The victim mentality


by Sunny
30th April, 2008 at 11:38 pm    

Boy, I think this was my toughest article on comment is free. It took so much re-wording that my head was hurting last night.

Anyway, following the controversy over Rev Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama, I thought i’d make a broader point about the dynamics with minority communities on “speaking out” and raising your head above the parapet etc.

What I like about Obama is that the man has to walk a very difficult tightrope. The Clintons and Republicans are doing everything to make it about his race, in coded terms (how patriotic are you really??), while Obama has to sit there and take it. He can’t acknowledge that shit because as soon as he does, they’ll just brand him a whiny black man complaining about racism. Its just not the done thing when you want to transcend race.

Anyway, here’s the article…

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I suspect black households across America are currently embroiled in vicious debates about Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Since over 90% of Democrat-voting African Americans have supported Obama, I doubt many would be pleased to see his own former pastor determined to speak “truth to power” even if it sinks the Illinois senator.

But there were many, notably at the NAACP dinner where Wright said criticism levelled at him was an attack on black churches, who were supportive of his “bombastic” attitude.

In many ways this goes to the heart of how minority groups communicate with whites in western democracies, a debate that has had more airing in America than in the UK. But given the background of terrorism and a feeling here that we are unsure of our own national identity, it is more important than ever.

Context is important here. Where minority groups congregate, whether that be online, in a mosque or a community hall, a different language is spoken on contentious issues such as racism and xenophobia. America’s black churches clearly offer a safe house for African Americans to come together as a community and air their grievances. It’s not about resolving issues, sometimes it’s just about venting their anger.

Racism emasculates people – it makes them feel belittled. Black churches and other such “safe spaces” fulfil a vital role by trying to convert that feel of emasculation and anger into empowerment, which may involve criticising the establishment heavily. The establishment is, after all, the main reason why inequality persists.

I’m generalising here for the sake of brevity – not all such places are the same. A forum populated by young British Asians is likely to be less about racism (and more about flirting) than a gathering place where members of the first generation meet.

According to the Washington Post, Wright said the black church tradition was neither bombastic nor controversial but misunderstood by the “dominant culture” in the US. Maybe, but that is neither here nor there. The problem, as it became apparent over the weekend, is that Wright was only interested in preaching to his flock. Obama meanwhile is trying to straddle two different worlds and speak to a wider audience. And therein lies the conflict and what makes this dialogue so difficult.

Britain has its own Wright in the form of Dr Mohammad Naseem, chairman of Birmingham mosque, who infamously refused to believe 7/7 could have been the work of British Muslims and claimed the videotape by Mohammad Sidique Khan was doctored.

Where there’s a crossover, a clash occurs. People such as Wright and Naseem want to communicate the hurt and anger, which makes them popular within their own flocks, but does nothing to address the concerns of the majority. There is no dialogue, only confrontation.

Its an unfortunate fact that most “community leaders” of minorities in Britain and the US are more interested in pandering to their own base than taking part in a discussion that bridges the gap. Hence the continuous stream of gaffes by Muslim leaders here, including that letter on terrorism and foreign policy.

This is what made Martin Luther King so compelling. He spoke of black people lifting themselves, not by denigrating white people but by speaking to both communities in a language whites and blacks could identify with. We have a modern Martin Luther King in the form of Barack Obama, but he’s being dragged down by the us versus them politics that has become so ingrained.

That is not to say only minorities should make the effort. Trying to get white people to talk about racism is like … well, trying to get white people to talk about racism, concluded one very astute blogger.

It’s too easy to slice and dice quotes from Wright and Naseem and paint them as nutters without bothering to pay any attention to what they were saying. A modern media environment that thrives on sensationalism only makes this worse.

The real problem is that trying to get anyone to talk about their own hypocrisy is difficult. Brown people certainly are not averse to bigotry and xenophobia themselves, and boy do they hate it when confronted with this fact. Similarly some whites pretend they’ve never benefited from past privilege.

But rather than acknowledge that no one is perfect and have an honest dialogue on that basis, people prefer to see themselves as victims. In Britain the victim mentality is everywhere.

