Drone Policy Is the Most Important Racism | VALID | #TWIBnation

Drone Policy Is the Most Important Racism

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Salon’s arc of fail last week began with David Sirota’s meditation that “we are all targets now,” which spawned a minor revolution on social media and inspired TWiB Prime to break its hiatus for the “This Motherfucker Right Here Hour.” Now, Cornel West, among many others, has repeated the parallel, alleging that Obama is a “global George Zimmerman” because the Administration has sanctioned the use of drones for targeted killing in Yemen and elsewhere.

The strange essence of the critique is that Obama is a hypocrite for publicly, personally identifying with one murdered Black boy while the Administration’s foreign policy justifies the murders of innocent brown people abroad. This inappropriate parallel between Obama and Zimmerman erases the suffering of Black people and other marginalized groups in America, allows white men to co-opt the conversation while claiming that they are anti-racist, ignores crucial differences between vigilante justice and foreign policy, and requires Obama to be superhuman to maintain authority.

There are several incidents of privilege-blindness among the mostly white male drone-obsessed elite. First, their public anger over the drone program seemed to begin when Eric Holder made  statements extending the legal justification for the program to killing U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.  That implies that these critics think that the U.S. government killing U.S. citizens is new or unusual, when a simple surface-level review of this country’s history shows that the government has always committed sustained and fatal violence against brown people, women, gay people, transpeople, disabled people, and poor people among others.

People who insist on talking about drones as an ultimate evil ignore this history of violence, which is well-known in communities not their own. And, the likelihood that white men personally will be targeted by a drone is absurdly small, compared to the likelihood that a member of a marginalized community will continue to suffer from the government’s active and passive violence. So, hearing these critics air their feelings of being “targets” for the first time is offensive to those from communities that have lived under the gun for generations, especially because these feelings exclude points of view from those communities. If you are privileged enough to suddenly feel scared of the government, you are complicit in denying the violence against marginalized people that has always existed.

The other part of white male critics’ anxiety comes from recognition that the world order is changing. Traditionally, the American president has been a white man who identifies and legitimizes white men’s problems as American Problems. Now, President Obama is the public face of America, and when he identifies a traditionally invisible Black People’s Problem, it becomes, for the first time, an American Problem. By stubbornly forcing Obama’s statements about Trayvon Martin into the framework of opposition to drone strikes, white male public intellectuals are attempting to return to white men the power to define American Problems.

White critics insist that Obama addresses drone strikes above all other expressions of white supremacy, while claiming that they are the “true” soldiers against racism. They apparently believe that they get to decide which policies are “important-racist” and which ones are “unimportant-racist.” It must be a coincidence that the “unimportant-racist” policies are the ones that most directly validate white upper-class male privilege. Also, by arguing that drones exhibit “important racism,” these critics reinforce the narrative that killing Black people is “unimportant racism,” and not as valuable as executing white men’s philosophical priorities.

Of course, Cornel West is not a white man, and his critiques center around Obama’s failure to end all expressions of white supremacy in the system, including drone strikes. West asks more of Obama than anyone could ever deliver. It’s simply not possible for one person to end the white supremacist system. And, if Obama tried, it would require him adopting a non-colonialist, non-interventionist foreign policy that bore no resemblance to any that had come before. The War on Terror, especially, does not support such a policy shift, and many Americans still consider a few civilian deaths in faraway countries an acceptable price for safeguarding American lives.

On the other hand, the Zimmerman case shone a spotlight on discrete racist aspects of the justice system, and Obama’s statements contributed to the public energy around the effort to end them. Obama’s symbolic importance is far from the mere token that West describes: it is powerful enough for white men to start vomiting feelings all over everyone because the President, for once, isn’t talking about them. West’s statements lumping Obama and Zimmerman together discount the vastly different contexts in which both men operated, and dismiss Obama’s contributions to the effort against the stereotyping that pollutes outcomes of the justice system. West’s claims that Obama must clear out all the racism from the system before he can claim moral authority unreasonably holds a Black person responsible for ending white supremacy. As always, the people in the best position to end aggression are aggressors; white people must refuse or lose the ability to perpetuate their own supremacy before it will end.

It is not necessary for Obama to critique the use of drones in order to critique white supremacy in the system. In fact, when the Black president overtly identifies with Trayvon Martin, he interrogates that system in a novel, powerful way that only he can do.  Insisting that drones are the most important expression of American white supremacy dismisses problems that the Black community identifies as deeply important and imminently threatening, and dismisses the Black president when he identifies them as such.  Remind me how that, itself, isn’t racist?

Rad-Femme Lawyer

Rad-Femme Lawyer is a practicing litigator living in Chicago, and a contributor of legal information and opinions to #TWiBNation, Her professional concentrations are commercial and securities litigation, and she also does pro bono work in special education access and employment discrimination.

