On Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Speech

February 28, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On February 27, Barack Obama gave a speech launching what he is calling the "My Brother’s Keeper" initiative, which he claims is about “empowering boys and young men of color, a segment of our society that too often faces disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success.” (The entire speech is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2014/02/27/president-obama-speaks-my-brothers-keeper-initiative#transcript.) Obama spoke to an audience that included, among others, the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two young Black men murdered by white racists (see revcom.us for in-depth coverage of the refusal of the system to convict their killers of murder). Obama’s speech, in the name of just talking about “what works,” actually put forth an upside-down, completely wrong and poisonous understanding of the actual problem facing not just young Black and brown men, but ALL people of color, women and men alike. In the name of “what works,” he offers paltry solutions that purport or claim to save a few more people from the meat grinder... while leaving the meat grinder intact. For now, the day after, we will only comment on:

Three Bitter Ironies, One Glaring Omission... and an Ominous Punch Line

Bitter irony number one: Obama says America is the land of opportunity, where you can make it if you try.

NO! America is the land in which the land, labor and lives of hundreds of millions of people from Africa and the Americas were ground under and ground up in order to create a powerful empire dominated by a relative handful. America is a land where this handful offered to a section of other people—historically white European-descended people—the “opportunity” to get in on or at least share in the plunder. This did not end with the great struggles of the 1960s—instead, things were adjusted to allow a section of the oppressed nationalities to “move on up” while conditions for the masses grew even worse. Today, as this empire runs into serious and in some ways unprecedented problems, they cannot offer the same—ugly—deal. The irony is this: at a time when the system literally has no future for the youth, Obama comes up with a played-out fantasy lie of the past.

Bitter irony number two: In a proposal to “do something about the situation of young men of color,” Obama honored former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Michael Bloomberg was cited for financing a program supposedly designed to mentor young Black men. Michael Bloomberg, however, is much more famous for—and much more directly affected the lives of men of color of all ages in New York by—instituting and stubbornly defending the stop-and-frisk program in New York City. This program, which arbitrarily stopped literally hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino men a year for no reason, then frisked and humiliated them, was nothing but apartheid control, and has been justly hated by masses of people and fought, including by people like Carl Dix and Cornel West and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. The irony is this: It was right for Obama to honor Bloomberg’s example in the speech, because Bloomberg’s program—a mentoring program that will have little overall social effect while maintaining and intensifying the ongoing criminalization of the masses of Black, Latino and other oppressed nationalities and the outrageous denial of their fundamental rights—is exactly the effect of what Obama puts forth.

Bitter irony number three: In the audience, and pointed to by Obama, were the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. Yet everything Obama proposed would have had absolutely no effect on either the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, or the outcome of the trials that did not punish those who murdered them.

Think about it: The parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis did everything that Obama so arrogantly and downright misleadingly criticizes other Black and Brown people for NOT doing. The fathers were able to be present in their sons’ lives. The sons were in school. They were doing NOTHING at all but minding their own fucking business when some racist, feeling the power of the state and the approval of society behind them, decided that they had to die.

Nor would anything Obama proposed do anything about the structural racism that ensures less funding for minority needs (compare schools in the inner city to those in the suburbs, compare health care availability, etc.) and the countless ways this gets played out on the individual level by the human resources hiring managers, the credit officers, the doctors, the principals, the store-owners, and all the many others in positions of some authority—including, very especially, cops, judges, probation officers, prison guards, etc.—whose racist micro-decisions each day reinforce and give life to that.

The one glaring omission: Where was the mention of women and the particular oppression faced by Black, Latina and other women of color?

From listening to Obama’s speech, you would think things were just great for African-American, Latina and other women of color. Their situations – which, yes, are different but certainly no less oppressive than those of men of color and further burdened by both the pornification of society (and the particular ways this targets women of color) and the denial of birth control and abortion (and, again, the particular and even more intense ways in which poor women and women of color are denied these rights in ways even more intense than comes down on white and/or middle-class women) and the many overall ways in which male supremacy comes down in all kinds of social relations, including violence against women and just generally being demeaned and devalued in every dimension of life—did not merit a single mention! This speech by Obama, and this program he says he will set in motion, in essence puts forward a solution of strengthening patriarchy in communities of color

The ugly and ominous punch line: Once again, the heart of Obama’s message—NO EXCUSES!

There was nothing more ominous and ugly than the end of his speech, in which Obama turned to the young men he had up on stage and lectured them, invoking his “no excuses” tag line and turning these young men into props for his show. In other words, calling out racism and white supremacy... demanding an END to outrages like mass incarceration... if you stand up to all the outrages of the system... and actually dig into the CAUSES of these problems that, on the surface, seem like “individual bad choices” but are actually traps that have been knowingly set by this system... traps that not only keep the system going but persuade the victims of the system that the failures of the system are their fault... then, according to Obama, you are making an excuse. This is an extremely ugly lie. And it is ominous—it is justification for every cop, for every vigilante, for every person in any position of authority to go on with what they are doing and to even do worse... because after all, any protest, any criticism is just... “an excuse.”

“I made it,” Obama says, “therefore you can make it.” This theme of Obama calls to mind Bob Avakian’s point:

Determination decides who makes it out of the ghetto—now there is a tired old cliché, at its worst, on every level. This is like looking at millions of people being put through a meatgrinder and instead of focusing on the fact that the great majority are chewed to pieces, concentrating instead on the few who slip through in one piece and then on top of it all, using this to say that "the meatgrinder works"! (BAsics 1:11)

No, Mr. Obama, your experience proves nothing other than the fact that some from the oppressed will shamelessly pimp their own experience and that of the people from which they came and attempt to use it to buttress the powers-that-be and to invalidate any who tell the truth about what those powers actually do and enforce. And the truth is this: this society has nothing to offer anyone but more oppression, more exploitation, more war and aggression, more spying and repression, and more environmental devastation; and the situation of Black and Brown youth, both male and female, is just one particularly sharp example of the fact that what is required, at long last, is REVOLUTION...nothing less!


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