by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
The Charleston church massacre has occasioned a revival of symbolic and “reconciliation” politics by old school Black preachers. “They forgive, they call for reconciliation, and they make symbolic demands whose acceptance or rejection will not seriously alter the balance of power.” The Black political class would much rather fight the Confederate flag than confront the police.
The Perils of the Politics of Symbolism
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“The misleaders are counting on presidential election year fervor to drown out the new movement.”
The Confederate flag is in ignominious retreat, shunned by GOP presidential hopefuls and officeholders and banned from the shelves and catalogues of Wal-Mart, Sears and eBay. In hot pursuit, vowing to exorcize the demons of old Dixie, is a suddenly aroused array of Black preachers and politicians that have found new relevance in wake of the Charleston church massacre.
The slaughter of nine innocents by a white youth intent on fomenting race war has, at least temporarily, energized and elevated the politics of symbolism, by which great victories can be claimed without putting a dent in real structures of power. Dylann Roof’s rampage also reminds Black folks that the Republicans began replacing the Democrats as the White Man’s Party half a century ago, and have since provided a haven for all manner of white supremacists and their paraphernalia. Hillary Clinton, who has participated in the murder of many millions of Black, brown and yellow people but, like most of her ilk, has the good sense to avoid association with swastikas and Confederate insignia, will profit from the carnage at Emanuel A.M.E. The “Confederate” presence in the GOP makes the Democrats the “Black” party, by default, eliminating the need for Democrats to actually do anything of substance for Black people. The infinitely evil Ms. Clinton (“We came, we saw, he died”), who shares responsibility for the genocide of six million Congolese, becomes a “lesser” evil.
“The demand that South Carolina remove the ‘Stars and Bars’ from in front of the state capital building is wholly symbolic, directly affecting one pole and one piece of cloth.”
The atrocity in Charleston was meant to set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the total subjugation or physical elimination of Black people in the United States. Roof’s “manifesto” is quite clear on this. The killer is also aware that he is not so very different from the great mass of white people who, he writes, “run to the suburbs,” or those that propose the establishment of an all-white homeland in the “Northwest Front” to get away from Black people. Roof believed he had “no choice” but to try to instigate the final battle by committing a crime so vile, Blacks would be compelled to strike back (at who?), or that other whites would mount similar attacks, or both.
Roof’s depraved provocation was felt, correctly, as an attack on all Black people. However, preacher-politicians of the old, accommodationist Negro school are perfectly suited to dealing with horrific assaults on Blacks by private white actors. They forgive, they call for reconciliation, and they make symbolic demands whose acceptance or rejection will not seriously alter the balance of power.
The demand that South Carolina remove the “Stars and Bars” from in front of the state capital building is wholly symbolic, directly affecting one pole and one piece of cloth. The state’s governor and top Republican legislators would never consider letting go of the flag if it had not already become as much a burden as an asset to the Party. With or without the Confederate flag, white racists will still know which party the Blacks seem to favor – and go in the opposite direction. However, an even larger cohort of whites might also no longer feel comfortable in the GOP until it is cleansed of symbolic Confederate taint.
“Reconciliation,” therefore, comes cheap – and, in fact, redounds to the benefit of the former offender. Whites in South Carolina will get the chance to feel as good about voting the Confederate-free Republican ticket, as white Democrats in Iowa felt voting for Obama. Power relationships are unaffected – which is fine with the collaborationist Black preachers and politicians.
“The Black political class feels, correctly, that they are losing their grip on the community.”
The Black Misleadership Class is especially eager to appear vibrant and relevant, having been on the defensive for the better part of a year. For the first time in two generations, the Black power brokers have been effectively challenged by grassroots activists seeking Black community control of the police and a transformation in social and economic relations. The Black political class – a virtual annex of the Democratic Party with no real experience in advocating for Black people’s collective interests – feels, correctly, that they are losing their grip on the community. The misleaders are counting on presidential election year fervor to drown out the new movement. Hillary Clinton and her slickster husband know she needs every Black vote to win in 2016. Her campaign will attempt to curl up as tightly as possible with the Black preachers and reconcilers while painting the Republicans as irredeemable Confederates, whether they have renounced the flag or not.
Ghoulish as it may sound, the Charleston church massacre has given a shot of adrenalin to the Black Misleadership Class, especially the old school preachers, who can wage symbolic struggle against the demons that live in people’s hearts, while presenting no threat whatsoever to the rich men that rule the United States, or their police.