A Note on Fear, An Admission on Compromise, and a Side Eye at the Obama Scale

On March 4th, 1933, Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to officially be inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States. For the most part, Presidential inaugurations fail to strike me as particularly remarkable (white guys giving speeches, it’s lit), but these were, without a shadow of a doubt, quite remarkable times. FDR was to give a speech to not only accept the Presidency but to address the pervasive anxieties facing the nation as the country was toiling in the middle of a global economic disaster. It was during this very speech that Roosevelt would utter the words that are now etched into American history, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”:

“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” -FDR

I’m of the Obama Generation, so my conception of presidential inaugurations is informed a bit differently: a blisteringly cold Washington D.C., citizens and non-citizens of all colors and creeds breathing in the mythology of the day, while exhaling what was surely our icy breath but, nostalgia tends to be feverishly warm so, so as not to dishonor our guest, we will call it hope. The nation had just elected its first black President in the wake of the inadequacy of a two term Bush Administration, an inadequacy that had placed us before our greatest economic threat since the Depression. Many saw this as a sign of the beginning of the end of an era, if not because of the symbolism, then at the very least because we needed it.

The inauguration of the man known as FDR happened under a haze both familiar and unfamiliar. The United States was in the fog of the Great Depression and Almighty Democracy was failing, dictatorships were rising, a global arms race was picking up steam, and, most significantly, the racist hierarchy of the South was on the verge of being not only questioned but challenged. Whereas the nation had the placebo of hope to keep it warm in 2008, the 1933 crowd was not quite afforded the same privilege. America was dealt an inordinate amount of fear, and it was unsure as to how it would overcome this fear as well as the very real circumstances the country faced. So FDR, of course, attempted to reign in this fear in order to combat it. But lo and behold, as American history has illustrated to us time and time again, when (White) Americans are given fear, they resort to not only fighting fire with fire but with brimstone and then some as well. Ultimately, all they had left to breathe back into the world was a sulfurous terror made real, much to the dismay of none other than its black citizens.

The Great Depression had the entire nation swaddled in a suffocating blanket of despair and, after taking more than a few cues from the rising dictatorships of Europe, America emerged from its cocoon with a series of executive plans that came to be known as The New Deal. The New Deal brought about a slew of programs designed to offer relief to struggling citizens after capitalism essentially ate itself but, to make a long story short, with Democratic fear of upsetting “southern traditions” (re: white supremacy) and Republican complicity (re: also white supremacy), Congress collectively made sure to exclude black citizens from just about all relief and recovery proposals. Furthermore, lynchings, the number of which had, according to reports reached 8 in 1932, had risen to 28 in 1933. This uptick in terrorism was ignored by the Roosevelt Administration and Congress, so as to not disturb the Democratic south, which at the time held the congressional majority.

Over the next three Presidential terms, as the Second World War raged on and questions of freedom and its varying hues became less and less elusive, Congress successfully went through the gymnastics of expanding the sacred right to vote, the act of which is often portrayed as a symbol of freedom itself. Over these same three Presidential terms, Congress also successfully went through the contortions of openly denying black folks that same right in the name of maintaining white supremacy. In the midst of a global disaster whites were given support, whereas black folks were dealt both silence and deafening terror. White folks took their fear and conjured it into something they could force upon their fellow citizens, black and, too, afraid. However, while Whites were afraid of the unknown in addition to “an inversion of the racial hierarchy” via suffrage, black folks were afraid of that same murky darkness as well as blinding white dominion. In America, this formula is consistently referred to as “compromise”, this compromise in particular being one that has helped elevate President Roosevelt into the canon of Great American Presidents.

Because of white fear in the midst of the Great Depression, black Americans were dealt an empty hand, the effects of which, as history is typically wont, can be felt to this day. White Americans’ suffering was recognized and they were subsequently given a hand up, Black Americans’ suffering was actively ignored and we were given a definitive finger (re: fuck you). And so it goes and so it has gone.

Fast forward to today and a version of those same southern Democrats’ worst fear has come true: President Barack Obama, on January 20th 2008, broke tradition and became the nation’s first black President. After centuries of relegating black folks to places, things, ideas, animals, hell, everything but actual people, a black man had assumed the most powerful political sat in the world. Those same Democrats’ offspring, now called Republicans, through rhetoric and obstruction have fearfully posed, Could this man be the one to make the party’s nightmares real?

Lol.

Barack Obama is arguably one of the finest President’s this country has ever had. Faced with the greatest economic threat to our country since the Great Depression under policies put in place by the Bush Administration, our 44th President took his now familiar mantle of compromiser and pulled us through. Recognizing the country’s healthcare crisis, POTUS championed the Affordable Care Act, ironically crowned Obamacare, attempting to afford healthcare to all American citizens. While still painfully incomplete, President Obama, through compromise, pushed forward a bill that we could admire.

Barack Obama is, surely, one of the finest presidents this country has ever had. That being said, Obama’s presidency has been filled with certain moments that I have found at best disappointing and, at worst, insulting. The majority of such instances are those concerning good ol’ fashioned American racism.

