With the recent announcements for 2020 presidential candidacy from Kamala Harris (Democrat- California) and Cory Booker (Democrat- New Jersey), there has been a noticeable split among the Black constituency about the progressive symbolism of these candidates.
On one hand, there are folks who believe that the representation within the State is a radical shift towards a Blacker America. The other hand finds that Black integration into the State is a counter-revolutionary move and a false sense of progress. Shouldn’t we be excited about representation of people who will keep in mind our history, culture and interests? How do Cory and Kamala fit into this conversation?
Let’s look at the track record for each of them. With her record as District Attorney for San Francisco and as Attorney General of California, her active investment in the reification of the prison system (“tough on crime”) is a huge red flag that her interests do not align with the interests of the Black community. “As attorney general, Harris opposed legislation that would have required her office to investigate police shootings. When California was ordered to reduce prison overcrowding, she argued against it. She said, accurately, that a low wage work force would go free. But that is the reason to diminish the carceral state, not an argument to continue it,” according to the Black Agenda Report.
Another policy of hers was crackdown on chronic absenteeism which victim shamed Black mothers and targeted low-income families to fine them for their child’s truancy.
In her campaign so far, Kamala is using a similar strategy as Obama by harkening civil rights language like “For the People” and pandering to Black folks through references to popular culture and her educational history. The proof of Kamala’s true alignment with the anti-black, settler-colonial State is clear as day with her unsurprising support for Israel, a settler-colonial state, in the Israel vs. Palestine Conflict.
Cory Booker, Democrat-New Jersey, endorses the privatization and corporatization of education. His network has given the support, and more importantly, the money to make the education system streamline profit directly into the pockets of corporations. “The billionaires are circling public education like birds of prey, seeking to transform charter schools into an interlocking, national, for-profit business, worth trillions of dollars,” according to the Black Agenda Report. Charter schools contribute to the re-segregation of the U.S. education system by race, ethnicity and income. They are also difficult to get into and are criticized for not working with disabled students.
Most people have called this analysis too critical, with public figures like Angela Rye claiming that those in opposition are “Russian Bots.” Other Black folks that I’ve spoken with have even said that they’re aware of the gross actions of Harris and Booker, but they’d rather have a “melanated” person spewing white supremacist ideologies than a white person. This is what we call neo-colonialism. It is still difficult to pin down the exact definition as we are currently in the midst of its development.
Basic examples would be the use of colonized people to advance and uphold colonial ideologies. It can be exemplified in many ways like with gentrification — which is often racialized but is actually a class phenomenon meaning colonized peoples of bourgeois class background can contribute to the displacement and disenfranchisement of other colonized people. It can also be seen with Black police officers, state officials, army, military, etcetera.
In Meditations on Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, James Yaki-Sales writes, “As I think about it: How naive we were to believe, back in the day, that just because folks were “Black,” that alone made them authentic representatives of truth and justice, and signified that they were true servants of the people. The pity is, tho, that even today far too many of us still think that way. It ain’t the color of the skin, but the content of the character, as Bro. M.L. King Jr reminded us.”
This largely relates to what Kamala and Corey have done in their work as State actors. They have continually worsened conditions for Black and Brown folks for the sake of integration into the American Empire.
I urge us to not fall into the neoliberal trappings of identity politics and seeking representation or integration, especially integration into an empire built on enslavement, genocide and land theft. It is fallacious to assume that both Kamala and Cory have the interests of the Black community at heart when their actions have clearly laid out how they are against the community. We must consider whose interests are being defended in the advancement of their platforms, and how they have served as agents to advance anti-blackness within the State.
“The de-construction of “race” (and successful revolutionary struggle) requires that all forms of national-class struggle (ideological, political, economic) be engaged with these allies of capitalism, whose fear of socialism causes them to use the shadow of race in defense of their class interests, while diverting the people from anti-capitalist struggle….What does Fanon say— “there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place.”
This is neocolonialism in action— creating illusions of progress by allowing Black people and people of color to run an empire. The U.S. empire will morph into what it needs to continue to survive, and as Butch Lee has said, “it can even appear as its opposite in order to evade destruction.”
Our engagement and fascinations with identity politics clouds our ability to critically engage with the actions of Black officials like Obama, Harris, Booker, and more. The way to truly uplift the Black community is to be critical of those who enact violence on the community, White and Black.