Behind the Jobless Figures: African Americans, National Oppression & the Economic Crisis
False notions of a recovery are being exposed every month with rising unemployment and poverty
By Abayomi Azikiwe – Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Unemployment figures for the month of May 2012 have clearly rendered the Obama administration vulnerable in regard to re-building electoral support for the re-election of the president in November. Although African Americans, Latino/as and other oppressed groups voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008, just two years later during the midterm elections of 2010, many within these constituencies stayed home resulting in tremendous gains for the Republican party in both the House, which they took control of, and the Senate where the Democrats maintain a slight majority.
Why would these same oppressed captive nations inside the United States Empire not go out and vote in massive numbers for the first African American president who is a Democrat? How could such a sea change of political trends shift within a matter of two years?
Perhaps the answers to these two fundamental questions can be found in both the domestic and foreign policy of the Obama administration. The wars which are unpopular among all groups inside the country, and especially among the nationally oppressed, escalated between 2009-2010.
The much touted end to the Iraq war does not take into account the social impact of the invasion and occupation beginning in 2003. Over four thousand officially killed in the war; hundreds of thousands more wounded and injured—many of whom suffering from emotional and psychological disorders that will render them largely dysfunctional within the existing U.S. society.
This invasion cost not only the lives of Americans but an estimated one million Iraqis. Two million were displaced and the social impact has left the country without adequate infrastructure, chronic health problems resulting from the usage of chemical and depleted uranium weapons, and the theft of their national wealth in the oil industry and other sectors.
In the Afghanistan war, which the Obama administration has said will conclude its “combat phase” by the end of 2014, has caused tremendous damage to the society since the covert interventions of the Carter administration in 1979. Over the last eleven years, well over a thousand U.S. and NATO troops have been killed and tens of thousands of others have been wounded and injured.
The Afghan people have suffered immensely with hundreds of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions. Instability inside the country has worsened with the Obama administration’s escalation of the war during the first year of his presidency.
In Africa, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has brought about the blanket bombing and overthrow of the most prosperous state on the continent, Libya. The U.S.-NATO forces in 2011 flew 26,000 sorties and 10,000 bombing missions against a country of 7 million.
Under the guise of a “humanitarian mission” the nation of Libya was destroyed, its national wealth of hundreds of billions stolen by the imperialists and their agents and the leader of the country tracked-down, tortured and assassinated at the aegis of the Obama administration.
In Somalia, the Obama administration has ordered the invasion of the country by several neighboring neo-colonial client states. Drone attacks ordered by the White House have resulted in the deaths and displacement of hundreds of Somalians.
Ongoing efforts to destabilize and overthrow governments in Sudan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea have caused great consternation on the African continent. All of this is being carried out under the ostensible leadership of a Black president in the White House.
These same policies are being enacted in Latin America as well where the U.S. is attempting to destabilize and overthrow the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador. The first woman president of Brazil while visiting the U.S. is treated with disdain by Obama who continues to interfere in the domestic affairs of all South American states.
Inside the United States the rates of poverty among African Americans, Latino/as and women in general escalated during the first two years of the current administration. Therefore, what would be the real motivation for these groups to go out and vote for an administration which has largely ignored the central concerns of their peoples?
For example, the unemployment rate officially for African Americans is well over 13 percent, far higher than the 8.2 percent rate overall. Latino/as also have been subjected to higher rates of unemployment in the last few months.
Of course these are “official” rates of joblessness. In actuality, the rates of unemployment among African Americans and Latino/as are much greater than what the monthly government figures reveal. In regard to poverty, African Americans have been subjected to depression-levels of labor idleness and loss in real wages.
The amazing phenomenon in this situation is that from the beginning of the Obama administration the president has deliberately disassociated his regime from the oppressed conditions of African Americans and Latino/as. Perhaps the most striking example took place when he was asked during a press conference about the horrendous conditions prevailing in Black communities across the country and what he intended to do about it and his response was in essence nothing specifically.
Obama claimed that his “stimulus package” of 2009 would uplift all people. Well this has definitely not been the case over the last four years judging from the worsening situation of African Americans as well as working and middle-class people in general.
