obama’s embrace of hyper-capitalism is not above criticism just because he’s black

May 2, 2017

Yesterday, we wrote about how Barack Obama is held to a different standard than his predecessors and successor in large part due to anti-Blackness. This is undeniably true, and some of this anti-Blackness was evident in the response to the news that the former president is making $400,000 for speeches to Wall Street. As we stated, many presidents before Obama–even liberal ones–have made big money speaking to and for the same big banks that have caused so much damage to poor Black and Brown communities across the globe, and many presidents will do so in the future. That is, if we let it.

The real question is: What kind of future do you desire? As a Black person, I am not interested in gaining more access to the tools of violence that rain down on my community, and hyper-capitalism is violence. I do not want a world in which I choose to support a deregulated banking system that steals from my mother just so I can make more money than she ever has for only an hour of my time. As Steven Thrasher explains, directly because of the institutions Obama is working with “white people have 12 times the wealth of black people; […] black families would need to work 228 years to build the wealth of white families; […] the median wealth of single black women is $5 and […] the economic crash of 2008 was an apocalyptic theft of wealth from black homeowners to Wall Street which was never prosecuted.” This is the blatant result of a system that allows any man–but particularly one bearing the mantle of progressiveness that Obama wears all too proudly–to make nearly half a million dollars in one hour just to do its bidding.

If classism is as important as any other ism, and if violence against the poor truly demands our attention, Obama’s collusion with the very same systems that have been ravishing the communities I am from–impoverished Black and Brown communities that are also faced with hyper-policing and mass incarceration (problems which he also proudly contributed to)–then this situation can be placed in context with others in which Black men commit violence white men are allowed to get away with. In response to the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby and Nate Parker, for instance, many hoteps argued that the actors should be allowed off the hook just like white people facing similar cases. As I stated at the time, “When abusers of all shades are rarely held accountable, this sends a very dangerous message about violence committed by marginalized people against other marginalized people that encourages a race to the bottom with only one logical conclusion: As long as someone can get away with it, everyone should be able to.”

This is a very different type of abuse, to be sure, but abusers of capitalist systems–even Black ones–already aren’t held accountable for the violence they commit just the same. I would think that, for Black folks, it is an act of love to pull our brother in and ask him to do better for his communities. Rather than focusing on the obvious question of whether Black abusers are subjected to racism, it is way past time we dig deeper and reckon with whether subjection to one type of violence means you have free reign for enacting a different type. And I believe strongly that it shouldn’t.

Some have noted that Obama is now a private citizen, and that this money cannot harm people the way it would if he were still in office by swaying him to be more agreeable to the hand gifting it. But if you think big banks aren’t paying this president to support them, even by adding legitimacy to their fake “capitalism can be a progressive value, too” branding efforts, then you haven’t been paying attention. Similarly, if you are only interested in what racist white people are doing, you might have missed how particularly the Black radical left (i.e. here, here, and here) have been critical of the problem of Wall Street even when a Black man was not a part of it–and this was a big component of the leftist critique of Hillary Clinton in 2016. If we continue to only pay attention to and respond to the typical racism of white people, ignoring the same critiques from Black radicals made for different reasons, at some point we have to ask ourselves if #BlackCritiqueMatters to us.

This isn’t about what I expected or did not expect from Obama. As Thrasher argued, Obama has put the interest of big banks above the interests of poor Black communities many times before, and this latest behavior is not shocking in the least. This is also not about whether I want the man to be able to relax and make money after the past 8 years I am sure were trying. This is about how we cannot fight for the same standards of white people and pretend we are doing so in an effort to get free. This is about how love is accountability, and accountability means acknowledging the harm we do, even while we refuse to throw each other away. This is about doing whatever we can to prevent that harm from happening in the future, including pointing out the violence of our faves, because it is the right thing to do.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.