Ginning up racism: its winners and losers

Two years into the Obama presidency it is fair to say that racist ideology is the main mobilizing discourse of right-wing extremism. In subtle and crude forms, it has become the main poison to draw white people into the theater of politics on the side of the most reactionary sections of corporate capital.

Its amplifiers are many and well positioned to spread this poison to a national audience. More and more, the discourse of racism has become shrill, threatening, and dangerous.

In this discourse based on sheer invention, the president is a Muslim (as if there is something wrong with that). His birthplace is Kenya, not the U.S. He is Hitler in "blackface," and at the same time a closet socialist (a terrible thing in their view). Stealth and deception were his path to the White House. He hates private enterprise and loves intrusive government. He is tearing up the Constitution.

The latest instance of the right wing's racist imagery of Barack Obama appears in a Forbes magazine article. Authored by Dinesh D'Souza, a well-paid literary pimp, the article's thesis is simple: the president is channeling the anti-colonial, creepy, evil mentality of his "tribesman" father into the Oval Office.

"[I]nstead of readying us for the challenge," D'Souza writes, "our President is trapped in his father's time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. American today is run by a ghost."

Wow! Is this guy for real? How can anybody believe this pseudo-psychological pulp fiction? The rest of the article is no better, full of smoke and mirrors, cobbled together from innuendo and falsehoods.

Truth is the first victim of D'Souza's right-wing extremism. If anybody is a "ghost," it's not Obama, but D'Souza - not of his father, but of the Nazi propagandist Goebbels.

But here's the rub: If it were only a few angry white men, sitting in a coffee shop, who took this stuff seriously, it wouldn't matter much.

But that's not the reality. This racist garbage is resonating with a much larger audience, cutting across class, income, religious and regional lines. It strikes a chord among some wealthy and middle-class people, but it penetrates into white working class neighborhoods (urban, suburban and small town) too. Yes, class-consciousness is growing among white workers as evidenced by the massive labor mobilization for the One Nation rally and the November elections. But its growth is an uneven, contradictory and contested process in which anti-racism among growing numbers of white workers cohabits with a resurgence of racism among some others.

To ignore or minimize the impact of this racist offensive is exceedingly dangerous. Nor should we think that a vigorous response to it is a diversion from "more pressing" economic issues.

If left unchallenged, this ramped up and revamped ideological racist counteroffensive could throw the country back to days long thought gone by or into a future that we long thought could "never happen here."

Many commentators, myself included, have pointed to the role of right-wing extremism in fomenting racist rage in all its versions (Obama is a Muslim, un-American, socialist, father channeling, etc.), but what goes unexplained and needs to be explained is why do so many white people embrace this poison that is so harmful to their well being, why are so many so strident, why are so many so ready to accept the most far-fetched racist pronouncements?

What is the triggering mechanism for this new wave of racism?

One answer is that a stagnant economy and harshly competitive job market have increased racist tensions and divisions between white workers and workers of color as well as between native-born and immigrant workers.

Another is that it is natural to blame the president, no matter who or what color he is, for the nation's ills.

Still another is that the top layers of our society - Wall Street, Big Energy, the military industrial complex, etc. - dismayed with the president's agenda, have turned loose the dogs of racism and political extremism.

Yet another explanation for the surge of vile racism is the power, reach, and spin abilities of right-wing mass media.

Each of these explanations contains a measure of truth. They are part of the mix.

But, I would argue that they are not at the heart of matter. To understand what set into motion this surge, we have to turn our analytic eye to the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in our land and the racial dynamics surrounding that historic event.

The election of an African American president was rich in symbolic meaning and far-reaching in impact on white Americans (and Americans of other races and nationalities), but not in the same way for every white person.

For many white people it was an exhilarating and transformative moment. When the president and his beautiful family walked onto the stage in Chicago's Grant Park on election night, tears of joy poured from their eyes. It felt like an insuperable barrier had been surmounted and a new era worthy of our nation's best ideals and promises was commencing.

But for many other white Americans the president's election was traumatic; their world was turned upside down; their way of life and values were not reaffirmed, but challenged. What was symbolically liberating for some white people was perceived as symbolically a disaster by others.

If an extremely smart, magnetic, young, democratic-minded African American is to sit in the highest position in our land, many must have wondered, what's next?

The election of Barack Hussein Obama to the foremost position in our country was, for a not insignificant minority of white people, an intellectual, emotional and existential challenge to a set of social arrangements and attitudes that assigned African Americans to an inferior and subordinate status on the basis of skin color and nationality.

