if you don’t start swimmin now

APTOPIX ObamaOut of the blue recently I was asked questions by the magazine ‘State of Nature’ and the full interview will be on their site next month. Some of their questions though had to do with Obama. Since my answer is sort of topical vis a vis the G20 at the start of this month, I’ll include this excerpt from the middle of the interview here now. (I promise not all my answers contain as much waffle or question redirection as this one):

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You describe how since 9/11 the theory of hybridity and diaspora as sites of political resistance “seems meek and mild in the face of an aggressive neo-liberal conservatism”. Now, the current political narrative in the US seems to be that it is time to return to a more ‘enlightened’ pre-Bush era, ignoring the fact that US foreign policy was hardly much different in previous decades. What does the election of Barack Obama mean for cultural theory?


I think there are big problems associated with the election of Barack Obama if we are to think of this as anything to do with Hybridity. You saw during the election campaign what a mess that turned out to be. Was he Black? Was he mixed? Was he black enough? What about that surname? That middle name? These were pretty distasteful scenes, and clearly the Republican team ‘A’ were in self destruct mode, but if we remember the primaries, the ‘B’ team did some of this low muckraking as well. But then I think all these issues of Barack’s cultural (read political) identity were also ‘meek and mild’ insofar as they disguised the ascendancy of a continued neo-liberal agenda on the part of both ‘sides’ of politics in the USA. Do I need to note that ‘our’ full of ‘hope’ new president managed to bomb Afghanistan on his first day in office, proceeding then to build a new coalition of the coerced to escalate the Afghan war, to launch a concerted recovery package for Capital that involved massive hand outs to the Auto industry, a renegotiation of the role of the World Bank and the IMF (rather than their abolition), an attempt to shore up the unravelling hegemony of the west in the face of military defeat in the Middle East (yes, it is certainly not a victory) and the ascendance of China and India in Asia? Some of us have been reading Quentin Peel’s article in the Financial Times of April the 6th. He says of the G20 summit in London at the start of April (in which, in passing, I note the death at the anti-summit protests of a 47 year old man at the hands of overzealous Police, with the Independent Police Complaints Authority investigating – will charges be laid?) that the summit indicated an important shift in the international order. The rise of new international powers meant ‘fundamental adjustments’ are taking place ‘including a switch of power from West to East. In the crisis, China India and Brazil (not east, but anyway, it’s the FT after all) must be at the table, with China playing an ever more important role in development and geopolitics. As well ‘China lectured Mr Obama’s new administration on the need to follow stimulus spending with renewed effort at fiscal consolidation’. Of course all this, and more – see here – is not anything other than the FT translating business-as-usual into an opportunity as ever. Capitalism is hybrid remember, it can come across as Chinese, but the change in the US response is such that the old stalking-horse accusations of Human Rights violations, usually used by the West to beat up on the rest of the world, were hardly mentioned during Hillary Clinton’s diplomatic visit there in February, as Quentin Peel also notes at the end of his piece. If the FT thinks the times are a changing, then we might want to take a more critical stance here too.

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What has the media coverage of Barack Obama (for example the constant reiteration that he is America’s ‘first black president’ when in fact, by any criteria, he is neither ethnically nor culturally any more black than white) signified in terms of dominant ideas of race, hybridity and multiculturalism?

Surely this question has to be relegated to the future judgement of history. Will Britain now elect its first Black president? It is interesting that there have been discussions on current affairs radio of just this prospect. The point being that we do not have a president in the Westminster system, and being prime minister does not have the same ring of achievement here – I mean, given the mess of the economy, no-one wants to be prime minister here. What I want to know is when we will get a Black Queen? There were those conspiracy theorists who said that Diana was pregnant with Dodi Fayed’s child when she died, but the line of succession would have excluded any possibility of Muslim royalty. I think here the theory gets absurdist. The aspiration to be President is as bad as the aspiration to be a royal – the sooner we do away with both hierarchical systems, and the corporate interests, stock market players, and big-time lobbyists behind it all, the better. Hmmm, did I tell you I was not in favour of the fake democracy that is the parliamentary system – voting once every four years is not really participation in decision making as to how we live our lives. I want real democracy – which is communism. At least that is one way we can define communism – everybody having a real say in how they live. Radical democracy. You don’t even have to vote for it in a guarded booth (remember the hanging chads).

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