White-out The Black Hole




If there is one thing we are sure about with Obama presidency it is that it has definitely silenced black activists, intellectuals and artists. Despite the fact that the country’s racial injustice hasn’t change, black voices have chosen to lift the pressure they have been putting since the civil rights on the American government. I am afraid that after the 4 or 8 years of Obama in the white house, black voices and activism will rise again, proving that they were not fighting to improve their conditions, but that they were doing exactly what they criticize with  “white people”; which is racial solidarity. Despite the fact that Obama is stressing out that he is not the president of “black people”, Black voices are making sure they aren’t heard in critiquing him… at least publically. After such a bias posture it will be difficult for them to continue the struggle like before. This is the reason why black intellectuals are in a hole, a black hole, a hole they might never get out of again. If more concerned are not raised such as Cornel West’s who says that Obama’s politics are more centrist than progressive and do not uplift the poor, calling the president a “newcomer ... who wanted to reassure the establishment” and “someone who was using intermittent progressive populist language in order to justify a centrist, neoliberalist policy”, Obama would have therefore neutralized centuries of black struggle by producing duplicity in black activists and intellectuals because they haven’t been able to reinvent an appropriate racial post-obama narrative. And The Rev Al Sharpton’s criticism of Cornel West falls in that trap when he says that “This is the first time in this country that we have an African American president. He is not the president of African Americans… The problem we’re seeing with too many older-minded people is you don’t want the next generation. You want clones. And people don’t have to be your clone to validate your sacrifice.”

The duplicity was also generated by Obama himself since his Keynote Speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Mass on July 27, 2004 when he used his family heritage by saying “— let’s face it — my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father — my grandfather — was a cook, a domestic servant to the British. But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor my grandfather signed up for duty; joined Patton’s army, marched across Europe.” We see clearly that Obama uses his difference which includes the racial difference and his multicultural origins which includes specifically his skin-color among many other differences, meaning his blackness. And later during his 2008 election campaign, without voicing it; he is telling us how much “change” was coming. Or when he says “Yes, we can”, one can wonder who is “we”? If you ask who usually can’t? Blacks in general are generally those who are perceived as those who can’t!  Obama also repeated the same thing in his speech in Ghana when he said “And here is what you must know: The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, and end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can — because in this moment, history is on the move”. Obama in this speech has forgotten or ignored that he wasn’t recalled like Nicolas Sarkozy by Africans like they did with the former French President in his speech in Dakar, just because he was considered a son of Africa. Because the America is now president  has never been on the side of Africans struggling against oppression. America Obama is now president was on the side of the apartheid regime against Nelson Mandela. No young African believes that America will come and help whenever they are fighting dictatorship, unless it’s for oil or other interest. But they all applauded Obama because he is black!

No doubt Obama is saying to non-blacks “Yes you white can put a black man in the white house”.  And to blacks, he is saying “Yes, you black people, you Africans, you who usually can’t, you can!”

Despite the fact that very few people have seen no or little “change” in their daily life in almost 4 years. Despite the fact that black intellectuals who are very disappointed aren’t not saying what they really think,  like Cornel West who said that “Mitt Romney is a catastrophic response to a catastrophe, whereas Obama is a disastrous response to a catastrophe.”  Despite all that, they believe they “have to” vote for him again… without asking him anything in return?  The pressure of silencing all black voices can be seen in the attacks from other black scholars against Cornell West when he says that  “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear for free black men.”

In the middle of all this double duplicity, from both black voices and from Obama himself, there are “white people”. The “white people” narrative is almost like an invisible ghost that is justifying the duplicity of Obama on one side and on black intellectuals on the other side.  The White people” rhetoric didn’t just succeed to take over Obama’s presidency; they also manage to cripple black intellectuals in their ability to challenge the system when it is working against them. But the reality is that “White people” don’t exist! The same way “black people” don’t exist. If “White people” did exist, how come Obama got elected president? Obama would have never existed if “White people” were “White people”.

Like with land issue in Zimbabwé, the land being claimed is not the land taken a century ago just because the very semantic definition of land has changed in the meantime. Land went from being the land of the ancestors with its symbolic meaning to being a commodity producing wealth for the market economy. Therefore even if the land was given back it would never be the land that was taken in the first place.

