Anyone that dedicates their life to “the liberation and salvation of the Black nation” eventually realizes that disappointment shadows their existence. Although national level political figures such as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and former U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama would never admit such in the public arena, undoubtedly there are private moments when even such courageous leaders are left pondering if the limited gains are worth the enormous cost black activism has on their lives. While Black America celebrated Barack and Michelle Obama’s arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the joy of many African-Americans was tempered by the sobering realization that the costs for this historic achievement far outweighed the gain; not to mention what we all realized that vengeful whites would put Obama and his family through during their tenure in the White House.
There is consensual agreement among African-Americans that there is a usual cost associated with black achievement. Many refer to this “cost” as the “Black Tax.” And trust me when I say that this “Black Tax” will be extracted by whites in one way or another. Notable African-Americans go to extreme lengths to avoid the alluded to tax, as they realize that it possesses the ability to derail a career that was decades in the making.
It is a significant understanding of the penalties associated with the “Black Tax” that causes much of Black America to breathe a sigh of relief at the reality that White America missed a much-desired opportunity to apply the unreasonable tax on Barack Hussein Obama for a recently surfaced photo of him with Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam.
The photo, taken by Askia Muhammad, of then U.S. Senator Obama at a Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) meeting was never released at the request of black political leaders who feared that it would hamper what many thought was a promising political ascension that may never end. Members of the CBC realized that it was in Black America’s best interest that the Illinois Senator avoid the “Black Tax” ‘by any means necessary.’ No one doubted that the irrationality that was certain to emanate from politically opportunistic whites at the appearance of this photo would abort what appeared to be a promising political career for the young Senator from Illinois. The harshness of this reality does little to lessen the reality that a partial misstep or misstatement is sufficient to derail the career of any African-American political figure. Although difficult to admit, the most reliable path to longevity for a figure such as Obama is found in his ability to quell the irrational fears of white Americans that he will aid Black America in any shape, form, or fashion.
Black leaders are forced to execute an impossible balancing act of being “soul brother #1” to an enthusiastic black populace that turned out in record numbers to guarantee their victory and a disappointed white majority that fears he will be a “Black President”, meaning ignore the issues and interests that affect all Americans in favor of aiding Black America in a crusade that will not cease until white wealth has been redistributed among an undeserving black population. One can see Barack Hussein Obama attempting this impossible balancing act when he issued a very positive account of his attendance at the Million Man March.
What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African-American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society. There was a profound sense that African-American men were ready to make a commitment to bring about change in our communities and lives.
There is little issue that even the most strident Black Nationalist can take with the future President’s position. Unfortunately for Obama, it would be foolish to believe that this statement was capable of satisfying an engaged white populace whose fears of racial based revenge politics sits at the forefront of both their minds and political agendas.
As I am confident that you remember, the stated fears of white Americans were articulated during the brouhaha surrounding Pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright. The historical record shows that Obama was forced to distance himself from both Wright, his Pastor, and Minister Louis Farrakhan. Although there is agreement among reasonable-minded blacks that “…cursing out white folks is not going to get the job done. Anti-Semitic and anti-Asian statements are not going to lift us up. We’ve got some hard nuts-and-bolts organizing and planning to do. We’ve got communities to build,” Obama’s comments offended many for reasons that had nothing to do with their content. It was obvious to many within Black America that the ascending political figure was currying favor with whites in his actions and statements. I am confident that whites would be shocked to learn that Obama’s insistence that “We’ve got some hard nuts-and-bolts organizing and planning to do. We’ve got communities to build” is a statement that represents the careers of both Wright and Farrakhan.
At its core, this latest attempt at causing discord between black leaders reveals important things about power dynamics among American racial groups. The fact that the CBC would seek to suppress this photograph indicates their factual belief that without the help of other groups, their efforts are “dead in the water.” The American historical record displays that coalition politics are the only possible route forward for “minority” groups; put simply, coalition politics are indispensable.
There is no doubt that white political figures have no such concerns as they are not forced to measure their words or image in a desperate attempt to not offend others. In fact, a figure such as Donald Trump has used the reliable tactic of offending other groups to mobilize and rally his base via obvious cultural attacks and dog-whistle politics. One needs to look no further than Trump’s recent statements that termed African nations “shitholes” without any significant political repercussions.
If we learn nothing else from the CBC’s desire to hide the photo of Obama and Farrakhan, it is that there is a “litmus test” that measures national-level black leaders’ willingness to bend to the political demands of non-black communities. The message is obvious, if you fail the referenced “litmus test” the subsequent “Black Tax” will mute the offender’s voice regardless of his/her political message.
The fact that such matters factor into the ascension of black leaders is a fundamental reason that there are no strong voiced black elected officials making strides to uplift the black community. From all appearances, it seems that our elected officials pay more attention to passing the “litmus test” and maintaining a cache of political and cultural currency to be used to avoid the “Black Tax” than they do addressing worsening problems within Black America. Until that changes, it may be time for us to admit the obvious, none of our elected officials possess the ability to aid us in our struggle one iota. I guess that it is true that “the (political) harvest is in and yet we are not saved.”
Dr. James Thomas Jones III