The “stimulus or recovery package” was supposed to supply in excess of $700 billion to rejuvenate the economy. Many people within major cities throughout the country, especially in Detroit where unemployment and poverty are sky high, are asking: where did the money go?
The administration claimed that through the “stimulus package” some two-three million jobs were created or saved. Well this assertion is highly questionable, but let’s say it is true for the sake of argument.
The number of people within the U.S. who are either unemployed or underemployed stands at least between 35-40 million. In regard to the loss of real wages and living conditions, recent reports have indicated that half of the people in the country are now poor or near poverty.
What is needed in such a situation would be a major restructuring of the political economy of the U.S. Obviously not addressing the problems of long term unemployment and ever encroaching poverty has led to the present political impasse.
With specific reference to the plight of African Americans and Latino/as, both groups are exploited and oppressed as a nation and within the context of their majority working class populations. Both of these groups, among others, require national liberation to overthrow racist discrimination and deliberate suppression of their legitimate national and class aspirations.
Despite the appearance of gains in the sphere of race relations in the U.S. with the election of a mixed-race son of an African student and a white working class mother, the escalation of African American poverty, the mass incarceration and social alienation of this oppressed nation and the rise of racist violence directed toward Black people, illustrates that the country could very well be headed towards greater social unrest and instability. The Trayvon Martin case, where a 17-year-old African American youth is gunned down in a gated community in Florida by a mixed-raced white and Peruvian immigrant man, provides a case in point in the intransigence of the racist social system in the U.S.
The fact of the matter is not only was Trayvon Martin targeted because of his race and age but there never would have even been an arrest in the case had it not been for the mass mobilization of millions of people throughout the country demanding the arrest and indictment of George Zimmerman, his shooter. Zimmerman then is quickly granted bond and released to travel to another state.
Yet had the situation been reversed, would an African American charged with gunning down a white person in a gated community been allowed to walk free? Although Zimmerman was re-arrested for falsifying information during his bond hearing, this situation would have never developed either if the case had not been given such widespread scrutiny resulting from the political actions of the African American community nationwide.
Contrast this with the Marissa Alexander and the CeCe McDonald cases. Alexander had fired warning shots against an abusive estranged spouse and wound up being given 20 years in prison. CeCe McDonald, a Black transgender woman, defended herself successfully against a group of Neo-Nazis resulting in the deaths of one of them and McDonald ends up being sentenced to over three years in prison.
The crimes of white racism and capitalism largely go unpunished in the U.S. Trillions of dollars have been stolen from the working class and middle class of all races in the country by the banks and transnational corporations just in the last decade yet hardly anyone has been sentenced to prison and the owners of capital have maintained their wealth and power to continue with the exploitation and oppression of the majority within the U.S. and around the world.
The Choice: Who Needs the Negro?
The process of globalization and its impact on African American labor specifically can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s. In the wake of the advancing Civil Rights, Black Power and Pan-African movements the owners of capital in the U.S. set out to restructure their system of labor exploitation and political control.
With the rise of industrialization in the U.S., there was a mass migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban areas of the same region as well as the north and western sections of the country. This process was by no means socially evolutionary; the white rulers of the post-reconstruction south wanted to limit any semblance of Black political power and therefore during the successive decades of the 20th century wanted African Americans to leave.
This migration was also facilitated by the increasing mechanization of agricultural production. The cotton-picking machine and the increasing concentration of land ownership rendered millions within the rural proletariat without work.
As African Americans moved rapidly into the cities another set of social problems would arise. The potential for social unrest would also escalate as evidenced by the so-called race riots between World War I and World War II in Chicago, New York, Detroit and other cities.
By the 1960s the African American masses had exhausted the legal aspects of civil rights by exposing the need for fundamental social and economic transformation of the capitalist system. The urban rebellions between 1963-1970 put the ruling class and its allies on notice that there was the potential for a real uprising within the U.S. that could encompass discontented and exploited elements from various national groups and the working class as a whole.