View all contributions by Rad-Femme Lawyer

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  1. Cris July 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for this. Smiley and West’s comments about Obama were the last straw for me. I’m just like “you guys are a bunch of jokers.” Seemingly they were too busy rolling around in their money and posing on their high horses to realize that the entire black community (BLACK community) was suffering greatly at that moment. Barack’s comments made some people feel like they weren’t nothing. That’s it. Some people felt better. You don’t need to agree with Obama about anything to recognize that.

  2. Kizzy July 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Can I very respectfully push back just a bit. I am black and I agree that the idea that Obama can’t highlight the struggles of black america while prosecuting the war on terror in the manner he has is pretty simplistic and stupid. Of course he can and should say what he said about Trayvon Martin. In my opinion it was the single most bravest moment of his presidency. And yes trying to conflate the Zimmerman trial with civilian casualties in the war on terror does reek of privilege trying to change an uncomfortable subject.

    Here’s where I disagree. The president actually is killing brown people overseas. He actually continued and extended the Bush policies that caused us to call the previous president a war criminal. He actually is violating civil liberties and prosecuting whistle blowers unfairly under the espionage act. (more so than any other president) He’s said all the things progressives have been wanting to hear but taking a closer look at the meat grinding of the politics shows he’s more willing trade away progressive ideals for a tick in the win column than actually stating the case for his party.

    Yes he needed to say what he said about Trayvon Martin and I’m glad he did. Anyone saying he didn’t have the right too is missing the point. But at the same time I cringe when I hear people I respect highly absolutely refuse to talk about the criticism leveled at Obama from the left. Please don’t dismiss the drone issue out out of hand because you don’t like whose bringing it up or because white privilege deems it more important than racism in America. It’s not more important, but surely we are capable of having both conversations at the same time. We can applaud the president for what he said and for all the other things he’s done that we agree with as both black americans and progressives. But we can also recognize and be mad at the things he had done or presided over that as progressives we fundamentally think is wrong.

    If we called Bush a war criminal than we must call Obama the same. If we believe in regulation, Keynesian economics and social justice, then we must bring Obama to task for solely turning to right leaning, lezze fair , deregulators like Larry Summers to run our financial sector.

    Elon always points out that we as black people are not a monolith. It’s a great point and one I’ve always tried express to my white and black friends alike. Being black doesn’t you have to agree with all the points I’ve just made but we if hated it under Bush I don’t think in good conscious we can ignore it under Obama for fear of marginalizing the issues of black america. We can do both.

    All that said I love you all, the entire TWIB network. Ratchet-ass Lawyer, you are awesome and don’t stop. Shout out to the chat room.

  3. Trudy July 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    While this post does examine some critical issues on how imperialist White supremacist capitalist patriarchy manifests here and abroad (ahem…they’re connected) and I especially like the call out against hypocritical White men joining in the “Obama is racist because of drones” argument that is anti-nuance as hell, I have a huge problem with this part:

    “and many Americans still consider a few civilian deaths in faraway countries an acceptable price for safeguarding American lives.”


    Like, it made my stomach turn. “American lives” doesn’t genuinely include people of colour and especially Black people. So even if some PoC have internalized the “us versus them” xenophobia (that is already natural to Whiteness in America) that plagued American foreign policy long before Obama was CIC and will long after he’s gone, it still reads as “excusing” foreign policy xenophobia, racism and White supremacy for domestic racism. It ends up supporting the argument that “racism here bad, racism there okay” versus examining how imperialist White supremacist capitalist patriarchy makes violence exist and kyriarchal and profitable and excusable.

    And of course, no, Obama is not Zimmerman; if anything the U.S. government, all three branches and White supremacy itself makes ANYONE in a position of power that is organized in a structure where resistance is futile and resistance means not getting elected/nominated capable of the same kind of violence. Zimmerman is a soldier of imperialist White supremacist capitalist patriarchy. But so are actual soldiers when the military operates as an industrial complex. And the government. So the Zimmerman/Obama analogy is lazy and attention-seeking by those with an ax to grind. I agree there. It definitely needs more nuance. Because this analogy implies “impeach Obama = racist violence abroad ends = justice.” Lazy lazy analogy.

    But I think the diversionary line of “American lives” eclipses the reality that people of colour are safe nowhere. Not home. Not abroad.

    • Rad-Femme Lawyer July 29, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Trudy. I agree that the line “and many Americans still consider a few civilian deaths in faraway countries an acceptable price for safeguarding American lives” is stomach-churning. I wrote it as a criticism of that way of thinking, and I think you did a brilliant job of clarifying how awful it is to prioritize “American lives” over those of others in other countries.

      I appreciate your point that the “American lives” that foreign policy allegedly protects do not include people of color. I totally agree.

