It is hardly surprising that the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington was politically managed to represent the myth of racial progress and social justice.
Dave Zirin writes in The Nation that he was dismayed by the speakers who addressed the crowd on Saturday, August 24. Those who may have offered a real critique of the present historical juncture and the imperial black president were hurried off the stage.
Malcolm X writing in 1963 criticized the March on Washington calling it a "farce" ... "that ceased to be a black march; it ceased to be militant; it ceased to be angry; it ceased to be impatient, ... in fact, it ceased to be a march. It became a picnic, an outing with a festive, circus-like atmosphere....”
His criticism was leveled at a managerial white class of politicians that had out-maneuvered the assembled black leadership with "crumbs" of inducement and, thereby, turned what could have been a mass demonstration against American apartheid into a media event complete with a Hollywood script.
The problem then - as it is now - is that a sanitized black leadership class, or what Glen Ford calls the "mis-leaders, does the work of deflecting real grievances. And, in 2013 these grievances still hinge on the three evils of "racism, militarism and materialism" that Dr. King consistently pointed to.
No words of revolt were aimed at President Obama and his watch over America that looks just like his white predecessors except that he has largely consolidated the evils of "racism, militarism and materialism".
Not a word about drones killing innocents in a manufactured war on terror was uttered making this "farce" another "circus-like" event.
Malcolm X got it right then and it still pertains today. The Uncle Tom establishment owes its existence to the art of (re)crafting black politics into submission. In other words, the sellouts have come to dominate the official discourse of black (and brown) politics in America as Malcolm X said in 1963:
"Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the politics of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These "leaders" sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These "leaders" are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders."This "tokenism" and "dead ball" mentality is thoroughly illustrated by an opinion piece entitled "The end of race" by the first Indian-American Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. His argument is meant to mark the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington and it essentially says that racism will disappear when black and brown people learn to integrate into America (meaning whiteness).
Jindal who is of southeast Asian heritage totally ignores the history of racism and the structure that still pertains when he write that there is;
“... far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few.”For Jindal, like Obama, the purpose of living well in America is to be found in the kind of denialism that makes your history irrelevant. The aim is to approximate whiteness and to be its propagator and envoy. Those who fail to do so - or refuse to do so - are in effect traitors to the American dream.
Malcolm X knew this thinking very well and described the proponents without mixing his words:
"These Uncle Tom leaders do not speak for the Negro majority; they don't speak for the black masses. They speak for the "black bourgeoisie," the brainwashed, white-minded, middle-class minority who are ashamed of black, and don't want to be identified with the black masses, and are therefore seeking to lose their "black identity" by mixing, mingling, intermarrying, and integrating with the white man."In a very telling way, the fate of black/brown America is much the story of post-colonial Africa. Our leaders sold out for trinkets and the dreams of whiteness. And, for this reason you will find a continent mostly at odds with its leaders.
Whenever the occasion arises these leaders will assemble beside the trinkets of power - the cars and clothes and ideas imported from the west - and tell the masses what must be done to overcome their poverty and hopelessness.
Invariably the rhetoric will be about self-help or what is called "bootstrap" politics in the US. Like Jindal and Obama the point will be to ignore the history of racism, colonialisms and the wars that continue to keep Africans poor and destitute.
Glen Ford would agree that the new "mis-leadership" class of post-colonial Africa hardly looks any different that those who do the same work in America.
In these contexts we have not come very far in distancing ourselves from white supremacy even if there is a shell of a black man sitting in the White House.
The bodies of black and brown men, women, girls and boys still represent the terrain upon which whiteness wages its acts of war - both phsycologically and physically.
Those who were deluded to think that Obama represented a post-race era can now sit and lick their complicit wounds or just continue to be brazenly immersed in their trinket denialism; the "farce" continues.
I think that Dr. Martin Luther King was duped 50 years ago. He may have thought that his "I have a dream" speech would mark a turning point in the racist history of America but I expect that he had his doubts.
In the end Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated for his insistence that the US confront its past and make amends for its "racism, militarism and materialism".
The US has failed miserably to stop the drift of these three evils. And Obama has been instrumental in turning the drift into a crashing waterfall.
In these terms I think that Dave Zirin is right when he says that if Dr. Martin Luther King was alive today he would not have been invited to speak at the 50th anniversary of "The March on Washington".
At the end of his life Dr. Martin Luther King was no longer duped by the manipulation of white power in Washington and he would not be duped by Obama.
Glen Ford perhaps says it best when he argues that Dr. Martin Luther King would be opposed to the Uncle Tom politics of the black "mis-leadership" class in general and Obama more specifically:
"There is not a shadow of a doubt that King would denounce Obama in the strongest terms, were he alive, today. Yet, those who pose as his political and moral descendants hug the presidential scorpion to their bosoms."The "farce on Washington" mentality obviously continues bringing to mind the much earlier critique of "double consciousness" as described by W.E.B. Dubois.
And we are not free.