The Obama “Betrayal” | VALID | #TWIBnation

The Obama “Betrayal”

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President Obama’s recent commentary on the Zimmerman trial stands, in my mind, as one of the high watermarks of his presidency. For the first time in American history, our nation’s first Black President spoke directly to America’s Black community about a problem largely unique to their experience: the legacy of racially motivated violence committed by whites against people of color, and the legal institution that legitimizes it. It was heartfelt, touching, and of course, a whole bunch of people really hated it.

The speech drew an enormous amount of criticism from all of the typical sources in corporate media, but what surprised me the most was the amount of vicious critiques that came from individuals among the Professional Left. They were ugly. They were hyperbolic. Above all, they were personal. The whole debacle offered a grotesque glimpse into the undercurrent of shallow, racialized prejudice that exists within the progressive movement, functioning as a grim reminder of how race, class, and privilege can completely derail common sense and good judgment when the pursuit of ratings becomes more important than the pursuit of facts. It was a vicious attack from an unexpected source, one that greatly tarnished what was otherwise a powerful watershed moment in American history.

You would think that when those who are assumed to be proponents of all progressive values are presented with a historic moment such as this, they would be among the most emphatic and enthusiastic supporters of it, despite whatever misgivings they might have over Obama’s record. After all, doesn’t the Black community deserve a moment of silence after what just happened? The Zimmerman trial was arguably the largest media event of 2013 so far, and the verdict yet another ugly black mark on America’s Civil Rights record; surely, Black America has more than earned its time to grieve. Where does this chip on the shoulder of progressives like David Sirota and Cornel West against President Obama come from? Why do they feel compelled, let alone entitled, to flat out insult America’s first Black President (and, by proxy, Black America itself) in such grossly inappropriate ways when he comes forward in such an overwhelmingly positive fashion?

There’s no denying that Obama’s second term as President has been accompanied – unsurprisingly, some would say — by a rather dramatic shift in his political persona. Without another reelection campaign looming on the horizon, he’s become free to do and say things that he wouldn’t have dared during his first term, like speaking on behalf of Black America in something other than the most abstract terms. At the same time, Obama’s naked displays of power and ambition in arenas like the NSA spying, the prosecution of whistleblowers, and the increasing mechanization of the War of Terror give the lie to the idea of “curative black benevolence” he posited to the American public, forcing many of his initial supporters to finally begin to see the man for what he truly is: a centrist Democrat with the ear of the private sector, and not the so-called “Magic Negro” progressive pundits so desperately hoped was going to save America from itself.

Now that that veil has been lifted, the raw, bitter scorn with which Obama is perceived by many of those same progressive pundits has become a thick, oily balm used to tend their wounded egos. Obama’s inability or refusal to live up to the “Magic Negro” stereotype is, to people like Sirota and West, the ultimate betrayal; he did not succeed completely, therefore, he has failed utterly. As such, those that will accept no less than perfection from America’s first Black President as a condition of his employment, rather than admit to the error in their judgment, choose to smear Obama with the same sort of unholy comparisons they would use against a white president, from behind a mantle of so-called “post-racial” progressivism. Their failure to accept selfishness and abuse of power in America’s first Black President only serves to reinforce the negative stereotype that Black people cannot be trusted with said authority, casting Obama as a failed martyr by holding him to an impossible standard, and insulting the Black community. My colleague, the Rad-Femme Lawyer, writes:

“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.”

The progressive vendetta against Obama by pundits like Sirota and West may serve to reinforce their roles as crusaders for justice, but their actions are raising the bar even higher for people of color to achieve the presidency (not to mention other positions of power or authority) for a long time to come, and condemning us to struggle even longer under the yoke of the very systems they claim to be dismantling. But they’ve got MLK on their side, so they can do no wrong, right?

Randle Aubrey

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  1. khrish August 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I guess being older, the president is doing exactly what I expected of him as regards us as Black Americans. I knew that he had to tread lightly; he and the Attorney General, because being too vocal would keep away the chance of a second term. I wanted so badly to see him have this second term that would be without threat of reprisal. I am so sick of these overtly racists who have done so much dirt they are running scared that the tables may turn on them. Only very sick idiots could take his statements on Trayvon Martin and turn it into something vile and ugly. Some of these people have really, really shown their ugly under bellies. And the Americans of colour have really sickened me. I wonder if they really believe that they are accepted as a part of the racist with whom they are so close. They are the ones on the plantation and they are still too blind to recognize it.

  2. Rad-Femme Lawyer August 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    You’re right, Randle, progressive luminaries’ reactions to Obama have been really essentializing and disappointing. Thanks for a great read.

  3. Nigel August 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    I can agree that Sirota and West’s vehemence is non-productive, but I get tired of all progressives who are critical of the president getting tagged with the same broad brush (I also question whether S or W have any relevance to the vast swath of voters, progressive or otherwise) . Its possible to have serious concerns about Pres. Obama’s philosophy and policy without believing he is Darth Vader or Jesus. To recognize his positive accomplishments and good intentions as well as his failures and hypocrisy. Not looking at the President as a Magical Negro, but as a human being and public servant.

    I’m glad that the President spoke about Trayvon Martin and I think his comments were honest and heartfelt. But I also feel that he was compelled to make that statement at least in part due to public pressure. Likewise, his evolution on LGBT rights, his placing immigration issues at the forefront, and his backing away from approving the Canadian pipeline are the result of public pressure from associated constituencies. One can argue what tenor that pressure should take. But to imply that any progressive critique or pressure is naive, unrealistic or simply bitter grapes is just, in my opinion, a way of eliminating that entire block from the conversation through blanket overstatement. Because being silent is essentially giving up.
    So, go ham on Sirota and West, but please recognize not every liberal critic is on a personal vendetta. Some of us are trying to advocate for the best government we are able to get.

    • bbfmail August 29, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Just before launching yet another unprovoked war to preserve the empire, Barack Obama stopped by the Lincoln Memorial to star in the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. He was joined by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, the men most responsible for pulling the Democratic Party deep enough into the corporate camp to afford the billion dollar elections that brought Obama to power. The pretense was that the presidents were there to show solemn respect for the Movement that defeated official American apartheid. The truth is, they came to take possession of the occasion – a gift from their minions in the Black Misleadership Class, who believe nothing has value until it is blessed and possessed by Power.

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