We’re the victims of Muslim terrorists and black kids with guns, while they’re the victims of our foreign policy and policing. The aggressors, depending on who you speak to, are: Europe, the establishment, the police, political correctness, New Labour, the BNP, Jews, Muslims, bloggers, yobs, pregnant young girls, large corporations, the Chinese, Iranians, radical preachers, bendy buses, hippies, libertarians and so on. We’ve become a nation of victims. To each it’s inconceivable of course how the other could be the victim when they themselves are.

There is a serious point to be made here. Freedom of speech is a bit useless if you’re not willing to hear what the other has to say, and why. We have to understand each other’s language and motivations otherwise all we get is a series of confrontations.

Journalists want soundbites and three-minute packages; bloggers want to shoot first and ask later; newspapers take harmless remarks and skew them. No one wants to deconstruct what’s going on, not even the BBC.

I’m trying to avoid sounding like I’m complaining here because its an obvious point to make. When a “leader” of a minority background wants to communicate with whites, they have to speak to both, not just their own flock. And vice versa.

During our mayoral elections Boris Johnson belatedly realised that London isn’t Henley and that there were reasons why ethnic minorities support Ken Livingstone overwhelmingly – the latter doesn’t talk about them just in the context of terrorism or immigration. Suddenly Boris was crowing about his Muslim heritage and trying to “out-ethnic” Asian DJs.

Similarly, when British Muslims want to challenge their own community leaders or question the narrative on terrorism (that it’s all about the Iraq war), they get shouted down by those who accuse them of being sellouts. I’ve faced the same claim many of times.

To Wright, Obama has now become a sellout and part of the establishment, which is why he doesn’t care if Obama gets buried. But he forgets that African Americans voted for Obama precisely because they long to get past that us versus them divide, and so the backlash has started.

Wright should have kept his mouth shut but instead, as Michael Tomasky pointed out, he needs to re-affirm his righteous view that America is too racist to elect a black president. And there’s nothing more annoying than being a called a sellout/dhimmi/wet-liberal when you’re trying to build bridges.

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  1. king very vicious

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  1. Chris Paul — on 1st May, 2008 at 1:01 am  

    OFF TOPIC SORRY: Meanwhile I’ve just caught up with an intriguing story from Whalley Range, Manchester. You know, home of the Tory defective with the legover problem, and the Labour Bird Amina Lone who Amir Khan’s manager moaned about …. and what’s this? Home too of the first known collaboration between Tories and Hizb_ut-Tahrir in pursuing a hothead plus ballot box strategy.

  2. Leon — on 1st May, 2008 at 1:03 am  

    SPAMMER! :P

  3. Anas — on 1st May, 2008 at 1:04 am  

    Sorry Sunny, but Obama has little more in common with Martin Luther King than the colour of his skin. MLK stood for the oppressed, the poor, the disadvantaged, at home and abroad: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” Obama is for the rich, and the powerful, and imperialism abroad. If MLK were alive today, you can bet your ass Obama would be distancing himself from him.

  4. Sunny — on 1st May, 2008 at 2:25 am  

    Let me guess Anas, he hasn’t been as loving of the Palestinians as you’d like him to.

  5. Jodha — on 1st May, 2008 at 4:45 am  

    Interesting analysis Sunny. As you say it is a difficult tightrope to enter that liminal space you describe. How do you ‘compromise’ to become an ‘inter-cultural broker,’ but maintain legitimacy in your own community that does not have democratic institutions that generally confer legitimacy outside of particular ‘religious’ spaces (be it the Gurdwara, Masjid, or for Reverend Wright the black church)? Who can/should speak for a community? Or should there be a number of voices with none claiming a monopoly?

    Most can only engage in a zero-sum game where there can only be winners and losers or to use your title victims and perpetrators.

    Rare are those individuals like Guru Nanak or MLK that often in hindsight are seen to lift the values, ethics, and principals of all. While I am not sure if Obama will be that person, I do commend him on trying to tread that path.