It upended what seemed like a natural order in which their own status and sense of well being was heavily invested.

More than most of us appreciated at the time, it signified for some the closing of one era and the beginning of another, in which "the last will be first."

Thus I believe that the election of Barack Obama was a powerful psychological blow to a section of white people, triggering an immediate spike in their racial anxieties, insecurities and resentments. Without any prompting from right-wing extremism or a word from the president's mouth, the moment Barack Obama was declared the winner he became in their minds illegitimate, a menace, someone to be brought down "asap."

In this atmosphere, right-wing extremism - ranging from numerous think tanks and foundations to the Republican Party leadership, to radio talk and Fox News, to the tea party, to personalities like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich (with the mainstream media sometimes an abettor) - had (and is still having) a field day. It gave voice to this disaffected and angry grouping of people, repeated ad nauseum its vicious racist lies, and organized this scattered mob into shock troops to obstruct the president's agenda and re-tilt the balance of political power in favor of the most backward elements of the ruling class and its closest allies.

What is more, this racist upsurge and its right-wing enablers combined to aggressively promote and further amplify the whole panoply of right-wing ideological notions that are designed to cause division, hatred and the dumbing down of the American people. If we unpack right-wing ideology - an exceedingly nasty variant of capitalist class ideology - we find multiple, mutually reinforcing, and connected strands (immigrants steal jobs and feast on government benefits; government is too big and out of control; taxes kill jobs and incentives to work and invest; private is better than public; a culture of dependence shapes communities of color; the Democrats, liberal elites, and the left are soft on terrorism, hostile toward religion, and contemptuous of America; gay culture is corrosive of marriage and family values, and so forth). But at its core and winding their way into and giving credibility to each strand are racist ideology and practices, and especially anti-African-American racism.

That there would be this dynamic should have been anticipated. Only a quick glance at some earlier episodes in our history - the Civil War, the Reconstruction period, and the civil rights revolution of the 1960s - tells us that white ruling elites and their supporters were first shocked by their loss of privilege, power and wealth to multi-racial egalitarian movements, but then regrouped and went into overdrive to restore their former unrivaled dominance and re-subordinate the African American people and allied groups. Their weapon of choice was terror combined with a fierce ideological counterattack.

And in another instance of "the more things change the more they stay the same," the Black-led Reconstruction governments in the 19th century and Dr. Martin Luther King and his supporters in the 20th century were also considered illegitimate, inferior, arrogant and incapable of judicious self-governance, much like President Obama is today.

So history repeats itself, but in a new era and with new forces, new obstacles, and new possibilities and dangers.

While the jury is out as to who will win this irrepressible conflict, the political imperative for the broad labor-based coalition that elected this president is clear. The fight against racism has to be the property of every democratic-minded person, and, in the first place, workers in the "white skin" as Marx would say, not as a favor to their brothers and sisters of color, but in their own interests. 

The class and democratic struggle is hanging in balance and only a sustained struggle for anti-racist unity will tip the pendulum of power in the direction of progressive change.

A point of departure in this struggle is to rebuff the fierce racist assault on our nation's first African American president.

For anyone to affix to the president singular or even the lion's share of the blame for the present impasse reveals an incredible ignorance of class and, especially, racial dynamics.

To sit on one's hands and make pithy critiques of the administration while the president is the target of racist discourse that we thought was forever buried away in our historical memory gives license to the worst racists as well as opens the door for the extreme right's return to political power.

In earlier periods when racism gained ascendency over anti-racism, the only real winner, regardless of what some historians of "white privilege" claim, was the white ruling classes, slavery-based and capitalist, and their closest allies.

Racism strikes people of color the hardest. About this there is no question. But at the end of the day working people of all colors are scarred. It is an ideology and practice that denies equality to people of color, heightens exploitation of all who labor, and destroys real democracy.

It remains, as the Communist Party has said for decades, the most dangerous and formidable barrier to progress. It has to be contested on every front - none more immediate than the November elections.