Same with the “white people” semantic  which is an old narrative created at the time of slavery and that needed to evolve with the dynamic nature of human interactions, history, politics and race. This kind of mental construct is what will have to disappear since Obama was elected by some white people also. Among what is called white people, there are Democrats for example, there are Republicans, and there are more people… And among these white people there are many who voted for him, and there many who are also disappointed by him. And those have been ignored at the same time by black intellectuals and by Obama himself.

When do human decide to change language? When the language they speak is not able to tell them anymore the world they live in. The language I hear is not telling me accurately what is happening. What happen to all of us to a point where we focus so much on people who don’t like us anyway and never will?  Why can we be so surprised by the hatred of some Republicans and Tea Party Movement generated by the fact that a black man is in the white house? They are doing what they are supposed to do and what they have been doing throughout history. The problem is with us who forgot that these people existed, we are surprised that Obama is facing adversity from people who didn’t voted for him and who don’t want him there. Therefore on one hand Obama is busy trying to gain their love while black intellectuals are traumatized by why they see like if it was new. All this because they didn’t believe that “white people” could vote for a black man. White people didn’t in fact vote for Obama, Democrats did. Because a wordmaker is a worldmaker, the language has to change so that we a new America can spring up from a new racial linga mantis – language of thoughts or mind –

Now that some “white people” have put a black man in the white house, can you still accuse them to be racists? No. And that’s the mental shift black intellectuals and activists have been failing to achieve since Obama is president. Because Obama’s candidacy was a kind of referendum where Americans had to answer the question if yes or no, they were racists, Black intellectuals need like Foucault in Les Mots et Les Choses to redefine their “white space”. They need to re-read the “white” visible marks put by God on the surface of the earth. They are now forced to form not only new racial rationalities but also all the knowledge deployed in grammar, biology, politics, technology and wealth. Black intellectuals have to create an a new narrative from which the new racial discourse will emerge, new rationalities will be formed, new experiences will reflect and new activism be inspired.

Obama and black intellectuals have to start speaking that language of minds – linga mantis – that will first get them out of duplicity and then secondly allow them to state clearly their racial vision and the common project of living together like did the Frederick Douglas, MLK, Malcom X,Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela etc… What they all did was to develop a language of minds for all, black and whites to reject the unacceptable. Today we tend to accept the unacceptable. Some see in duplicity a form of resistance. How can someone who has to cheat on himself with his past and his future to survive the present resist without damaging his own being? This is requires a lot of imagination and creativity. It’s almost a matter of health, “public health”  to get our brains out of the “prison of the present moment”. Our minds are all seeking that ideal space that is free from any tyranny. And if they don’t, anxiety and aggression will end up being the ultimate response.

Let’s take some time to discuss that linga mantis idea; language of thoughts or mind in relation to the racial question. Why race studies have to be in humanities rather than in science? Let’s call whatever science we are presenting here Mantism and let’s base it on some Lakoff’s theories, cognitive studies and neuroscience.

We know that one interaction between his body, brain and environment, is constructing an idealized cognitive model in an individual who lives a kinetic experience embodied in our bodily activities « prior to language. »

Mantism tells us that each person’s experience, education, culture and environment produces in each one of us a way of understanding the world.

Mantism is the system of thought which equates to almost a language that is unique to each individual. A language that everyone « negotiates » at all times with the language of the “other”, the “other” with whom we share an experience, education, culture, or a similar environment.

Lakoff has discussed the topic of grammar and semantics in a manner that corresponds to both biology and psychology. The environment creates cognitive models in individuals who return to act in the same environment. His brain has created an antidote to the environment from which it was initially generated. It’s about deducting an antidote model to compensate or even replace the model in place. This is the dynamic of the disease and the drug. It is a selective model of recognition or the theory of the selective recognition of the environment that adheres to three principles: 1. selection through development, 2. selection through experience and 3. Reentry.

Mantism is far from being essentialism, functionalism, objectivism and « computational realism » (which considers the mind as a machine), there is not a transcendent spirit that could see the world from outside.

