On November 5, 2008, America elected its first black president. As argued in chapters 4 and 7 of this volume, this momentous event will not, in itself, move the United States forward in a progressive direction. Indeed, as noted in chapter 7, there are no significant indications of a major change in policy.
The London Evening Standard billboard at Kings Cross Station announced on the day of the election victory, ‘Obama Mania: Shares Surge’, thus vindicating instantaneously interest convergence—but not in CRT parlance between people of color and white people per se—more a shared interest in the election of a black Democrat between people of color and national (and international) capital. As Anindya Bhattacharyya (2008, p. 7) points out, while 73 percent of the poorest households (with an annual income of less than $15,000) voted for Barack Obama, so did 52 percent of the richest households (those earning over $200,000 a year). Top-down corporate mobilization for Obama, as Bhattacharyya (ibid.) points out, meant that by ‘mid-October [Obama] had raised a massive war chest of $640 million and spent $250 million on TV advertising’, while McCain’s October budget was $47 million (ibid.). Moreover, as Alex Lantier (2008) points out, Obama’s transition team is co-chaired by a Chicago real-estate magnate, and a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and head of the Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm. The team employs 450 people and has a budget of $12 million. The co-chairs of the U.S. Treasury review team are an investment banker, and the chief operating officer of a Washington lobbying firm Stonebridge International © The Author(s) 2017
M. Cole, Critical Race Theory and Education, DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-95079-9
LLC, while the co-chairs of the State Department review team are a former top lobbyist for U.S. mortgage giant Fannie Mae and a top employee at the Albright Group, an international lobbying firm founded by Clinton administration secretary of state Madeleine Albright.
The presence of this corporate capitalist machine behind Obama is not to deny the symbolic importance of Obama’s victory. The unmitigated joy and pride of the people of color of America and elsewhere transmitted globally surely brought tears to the eyes of even the most cynical antiracist. However, in CRT terms, as I argued on p. 89 of this volume, the election of Obama may well be a major instance of a contradiction-closing case—it might become more difficult to uphold charges of racism in that deeply racist society: how can America now be racist, when a black child can become president? Historian Simon Schama told the BBC that this election ‘wipes away America’s original sin’ (Weaver 2008), while five days after Obama’s election, a black reader, Winston Drake, wrote to a free UK-based newspaper (Metro, November 10, 2008, p. 18): ‘[t]here is now absolutely no reason for black people to complain they are mistreated racially’. The election of a black president will not end racism in the United States. If the arguments of this book are right, if racialization occurs in relation to varying requirements of the capitalist mode of production, then racism will exist as long as capitalism does. Capitalism’s abolition is a necessary if not a sufficient step in doing away with it (San Juan Jr. 2008).
On the same day as Drake’s letter appeared in the Metro, Guardian columnist Gary Younge (2008, p. 27) provided some more realistic grounds for optimism, noting, that ‘tens of thousands of volunteers’ worked for Obama (The Guardian, p. 27), and that ‘the most interesting thing about Obama has always been his base ... the black, the young, the Latino and the poor’ (ibid.) (as indicated by the percentages above). Younge goes on, ‘[n]ow we’ll see whether this electoral base has the will and wherewithal to transform itself into a potential movement that might both support and challenge him’ (ibid.). As one of the new President’s volunteers, Steve Thompson, reminded us ‘Obama kept saying, it’s not about me. It’s about you’ (cited in ibid.). Younge (ibid.) concludes
The first act is over. The question now is who will write act two? The protagonists should not cede the stage, lest the powerful shape the narrative.
Indeed. For Marxists, these temporary celebrations must be translated into calls for the end of the system that sustains and promotes racism, imperialist wars, class exploitation, and other injustices. Only with the demise of capitalism can celebration be long lasting. Only then can symbol become real and material. In addition to the fact that the massively discredited Bush is no longer of use to capitalists, the election of a more ‘liberal’ and apparently more pro-worker (but in reality just as pro-capitalist and imperialist—see pp. 89-90 of this volume) president makes it easier to manage the workers as a class, to control their organizations, and to make sure it is not the rich (other than perhaps a symbolic handful) who pay for the current financial crisis (Dave Hill’s comments on this postscript). However, as Anthony Green has pointed out (his comments on this postscript), there are some grounds for optimism, given that the election victory has come at a time when the inherent instability of capitalism is there for all to see and to experience. The inevitability of ‘boom and slump’ in the capitalist system, paradigmatic for Marxists, is firmly on the international agenda, and can provide grounds for optimism of the will (Antonio Gramsci, Letter from Prison, 9 December 1929) and cause for a renewal of energy for all progressive people. Moreover, it provides space for educators to nail the lie that ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) to neoliberal capitalism; it provides a lacuna to debate the real alternative to capitalism and imperialism. A debate about Marxism and socialism is not only more possible, it is also more necessary than ever.
Bhattacharyya, A. (2008, November 15). The movement behind Obama. Socialist Worker. Available: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=16399.
Accessed 19 Nov 2008.
Lantier, A. (2008). Obama’s transition: A who’s who of imperialist policy. World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Available: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/ nov2008/pers-n19.shtml. Accessed 19 Nov 2008.
San Juan Jr. E. (2008). From race/racism to class struggle: On critical race theory. The Philippines Matrix Project: Interventions toward a National-Democratic Socialist Transformation. Available: http://philcsc.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/from- raceracism-to-class-struggle-on-critical-race-theory/. Accessed 21 Nov 2008.
Weaver, M. (2008). Live blog: Barack Obama’s victory sinks in. The Guardian. Available http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/deadlineusa/2008/nov/05/ barackobama. Accessed 31 Dec 2008.
Younge, G. (2008, November). Obama’s army of supporters must maintain their level of activism. The Guardian, November 10. https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2008/nov/10/barack-obama-supporters-campaign.