I campaign on behalf of Obama because his candidacy is a welcomed watershed in American political and emotional culture. Locke observed in The New Negro, 1925, that African Americans were often described as a problem, “something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be ‘kept down,’ or ‘in his place,’ or ‘helped up,’ to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a social bogy or a social burden.” By constantly explaining or categorizing African American behavior as simply caused by their racial natures, social condition, or the elixir of their social type it became common to not even credit African Americans with the authorship of their artistic creations. In a similar way, political progressives often explain why Africans Americans, whether in urban cities or rural communities with majority African American populations, do not vote for their candidates nor are their candidates capable of overcoming the obstacles placed in their way. The explanations are accounts that tell us that African Americans were not in control of their actions. Their actions were caused on such accounts, more often than not, by nefarious agents and oppressive forces compelling them to have false consciousness or act in ways that compromise their true desires.
I assume that African Americans are agents. They decide and are creators. Obama’s candidacy, I believe, requires an explanation that takes account of African Americans as agents – whether or not we like the expression of their agency, especially when that agency is manifested as American nationalism, patriotism, and acceptance of the existing system.
The desire to create a separate nation, overthrow the ruling class, or elect representatives from a party other than Democrat or Republican are arguably desires which are consequences of deep condemnation of racism, capitalism and American nationalism. The importance of feeling pride and vicarious dignity by identifying with Obama may outweigh otherwise deep condemnation or it may be a preference determined by the fact that the alternatives are completely unacceptable. But such a socio-psychological explanation is nonetheless than explanation. And like all social explanations, it presupposes that agency is not a function of volitions – desires are responses to or a function of the logic of external conditions..
Obama said on October 29, 2008, “Power concedes nothing without a fight.” Shortly thereafter, Steve Wonder’s “Here I am Baby” played, and after that, a country/western tune,” Only in America” by Brooks & Dunn. In the context of his political campaign, Wonder’s song romanticized Obama as an anointed agent and Brooks & Dunn’s song expressed American exceptionalism and patriotism. The two use similar instruments and a common language.
It is this happy, or unhappy, coincidence that requires not an explanation (it is obviously the politics of an-a-racial appeal) but a dialogue about what it is to be a progressive, anti-racists internationalist and in favor of deeply dedicated African American -American nationalist.
It is as much some of Obama’s policies that I favor as it is what the campaign makes possible for social communication – it provides a sense of dignity for African Americans making possible greater communicative confidence and for others’ a sense of being a-racial activists. Both agents favor similar policies. They form, in a sense, a new coalitional union.
Coalitional inferences are traits we infer or attribute to persons qua their person, without empirical evidence about them. Two women who are strangers, for example, in a crowd of men may trust one another in ways that they do not trust the men who are equally strangers. Such inferences are not identical to ones about kinds, such as rocks. Properties of kinds are attributed to each and every member of the kind. Thus, racists treat each African American as embodying traits of the population generally. Inferences about trust for kinds are ubiquitous; inferences about coalitional relations are capable of being variegated. Even persons that generally distrust African Americans as a people are capable of trusting an African American as a leader. Although, for all of America’s history, both kinds of inferences were so deeply imbedded in racism that both sorts of inferences precluded African Americans from gaining national as leaders. Usually, the openness of racist hostility toward African Americans is public only when it involves sensation criminal attacks. However, Obama’s campaign has been an occasion for every social segment to hear, see and witness open racism and hostility. Insults directed at Obama are public in a way that racism discloses itself, unwittingly. Obama’s candidacy has enhanced the recognition of racism within American popular culture by whites – a recognition that has increasingly become efficacious for more competent communication.
Obama was paraphrasing Frederick Douglas from his 1857 “It There is No Struggle, There is No Progress” when he said “Power concedes nothing without a fight.”
“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”