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Watching stuff like this from the old guard reminds me of bell hooks and her warnings about the politics of victimhood. In her book Killing Rage she writes:
Black Americans who exploit the rhetoric of victimization do so not only because it grants them moral authority but because it provides a platform from which demands can be made that are not mutual. If only white folks need to change then black folks are not required to undergo processes of radical politicization.
If that doesn't describe Bobby Rush and Roland Burris in this mess right now, I don't know what could.
In the wake of Barack Obama's presidential win, black politics as previously practiced really do seem outmoded, even if the reasons and logic behind them still hold true. Yet so many of our elders still employ these strategies as if it was 1972.
Time to step aside, elders. We love you. We respect your effort, your struggle, your accomplishment. But your time is up.
Let's be perfectly clear – It is a travesty that we don't have any Black senators. That we have so many (White) women, a few Asian Americans and Latinos, but no Black senators does say something about America and its commitment to ending racism (or lack thereof).
But it also says something about the health of Black politics. That maybe it has become less about anti-racist work and more about capturing what little power available to Black folks willing to play the victim there is.
But the sad truth that Rush and Burris seem to not recognize (or do, but perhaps don't much care about) is that black politics of this kind actually make anti-racist work harder.
Because the "controversy" happening here, created by Blagojevich and stoked by Rush and Burris, actually obscures the importance of ending racism and increasing black political representation.
Every time Black politicians cheapen black inequality with insincere appeals to history and black liberation struggle, it makes Americans feel more and more like racism is really a game of one-upmanship between two equally powerful groups, instead of a fight to give power, agency and humanity to a devastated group.
Every time black politicians cheapen the seriousness of racial oppression for selfish aims (even if on some level there is a real principle there), they make it hard to get Americans to pay attention to real issues of racial discrimination and white supremacy.
Burris' naked ambition actually lets White people off the hook, it gives them moral cover. Whether or not they want or can handle a black senator becomes a non-issue because this Black guy is shady as hell.
This kind of black politics, the politics of victimization employed here socializes all Americans (but White Ameriicans most especially, since they are the primary audience) to think that black politics is about opportunism, not fairness and equality. Conflating personal ambition with liberation struggle does nothing but make all Americans comfortable in the status quo and confirms in the minds of far too many White folks that Black people just want something for nothing.
And, more than anything, the most dangerous consequence is that it becomes harder for all Americans to recognize the seriousness of inequality, racism, and white supremacy.
I'm sure there are many Americans who do think, on some level, that its wrong that there are no Black senators. But I'm also sure that they don't think this is the right (or best) way to get one.
Interestingly, I don't think this will work. The irony is that the politics of victimization was flawed even when it worked, but at least it was pure. There was, as hooks says, "moral authority." But these guys are seriously fuckin' with even that. I can't imagine any Black person really buyin' this bullshit.
And what's more, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, "Barack Obama is on the other side of the table."
Tryna play the game the old way with the guy who is basically re-writing the rules of black politics seems to me to be the worst kind of arrogance and hubris.
Tyler-what a thoughtful, powerful and excellent analysis. Thanks for keeping it real and showing the real repercussions of what this really means. Here’s to a new year of more of your brilliant mind. Think and write away and I shall read, think and enjoy even though sometimes it makes me sad about how few people really know what you’re saying but I’m still glad you’re saying it.