainty: The Capitalist-Imperialists Play a Trump Card

Reality point one: Obama was put into office by those who actually control things in America—the capitalist-imperialist class, the handful of powerful people who own the major means of producing wealth and, on that basis, control the political and military structure.

Why did they do this?

Obama first became president in a time of great difficulties, turbulence, and uncertainties for the U.S. ruling class. Millions of people were disgusted with the Bush regime and its warmongers, torturers, spies, and liars, and many were alienated from the electoral process of the U.S. political system. Obama was the first Black presidential candidate with a serious chance of winning and he aroused the enthusiasm and expectations of many people, particularly, but not only, Black people.

Remember how all the “opinion-makers” said that Obama was restoring hope in the system among all those who had been alienated by and hated Bush?  That is very important to those who rule—for all the tremendous power of those who control things, if too many people begin to believe that the system is not legitimate, and that it holds no hope for any kind of change… and if they begin to act on that belief… the “way things are” can get unraveled and there can even be a powerful revolutionary challenge from the grassroots. This happened in the 1960s, and it could happen again. So keeping people “hopeful”—and especially “keeping hope alive” among the oppressed—is very important to the oppressors.

As Bob Avakian wrote shortly after Obama’s electoral victory, “the powerful particularity of ‘the first Black President’—is not something they [the U.S. ruling class] can do very often. In the case of a Black President, they can really do this only once—or only once with anything like this level of significance and impact. … doing this with Obama is a sign of recognition on their part that they are in for some heavy shit ahead….”

Now, four years later, Black people (and others) are being told again to put their hope in this “first Black president.” But if there is one thing that we should learn from Obama’s presidency so far, it is the fact that whoever sits in the White House as president presides over a political apparatus that defends and extends the system of capitalist-imperialism, a system whose very essence and ability to continue is based on unending exploitation of billions of people worldwide.

And if Obama gets elected to serve another term, he will again be the political leader of a system that is killing children with drone bombings, torturing people captured by its military and spy organizations, spying on the entire world, waging several wars and threatening to start new wars and invasions. He will again preside over and lead a system that continues to criminalize and imprison a whole generation of Black and Latino youth.

If you hate the way things are, you cannot get away from this basic fact: Obama is in charge of keeping things that way, making sure that this meat grinder runs as smoothly as possible for those in charge.

What Obama Is “Up Against” Is the Fundamental Interests of the People

Some people say, “but you don’t understand what Obama is up against”—as if Obama is secretly trying to work against the system. But what Obama is “up against” is the masses of people—figuring out how to keep this system going, keep people exploited and oppressed and in the dark about the causes of that exploitation and oppression.

The U.S. is confronting major and mounting challenges in almost every corner of the globe. Within the U.S., gaping and growing divisions—economic, social, and cultural—have become increasingly evident and given rise to the beginnings of confrontations that potentially could get out of control of the rulers.

As previous articles in Revolution have pointed out, on the most essential matters of ongoing and future wars, domestic repression of Black and Latino people, denial of basic rights to women, there is little or no difference between what Obama represents (and has actually done) and Romney.

Regardless of anyone’s intentions, or what anyone thinks, voting for Obama means getting behind all that. Even more, for Black people, it means, as Avakian wrote, “… being turned, literally or at least ideologically, into the 21st-century version of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’: enlisting with (or being more supportive of) the armed forces of their oppressors to go commit war crimes against oppressed people throughout the world—just as, after the Civil War, the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ enlisted to help the U.S. army complete the theft of the land of the Indians (Native Americans) and carry forward the genocide against them.”

Do You Really Want to “Have the Back” of a Mass-Murdering War Criminal?

