February 18th, 2009.
Today, US President Barack Obama approved the deployment of 17,000 new US troops and 32,000 new NATO troops to Afghanistan. Significantly, the Obama surge has hit the news simultaneously with the most recent human rights reports from Afghanistan. According to the UN Mission in Afghanistan, civilian deaths in 2008 increased by 40% over 2007. An annual report for the UN High Commissioner for Human rights rated “the 2008 civilian death toll the highest of any year since... the fall of the Talilban regime at the end of 2001.” Speaking of his decision to approve the deployment recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Obama said only that "[t]here is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm's way".
On this scandalous and foul occasion, maybe the first concrete proof that the first US president of color is capable of intensifying an imperialist and racist war against one of the most shattered countries on the planet, I’m going to publish here some thoughts that I wrote before his inauguration. Until now I have kept them private in a perhaps delirious hope that Obama would, once inaugurated, rise to meet the expectations of the social movement that carried him to power. But with this decision to deploy, he has betrayed and backstabbed beyond reasonable doubt both the individuals and the collective movement that worked so tirelessly and selflessly for the hope and change that he represented. On this note I will hold my tongue no longer, and neither should anyone else.
On the Multiculturalization of White Supremacy
Or, Questions We Aren’t Ready to Ask
“There is no progress. Like a crab on LSD, culture staggers endlessly sideways.” - Rem Koolhaas.
“We are all half-gold and half-rubbish.” - Eduardo Galeano
The story of the election and presidency of Barack Obama raises many very interesting questions. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re ready to ask them. But sometimes the present moment cannot resist the exigencies of the future.
Is it a victory against institutionalized white supremacy when a person of color is at the head of the institution? Is it a victory for African American communities when an African American person becomes an imperialist in exchange for the presidency? Is it a victory for African American communities that an African American person must become an imperialist be president?
The ability to put a minority in charge of a colonial apparatus is definitely historic. But what does this word ‘historic’ mean? Does it explain something, or does it substitute for an explanation? What exactly is historic about this occasion?
The progressive Left proceeds with a negotiated criticism of Obama. The election of a black president is highly symbolic, regardless of his politics, they say. Obama’s election is undeniably a powerful symbol. But of what? What is being symbolized?
What has Obama meant for colonialism? That the colonizers are claiming to have transcended racism and that the colonized are making excuses for imperialism? Those who have only been exploited and humiliated by this colonization have mobilized and organized around hope for its reform. But can colonialism be reformed? Can imperialism have a pretty face? Can ‘Change’ and ‘Hope’ be built on amnesia?
Too many sweepingly optimistic declarations have been made and too few questions are being asked. Criticism is marginalized, and there’s nothing new in that. But for the first time, criticism of the presidency is marginalized by the marginalized. And I fear it is at everyone’s peril.
Is it too early to say that Obama is racist? Are we ready to understand this possibility? Can his support for racist legislation and foreign policy (ie. the Patriot Act, military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, invasions into Pakistan and Syria) be spared the charge of racism because he is a person of color? Why is the same leniency not offered other imperialist statesmen of color? Is this the new American exceptionalism?
Are we ready to ask if Obama could represent a step backwards for anti-racist social movements? Are we ready to ask if this could be a step backwards for anti-imperialism and decolonization? Are we ready to ask if this could be re-colonization?
Is it too early for communities of color around the world to ask themselves if their hope and change haven’t been embezzled?
At best, Obama has sold out. Is the fact that he had to any comfort to us?
Time will tell. Or will it?