From the September-October 2015 issue of News & Letters
When Barack Obama made his debut at the Democratic convention in 2004, he gave the keynote address. Everyone in attendance and those watching on TV witnessed the emergence of a gifted orator on the bourgeois political stage. Over the years President Obama has been in office, the issue of race relations has risen to the fore and he has spoken clearly, with a balanced viewpoint to provide an avenue for a deeper understanding of the issue (see, for example, the speech he gave in the wake of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy).
We knew Obama would seize the moment in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down with eight others on June 26 in Charleston, South Carolina, Obama did two things: 1) give the needed voice to oppose the persistent, virulent racism in this country, and 2) say something about gun control.
True to form, Obama spoke well in addressing both points. He delivered a fine tribute to Reverend Pinckney, a young man who, in spite of certain racial barriers, made significant strides in his short life. It made those of us unaware of the young state senator of South Carolina able to see the contributions he could have made to the progress of human equality. This, in a state whose first act was to preserve the peculiar institution—the brutal mental and physical subjugation of New Afrikan people—via its secession from the union, and subsequent bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.
South Carolina has made some degree of progress in race relations since the Civil War. But the killing of nine church members came from the same seeds of thought that ignited the Civil War.
Given the rash of recent killings of New Afrikan men and women by the so-called enforcement officials and the hideous tragedy in Charleston, it is no longer practical to allow the apologists of Amerikan culture to claim these were simply acts of aberrant enforcement officials or wayward persons who lost touch with reality. Such claims preclude critical examination of the deep-seated roots of Amerikan culture and the need to radically address the core issues which give rise to the racism in the country.
WHICH WAY FORWARD?
During the eulogy Obama touched on several themes from the Civil Rights era and the present: the continuous struggle for quality public education, greater access to higher education, an end to discrimination in hiring, unbiased policing, and a fair justice system. Of course, he was greatly limited by his position as president. To go beyond the rules of bourgeois order, to call for a more radical solution to address the many social ills plaguing the country would have been an act of political suicide.
Nonetheless, we, who relentlessly yearn for freedom, cannot show reluctance to articulate a philosophical direction that is not only capable of transcending the racial divide but remedies other social ills.
There is potential in the multi-dimensional voices from below searching for a common but singular ideal. Human emancipation as the primal want is totally inseparable from its essential component, i.e., free, conscious activity.
This is the direction humanity needs to take. The pathways to reach such a level of human social interaction will be as diverse as the voices from below. There is no road map for humanity to follow.