Obama, Globalization and the Color Line

"In Northern Ireland, it is religious, in Canada it is linguistic, in Belgium it is linguistic, and in Nigeria it is tribal."

by / May 6, 2008

Barack Obama's speech on race, some analysts predicted, would effectively end his candidacy for president. He shot himself in the foot, they argued, by shifting the focus away from the economy and the war in Iraq and in the process unearthed people's worst fears of a racially divided nation.

Candor requires acknowledgement that the "body politic" -- as we often call ourselves -- was not ready to talk about race or color or ethnicity, and in the living rooms and coffee shops we so often hear about from the media, Obama committed political suicide.

There is a counter argument, however, worth talking about.

Whether Obama succeeds in his race for the Democratic nomination, there are some who believe he unleashed something much bigger than a defense and explanation of his pastor's ill-considered sermons -- a dialogue if you will, about race, religion and gender, issues that lie just beneath the surface not only in America, but the world over.

"Increasingly," Daniel Bell, author of The Post Industrial Society predicted some years ago "the nation state is under pressures that are cracking it. A striking thing, if you look around, is with all the talk of globalization and national integration, in almost every political arena of the world, you'll find factors for disintegration. In Northern Ireland, it is religious, in Canada it is linguistic, in Belgium it is linguistic, and in Nigeria it is tribal."

Benjamin Barber, author of The Jihad versus McWorld framed the issue this way. "What jihad, the bloody search for bloodlines and McWorld, the bloodless search for markets, has in common," he said is "anarchy -- the absence of common will and the conscious and collective human control of the guidance of law we call democracy."

Over 50 years ago the Kingston Trio -- a popular folk music group -- put the idea to music: "They're rioting in Africa. There's strife in Iran. What nature doesn't do to us, will be done by our fellow man."

Although the African American scholar W.E. B. DuBois predicted that the problem of our century would be "the color line" which included the Jim Crow South, but also "racial oppression" as Manning Marable in an article "Globalization and Racialization" put it -- "that included British, French, Belgian and Portuguese colonial domination in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, among indigenous populations."

Marable called it global apartheid: "The radicalized division and stratification of resources, wealth and power that separates Europe, North America and Japan from the billions of mostly black, brown, indigenous, undocumented immigrant and poor people across the planet."

There is no doubt that the forces of transnational capitalism and what we now call globalization, has had unsettling effects not only on economies of the world, but political and social structures as well.

These new structures are the cause of mass unemployment, incarceration and disenfranchisement accelerating -- creating an ever-widening circle of social disadvantage, poverty and civil death touching the lives of tens of millions of people across the U.S. and the world.

Former President Bill Clinton, a major proponent of globalization and free trade argued "that we have to move from interdependence to integration, to an integrated global community. To do that we must have a critical mass of the world with shared benefits, shared responsibilities and shared values."

These are issues, Obama said, "this nation cannot afford to ignore right now -- equal citizenship under the law -- still needs to be perfected."

Blogs and other talk forums are starting to show up around the world that is watching the U.S. presidential race almost as close as we Americans. They want to be heard. They want America to take the lead once again and are looking for a U.S. foreign policy that includes listening to them.

John Eger is the Van Deerlin endowed chairman of communications and public policy in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University (