Today in Post-Race History: Fear of a Black President
I fear I’m simply going to repeat here what someone else has already said. But sometimes you have to say it, anyway.
Last week, the FBI placed Assata Shakur on its most wanted terrorist list. She’s the first woman to be added to the document, but this clearly isn’t some sort of advancement for women, as I can’t imagine equal criminalization under the law advances gender equality in any way. 40 years ago, Shakur was falsely convicted of murdering a New Jersey state trooper. She escaped from prison, and has been living in Cuba for decades. The US has made several attempts to have Shakur extradited to the US, but Cuba has right denied those requests.
Also in recent news, President Obama will be the keynote speaker at the Morehouse College graduation on May 19. There were several other graduation events scheduled for that week, including a speech by Rev. Kevin Johnson, a Philadelphia minister, who has been critical of the Obama Administration although he supported both Obama campaigns. Rev. Johnson’s chief concern is the lack of diversity in the POTUS cabinet, as well as the fact that black people continue to suffer–in ways that the government could ameliorate–despite their overwhelming support for the President and his family. Johnson had been scheduled to speak at Morehouse the day before commencement. Now. Johnson has been more or less “demoted” from his solo spot to being part of a three-member panel. And it’s very clear that this decision was made because of Johnson’s critical words about the President.
Like many commentators have said before, both of these happenings are incredible problems, warnings that need to be heeded. The election of the first African American president has resulted in a violent jettisoning of black dissent via policy and in the POTUS’ interactions with the black public. Folks who are critical of both the president and progressives who have done intellectual–or perhaps simply self-serving–gymnastics to justify their support of him, have been unfairly marginalized and deemed haters. More alarmingly, the tacit agreement that Shakur should be included on the terrorist list is an indication of the unfettered assault on those who threaten the American status quo by fighting for the outlandish notion that people should be free.
When Barack Obama placed his hand on the King Bible during his second inauguration ceremony, he concluded the “rehabilitation” of King as a kind, gentle peace-monger who just wanted black and white kids to play together, and not a deeply thoughtful man who questioned his own tactics and criticized the antics of the American imperialist state. In this post-racial, moving on up to the White House moment, those, unlike King, whose activism cannot be rendered innocuous by history, McDonald’s commercials, fake quotes, face silencing or worse. And every time we exalt the Obamas as a symbol of black progress, we become complicit in and agree with the tactics his administration employs in an attempt to squelch the effort for actual liberation.
Johnson’s demotion is an indicator that far too many folks have plugged their ears in exchange for the soma-like images of a smiling and non-threatening black man stepping off of Air Force One. Shakur’s inclusion on the domestic terrorist list shows that if you dedicate yourself to dismantling the racist, sexist, imperialist governing structure that enacts violence on the lives of you and yours, you may never know a restful sleep–even if it’s 40 years later and you’ve lived in another country for most of that time. They will keep coming for you, not simply to wage some kind of vengeance but to use you as a symbol for those who might dare to be so brave. Yet, as the activities surrounding the Morehouse commencement show, the state might not have to go that far anymore. There’s no need for the government to silence us if we are so eager to hush ourselves.