Nov 17, 2008
On November 4, 2008, an African-American was elected president of the United States for the first time.
It was a momentous event, one which had been a long, bitter time coming.
Almost four centuries ago, 1619, the first Africans were brought to the colony of Virginia in chains. Even before the first slave ship arrived, revolts broke out among human beings who would rather die than give in to conditions that demeaned them, treating them like beasts.
For the next two and a half centuries during which slavery endured, slaves resisted, through acts big and small. Despite atrocious conditions and the constant threat of death or horrifying retribution, there were always those who refused the indignity of slavery.
With the Civil War and the Reconstruction movement that followed, the ex-slaves gained emancipation and full citizenship rights. But, enshrined in the Constitutional amendments, those rights were never respected in practice.
Thus began the period over which the Ku Klux Klan presided, imposing lynch law on those who refused to accept “second-class” citizenship. Tens of thousands were killed, but still there were others who resisted. Almost every black family today conserves the memories of someone they knew who was lynched.
It was a bitter period – one which took vast fights of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and the rebellions in the big cities in the 1960s to end it. Those struggles finally broke the back of the Ku Klux Klan and lynch law.
Legally, the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was little more than a restatement of the Constitutional amendments. But politically, it signified ruling class recognition of the power the black population had exerted through vast mobilizations.
The centuries of struggles carried out by generations of the black population opened up doors which a racist society repeatedly tried to slam in their face.
It is through those doors that an African-American finally, in 2008, walked into the White House.
This election may signify that a very few African-Americans have been granted entrance into all the privileged strata of white bourgeois society – into the White House and into the executive offices of big corporations and of big Wall Street banks.
But this election does not mean, despite what Barack Obama said on the night he was elected, that “all things are possible.”
This election did not fling open doors for the big majority of the black population, working class and poor – no more than the election of all those upper class white presidents over the last 220 years opened doors for the big majority of the white population, which remains working class and poor up to this very day.
The U.S. remains a society divided into classes.
Even if the worst unemployment and poverty has been imposed on black working people, capitalist exploitation weighs heavily on all workers – black, white and Hispanic. All workers are denied full access to the riches they themselves have created.
Workers black, Hispanic and white may have felt solidarity as they watched the results of this election come in, marking symbolically the historic falling of one barrier.
We have much more reason to join in solidarity with each other, joining all our forces to defend our common interests as working people.