  4. Beauzeaux July 26, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Brilliant. Can’t say any better than that.

  5. Arrogant Demon July 26, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Hey, thank you for this, I love the breakdown

    It seems the critics are having a temper tantrum seeing how no one is giving them cookies. And for Cornel to not only bolster these twisted views, but to go even further & become the DudeBro’s Black Friend…..feh…..

    But great article, thanks again

  6. Cerebral Con July 28, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you!

  7. PatientC July 31, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Anti-racism advocates do need to be paying attention to drones, just not the way Sirota framed the issue. Law enforcement organizations are already testing drones in SoCal and along the southern border – mostly to monitor the activity of black and brown USians to very little resistance from “middle America.” Couple that with our apparent disregard for brown and black bodies over there (and at home)… I think we have a huge problem coming our way.

  8. Jon Jeter August 5, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    PatientC has it right. Breaking down the Obama vs Zimmerman analogy is about as useless as the analogy itself. What do you think about drones?

    “and many African-Americans still consider a few civilian deaths in faraway countries an acceptable price for safeguarding identity & image?”

    Many don’t want to call Obama on this because they find it hard to separate the man from the office. He’s the POTUS, the office has its own imperatives. So it’s much bigger than him or “us” or whatever temporary bump on the image meter might come from him having served for 8yrs. And it’s only 8, he won’t be in office much longer, so what he leaves behind matters a great deal. Since the Obama/Zimmerman analogy was silly and lacks nuance. How about this nuance, ALL this stuff, drones, etc., will recycle back to the US. The domestic market is THE growth area and we have yet to have a national dialogue on this new technology (still in its infancy) we’re about to unleash on our nations streets. Police departments are using them AND lobbying for weaponized drones. You trust a drug war, stop & frisk mentality with drone technology? This is far far from a White male issue. Maybe just maybe (not the intention I’m sure) on this issue, the roles are reversed and they are the canaries in the coal mine?

  9. childvelez November 2, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Obama is by definition complicit with white supremacy since he is the President of the United States of America.

    American foreign policy is informed by global hegemony and imperialism.

    Barack Obama, although experiencing marginalization as a Black man, is the leader of the free world. Responsibility correlates with power and privilege and therefore I think he is responsible for not continuing the brutal terror campaign that are these drone strikes.

    I agree with you that for white people to think that they are the “targets” of drones, or to recognize the killing of American civilians by the government as not something that’s gone on forever is problematic and privilege-blind.

    However, Zimmerman is half-Latino, and could in some ways be read/considered as person of colour himself. Some analysts I have read accept Zimmerman’s Latinidad, saying that this is somewhat irrelevant as Zimmerman – by being an armed community patrolman (read: perform surveillance and prey on young black men so as to protect private property) he is shoring up white supremacy.

    Obama, is in a similar situation. No matter what race the POTUS is, current American foreign policy is predicated on racist violence (the War on Terror, Drone strikes). Wests’ point is also that much of the collateral damage made by drones is similar to racial profiling in the states- the bodies of young men of colour are seen as threats to democracy, private property, and middle-class White America and therefore need to be violently suppressed (either by police, prisons, drones etc). So, in this light, the Zimmerman comparison isn’t so far out.

    You say that for Obama to tame American military might and make a ‘non-interventionist, non-colonialist’ foreign policy would be asking more of him/more than any other President before him. I think this is the whole point. American foreign policy needs to be overhauled.

    Moreover, the larger skepticism of West and Smiley’s comments towards Obama’s identification with Martin point towards a larger hypocrisy that is basically true. Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other President in US history. He’s ramped up the War on Drugs. Drone strikes are just one, albeit outwards-looking, piece of a much larger part of a racist anti-Black, anti-Latino neoliberal politics that Obama is very much still a promoter of as an establishment politician.

    You say “It is not necessary for Obama to critique the use of drones in order to critique white supremacy in the system.”. Acutally, I think it is. We can’t play oppression olympics. Symbolically, Obama identifying with Martin is significant. But in political and material terms, it has little weight considering the persistence of his Anti-Black, Anti-immigrant, Anti-Muslim domestic and foreign economic, defense, and immigration policies. Everyone’s struggle is tied together. The same way white people being privilege-blind is wrong, we also can’t excuse Obama for the WoD or his deportations or brutal border enforcement just because he said something symbolically significant wrt Trayvon Martin. He may be racialized as a Black man, but he is also the leader of the world’s wealthiest, most powerful, most well-armed country and therefore by definition is part of the problem.

  10. Poyani November 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    What a disgustingly irrational and (at times) racist article.

    First of all, categorizing drone strike as white institutional racism is grotesque when one considers that it has been primarily put in place by the Obama administration. Bush used drones, but nowhere near the same extent as Obama has.

    Secondly (and more importantly) the crux of the article seems to be that the killing of Treyvon Martin was wrong, not because he was an innocent person murdered in cold blood, but because he was black. That is what separates Martin from the thousands of innocent children who have been killed by drone strikes who were also killed in cold-blood.

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