Therefore since the 1970s what has been the response of the U.S. ruling class to this burgeoning crisis? Sociologist Sidney M. Wilhelm in his provocative study entitled “Who Needs the Negro?, said in 1971 that “The momentum of change propels the nation out of the pathways of integration and onto the crossroads of racial separation marked by bitter animosities…the economics of automation introduces this course of racial separation heretofore thought unfeasible. Though widespread opinion strongly supports the view that integration is likely, many signposts indicate eventual isolation of the Negro people, an isolation made possible by the changing technology of automation.” (p. 3)
Wilhelm continues by stressing that “More precisely, this book attempts to demonstrate that because of the sustaining racist nature of their society white Americans may well take full advantage of this new economic opportunity to promote the Negro’s dismissal, just as economic opportunity and racism combined for the elimination of the native Indian population less than a hundred years ago. The point is that the Negro may very well come to be treated much as the American Indian: confined to reservations or perhaps even eliminated through genocide.” (p. 3)
If one replaces the notion of automation with globalization, the point becomes more relevant to the realities of the present period. With the outsourcing of industrial and technological production from areas where large concentrations of African Americans live in the U.S., this factor has rendered enormous segments of the population unemployed and underemployed.
Couple the impact of globalization with mass incarceration and a horrendous situation is illustrated. Since the early 1970s, the prisons in the U.S. have grown exponentially with the inmate count having increased by over 400 percent, totaling in excess of 2.5 million people. Many of these inmates are African Americans and Latino/as from poor and working class backgrounds.
At least one other author in 1971 also addressed the question of the rising reserve army of unemployed labor among African Americans and its policy implications. Journalist Samuel F. Yette in his book entitled “The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America” makes a similar argument as Wilhelm in regard to the potential dangers posed to African Americans by the capitalist restructuring of the labor market.
Yette writes that “True, the decade of the 1960s provided some contrary indications. There were, for example, outpourings of new laws and pronouncements that ostensibly guaranteed not only freedom and security but also socioeconomic progress. Blacks were visibly appointed to a handful of high federal positions. This was a kind of progress, but it was also confusing: it helped obscure from many Blacks and whites alike the true dangers being designed by repressive elements. In significant instances, what appeared to be progress was, in fact, the vehicle of the danger itself.” (p. 19)
Therefore why were these high-level appointees necessary during the period of the 1960s when structural unemployment was already taking hold due to what was described during the period as automation? Yette quotes from a report of the Johnson administration’s Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz who noted that “We (the U.S. society) are piling up a human scrap heap of between 250,000 and 500,000 people a year, many of whom never appear in the unemployment statistics.” (p. 17)
This quote continues pointing out that “They are often not counted among the unemployed because they have given up looking for work and thus count themselves out of the labor market. The rate of nonparticipation in the labor force by men in their prime years increased from 4.7 percent in 1953 to 5.2 percent in 1962. The increase has been the sharpest among non-whites, increasing from 5.3 percent to 8.2 percent in that period.” (p. 17)
According to Yette, the high-level governmental Black functionaries were necessary to enforce the existing policy of capitalist production both domestically and globally as well as the rationalization of imperialist wars abroad that run contrary to the interests of oppressed people within the confines of the U.S. In reviewing his work from four decades prior, there are striking similarities with existing ruling class policies of the second decade of the 21st century.
Yette notes that “For what the appointment managers sought were classic anomalies: black men who were really white; bright men who were stupid; honest men whose honor was flexible; strong men who, at the appropriate moment, were weak. Fortunately, this generally was not what the personnel czars found. Nevertheless, the system did succeed often enough to reveal three of its essential goals in the selection and appointment of black talent: (1) to provide color credibility wherever such credibility was crucial to selling an otherwise invalid product; (2) to neutralize such talent by taking it from potentially radical stations (the hiring of militants) and placing it officially on the side of the establishment (a technique not unlike the President’s nationalizing of a National Guard unit to prevent its misuse, disuse, or proper use by a governor); and (3) to have a black person in position to take responsibility for anti-black policies and decisions, usually made exclusively by whites—without the black appointee’s knowledge, consent, or ability.” (p. 43)
If we fast forward four decades we will see this same program operating again at the highest levels of government. What are the real functions of the Barack Obamas, Eric Holders (U.S. Attorney General) and Susan Rices (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations)? How does their role within the global capitalist and imperialist system really differ from previous administrations?
