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Although he repeatedly refers to “race,” Hill is correct to argue that anti-black racism

is a major contradiction in the USA, but he is incorrect to suggest that Obama has

opened a new national discussion and perspective about this paradox. . . . Obama

sought to avoid this issue during the campaign and since his election to the presidency. 

Indeed, as Hill points out, Obama’s life experiences led him to a different view

of anti-black racism than the masses of native black Americans



Optimism in The First Black President

A Book Review  by Floyd B. Hayes, III


The First Black President

Barack Obama, Race, Politics, and the American Dream,  2009.

By Johnny B. Hill

New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp.198. Paper $20.00.


The 2008 presidential election of Illinois Senator Barack Hussein Obama signaled the national repudiation of the Bush-Cheney regime.  Obama’s campaign slogan of believable change sounded a marked contrast to the previous political rule that arrogantly employed an abundance of misinformation designed to seduce and mislead the United States of America into an ill-advised, imperialist war in the Middle East that resulted in the occupation and disruption of Iraqi society in 2003, together with an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, which signaled a new American militarism—the tendency to view all international difficulties as military problems. 

Significantly, the Bush-Cheney regime’s so-called war against global terrorism represented genocide, torture, and other forms of human damage in Iraq—evils that should be characterized and prosecuted as crimes against humanity. Obama offered hope to Americans devastated by a financial calamity—for many Americans, it is an economic depression as momentous as the Great Depression of the 1920s—brought on by the Bush-Cheney administration’s ultraconservative deregulation policies and practices that encouraged corporate greed and corruption.  In the face of the USA’s educational decline, surely exacerbated by the Bush-Cheney failed policy of “No Child Left Behind,” Obama’s campaign emphasized the need for education reform and renewal in a knowledge-intensive and advanced technological world in which a nation’s competitive edge is determined by its people’s educational capacity.

Since taking office, the Obama administration has experienced the contradictions and dilemmas inherent in the transition from campaigning to governing.  Coming into office, Obama quickly took aim at and sought to manage America’s depressing economic crisis by providing relief to a number of corporations in order to save the financial system of capitalism.  Even so, some financial institutions considered too the big to fail, like Lehman Brothers, bit the dust.  Yet this conservative managerial strategy of giving money to the wealthy with the expectation that this class would create economic opportunities for middle- and working-class people (e.g., trickle-down economics) largely had  been discredited at least since the Reagan regime of the 1980s.  This economic policy again proved ineffective, as wealthy financial corporations have not created jobs or supported economic opportunities for US workers; rather, corporations have hoarded governmental financial assistance.  The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.  The Obama presidency spent considerable political capital getting Congress to pass needed health reform, but this bill represents a severe compromise with far-right congressional forces.  Of course, politics is the art of compromise!

Although Obama the campaigner signaled the end of America’s wars in the Middle East, Obama the president has yet to fully pull all American military forces out of Iraq.  What he has done is to increase the numbers of battle-worn US soldiers in Afghanistan, historically known as the graveyard of empires.  Hence, it could be argued that Obama continues to implement the Bush-Cheney policy of throwing American lives and dollars at an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, a strategically problematic state that not even the country’s own political leader seems to be capable of managing.

The Obama administration has demonstrated a marked hesitancy to discuss the issue of white supremacy and anti-black racism: America’s longest hatred.  During his campaign for the presidency and since, Obama only addressed this problem when he seemed to be forced to do so.  Avoiding a serious issue only exacerbates it.  Shortly after President Obama took office, we witnessed the rise of the ultraconservative and racist Tea Party, which apparently seeks to drive the already conservative Republican Party to the extreme right.  Deeply grounded in a Christian fundamentalism that verges on religious fanaticism, Tea Party leaders and adherents articulate views and values that advocate the most politically, socially, and economically reactionary public policies; and Tea Partiers encourage hatred and fear of blacks and others who have been historically oppressed and marginalized in the United States of America.  Tea Party leaders’ use of code words to encourage political violence is well known.  Hence, the Obama regime’s attempt to avoid or evade the issue of anti-black racism has resulted in the worsening of this American dilemma.