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  • Racist have dreams. In fact we all have dreams. What racists desire is a return to the past. How far back depends on how twisted their desire to bring back a day when the wealthy class totally dominated the world. Some envision a return to feudalism . They live in hope of becoming nobles and kings. Others long for the glory of Rome. Like I said earlier we all have dreams. I wish Barack Obama were a socialist. I suppose I should be content with the fact that he is the first African American U.S. President. I would like to see Barack Obama embrace the ANC ;SACP and COSATU and end the nightmare of COPE support. I would have liked to have seen a more stronger commitment to Single Payer Health Insurance; Public Works and the Employee Free Choice Act. I would have hoped that he would embrace Fidel Castro; end the blockade and stand head and shoulders above of both Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard M.Nixon. We all have dreams. Maybe one day I might see some of mine come true.

    Posted by Rev. Irving C. Jones, 10/04/2010 10:34am (5 years ago)

  • I think this is a good analysis of where we are today and the need to organize and vote for the Democrats (or, if you choose, against the Republicans) on November 2.

    Perhaps, after the elections, we need to have a serious discussion about the role of the CPUSA in combatting racism at all levels and its impact on the African-American people.

    Elements of class consciousness may come spontaneously, but lasting class consciousness that can minimize the swings in people's consciousness requires a Marxist-Leninist party that is planted in the present but sows the seeds of the future.

    Posted by David Bell, 10/03/2010 9:33am (5 years ago)

  • Judy, yes fascism can happen in this country. And yes, we do have to be vigilant and create united fronts, make responsible alliances even with the "democratic" forces of the bourgeoisie if necessary to prevent that beast from taking power in this or other countries. It doesn't mean that one has to lose its identity and cease to represent a clear working class alternative. Being more pro Obama or Democrat than Obama or the Democratic Party themselves wont help engross workers and the oppressed to the ideals of communism. And those are the essential elements for a united front against fascism to prevent the terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary forces of the great Capital, as Dimitrov described it, to prevail.

    History doesn't repeat itself mechanically. The period you refer to partially includes a time of economical recovery before the US systemic crisis of 1929 hit full force in Germany around 1931.
    In 1928 the hordes of Hitler filled no more than 2.6% of the Reichstag, in 1930 they were second with 18.3%. The SPD - social democrats - in power, like the US democratic party, had a reformist approach to managing the interests of monopoly Capital. For that reason they would never be able to satisfy its base, creating therefore the mechanism for a process of defections and demotivations which helped increase support for the Nazis. Entrenched in its anti-communism, the SPD was more preoccupied with the growing strength of the Communist party - it had 13.1% of the votes in 1930 and 16.9% at its peak in November 1932 - than implementing effective policies which would diminish the strength of the Nazis. Hitler's rabble would feed on this defeatist strategy and use to their advantage the SPD's parliamentary reformist posture to fool many, with their own demagogy, and even fill their ranks with the pauperized depressed sectors of the working class.

    For monopoly capitalism the main target was of course the first workers nation, the URSS. They used and financed the fascist movements in Europe to benefit their own strategy, helping the Nazis path into power in Germany. Not only was, hegemonic capital aim, to militarize, making thus enormous profits, the fascists movements in Europe, but also, and fundamentally, to direct those new armies against the Great Soviet nation. Simultaneously teaching a lesson to their own working class, since internationally the revolutionary forces were on the raise at the time.

    Competing wars for power control didn't start with the advent of industry. Its intensity has only increased with the rise of imperialism. To the anarchy of capitalism competition corresponds the anarchy of imperialism competition. The never ending internal fight between competing imperialistic interests reflect competing corporate interests.

    What is different today? Socialism has suffered a severe setback. The dominant hegemonic powers are in decline. A new era of world power-share is in its echoing stage of the process of transformation. Military might has the power to end human life on earth. We are at a threshold of strategic resources scarcity. In the US the demographic ethnic composition has radically changed and is further developing. The corporate control over the means of communication has exacerbated. The country has been de-indusrtialized. Made in china has succeeded the made in Japan which succeeded the made in the USA. The dollar is losing its strength and the day isn't far anymore when it will lose its world economic control. The country has weak working class ideological based organizations and consequently a weak working class consciousness level. Etc.


    Posted by , 10/03/2010 1:11am (5 years ago)

  • The main issue we face is coming out of the shadows and defending are views and immediately start a viable comunication network. The one nation rally today shows that americans are fed up and they are not afraid to take a stand. Our philosphy is one that neither party will embrace, because they do not have the needs of all citizens as their first priority. We must all get to the polls next month to stem the right wing tide momentarily and immedaitely begin the organizing of a true peoples led revoltuion that informs the nations citizens, rallies them to our fight and mobilizes everyone in a quick and effecient manner. We must eliminate a capitalist system that exploits everybody not only locally but globally. When we are complete every american will eat, be housed and have equal benefits no matter of race religion or gender. Our troops will be home and we will begin the journey towards an international peace and labor equality. I start the process right here to show there is no fear of big brother or any other hatred that might come from right-wing extremists for my beliefs. Today I start the comunication process. The Email address is as follows. If you are for the revolution know someone who is, or you are going to take the forefront on the battle and start the organizing of the people contact me via the email address and tell everyone you know to email me so we can begin to mobilize our efforts.