  6. Bhargavi — on 1st May, 2008 at 8:49 am  

    Great article … especially for threading the needle on the issue of minorities needing to assert themselves positively without crying victim yet not being seen as a “sellout”

    I agree with you on Obama as a modern-day MLK … not just in terms of us-vs-them racial politics … but for recasting the foreign policy debate beyond the US/Israel agenda-vs-all others of old …. we only have to look at Clinton’s ‘obliterate Iran’ comments to see how Obama stands out and apart ….

  7. douglas clark — on 1st May, 2008 at 10:15 am  

    I agree with Bharqavi, that is one of your best ever articles on CiF. Worth the headache!

    I am disappointed in the whole arguement that liberalism, which at it’s best ought to be about walking in another mans shoes, is being subverted by not just seperate styles of shoes for different folk, but different shoe shops entirely.

  8. billericaydicky — on 1st May, 2008 at 10:34 am  

    I think the problem that Obama has is that when he went to Wright’s church for the first time twenty years ago and began to listen to the rhetoric he had no idea where he would be now.

    To quote another blackracist Malcolm X, “The Chickens are coming home to roost”. Wright is certainly no MLK. The problem with making the kind of speeches that Wright has made is that they are not intended for a wide audience.

    They are essentially of the kind that are made in various non English languages in Mosques every day. They are like the ones that Nick Griffin made to a private BNP meeting which resulted in his being charged with inciting racial hatred from which he walked.

    There is no question of his being misunderstood. Always ask yourselves what was said? Apologists for Louis Farrakhan like Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote are always saying that he has been misquoted. But he did say tha Jews practise a gutter religion. He said the same thing in a Spanish newspaper which I translated.

    Yes he has partly blamed 9/11 on America and the Birmingham Mosque wallah said similar things about 7/7. These statements are racist and noone can defend them in any shape or form. They are in a tradition of Ian Paisley saying Catholics will go to hell and apartheid South African and southern Us pastors denigrating white people.

    I had a look at the blog of Portly Dyke and had a sense of deja vue. I thought I was back in the days of Red Ken and the loony left GLC. Listen to this. “Many(if not most) white people have very little awareness of their privilege as white people” This cracker certainly doesn’t.

    This Friday and Sunday in Mosques and black churches across this country you will hear some of the most vile anti white and anti semitic racism which, if said publicly, would result in prosecutions. You will not hear it on Saturday in the Synogogue or in the multi racial Catholic chuch my mother goes to.

    Get real people, Wright is as much a racist as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan!

  9. bananabrain — on 1st May, 2008 at 11:18 am  

    *i’ve* heard stuff in synagogues. not in a very virulent form, i should point out, but more along the lines of “non-jews don’t really like us” and chauvinist comments about how much more enlightened we are, along the level of “non-catholics are going to hell” sort of thing. it’s not a dominant part of the discourse and is to be found almost exclusively in the more ultra-orthodox sectors, but it’s there all right. i’d be surprised if it wasn’t.

    and, billericaydicky, if you read malcolm x’s autobiography, which i recommend, it becomes abundantly clear that he had a complete change of heart about his racism when he decided to ditch the “nation of islam” loonies and discover proper islam.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  10. cjcjc — on 1st May, 2008 at 1:49 pm  

    I have considerable doubts about Obama’s veracity.

    But this is one the best written articles I have read on CiF.

  11. Rumbold — on 1st May, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

    Very good article Sunny. However, I partly agree with Anas in that the comparison between Obama and Martin Luther King is fairly silly. Dr. King knew that only blacks and whites together could create a better society, so he appealed to the nation. Obama is trying to win support outside the black constituency not because he is a ‘post-race’ figure, but because he knows that he cannot win the presidency otherwise. That is not to say that Obama doesn’t believe in uniting the nation either, just that the comparison is not valid.

  12. billaricaydicky — on 1st May, 2008 at 3:05 pm  

    Bananabrain,

    I read the ” autobiography” over thirty years ago and it is on my bookshelf as I write this. It was in fact ghost written by Alex Haley who wrote “Roots”. He had in fact plagiarised that from a white author and ended up paying a shed load of dollars after he was sued.