Why are people who voted for Obama disappointed with him? It’s not because he is not able to deliver as such. It is because he got elected as a symbolic president. And as a symbolic president, he needs to be able to speak the symbolic language. Which he is not. It doesn’t matter if he likes it or not, Obama is the first black president. And as the first black president he is a symbolic figure. And as a symbolic figure, he needs to master the symbolic language. But he ignores the symbolic language, he hasn’t being able to use it to redefine America’s hope and change as promised during his election; which is not in itself an issue. But where there a problem it’s when as a symbolic character he ignores the language of symbolism that would have kept in people the enthusiasm his election has generated globally, they feel betrayed. Obama has not being speaking that language, and that’s the reason why his electors are disappointed.

During the 2008 election, Obama became not only the topic of dinner-table conversations all over the world. Like with superman, audiences globally through mass media were divided between those who participated as actors in the drama and those who watched and commented as the Obama plot unfolded. What was the global community watching? They have been following Obama’s transformation as a political hero.

And once a political hero, Obama has abandoned the mythological figure he embodied to win the election to become a Joe the Plummer of politics working hard to do it all for us while we haven’t being asking him that much. He has forgotten we were supposed to do it together and he was providing us with the energy we needed to wake up in the morning to go change the world… just because Obama is now president. The only thing expected from Obama as a symbolic figure was to feed as Jung says the symbolic life of Americans’ and all those who were crying that day. Because only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are « nothing but. » Everything is banal; everything is « nothing but, » and that is the reason why we are neurotic. We are simply sick of the whole thing, sick of that banal life, and therefore we want sensation. We even accepted wars; and even thank heaven, just because at least “something was going to happen” – something bigger than ourselves!

Life can be too rational; without symbolic existence in which I am something else, in which I am fulfilling my role, my role as one of the actors in the divine drama of life.

Obama overly symbolic as he is overloaded with symbols: black, mixed-race, single parent, African, Muslim, African-American, son of an immigrant, Peace Nobel Price etc. Most of these symbols are the symbols of ‘the other”. The “Other” that is not “always” me. How come Obama has been since elected unable to speak that Racial Mantism?

Through these symbols Obama was able to embody for a lot of people in the country and outside of the country that figure that would feed their symbolic life. They could get up the next morning with a feeling of their great and divine responsibility; that they were the sons of the Sun, the Father, and their daily duty was therefore to help the Father over the horizon – not for themselves alone, but for the entire humanity. People’s life was all of a sudden making sense. People’s lives that were utterly, grotesquely banal, utterly poor, meaningless, with no point in it at all were different. The history was in the making, the feeling of bringing this country to the next level was there. The feeling that “I have to do that job of mine to make sure I bring my contribution to this grand vision…”  was all around; lives will made more sense; makes sense in all continuity and for the whole of humanity. Obama was giving peace as people felt that they were living the symbolic life; that they were actors in the divine drama.

We are all definitely missing Obama symbolic language. We are more missing that language because despite the will of black intellectuals to support Obama’s second term, they are unable to keep that “hope alive!”  It’s about time for that Racial Mantism; a language that will help convey our thoughts and feelings; a language that exists outside of the actual language.

Above all, Mantism is supposed to provide a frame to what’s going on. Everybody is behaving strangely and no one is voicing what it is, what’s is actually happening. What they are saying in the media has nothing to do with what they are saying when they are among each others.  And like any language, Mantism will be based on syntax and it is that syntax that will free Obama from the concrete world of things lead by Joe the Plummer.. Mastering the symbolic language would relieve the nation from the duplicity created by the new Obama paradigm.

If we are sure of one thing about Obama, it’s that he will be remembered as the first black president in the history of the United States of America. If he will be remembered as the president who did something else is still to be proven, which doesn’t mean he won’t be remembered for something else. But for the time being, what we are sure of is that Obama is the first black US president.

Being the first black president makes you a symbol. In a addition of being the first black, Obama’s origins make him the first many things: the first African, the first mixed race, the first immigrant, the first Muslim… – He doesn’t have to claim those identities or to any of these but his origins make people associating him with those identities. – In addition to this, the global new media  made Obama campaign a global campaign with email solicitations to non-Americans for donations. A lot of people contributed to get the first black US president elected in a country where black were slaves? Why would they have done it if  it was not all symbolic?

Obama is carrying  all these symbols either he wants it or not. Why would Obama be given a Nobel Peace prize just after he was elected, before he had even done anything, if he was not a symbol? Another symbol, a black woman in the white house.

