This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
"Race" obscures national issues

In D.C., "Race" obscures national issues

January 29, 1999

by a comrade

The new mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony Williams, is taking heat from Black residents over "race" issues. Williams was elected last year, after getting all the white vote and most of the middle-class Black vote in the Democratic primary. The majority of people did not vote, and turnout was especially low among Blacks.

Before that Williams was the chief financial officer for the Control Board, the unelected body appointed by Clinton to run the city after Congress took power away from Marion Barry and the elected city council. Barry was a former activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, who eventually served four terms as mayor of the city -- the last one after getting out of jail on an FBI-sting cocaine charge. Under Barry, the Black middle class was built up through an expanded city bureaucracy. Like neocolonial governments in a lot of places, the national bourgeoisie in D.C. built up a middle class using the government as a tool, but in the process became corrupt and inefficient.

When Congress took away his power, it was rightly seen as an affront to the Black middle class and the Black city workers who depended on Barry for their jobs. One of the main things Williams did with the Control Board was lay off a lot of Black workers in order to streamline the government.

A lot of Williams' first major appointments were white. These included Max Brown, his new legal counsel, who is now being accused of being white and obnoxious.(1) Then David Howard, Williams' white head of the Office of Public Advocate, in charge of constituent relations, was forced to resign after using the word "niggardly" in reference to a budgetary program. The word "niggardly" is not originally related to "nigger" the racial epithet, but Williams didn't try to stop him from resigning after people started calling the city administration to complain that Howard was a racist.(2)

One prominent critic, Anthony Jenkins, wrote a column in the Washington Post questioning whether Williams is "Black enough."(3) Jenkins said "Blackness, like any other characteristic that identifies an oppressed group, is a state of common spiritual idealism that serves to unite the group for the purpose of survival." To elaborate, he said "Blackness could be measured in how much one can give back, or how far one can reach down to pull up another."

MIM disagrees with this idealist or at best cultural-nationalist view. What Jenkins is really talking about is class distinctions within the Black nation. Clarence Thomas is completely Black, a completely Black comprador. The comprador bourgeoisie gets what it gets from the national oppressor -- in this case white Amerika -- by virtue of its position within the oppressed nation. It doesn't make sense to say that Clarence Thomas is not Black, as white people are not Black, because Thomas owes his position to his membership in the Black nation.

Jenkins showed his hand when he wrote that, "The concept of blackness has evolved over the years. It has gone from emphasizing self-worth and the importance of group recognition to acquiring practical skills that ensure self-determination." In other words, Blackness to him means whatever he thinks is the right thing for Blacks to do. And that used to mean nationalism, and now it means making it in the middle class but "reaching down."

David Howard, who was one of the highest-level city officials to be openly gay, said "Mr. Williams is colorblind." This was meant as a defense of Williams, who is now taking heat from gay organizations for letting Howard resign over the "niggardly" incident. Someone else testified, "Of anyone I've ever met, Tony Williams is the most colorblind of any man."(5) People who say they are colorblind about "race" are lying on the one hand, and on the other they are expressing a reactionary political line that whether people are Black or white should not matter.

MIM is reminded of the controversy over the lawyer to represent Huey P. Newton, the Black Panther Party founder who in 1967 was facing a murder charge after a shoot-out with California police. The lawyer, Charles Garry, was white; he had also defended and won 24 previous capital cases, and was willing to defend Newton even if the defense fund couldn't cover all the costs. The party newspaper, the Black Panther, wrote:

"I wonder how many of these people who complain about the white attorney are really concerned about the black movement, really concerned about Huey's life, really concerned about the Black Panther Party, really concerned about putting an ending to the wanton murder of black people by the police, and if they are so concerned, what are they doing to show it? Are these the same people who have contributed to the Huey P. Newton Defense Fund, helped the Black Panther Party to grow, make constant personal sacrifices and endured serious danger to see their commitment bear fruit? Or are these people onlookers of a liberation struggle being waged for their benefit who just generally dislike white people and don't like the way it looks in court? . . . Whose benefit are they concerned with, Huey P. Newton's or black lawyers?"(4)

Under the Barry administration, much of Black Washington benefited from his government, although the beneficiaries were disproportionately middle class. Although Barry was no revolutionary, Williams represents a step in the direction of increased white control over the city -- not because of the individuals in Williams' cabinet, but because he does what Congress wants, what the white power structure wants. Because he cares more about a balanced budget than about keeping the University of the District of Columbia open to all D.C. students, or getting the majority-Black city a simple vote in Congress. Moving from a "race"-conscious civil rights oriented mayor to a "colorblind" one is not progress for the city.

The Black Panther also argued that because "the entire legal system is white . . . black lawyers do far more to weaken the argument for black power than the Black Panthers' using the assistance of white lawyers."(4) MIM agrees. We think it is better if real independent leaders of the Black nation are members of the nation. But there is altogether too much concern over the symbolism of who will administer the neocolonial regime in D.C. It fools people into thinking we are talking about real Black national leadership of the kind represented by the Black Panther Party.

1. Washington Post, January 25, 1999, p. B1.
2. Washington Post, January 27, 1999, p. B1.
3. Washington Post, January 17, 1999, p. B1.
4. The Black Panthers Speak, Philip Foner (ed.), Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1970; p. 14.
5. Washington Post, January 29, 1999. p. C1.

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