    For most of his active political life Malcolm X was a white hating anti semite, his seeming conversion eighteen months before he was murdered is commendable, but as far as I am concerned, not very convincing. He had simply set up another business in opposition to Elijah Mohommed and it was a case of rubbing out a business rival!

  13. Cover Drive — on 1st May, 2008 at 3:21 pm  

    A lot less shouting at each other and a little more listening. It would solve a lot of the problems in world today. Sounds simple but so difficult in practice.

    The real problem is we are inherently selfish and always play the victim card.

    I disagree that Obama is a MLK. Maybe his rhetoric sounds similar but so far that is about it as far as similarities go.

  14. Dalbir — on 1st May, 2008 at 3:50 pm  

    What would uniting a nation exactly entail?

    It occasionally strikes me that libertarians, in some utopic dream, seem to lack the understanding that many people actually like what I can only describe as cultural borders between communities. This provides a feeling of safety and predictability in their lives and ensures cultural survival. I’m not talking about a ghetto mentality here but essentially the conservation of some of those factors that form the identity of a community in the traditional sense of the word.

    Just because people are different from my own community doesn’t necessarily mean I have to judge and hate them. Most of this hatred actually appears when people believe those increasingly fragile constructs that give a sense of oneness and belonging are being attacked or eroded by others. This is no way justifies many insular communities lack of reflection for improvements but perceived attacks often lead to a predictable ‘siege mentality’ and the result is usually excessive conservatism or at worst fundamentalism. both of which, in their own twisted ways, serve the save purpose – preservation.

    You don’t have to look far for clear evidence of the SERIOUS abuse of black people in America’s past. I believe the true extent is actually hidden and played down. Given this is it at all surprising that people like Reverend Wright exist. This is a defence mechanism – and we need to ask what ‘offence’ has taken place that brought this about rather than engaging in blanket condemnations of people like Wright.

    But going back to Sunny’s point about trying straddle the bridge between minority ethnic groups and the whites (or anyone else) in power. Can you really say that those in power are actually in any sort of mood to willingly entertain other ideas that they believe will compromise their own hegemony? This is the root of the “white people don’t listen” syndrome talked about in the main article. And you’re right in highlighting a general human dislike of facing our own hypocrisy and privilege. The cognitive dissonance is generally just too much for most to take. Hence we see the natural result – people reacting angrily at not being listened to. Enter the Wrights of the world.

    Ethnic minority bridge builders need to realise that sometimes the bridge they are trying to build leads to a malignant force that thrives on surreptitiously dissolving community barriers and absorbing anything in its path within its own body. They cannot afford to be naive to this as often in the process of constructing their bridges they unwittingly become tools of this agenda. I am in no doubt that many white people, given the chance, would love to see us all as mirror images of themselves. So communities have good reasons to be a tad bit suspicious of these bridge builders lest they end up doing someone else’s dirty work for them.

    No disrespect to anyone. Very interesting topic.

  15. Anas — on 1st May, 2008 at 3:57 pm  

    Let me guess Anas, he hasn’t been as loving of the Palestinians as you’d like him t

    No, he was loving at one point in the past, or at least made his support of the Palestinians visible (i’m sure you’re aware of the photos of him sitting at a table with that well known terrorist supporter Edward Said), but obviously now he has to run for power and sell himself to those that matter his ideas of justice and injustice have all changed — as was exemplified by his utterly craven support of the Gaza siege.

    And regardless of your use to a personal dig to avoid the point, it’s not just Palestinians, it’s Iraq, it’s Iran . In fact compare the MLK quote I gave above (““I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” ) with Obama’s own words in support of America’s imperial ambitions clothed in the usual helpful dichotomies about good and evil:

    ” I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth. We just have to show the world why this is so. This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open. And it’s time to fill that role once more.” More here.

