America, throughout its 237-year history has largely been abusive, unjust and exploitative in its treatment of Black people. Not even right-wing conservatives or their Negro compatriots can truthfully deny that Black people endured centuries of chattel slavery followed by an additional 100 years of outright racial apartheid (Jim Crow) throughout the United States.
Nor can anyone dismiss or deny the consistent American campaign to denigrate and degrade Black people using the most vile and obscene references to our hue, anatomy, intelligence, humanity, and competence. These combined psychological, political and social attacks were in effect, designed to make the world and Black people ourselves believe “We are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing.”
This partly explains Blacks’ euphoria over the news that Barack Obama became this nation’s first Black President in 2008. Black people flooded the streets in celebration, honked our car horns, cried openly, and wished our deceased relatives were alive to witness America’s first Black President.
Some Black observers of this historical moment remained skeptical (I’m raising my hand). They told us that we should not expect too much from Obama considering that the American Presidency itself was too beholden to corporate and military interests. They told us that in such a racially and ethnically diverse nation, Obama would be accountable to various constituencies and that the “Black agenda” (if one ever existed) was certain to be sandwiched between far too many competing agendas. Furthermore, they explained, Obama couldn’t risk becoming too identified with Black issues because this would alienate other citizens and stigmatize his presidency.
Others conceded that Obama’s electoral victory was more symbolic than substantial and warned us against equating his racial identification with any progressive politics.
Finally, some Black critics insisted that Obama seemingly came from nowhere and had not amassed a particularly exceptional record as a Chicago Senator. They found his quick rise to prominence suspicious.
These commentators, often progressive or socialist, speculated that in wake of former white Republican imperialist presidents and a citizenry becoming decidedly critical of them, perhaps Obama was (s)elected to provide imperialism with a more acceptable or charismatic face. In other words, Obama’s looks, charm, beautiful family, bi-racial parentage, exemplary academic credentials, and charismatic presence – coupled with his presumed “Blackness” – would allow the American imperialist agenda not only to continue, but to flourish and expand unchallenged by people of color, women and progressives. In this sense, Obama would take draconian measures far surpassing those of his white conservative predecessors, with permission of (or without critique from) the groups traditionally opposed to such policies/actions coming from old, racist, warmongering white men.
One South African publication, as reported in the Freedom Socialist Bulletin noted that Obama’s election was “a great public relations show.” Its real purpose is to make a dark-skinned president do all the dirty work of U.S. imperialism in the hope that the dirty work will evoke less opposition and resistance.”
Well Obama has been in office for nearly 5 years now, and has amassed a record of policies, statements and actions we can seriously review. Has President Obama represented a significant change from past presidential policies as he suggested he would, or has he simply put an attractive and charismatic face to imperialism and government oppression? Has he helped to relieve or end mass suffering, or has he made it possible for us to suffer…..peacefully? You be the judge and jury and I’ll be the prosecutor…because from where I sit, he already has millions of (misled) defense attorneys.
- Exhibit A: On February 17, 2009, Obama expanded Bush’s war efforts by sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
- Exhibit B: In 2009 The Nobel Committee (among great criticism that Obama had done little to actually deserve it) awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for ” his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Then during his acceptance speech, he provided foreshadowing to his future military actions when he noted, ” I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.” Interestingly, his record of military escalation around the world and unprincipled manner of executing it, led concerned American citizens to start a petition asking the Nobel committee to revoke Obama’s peace prize. So far, it has generated more than 20,000 signatures.
- Exhibit C: Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 into law. Among other things, this allows the American military to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely without being charged and without a trial. It also blocked the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention center
- Exhibit D: On May 29, 2012 the NY Times reported that President Obama created, oversees, and personally makes decisions concerning a secret “kill list,” of individuals marked for arrest or murder. This violates said individuals’ rights to trial by jury
- Exhibit E: The Obama administration increased the presence of U.S. special forces from 60 countries to 75 countries
- Exhibit F: Obama opened a new U.S. military base in Chile and 7 additional bases in Colombia
- Exhibit G: The President escalated the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan
- Exhibit H: Obama started a secret drone war in Yemen
- Exhibit I: Obama initiated a secret war against Libya without approval from Congress
- Exhibit J: During his first term, Obama conducted 20,000 drone attacks against other nations, all located in Africa or the “Middle East.”
- Exhibit K: During his second term, the White House defended the President’s drone attacks (widely protested by humanitarian groups) as legal, ethical, and constitutional.
- Exhibit L: Obama established a military base in Niger, supposedly for the purpose of spying on “terrorists.”
- Exhibit M: “The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country.”
- Exhibit N: Obama has unleashed unprecedented permission for surveillance of American citizens without the need for warrants. The National Counterterrorism Center for example, now has the right to keep data of innocent American citizens for up to five years. Such files will be monitored for “suspicious activity.” Such acts were formerly illegal.
- Exhibit O: Obama has given unprecedented amounts of economic and military support to Israel (but has been conspicuously quiet on the question of Israel’s aggression toward Syria and Palestine).
And the list is even longer. Now honestly, is THIS what you signed up for when you voted for Obama? Wake up, Black people and smell the coffee (with cream).
Agyei Tyehimba is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.