    Posted by Travis Day, 10/02/2010 11:36pm (5 years ago)

  • re: Judy Botwin

    You might have a point the threat of Fascism in the U.S. but the German working class didn't support the Nazis. In the last fair election in 1933, the Nazis recieved only 37.3 percent of the vote and the working class mainly supported the Social Democratic and Communist parties to the end. Michael Parenti wrote about how big business were the ones who put Hitler and Mussolini in power in his book Blackshirts and Reds.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 10/02/2010 10:45pm (5 years ago)

  • What you have missed is the historical comparison to Germany circa 1928-30. Germany was in economic crisis because of the treaty ending World War I, terrible inflation and terrible unemployment. The working class unfortunately turned to the right to find a simplified solution with fascist demagogues who employed their racist tactics to blame the Jews and mobilize the population in a program to exterminate them. The Germans were not really different from Americans. Class membership alone does not guarantee wisdom. It can happen here!! Working people have not been sufficiently educated by the labor movement and other progressives about their own self-interests, the dangers of racism, and the self-deception that we can all become capitalist tycoons if we protect them.

    Posted by Judy Botwin, 10/02/2010 2:13pm (5 years ago)

  • I heard, in the positive sense, about the Freedom Party. I wonder if you can throw in your opinion?


    Posted by , 10/02/2010 12:53pm (5 years ago)

  • Homerun, homerun. You said it all!! There are those who doubt that racism can be erased from the hearts and minds of white folks. Sometimes I doubt it too, in my daily running ins with some who are "know it all". But I know it can be done because it's a question of moral consciousness and economic survival. It was by no means an accident when Americans got behind a Black man to lead the charge for change for the better.
    We are at a new stage, a much more difficult stage, in the fight against the avarice that the capitalist corporate monsters bring down upon our people. So we have to be tough and make sure our punches land smack dab in the belly of monster. Love you brotha Mama Cassie

    Posted by Mama Cassie, 10/02/2010 1:27am (5 years ago)

  • Well spoken Miguel, and maybe not as well spoken by myself. I believe the time for complete change is now. I agree that Mr. Obama is nothing more than a servant to capitilist system that exploits all of us and hampers internationalism. To win either by democratic force or through other means we must come together to spread the correct ideaology and organize the people in a powerful movement to bring radiacl upheavel to the system instead of trying to tinker the current system to appease both sides. Marx has taught us the danger of holding onto the past and not seeing that the old system must be completly replaced. I guess as some would say you must destroy everything before you can rebuild it. One day I hope we march together in battle against the imperialists and then ultimately in victory.

    Posted by Travis Day, 10/01/2010 11:34pm (5 years ago)

  • Travis, there is a difference between voting for the less of the two evils, and supporting the less of the two evils. If increasing the level of class consciousness is a fundamental task of the Communist party, then it has to logically follow that the line that should be adopted is to denounce this administration - just yesterday we followed in terror the events in Ecuador - while encouraging militants and supporters to vote for the Democrats because the trends flirting power in the Republican Party do smell of the Fascistic scent. I would even go further and think that it should be the task of the Communist Party to stimulate and lead a front of the Anti-Imperialist forces creating thus a clear alternative to power. This stubbornness into an impasse is only precursor to furthering the suffering in this country. It doesn't take a magician to understand that after the Democrats there will be the Republican party and that vicious cycle, to which the country seem to accommodate, will only result in more electoral apathy.

    We are catalogued since birth, separated by ethnicity, gender, religious belief, sexual orientations, region in the country, cultural preferences, even the sports teams that each support or not, etc. Racism, sexism, genderism are some of the weapons that this system has to disperse us, to make us weaker and feel hopeless. It is up to the progressive forces of this country to promote solidarity, internationalism, etc. but not at the cost of manipulating the socio-economico-political reality. Obama might seem something but he really is another: an obedient servant of the forces of the great Capital!


    Posted by , 10/01/2010 5:48pm (5 years ago)

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