    Greatest purveyor of violence in the world today v. last best hope. Post WW2 when did America lead the world in battling immediate evils and promting the ultimate good? (Or to quote MLK: “Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America “you are too arrogant, and if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God. Men will beat their swords into plowshafts and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations shall not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore.” I don’t know about you, I ain’t going to study war anymore.”)

    And it’s not just his foreign policy, it’s his extreme deference to big business ( Wall Street), and the wealthy. Again compare that to MLK who spoke out passionately and oh so eloquently for the poor both Black and White against the wealthy and the powerful: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

    Whatever you think of Obama however much you want to glorify the man, you have to admit his priority now is to get into power, and he will pretty much do whatever it takes to pursue that aim, make whatever compromises he needs to give or take a few meaningless platitiudes designed to get liberals feeling good about themselves — that’s understandable, without all his concessions to expediency he wouldn’t be where he was. So to compare him to someone who said the following is a bit distasteful, IMHO:

    On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question–is it politic? Vanity asks the question–is it popular? Conscience asks the question–is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challence facing modern man

  16. Anas — on 1st May, 2008 at 4:10 pm  

    corr:And regardless of your use *of* a personal dig to avoid the point

    I’d written “resort to a personal dig” but changed my mind at the last minute.

  17. Anas — on 1st May, 2008 at 4:16 pm  

    It’s also interesting your different perspective on the “pandering” of community leaders to their communities with the pandering of Obama to what’s most politically expedient (incl. yes you guessed it, his changing attitudes towards Palestine, but also on many other issues), Sunny. Wish I had more time to dissect your article.

  18. Anas — on 1st May, 2008 at 4:20 pm  

    Corr: It’s also interesting your different perspective on the “pandering” of community leaders to their communities *compared* with the pandering of Obama to what’s most politically expedient (incl. yes you guessed it, his changing attitudes towards Palestine, but also on many other issues), Sunny. Wish I had more time to dissect your article.

    I should use the preview facility more, I guess.

  19. El Cid — on 1st May, 2008 at 4:21 pm  

    Very nice article Sunny.
    It’s been a while since I last related strongly to something on this site.

  20. Ravi Naik — on 1st May, 2008 at 6:28 pm  

    “I partly agree with Anas in that the comparison between Obama and Martin Luther King is fairly silly. Dr. King knew that only blacks and whites together could create a better society, so he appealed to the nation. Obama is trying to win support”

    The difference between MLK and Obama is not a subtle one: one is driven solely by ideology as a preacher, the other one must consider diplomacy, the art of reaching halfway, because it is not an absolute monarchy or dictatorship, and you can’t implement your ideology and beliefs, or you risk polarising the whole country – and not getting anything done.

    Anas description (#3) of Obama is truly idiotic in my view, and reminds me of those who voted for Ralph Nader back in 2000, because they thought there was no difference between Gore and Bush: both were imperialistic, for the rich, blah. The moral of that story is self-explanatory, and one I hope it does not repeat itself this year – that is, liberals and progressives not voting for Obama because he doesn’t share all their values.

  21. Anas — on 1st May, 2008 at 6:50 pm  

    Anas description (#3) of Obama is truly idiotic in my view, and reminds me of those who voted for Ralph Nader back in 2000, because they thought there was no difference between Gore and Bush: both were imperialistic, for the rich, blah. The moral of that story is self-explanatory, and one I hope it does not repeat itself this year – that is, liberals and progressives not voting for Obama because he doesn’t share all their values.

    No, the moral is to stop falling for charasmatic politicians who make little more than empty platitudinous statements about “hope”, “that things are gonna get better” and suchlike while in essence standing for the rich, privilege and imperialism like every other politician — remember Tony Blair?

    Oh yeah, and if the system is so rotten and corrupt that the only viable option is to vote for one of a pair of candidates both of whom stand for business, for war against the poor in other countries, for the wealthy and privilleged over the poor and unfortunate at home (as Bill Hicks put it the choice is for the puppet on the Left or the puppet on the right), then I’m convinced the only hope for politics is bottom-up, to start at the grassroots and build up movements and influence that way rather than this all-or-nothing reliance on empty rhetoric and magnetic personalities, expecting things that will clearly NOT be delivered. Maybe this is where the deluded devotees of the Obama cult should be directing their energies.

