Saturday, May 10, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (5)

Sorry to keep you waiting for my review of Rev. Wright's notorious speech at the National Press Club and the subsequent fallout. While some of the attacks on Wright and/or Obama are askew, defense of Wright can be equally repugnant. Case in point: tonight's episode of the racial Twilight Zone:

Barack Obama, Reverend Wright and Black liberation theology
By Malik Miah
Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
"Malik Miah is editor of the US socialist magazine Against the Current, where this article first appeared."

This is one specimen of unbearable stupidity that shows that hard leftists no more than black nationalists or mainstream liberals have a firm grip on reality in their minds. First, there is the admonition to other leftists not to think like sectarians and reject mainstream electoral politics. Then Miah projects "a possible shift in political consciousness" when Obama disillusions his young supporters when he proves to be just like any other mainstream politician. Those hoping for a change might be motivated to seek a more serious change. Well, maybe, but one would have to investigate more carefully the composition and perspectives of Obama's supporters to assess this potential intelligently. Then Miah acclaims this "outstanding speech", though it doesn't go as far in denouncing institutional racism as many on the left would like to see. Obama is alleged to reveal himself as different from the run-of-the-mill mainstream politician. Well, Obama, as the would-be president of neoliberal America, said what he had to say without excessively humbling himself by disowning his pastor, and made some conventional sops to his white audience in order to defend at least a basis for a different social perspective on the part of blacks. Logically speaking, the speech left much to be desired, but it hit the right note under the circumstances.

Then Miah's argument goes south as he defends Wright, insisting that Wright is no hate-monger and that Wright preaches "in the best tradition of Black liberation theology." Miah did not intend this to be a backhanded compliment, of course. It gets worse when Miah makes the disgusting move of equating Wright with King, concluding: "Wright and King delivered the same message of truth." Here Miah shows himself to be a liar. King resolutely opposed black anti-Semitism and never would have had anything to do with the likes of Farrakhan or any black separatist. King would not have exploited black paranoia and illiteracy by spinning conspiracy tales about AIDS unsupported by evidence, or by peddling crackpot notions about black developmental psychology and brain hemispheres.

Miah asserts a linkage of the black liberation theology that arose in the '60s with a tradition going back to slavery. "It is rooted in Black nationalism and the traditions of Black radicalism. It goes back to the resistance to slavery. The modern version arose during the civil rights movement. It basically combines the philosophy of the Black Christian church and Black nationalism." The "modern version", however, has little in common with the pre-black-power phases of American history. Miah quotes Cone; I'll take Miah at his word for now; Cone:
The Black theologian must reject any conception of God which stifles Black self-determination by picturing God as a God of all peoples. Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God's experience, or God is a God of racism... The Blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition.
It can be seen at a glance that King would never identify himself with this drivel. King might have identified God with the oppressed, but he never would have advocated God as a black God and not the God of all peoples. This obscurantist metaphysical fol-de-rol is of no value to black liberation; the only black power it promotes is that of the manipulation of the masses by self-aggrandizing leaders. Interestingly, Miah argues that Wright's perspective is mainstream, neither anti-American nor anti-capitalist.
In Wright's speech before the National Press Club, he identifed himself with Black liberation theology and pointed out that the attack on Obama and him by the corporate media and others is in reality an attack on the Black community.
This is doubly reprehensible. Aside from identification with the hocus-pocus of black liberation theology, Wright commits the sin of all black nationalist demagogues, including his pal Farrakhan: instead of establishing a rational, verifiable connection between his own interests and the interests of others, he arrogates to himself the right to equate his own agenda with that of the "black community", wrapping himself in the black nationalist flag to ward off criticism of his individual responsibility for crackpot ideas and a manipulative racial-mystical world view.

Finally, Miah warns his fellow socialists not to be sectarian and turn their backs on mainstream electoral politics. But the fact that he has to issue this admonition already proves the bankruptcy of his peers. Interestingly, Miah demonstrates awareness of the limitations of black capitalism by identifying Wright, Jesse Jackson, and Obama with it, and by highlighting the trend towards integrating minorities into the management of corporate America. Miah thinks that Obama's candidacy is an indicator of a post-racial society in germination, because of the willingness of a number of whites to accept Obama and not succumb to race-baiting. Well, it does indicate something, but precisely what and how far it goes is a matter for discussion. Miah suggests that the Obama candidacy opens up an opportunity for consciousness-raising on race. Well, I wonder. What we see, in Obama's "landmark" speech as well as all the hand-wringing over the "Wright" scandal, is not so much a penetration of the race situation on the ground as the usual insipid contrast of two opposing perceptions: "whites see the world this way, and blacks see the world that way, and whites don't know how the world looks from the other side of the racial divide." Well, the last part is true, but the media propaganda environment does not admit any deliberation beyond the pluralist ideology of showing us a diversity of viewpoints. The occasional showcasing of the "black perspective" is predicated on the curious form of integrated segregation to which the American racial order has evolved. Without the maintenance of de facto racial social segregation, the "black perspective" would not have to be peddled as some exotic foreign country that requires ambassadors to speak in its name. "Diplomacy", in fact, is an apt metaphor for this shell game, for diplomacy is all about understanding the perspective of the leaders of another country enough to negotiate with them . . . diplomatically. Diplomacy, however, is not designed to pursue truth beyond appearances.

Curiously, once Miah links black liberation theology to black nationalism, which he links to black capitalism, he fails to draw a number of conclusions therefrom. He seems quite unconcerned with the irrationalism and obscurantism of the black liberation theology of Cone and his successors, nor does he broach the subject of the stunting of the intellectual growth of black people under segregation, reflected in the power of the black church to inculcate hocus-pocus and the authority of preachers over a rationally accountable investigation of social reality. Here Miah succeeds in demonstrating the mental confusion and mediocrity of the American left.

1 comment:

JB said...

You wrote:

"King never would have had anything to do with the likes of Farrakhan or any black separatist."

I guess you must have missed this regarding Dr. King's meeting with Farrakhan's mentor.

Photo caption: The Honorable Elijah Muhammad hosted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at his home in Chicago in 1966. During this meeting, the two esteemed leaders discussed issues of mutual concern.

Today's hypocrites whould have thrown Dr. King under the bus!