by Danny Haiphong
In an age of savage austerity, the question is not, What will the Right do next? – but rather, How much more abuse will Black and working people tolerate? Much of what passes for a Left in the U.S. wants nothing more than acceptance by the rulers. “Solid, organized criticism and political work has been avoided for an opportunity to remain ‘respectable’ to a President and political party on a full frontal assault on oppressed people.”
Respectability Politics And The Left Flank of US imperialism
by Danny Haiphong
“The US left, as it currently stands, has normalized Obama’s age of imperialism to the point where even overt forms of racism are passively dismissed.”
Three Supreme Court rulings within the last year have burst asunder any illusions that the Democratic Party and its vile head in the Obama Administration could defend, let alone build upon, past victories won by the US left. In June, the SCOTUS effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1964, legalizing racist voter suppression tactics of state governments, which had already been common practice in southern states. And just this month, the Supreme Court struck down limitations on corporate donations to federal candidates and upheld Michigan's practice of eliminating Affirmative Action in their public institutions of higher education. These decisions provide ample evidence of US imperialism's continued consolidation of white power and corporate domination. What made this all possible is the US left's adherence to respectability politics.
Respectability politics are the major thread into why many US leftists have abandoned social justice and radical transformation to support the Democratic imperialist wing of private enterprise. Six years into the era of Obama, solid, organized criticism and political work has been avoided for an opportunity to remain "respectable" to a President and political party on a full frontal assault on oppressed people. The Supreme Court decisions of the last year are not only the doing of the "neo-con" wing of the political Right. The Obama Administration and the Democratic Party are just as guilty as the much-maligned Republican Party in the rollback of the last vestiges of progressive US policy.
“The US left is plagued by the desire to identify with Obama and the Democratic Wing of imperialism.”
However, Obama and the Democratic Party are protected from any real scrutiny by a politics of respectability that has swept up the left. While Affirmative Action (for students of color) was on the chopping block, Black and brown students from the nation's Ivy League Universities were organizing a hash-tag campaign. The "#ITOOAMHARVARD" campaign and imitations around the country focus on individual acts of racism on college campuses. But as the name of the campaign suggests, the objective is to identify with the institution of higher education, which in the United States was built by African slaves and run by slave masters. No matter how destructive the Obama era of imperialism has been for the vast majority of humanity, the overall political landscape of the US left is plagued by the desire to identify with Obama and the Democratic Wing of imperialism just as the "ITOOAMHARVARD" campaign seeks recognition from Harvard.
The US left's identification with the Democratic Party and Barack Obama strangles dissent and forwards the objectives of US imperialism. At present, the objectives of US imperialism are clear. US imperialism is putting the working class in ruin, privatizing entitlements and the public sector, engaging in unending and expanding imperialist intervention in every corner of the globe, caging Black and brown folk in the millions, conducting mass surveillance, eroding civil liberties, and stabilizing finance capital's profits over the interests of the vast majority of humanity. These are the many layers of Obama's "Satan Sandwich." Respectability politics ensures none of these pressing developments are addressed in any meaningful way. Instead, much of the US left has fallen into the trap of choosing the Democratic Party side of the same imperialist coin at the detriment of the oppressed majority, but especially poor and working class Black America.
“The Obama Administration and the Democratic Party are just as guilty as the much-maligned Republican Party in the rollback of the last vestiges of progressive US policy.”
Of course, a lot of people were fooled by the "hope" and "change" President, Barack Obama, including myself. As the end of the Obama era approaches, it has become more and more apparent that the neo-liberal Obama Administration is the most dangerous “left flank” US imperialism has ever had in its arsenal. The last few weeks give a clear picture as to how deeply the Obama administration has imbedded respectability politics into the US left. If the Affirmative Action ruling were not enough, Cliven Bundy bullied the federal government at gunpoint and received zero repercussion. Capitalist Donald Sterling was caught speaking anti-Black vitriol and his punishment was a pathetic uniform adjustment from his own team. One could only imagine if Cliven Bundy were a Black man or if Donald Sterling had been caught just 7 years ago. Cliven Bundy would have been killed and progressive forces would have demanded the Clippers boycott their playoff game. The US left, as it currently stands, has normalized Obama’s age of imperialism to the point where even overt forms of racism are passively dismissed.
After both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama led the charge to bomb and destroy the African state of Libya, I was convinced that our greatest task is to build anti-establishment politics that struggle against ALL political parties of US capitalism. This was 2011, the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement that reintroduced the centrality of capitalism to the current neo-liberal age of US hegemony. However, the Occupy movement clumped together Syria and Libya as “humanitarian interventions” against “dictators”, effectively co-signing US-NATO’s war on these countries’ sovereignty. Our efforts to re-build a grassroots leftist opposition to US imperialism should be grounded on a clear vision of not only what we oppose, but also who we oppose. US imperialism is not an abstract system, but one with a class of actors, a ruling class, who are the agents of exploitation. The Democratic Party, and especially the Obama Administration, is the largest obstacle in the way of building a new left capable of defeating the forces of reaction and racism dictating the US left’s current incompetence.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager in the Greater Boston area. You can contact Danny at: firstname.lastname@example.org.