  22. Ravi Naik — on 1st May, 2008 at 7:45 pm  

    “No, the moral is to stop falling for charasmatic politicians who make little more than empty platitudinous statements about “hope””

    So how do you determine if a politician is worth of your vote? And Obama’s policies and plans (as well as Clinton’s) are well detailed in their respective sites, speeches and debates – and if you cared to follow you would know better.

    “vote for one of a pair of candidates both of whom stand for business, for war against the poor in other countries, for the wealthy and privilleged over the poor and unfortunate at home”

    I do understand that to you “opposing business” = tackling poverty, but that is very simplistic and naive. And how is supporting universal healthcare and reducing taxes for the middle class, while increasing taxes for the rich privileging the rich over the poor?

  23. Amrit — on 2nd May, 2008 at 12:39 pm  

    Sunny… THANK YOU for this article.

  24. Laban — on 2nd May, 2008 at 8:31 pm  

    “Where minority groups congregate, whether that be online, in a mosque or a community hall, a different language is spoken on contentious issues such as racism and xenophobia”

    It’s sometimes the same when majority (for the time being) groups congregate too, Sunny. But then, the ‘different language’ becomes evidence of their irredeemable racism !

    “We’ve become a nation of victims”

    One of the few entertaining features of PC is when two designated victim groups come into conflict and the poor Guardianista just don’t know what to do. Some people have tried to draw up a ‘hierarchy of victimhood’ (google for ‘victim poker’) but no attempts at drawing hard and fast rules seem to have been successful yet.

    In the case of serious trouble like the 2005 Aston/Lozells riot the rule was borrowed from Republican Ulster – “whatever you say, say nothing”.

  25. Sunny — on 2nd May, 2008 at 9:04 pm  

    It’s sometimes the same when majority (for the time being) groups congregate too, Sunny.

    you mean like Stormfront yes Laban? BNP.org.uk? Poor victims!

    is when two designated victim groups come into conflict and the poor Guardianista just don’t know what to do.

    I said this in an earlier article, if you want to feel compassion, sometimes you have to weigh up the options:
    See the Guilt-free Liberal:
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sunny_hundal/2007/09/the_guilt_free_liberal.html

  26. Sunny — on 4th May, 2008 at 8:23 pm  

    Anas – I think your criticisms are quite muddled. First, Obama isn’t anti-business, agreed. But then the political and economic climate in America is such that anyone advocating taking on business itself is a dead politician. You want to build a grass-roots movement? go ahead… but you’ll find that grassroots movements themselves won’t be built around whatever utopia you’re advocating.

    You have this idealized version and want to stick to it, even if it means ignoring how Americans think. Americans are mostly capitalist. That is a fact. By advocating to take on lobbies and rich companies that try to distort the political debate – Obama has gone further and more left wing than anyone. In fact the National Review called him the most “liberal” (meaning left-wing) of all Senators.

    If you can’t support such a man then you’re just an angry dude who doesn’t understand politics.

    My comparison with MLK was on the basis that both wanted to speak to different audiences together. MLK wans’t running for office and could get away with saying a lot a politician can’t. And besides, Obama was anti-war from the start anyway. There’s no pleasing people like you man. Go ahead – build your damn grassroots movement. You remind me of those SWP people handing out silly petitions at the high street.

    Obama’s own words in support of America’s imperial ambitions clothed in the usual helpful dichotomies about good and evil:

    This is an example of your blindness. He’s saying the ideal of a country is great, even if its past isn’t exactly covered in glory. There are many leftwing Americans who also opposed the wars and America’s previous imperial ambitions. Don’t they count as part of the picture??

    The fact you see this as an example of his “imperial ambitions” is so laughable that you should perhaps spend less time reading zmag for your own damn sanity.