At present unemployment and poverty is rising among African Americans and other oppressed national groups. Imperialist wars and rapacious capitalist exploitation against people in the so-called developing countries continues unabated. At the same time the struggle against globalization and imperialism is intensifying in efforts to beat back the war drive in Central Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and the African continent.
The prison-industrial-complex is not letting up with the ongoing harassment, persecution and imprisonment of peoples of color inside the U.S. The federal government has developed no programs to address the special oppression and exploitation of African Americans and other oppressed nations within the domestic confines of the U.S.
What the captains of capital have done through the Obama administration is to put a black face on imperialism. At a time when the Bush administration had alienated large segments of the world from the U.S. and its foreign policy, having a Barack Obama was merely designed to lessen the hostility and provide false hope that the posture would fundamentally change.
The fact of the matter is things have not changed. Africa is becoming a more militarized by U.S. imperialism; Central Asia and the Middle East are subjected to direct occupation and subversive mechanism to undermine self-determination and sovereignty; Latin America is viewed as a hostile territory moving toward greater continental unity and anti-Americanism.
These perceptions are reflected in the rhetoric and policy pronouncements of the state department and the UN ambassador. The bogeymen of “terrorism” and communism are still evoked to justify large-scale military and intelligence spending that is greater than all other nations of the earth combined.
Developing Strategies for Victory
The lessons of the last four years are enormous for oppressed and working class people in the U.S. and around the world. The capitalist class and their political appointees have no solution to the global economic crisis other than austerity, war and repression.
The false debate of growth strategies verses austerity is absurd because the so-called proponents of growth are in fact imposing austerity on the cities and rural areas of the capitalist states. In the U.S., the failure of the financial system and the restructuring of labor have necessitated the imposition of austerity through the state governments and municipalities.
Since the Obama administration took office at least 600,000 public sector jobs have been lost. School teachers are routinely subjected to pay cuts and lay-offs. Public schools are under attack ideologically and fiscally in an effort to blame teachers for the failures of the capitalist system to provide jobs for families and adequate tax funding to maintain educational and social service systems.
The Republican right offers only more of the same: tax cuts for the rich and permanent war against the oppressed nations. Domestically, the erosion of public services and the state repression against the workers and oppressed are the order of the day and is the operational policy of both political parties in the U.S.
Such a set of circumstances requires the independent mobilization and organization of the majority of workers and nationally oppressed inside the U.S. This can only be done through a massive political education program that exposes both the total bankruptcy of the existing system and the incapacity of the prevailing parties to provide any solution to the worsening plight of the masses.
The political parties that must come into existence should first of all recognize that a new system has to be built in order to provide relief and stability to the workers and oppressed. Capitalism and imperialism are decaying systems that will render increasing numbers of people to poverty and alienation.
Just look at the situations in Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Iceland, Britain and other European states. There is rising unemployment and poverty with increasing indebtedness to the banks.
In the U.S., the banks have destroyed the housing stock of the country. They have shackled working class families with debt and no hope for the future.
Today the banks are strangling the cities with at least $3 trillion in debt largely based upon credit default swaps (CDS) which were instrumental in the near-crash of 2008 that necessitated the largest bailout in the history of capitalism. The tax dollars of working people provided a direct $700 billion subsidy to the banks and through the Federal Reserve another estimated $14 trillion. This represents large scale transfers of wealth from the workers and the poor to the very rich.
The prospects for a broad alliance of forces are already in existence. The African Americans, Latino/as, Asian Americans, Native peoples, Middle Easterners, women, progressive and radical youth, the workers of all races, whether organized or unorganized, constitute the majority even within the U.S. If these forces are organized in alliance with the workers and oppressed of the world, there is no force on earth that can stop them from prevailing over the capitalist class which is becoming smaller every year.
It will be through this process that a just and equitable world system can be built. This is the only real hope that humanity has to transcend the inevitable doom of capitalism and imperialism.