In the face of these challenges, the Obama administration has sought to compromise with Congressional Republicans, even as they clearly have refused to work with Obama and, indeed, have announced their intention to bring down his presidency.  Seemingly conflict avoidant with his right-wing enemies, Obama appears to be shifting to the right in regard to both domestic and international policies.  Increasing numbers of his constituents are becoming disappointed and disaffected; some of them are beginning to accuse the president not only of compromise with, but also of capitulation to, Republicans.  Many who voted for Obama as a hoped-for messenger of a new liberalism in the USA now wonder if he is its gravedigger.  As a result, there is increasing discussion among many that Obama may become a one-term president.  Only time will tell.

It is against this background that I consider the book here under review.  Written by theologian and activist Johnny Hill, The First Black President: Barack Obama, Race, Politics, and the American Dream examines the historical and contemporary significance of Barack Obama’s election as the first black president of the United States of America.  Hill views Obama’s election as the direct legacy of Martin L. King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.  More accurately, the author uncritically embraces the received and distorted notion of King as the movement’s central leader, which ignores the roles of ordinary women and men, community organizers and their organizations, and the grassroots struggle for social transformation and racial justice in the South.

Moreover, Hill ignores the significant contributions of the radical Black Power movement of the late-1960s, which played a major role in politically galvanizing urban blacks, especially outside of the South, leading to the most dramatic rise of black elected officials since Reconstruction a century earlier.  In overlooking the Black Power movement—a fatal flaw in my view—the author presents a skewed and narrow analysis of the Obama presidency and its importance to US political-economic development, global dynamics in the 21st Century, and the struggle against anti-black racism. 

Although he repeatedly refers to “race,” Hill is correct to argue that anti-black racism is a major contradiction in the USA, but he is incorrect to suggest that Obama has opened a new national discussion and perspective about this paradox.  Clearly, Martin L. King, Jr. confronted the hatred of white supremacy head on, but Obama sought to avoid this issue during the campaign and since his election to the presidency.  Indeed, as Hill points out, Obama’s life experiences led him to a different view of anti-black racism than the masses of native black Americans—those descendants of captured African slaves and the dehumanizing system of enslavement.  However, the author’s analysis goes awry when he argues that president Obama willingly confronts racism.  When forced to address white supremacy and anti-black racism, presidential candidate Obama and later President Obama scarcely demonstrated the will to confront these issues; rather, like so much the post-Civil Rights and post-Black Power leadership, Obama has given the impression of reducing racism’s significance. 

A clear example occurred during the presidential campaign when video tapes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s mentor and pastor of his Chicago church, became public.  A Black Nationalist, Wright articulated a black liberation theology in the tradition of Rev. Albert Cleage of Detroit’s Shrine of the Black Madonna, who was a major theologian during the Black Power era of the late-1960s.  Although Wright was scheduled to offer the invocation at Obama’s campaign announcement, white pressure forced Obama unceremoniously to withdraw his invitation to Wright. 

Another situation arose following Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates’ confrontation at his home with a rogue and racist cop from Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Initially, President Obama criticized the police, but quickly backed away from his comment under pressure from white media critics.  He later invited Gates and the cop to drink beer at the presidential home.  Hence, many view Obama as more willing to accommodate with rather than to confront the uncomfortable dynamics of racist politics in the USA.

Strangely, Hill discusses trends and developments related to the changing meaning of Black Nationalism and black community identity, in which he includes the Negritude movement and Afrocentricity.  He notes the historic and continuing struggle against white supremacy and anti-black racism, together with the necessity of overthrowing their intellectual practice in the form of eurocentrism.  Significantly, however, Hill’s meditation on these topics has very little to do with Barack Obama.  In a sweeping discussion that includes such figures as Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Leopold Senghor, Aime Cesaire, Malcolm X, and Cheikh Anta Diop, the author scarcely associates Obama with the ideas put forward by these and other African-centered intellectual warriors.  However, what Hill does is to mention an exceedingly weak perspective of black solidarity articulated in Tommie Shelby’s book, We Who are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity.  Here is a representation of pragmatic or elitist nationalism that actually provides very little as a foundation for black solidarity in a post-Civil Rights and post-Black Power age.  Even so, it is not clear that Obama would embrace this shallow form of nationalism.

