by Danny Haiphong
Who enforces poverty wages in Black America? In Baltimore, a Black mayor blocked a minimum wage hike on the grounds that it would make the city “uncompetitive.” Mayor Catherine Pugh has bought into the imperial doctrine that poverty is an advantage in the marketplace. Pugh’s veto “is a stark indication that the Black misleadership class stands in the way of alleviating the burning poverty of the Black working class.”
Baltimore's Mayor Rejects $15 Minimum Wage Bill, Sharpening the Divide between Black Workers and Black Political leadership
by Danny Haiphong
“The Black misleadership class must be seen as the US manifestation of neo-colonialism.”
Black Agenda Report (BAR) has been the only media outlet in the United States to criticize and condemn mainstream Black political leadership. BAR anointed such leadership a well-deserved new title: the Black misleadership class. The Black misleadership class occupies the halls of local, state, and federal office. Members of this class have been traditionally nurtured from the bowels of the Democratic Party, with few notable exceptions. The rise of this class has correlated with an increase in representation of Black entertainers, athletes, and media pundits to ensure the most progressive polity in the US, Black America, is kept in the ideological thrall of the ruling system.
Baltimore's Democratic Party mayor Catherine Pugh showed off her lock-step allegiance to the Black misleadership class with her veto of a bill that would have raised the local minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. The proposed bill would give a five-year grace period for corporations to comply with the mandate and possesses few stipulations for enforcement. It was no doubt a flawed concession, but an important one nonetheless. Legislation for a $15 per hour raise in the minimum wage has been circling municipal and state governments across the country in recent years, with concrete bills passed in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York State. The latest veto by Mayor Catherine Pugh is a stark indication that the Black misleadership class stands in the way of strengthening efforts to alleviate the burning poverty of the Black working class.
“Across the United States, Black mayors, city councilors, state reps, and federal officials continue to maintain allegiance to the Democratic Party's corporate assault on the poor and working class.”
The Black misleadership class is not without historical roots. Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier was one of the first to analyze the development of a Black middle class in the US and its role in reproducing the oppression of Black Americans. Black artist and radical intellectual Harold Cruse followed up by criticizing the Communist Party USA for its failure to acknowledge the class divisions within the Black nation. Both Cruse and Frazier critiqued the phenomena during the mid-20th Century, well before Black Americans gained marginal access to the halls of state power. Such access was granted after the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s raised the necessity of a socialist revolution to actualize Black America’s growing demand for self-determination.
The post-Civil Rights era Democratic Party provided the infrastructure for the Black misleadership class to take shape and strangle the radical political striving of the Black working class. It is in this context that the likes of Catherine Pugh received the necessary political backing to reach the halls of capitalist state power. Pugh is certainly not alone in her disservice to the Black poor. Across the United States, Black mayors, city councilors, state reps, and federal officials continue to maintain allegiance to the Democratic Party's corporate assault on the poor and working class. Their presence and impact is most felt in several majority Black cities across the United States.
In Baltimore, Black Americans make up over 60 percent of the population. Yet despite having a Black mayor at the helm, Black Baltimore has never recovered from the capitalist economic crisis of 2008. In 2014, a study from the Journal of Adolescent Health found that Black youth in Baltimore live under conditions comparable to so-called "Third World" nations such as Nigeria. Nearly forty percent of young Black Americans in Baltimore are unemployed. Black workers in Baltimore possess roughly half of the median income of whites.
“Black youth in Baltimore live under conditions comparable to so-called "Third World" nations such as Nigeria.”
So while a $15 per hour raise in the minimum wage would have helped the situation of the Black poor, Mayor Pugh appears more concerned about the city's "competitive advantage." What this means is that her priorities lie in the profits of finance capital rather than the needs of Black Baltimore. This is in keeping with the broad alignment of the Black misleadership class. In 2015, a report released by the Justice Department revealed that Philadelphia police shot at suspects at a rate of once per week, with 80 percent of the targets being Black. Philadelphia police were also found to stop and frisk people of color at twice the rate of New York City. The majority Black city sported these numbers despite possessing a Black district attorney, police commissioner, and mayor at the time. Philadelphia’s racial demographic in local governance also didn't stop the closing of over 20 public schools in 2013 alone.
Black misleadership is not confined to local governance. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has a historic record of service to the dictates of imperialism. CBC leaders voted in favor of two Israeli invasions of Gaza. Key Black political leader Keith Ellison supported Obama’s proposed invasion of Syria in 2013. Few Black members of Congress challenged the privatization of public education or the funneling of the 99 percent's wealth to the 1 percent during the Obama period. The CBC has only one golden rule: if the Democratic Party supports it, so does the CBC.
Nothing has made this more painstakingly clear than in John Lewis and Maxine Waters' embarrassing role in the anti-Russian fervor that currently plagues Washington. Both Lewis and Waters immediately came out in front of the anti-Russian madness, calling for full investigations of the conspiracy that the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin rigged the US elections in favor of Trump. The claim, which has received near consensus support from Democrats and GOP functionaries, represents a continuation of the bi-partisan war on Russia. Russia has been in the crosshairs of US imperialism ever since the former Soviet nation began moving toward a multi-polar world. In a period where Black Americans and poor people generally are facing historic rates of incarceration and poverty, the Black misleadership class has instead focused its full attention on the ignition of a potentially nuclear conflict with the Russian Federation.
“The CBC has only one golden rule: if the Democratic Party supports it, so does the CBC.”
Some may have a problem with this analysis and view the Black misleadership class as a matter of self-determination. Yet in the global context, few on the left have questioned the pervasiveness of neo-colonialism in Africa and Latin America. The Black misleadership class must be seen as the US manifestation of neo-colonialism. Completely indebted to the white ruling class, Black misleaders help legitimize imperialist rule with appeals to representation. Kwame Nkrumah posited neo-colonialism as the last stage of imperialist rule. Once the oppressed recognize that representation within the imperialist state only brings more oppression, the imperialist system possesses no further recourse to maintain political rule.
Few theories better describe conditions in the United States at this moment than Nkrumah's analysis of the last stage of imperialism. Three years have passed since the movement for Black Lives erupted and took a qualitative political leap by rejecting the leadership of Al Sharpton. The Black misleadership class has made itself irrelevant to the needs of the oppressed. It continues to hold onto the Democratic Party's ship even as it circles the drain by defending the unmitigated plunder of the people and planet. Self-determination must be conceptualized beyond the politics of representation and toward a politics of power. The trail of money and career opportunity that gave rise to the existence of the Black misleadership class leads straight to the true managers of imperialist state. Self-determination requires their complete overthrow in place of socialist rule. And the Black misleadership class will be there to arrest this development every step of the way.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can firstname.lastname@example.org