Much of President Obama’s ethos has been built on his willingness to compromise. Indeed, he entered the office with the idea that compromise between Democrats and Republicans would be the key to bringing about the change many so ardently hoped his presidency could make tangible. As we fix our eyes on the sunset of the Obama presidency, however, we have overwhelmingly and detrimentally seen quite an amount of evidence that points towards the contrary. Largely Republican opposition to Barack Obama’s very existence as POTUS has brought about the notorious 8 year long gridlock in Congress, impeding the progress and change President Obama and his supporters had originally hoped for. And this gridlock has not been brought about due to any honest ideological dissent from President Obama’s politics. POTUS has largely remained a centrist his entire Presidency. Hell, the Affordable Care Act, presently being touted as the scourge of Obama’s legacy by the GOP, was originally a Republican idea. Obstructionism in Congress is, quite simply, due to the mere fact that President Obama is Black. Though this obstruction, not only have these past 8 years been instrumental in my conception of the ceremonial exigencies of the presidency, but in my conception of the sheer tenacity of white supremacy itself. Even in the

Maybe two months back, President Obama responded to a question during a town hall meeting regarding Colin Kaepernick’s recent protests during the national anthem. Kaepernick, a quarterback for the 49ers, has decided to take a knee during the national anthem, an unapologetically racist song supposedly meant to symbolize fighting for freedom, in order to protest the fact that said freedoms aren’t actually being equally distributed. Simple enough, right?

As much as I hate to say it, each time I hear Obama speak on something concerning racism, a small, shrinking part of me always hopes he’ll respond in a Dead Mike cadence à la CB4. Thankfully the bigger, sturdier me braces himself for the disappointment’s recoil. POTUS followed up to the question by presenting his trademark scale:

“…I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. I also want people to think about the pain that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.”

So, a few things:

  1. Nigga stop.
    1. Throughout his Presidency Obama has consistently pulled this “Gotta see both sides” thing whenever racism comes up and its upsetting that someone so intelligent makes such disingenuous arguments so boldly and consistently.
  1. Nigga please.
    1. Let’s not pretend that this presentation of patriotism isn’t simply white supremacy cloaked in a bloody red, white and blue cape. I’m not sure how Colin Kaepernick is disrespecting the troops by saying that the government permits their risks to be in vain. Furthermore, week after week, month after month, we’ve seen the Republican Nominee for President, Donald Trump, disrespect the United States military in ways previously unfathomable.  
  1. Nigga, what?
    1. may be expressing” “they think was unfairly shot”. Obama talks about black people like we’re ghosts, entities who are here but not really here.

It is almost as if President Obama, and liberals more broadly, see racism, mostly, in the abstract. As an idea rather than the hollowing ache that rises from the fulfillment of a nightmare as old as the nation itself. An idea, rather than a 4 year old black girl having to comfort her pleading mother as her boyfriend lay dying in the front seat after being shot by a man sworn to “serve and protect”. An idea, rather than an innocent black woman not knowing that her last moments of life would be spent in a jail cell. An idea, rather than the stubborn reality that is an all too palpable American elevation of whiteness. He treasures the “symbol” of freedom more than freedom itself. It is this abstraction of oppression that affords some liberals peace of mind when choosing to fund the reconstruction of a burned down GOP office in North Carolina or permits hate speech to be seen as “diversity of opinion” at universities (and Facebook) or allows a little under 10% of the US population to receive scraps of aid in the midst of a global economic meltdown. All of these things necessarily position hate as an ideology rather than a system of beliefs both conscious and unconscious that have very real effects on the lives of its victims.

In telling black folks to consider the feelings of veterans families when protesting what he sees as possible racism, President Obama is continuing a prevailing tradition that falls in line with the same traditions promoted during the era of the New Deal. Black people’s own struggle with the economic disaster was disregarded so that white supremacy would live another day. Again, our feelings and lived experiences are disregarded and sacrificed for the sake of white comfort not only in the form of an attempt to silence the protest, but also to maintain the very thing being protested: police brutality. Any honest conversation and any attempt at stopping police brutality would be an affront to status quo racism, and that is what people fear, not disrespect for the American military.  As long as we see white people’s fear as more legitimate than black people’s pain, these sorts of compromises will always be common place in American politics. Politics are, by their very nature, vehicles running on compromise. But America’s actions are not built in the spirit of true compromise so much as the spirit of abuse innate in WS itself. White supremacy is a sickness in which the only relief from white fear is black pain.

Barack Obama is undoubtedly the finest President this country has ever seen. But I don’t have the privilege of allowing comparative American Presidential performance to be the metric of what me and people who look like me deserve. I am tired. Tired of suppressing my feelings for other folks perceived well-being. Real tired of sacrificing my actual well-being for those who dismiss it as an errant spirit.

When we compromise with white fear, we’re not merely making political concessions; we are feeding the same beast that got us into this predicament in the first place. White people aren’t feeling pain when we protest; they’re feeling the fear that comes whenever someone tugs on the ivory brick at America’s foundation. Donald Trump and the emboldening of his followers are purely a product of this fear. History has shown that white folks will watch the world burn, both ours and their own, in the name of the racial hierarchy, southern tradition, racism, white supremacy, racial tensions, however the devil wishes to be addressed. And that’s what I fear the most. So FDR was wrong. In the midst of terrorism, black folks have everything to fear, including fear itself. We always have. But it isn’t our fear of which we are leery.

1 Comment

  • Shelly Freshness November 1, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Great read,,, truth

    Reply

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