  27. Sunny — on 4th May, 2008 at 8:26 pm  

    Jodha: How do you ‘compromise’ to become an ‘inter-cultural broker,’ but maintain legitimacy in your own community that does not have democratic institutions that generally confer legitimacy outside of particular ‘religious’ spaces

    Its a tight-rope. I think its important to point out the hypocrisy of each ‘group’ and also figure out a more inclusive narrative of the future. People love to idealise a future. They want to go to a better place. You have to articulate that and have a rough idea of how to get there.

    At the same time I don’t think you can avoid criticising ‘extremists’ whites or extremist blacks. You have to stick to the centre. You can’t avoid criticising your own community just to maintain an illusion of unity. And yet you have to understand the relate the concerns of the minority communities effectively. Language, I think, is very important.

    Thanks for your comments everyone else. Glad to hear it was worth the effort!

  28. Sunny — on 4th May, 2008 at 9:04 pm  

    Another point Anas – when was the last time the far left in America built a genuine massive grass-roots movement that didn’t fall apart after five minutes because of their infighting? Do you know?? Its because they bloody well can’t, because they live for ideological purity rather than building coalitions that may not always get what they want.

    The Zmag people… the counterpunch people… they may come up with some good arguments sometimes… and some good theory. But those cigar-chomping, wine-drinking reolvutionaries haven’t built anything close to a large grassroots movements for decades. Maybe never.

    Ask the man who HAS built a massive grassroots movement in the United States over the past decade or so – Andy Stern, president of the SEIU. They overwhelmingly endorsed Obama and his union recruits the most under-privileged in American society and isn’t affiliated to the Democrats.

    Is Ken Livingstone also an imperialist for working with big business in London? The same man who also advocated a London Living Wage? Man, you really do live in lala land.

  29. Arif — on 4th May, 2008 at 11:23 pm  

    I also appreciate Sunny’s article. I think it is important to respect the importance for us to have spaces to reproduce our identities. We can point to fringe churches or parties we do not like and publicise the comments of their leaders to outsiders and feel self-righteous condemning them expecting the majority of outsiders will also feel shocked or threatened. And perhaps we should be shocked or threatened. But what is the reason or the criterion for being shocked? If we thought about that, we might realise we are inconsistent in what shocks us depending on how things threaten our identities, not on how threatening something is in itself.

    On the down to earth aspect of Obama. I think he sounds good and I would be hopeful of a Obama Presidency because I have very low expectations of US Presidents. I think there have been better Democratic Party candidates from my perspective, although that has made them less electable. Rev Jesse Jackson seemed more comparable to Martin Luther King to me than Obama, because Jesse Jackson seemed to use his rhetorical skill to try to change opinions more radically as well as speak less compromisingly for the oppressed. What you might call expressing a victim mentality!

    Sunny, when you say “victim mentality” I assume you mean someone feels mistreated and think this is the only issue that matters, regardless of who suffers in order to make them feel better again. If this isn’t spelled out then it can be used rhetorically to condemn any plea for sympathy. It could be used to stigmatise someone is very sensitive to oppression and wants to root it out everywhere – eg with an open rainbow coalition. It could be used to stigmatise someone who genuinely has been mistreated and genuinely only wants justice, but is not taken seriously by those who have power. I would rather frame the problem as being selective sympathy rather than a victim mentality.

    I think Obama is great because he is a US Presidential Cantdidate who doesn’t seem to stigmatise people who sympathise with unfashionable victims. This might seem like a very low threshold, but I think it genuinely is extremely difficult to maintain such a stance and remain so near the mainstream of US politics, so I think he is doing this both consciously and skilfully. I don’t think he is a closet imperialist, because he has more to gain by being an open one.

  30. Sunny — on 5th May, 2008 at 5:10 pm  

    It could be used to stigmatise someone who genuinely has been mistreated and genuinely only wants justice, but is not taken seriously by those who have power.

    I agree. I think its a thin line… though I’d say its fairly straightforward to appeal to people’s sense of fairness to demand justice, without having to keep quiet. What does annoy me is the painting of the ‘other side’ as bastards without any real questioning of why things are the way they are. Everyone does it, not just minorities. And in some ways the white working classes have a lot to be annoyed about too, in terms of political representation.