In his attempt to interrogate Obama’s economic vision for America, Hill argues that the new president has changed this nation.  He suggests that Obama advocates a “bottom-up” perspective of political-economy, suggesting that fairness and concern for the broad masses of people is the focal point of the president socioeconomic policy development.  Hill states that Obama’s economic perspective is a legacy of Martin L. King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign of the late-1960s.  Hill notes King’s criticism of US racism, poverty, and militarism; he even mentions King’s sympathy with Marxism and its critique of capitalism, suggesting that Obama has socialist tendencies.  Examined closely, it is apparent that the author does not have a clear understanding of Obama’s economic vision.  So far, the manner in which the Obama regime has sought to dig America out of the Bush-Cheney depression has been to bail out financial and economic elites.  This hardly is socialist.  Here is a trickle-down economic strategy that has been exposed as a failure for over twenty years!

Perhaps one of the more interesting discussions in The First Black President is the author’s examination of Obama’s presidential campaign and political implications and consequences of the evolving digital-knowledge age.  Up to the early 1960s, US political campaigns focused on political parties with candidates as rather secondary.  The 1980s, with the rising significance of political action committees and the introduction of technology-based marketing strategies, gave rise to candidate-centered campaigns and elections.  Hill notes that Obama’s presidential campaign and election institutionalized cyber-politics as a strategic method of mobilizing, fundraising, and political maneuvering, building a multicultural and multi-class aggregation of supporters.   This also was a political technique that proved highly effective and efficient in attracting the first generation of young voters born into the digital-knowledge age. As Hill briefly points out, a major problem during Obama’s campaign and subsequent presidency has been the massive growth of anti-black cyber-racism.  In view of the increasing prevalence of this problem in the age of advanced technology, the author might have interrogated cyber-racism in more detail, pointing out its content, contours, dynamics, effects, and future challenges in the world of cyber-politics. 

Ultimately, Hill is optimistic about the Obama presidency, very much in the way that Martin L. King, Jr. was basically optimistic about the so-called American dream.  Although King was disappointed with America’s racism and militarism, he held onto a hope that America would reject these evils.  Although the Obama administration is reluctant to confront racism and continues the Bush-Cheney regime’s militarism and economic policies, Hill seems to hope that Obama will play a significant role in bringing about racial and social justice in the United States of America.  With the growing specter of Tea Party right-wing and racist extremism and an increasing US military involvement in Afghanistan, together with Obama’s apparent reluctance to engage in conflict with political reactionaries, it is difficult to have faith in a transformation of America led by President Barack Hussein Obama.

The First Black President is not a critical examination of Obama’s rise to the American presidency.  Hardly thought-provoking, the author makes sweeping generalities and shallow analyses of his subjects of discussion.  Unfortunately, we will have to look elsewhere for others to provide a thorough-going analysis of the first black president.

Floyd W. Hayes, III, coordinator of programs and undergraduate studies—A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Hayes is coordinator of programs and undergraduate studies in the Center for Africana Studies. His teaching and research interests include black politics and political philosophy, urban politics and public policy, educational policymaking and politics, leadership studies, and the politics of jazz. He is the author of numerous articles and the editor of A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies.

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Lyndon Baines Johnson Signs 1964 Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

was passed after increasing political pressure and violence against African-Americans. The drive for its passage was boosted by the assassination of JFK. This was the most far-reaching legislation of its kind since Reconstruction. It included 11 titles which dealt with voting practices, segregation, provided financial aid to desegregating schools, extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission for four more years, outlawed federal funds for educations institutions or programs practicing discrimination, outlawed employment and union discrimination, required gathering census data by race in some areas, prevented federal courts from sending a civil rights case back to state or local courts, established the Community Relations Service (CRS) to arbitrate local race problems and provided right of jury trial in any case that arose from any section of the act.Civil Rights Acts and Other Remedies

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public ("public accommodations").

Powers given to enforce the act were initially weak, but were supplemented during later years. Congress asserted its authority to legislate under several different parts of the United States Constitution, principally its power to regulate interstate commerce under Article One (section 8), its duty to guarantee all citizens equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment and its duty to protect voting rights under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who would later sign the landmark Voting Rights Act into law.Wikipedia

posted 11 December 2011

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.

Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Related files:  Capitol Hill in Black and White   Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves?  Civil Rights Acts and Other Remedies  The Civil Rights Act of March 1875