Everyone who has questioned—or even been indifferent or cynical about the difference voting makes—has been hit over the head with these old clubs: “your voice is your vote”; “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” Black people in particular are told that “our ancestors fought for this right, we can’t throw it away.” And it is true that it took decades of heroic resistance and struggle in order for Black people to even win the right to vote. In 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But only after tremendous mass struggle that was part of the Civil Rights Movement was the right to vote for Black people finally established as federal law in 1965. Today there are attempts to deny Black people the right to vote through things like voter ID laws. And nearly 2.5 million African-Americans are already denied the right to vote because they have been convicted of a felony.

But people need to confront what the terms of participating in this presidential election, of getting behind Obama, really are. Obama, as much as Romney, represents a program of unending war upon the world to strengthen the ugly monstrosity of U.S. imperialism. Obama is the commander-in-chief of a military machine that has left countless corpses in its wake across the entire planet. Obama is the political leader of a system that has torn the heart and hope out of communities across the country as it racks up the highest rate of incarceration in world history.

Do you really want to “have the back” of a man who has a meeting every Tuesday morning to decide who is on this week’s “kill list”? Do you want to “have the back” of a president who exonerates torturers but imprisons a brave soldier, accusing him of exposing that torture to the world? Do you want to “have the back” of a man who heads a system that treats all Black youth as criminals and keeps more than 80,000 people locked up in the torture of solitary confinement?

What Has Caused the Oppression of Black People and What Can End It—for Real

Deep, relentless, unending oppression of Black people has always been an indelible feature of American society, and it is today. This oppression is built into the system, and though its forms have changed from the days of slavery, through the days of vicious and degrading legalized segregation, to today, with its “new Jim Crow” of mass incarceration, the oppression has endured. It is woven into the fabric of every aspect of U.S. society.

It endures not because of something supposedly wrong with the people, as Obama claimed in his 2008 Father’s Day speech in Chicago: “How many times in the last year has this city lost a child at the hands of another child? How many times have our hearts stopped in the middle of the night with the sound of a gunshot or a siren? How many teenagers have we seen hanging around on street corners when they should be sitting in a classroom? How many are sitting in prison when they should be working, or at least looking for a job? How many in this generation are we willing to lose to poverty or violence or addiction? How many?”

Yes, and how many times do people like Obama blame the masses for reacting to the oppressive conditions which people like Obama have been put in place to relentlessly enforce?

People didn’t create these conditions—they are trapped in them by this system and its enforcers.

Crumbling, overcrowded and underfunded schools; communities terrorized by police violence and stop-and-frisk tactics that round up hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino youth; mass incarceration of generation after generation of Black youth; an official unemployment rate of 43% for Black youth (the actual unemployment rate is far higher)—all this and more, according to Barack Obama, is the fault of the people. By almost any measurable standard, the conditions of life, and the repression of the people by the police and other of the system’s enforcers, has worsened for Black people in the Obama years.

So, again—do you really want to “have the back” of a man who not only stands at the head of a system that rains such misery upon the masses of Black people, but then blames them for the situation they are caught in?

This system truly has no future for masses of Black youth other than prison, death at an early age, menial jobs for a few, and perhaps the outlet of the military—becoming modern-day “Buffalo Soldiers,” gunmen for the very capitalist-imperialist system that oppresses them.

All that and more is the price of admission to this election and supporting Obama.

There is another possibility. The people didn’t create this situation, but they can be a crucial part of transforming it through revolution.

This system is being driven to extremes, but another extreme solution is possible—a solution that contributes to the emancipation of humanity. A movement for revolution is being built by the Revolutionary Communist Party. There is a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America that this revolution aims to bring into being—a constitution that provides a framework for liberating all of humanity and the specific measures to begin moving now on every form of oppression. This revolution is real, and it has a real chance of winning. People need to come to grips with the reality of the situation we’re in, and the possibilities of real, radical change. As the first two sentences of BAsics 3:1 says, “Let’s get down to basics: We need a revolution. Anything else, in the final analysis, is bullshit.”

Do not betray the interests of humanity and your own highest aspirations by getting behind Obama in any way, shape or form; instead, check out and get down with something that can bring in REAL and FUNDAMENTAL change: the movement for revolution.

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