  31. Anas — on 7th May, 2008 at 2:21 pm  

    Anas – I think your criticisms are quite muddled. First, Obama isn’t anti-business, agreed. But then the political and economic climate in America is such that anyone advocating taking on business itself is a dead politician. You want to build a grass-roots movement? go ahead… but you’ll find that grassroots movements themselves won’t be built around whatever utopia you’re advocating.
    You have this idealized version and want to stick to it, even if it means ignoring how Americans think. Americans are mostly capitalist. That is a fact. By advocating to take on lobbies and rich companies that try to distort the political debate – Obama has gone further and more left wing than anyone. In fact the National Review called him the most “liberal” (meaning left-wing) of all Senators.
    If you can’t support such a man then you’re just an angry dude who doesn’t understand politics.

    Obama isn’t anti-business? Might be a bit mild given his extreme deference to big business and his neoliberal economical stance. It’s true, most Americans would consider themselves supporters of capitalism — but on the other hand probably the majority of Americans also consider politicians to be too close to the interests of big business: the public recognises the corrupting affect on the motivations of political figures of the proximity between coporations and the political process. The fact that Obama’s had such an amazing effect in terms of mobilising support attests to the hunger for change amongst Americans, shame his success is based on little more than his charisma and way with words. And yes, there are plenty of articles on Znet and Counterpunch that convincingly demolish this illusion that Obama’s somehow left wing — as if all the big moneyed interests behind him somehow haven’t figured out they’re actually backing a radical leftie. If he was sufficiently different from the other candidates in terms of his ideas constituting a radical break with what they were saying I too would applaud the Obama phenomenon.

    And yes, I do think that the politics of recent years has demonstrated resolutely that bottom up is better than top down — that politicians however well meaning — and maybe Obama’s the most well meaning we’ve had for a while — have to play the game and are ultimately handicapped by the demands of realpolitik. You try and paint me as somehow advocating setting up little vanguard organisations with the aim of actualising a socialist paradise. But that’s a wilful misreading, I’m not talking about partisan socialist groupings. I meant that grassroots organisations should be built up around local issues and interests at first — the hunger for change is there, Obama’s success testifies to that, people should get more involved in their immediate surroundings and learn to affect change that way, as well as grouping together on a larger level: without hedging all their bets on some politician with a twinkle in his eye.

    My comparison with MLK was on the basis that both wanted to speak to different audiences together. MLK wans’t running for office and could get away with saying a lot a politician can’t.

    Exactly! You paint me as an idealist, a dreamer with my head in the clouds. But look at the impact MLK had among all races, the success of the movement he was instrumental in spearheading, and then look at the radical nature of the things he said — if he said them today like I said before Obama would distance himself in a minute. But his popularity proved people were willing to listen to his socialist, anti-Imperialist (what would now be read as viciously unforgivably anti-patriotic), anti-Racist rhetoric. Look at the Vietnam peace movement and the impact that had on US policy — that’s what I mean by a grassroots movement. The US govt had to do all they could to hide their involvement in establishing and supporting counter insurgency deathsquads and propping up fascist regimes in south america in the 80s — because of the public disaproval.

    This is an example of your blindness. He’s saying the ideal of a country is great, even if its past isn’t exactly covered in glory. There are many leftwing Americans who also opposed the wars and America’s previous imperial ambitions. Don’t they count as part of the picture??

    Read what he said again Sunny: he’s saying that America did in fact fulfil that role, the role of defender of the ultimate good, in the last century (ask the Vietnamese, Indonesians, Iranians, Iraqis, Palestinians, most of South & Central America, and several other chunks of the world population if they agree with that), then read the MLK quote I posted.And don’t get me started on his views on Iraq, Pakistan, and yes Palestine (can you justify his notorious defense of Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza?)

    Is Ken Livingstone also an imperialist for working with big business in London? The same man who also advocated a London Living Wage? Man, you really do live in lala land.

    He’s not an imperialist, but he did pander to big business.

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