When you are a symbol it isn’t about you anymore, it’s about the projections of people and the reality has nothing to do with it. People see in you something that comes deeply within themselves. Most of the time they feel hope. A symbol has a therapeutic function for a society and can’t deny it to people. They need  it and they can’t do without it.

In fact Obama has used it. He knew he could appeal to that and make people vibrate at that symbolic level. In his speech of the Democrats convention of 2004, he told people that America is great because he, Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan father  and a Kansas mother could be standing in front of that crowd making that speech. Not only he used his uniqueness and difference but he also associated it with another symbol, America.

Can A Symbol Be Pragmatic?

After achieving the objective of becoming president, the rhetoric started changing from the symbolic rhetoric to the pragmatic rhetoric. People were now told Obama is not a world president, he is an American president. Obama is not a black president, he is an American president etc. Like if the symbols should remain at a discourse level for propaganda sake. While I believe that symbolism shouldn’t be only seen as utopia. There is a real symbolic language one can master and use on a daily basis and not just in speeches but in actions.  The power of the symbolic language, the language of behavior has more potential in implementing change. Because that symbolic language works at the individual level using emotions as a vehicle, it empowers people and the more important, gives meaning to what we do.

Obama and his advisors are thinking the old way. They are seeing a  politician as someone who exploits the people hopes and expectations to get there and once there he has to go for more pragmatic ends. And this is a mistake. As the receptacle of that many symbolic dimensions Obama has been wasting his symbolic capital because he doesn’t know the language. You can’t be that loaded and end up doing the same thing someone with no capital at all would be doing.

The world is a big book, human actions are loaded of meanings we can interpret. And with our actions, we can write our own chapter in the book. The question here is: how can Obama be a symbolic president? By being not a president that changes America but a president that changes Americans. By continuing to maintain the flame, the warmth everyone felt in his heart the day he got elected?  He has to believe in that “energy” inside the billions of people in the world that were with him that day, Obama should use that to change something about this planet we all want to change for the better.

The same way Obama by running for president engaged America in a new narrative by asking them if there were ready to elect a black president? He needs to get them in a another narrative where they all have to be engaged. That’s how you bring the whole nation into your action. That’s what is a symbolic actions.  To be an effective  symbolic communicator, one has to know how to use symbols in order to send messages without necessarily using words. Politics loves symbols. Their suggestive value allows politicians to simplify and characterize the most complex situations. In France for example, president François Mitterrand since, assuming the presidency in 1981, he has often communicated more effectively with symbols  than with words. Between 1981 and 1989, he used the following key symbols to strengthen his domestic political consensus: (1) the Pantheon, (2) modernization, (3) de Gaulle and the gaullist republic, (4) the grand projets (monumental architectural projects for the capital), and (5) the Bicentennial celebration for the French Revolution of 1789. The Socialist president’s adroit use of these symbols has facilitated a significant political transformation in France; the emergence of a centrist Republic. Which means that with symbols, one can achieve national transformation…?

Human culture is a symbolic organization of the remembered experiences of the dead past as newly felt and understood by the living members of the collectivity. The human  condition of individual mortality and the comparative immortality of our species are most of our communication and collective activities in the larger sense a vast exchange of understanding between the living and the dead.

Language, religion, art, science, morality, and our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us, being parts of our culture, are meaningful symbol systems which the living generations have inherited from those now gone. We use these symbols briefly, modify them or not, and then pass them on to those who succeed us. Thus, in fact, communication between living and dead individuals maintains continuity of culture for the species. Secular symbols probably more often emphasize the living present; sacred symbols appear to be more concerned with death, with the past of the species and the future of the individual.

If Obama’s failure has been in mastering the symbolic language, how do one becomes a symbolic president? How can Obama become a Biggy Muldon depicted by Loyd Wagner’s Yankee City? How could Obama feed collective representations while at the white house? How could the white house being run by signs loaded with meanings?

Besides Obama calling himself Icarus, when he said during the Democrat primary « I think we were flying too close to the sun, like Icarus. When you’re fighting for change, it’s not supposed to be easy. » Obama was seen as Sisiphus by Bill Cosby who said « I see Obama as Sisyphus in the first four years. And nobody would speak about the size of the rock, or the elevation of the hill. All you hear people talk about is what he didn’t do, »

If Cornel West criticism of Obama is true when he says that Obama is too worried about his legacy, it is clear that He didn’t choose the best direction to have a legacy.

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