Cuba. El Gran Teatro de la Habana. March 22, 2016. Obama speaks about the US civil rights movement as he attempts to explain the benefits of living in a democracy, à la the United States, to a Cuban audience:
But people organized. They protested. They debated these issues, they challenged government officials. And because of those protests and because of those debates and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African American and as president of the United States. That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States — that we were able to bring about change.
Obama paused for an applause, but the audience remained completely silent.
Blatant historical inaccuracies run rampant in the United States’ depiction of itself as it attempts to sanitize time spent from the 1960s and 1970s to the present-day. If the legacy of slavery is “solved” by electing a black president, then how are we to explain the police air-bombing of a residential house containing Black members of a renaissance naturalist group — MOVE — by US security forces in 1985? Those reactionary state forces, shooting over 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the house during the first 90 minutes and, ultimately, killing five children and six adults ina burning inferno, acted under the direct order of Wilson Goode, the first Black mayor of Philadelphia. How are we toexplain that an unarmed Black person is killed by a US security official every 28 hours?
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The president of the United States traveled to Cuba to, in his own words, “extend a hand of friendship — leave the past behind — bury the last remnants of the Cold War.” As he stood in Alicia Alonso Grand Theater, glaring over a packed audience, Obama stated, “Having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe.”
Immediately after his trip to Cuba, Obama traveled to Argentina. Delivering a speech at Parque de la Memoria, a monument in Buenos Aires honoring tens of thousands of victims of an Argentinian dictatorship supported by US foreign policy, he stated, “The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies as well, and its own past.”
One thing’s for sure: Obama finds himself in no man’s land, tossed haplessly by the endless contradictions and way-winds of US imperialism and his blood brothers, institutional racism and capitalism. His bookend equation (Jim Crow human rights abuses/civil rights movement = I became president) doesn’t bid us to reflect about what really happened during the 1960s and 1970s — COINTELPRO — as it pertains to the unfinished struggle for human rights. The historical burden of covert domestic operations that undermined, obstructed, and destroyed progressive social movements cleared a path for neoliberal capitalism supported by an ever-increasing, militarized police state. And forthe international community, New Imperial Jim Crow has been tanned up — governed by a palatable Black statesman (i.e. Bush-America optics have been “remedied,” now let’s get back to business).
No archival video footage exists of a Black leader, not even Martin Luther King Jr., saying that the goal of organized protests and resistance to the US power structure in the 1960s and ’70s is to elect a Black president. Many people have paid the ultimate price while struggling for their freedom. Such a sacrifice is infinitely more honorable than any man who has held the title of US president.
Indelible for his perception of race relations in the United States Faulkner wrote — The past is never dead. It’s not even past. Time is said to heal old wounds. But time attests that lesions of old still run fresh. That the United States has yet to atone for its human rights misadventures in Cuba, much less within its own borders, we must ask: “For whose sake shall history be ignored, forgotten, and, oftentimes, rewritten?”