I will be taking the opportunity to allow different perspectives on Al Sharpton speech last night at the Operation Black Vote event titled “Realising the Dream: Rev Al Sharpton’s UK Rally”
First observation is from a student in International Relation & Politics, Gergana Dimitrova.
Does Politics Have a Colour?
“Your lack of participation supports the opposition […] Progressive alliances can decide the government in these elections”, said political and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton at an event organized by Organization Black Vote (OBV) in London yesterday. The political rally, whose initial purpose was to shed some light upon the decision-making procedures in the UK before the upcoming elections and to raise political awareness for the importance of voting, was gradually transformed into a political theatre with some exclusionary and radical elements. Condemning the ‘racist right’ and ruthlessly exploiting the ‘inferior’ position of black people in the UK, Rev. Sharpton’s fervent anti-Conservative rhetoric obfuscated any ideological differences between left, right, conservative or liberal. In a wittily designed political show, Rev. Sharpton demonstrated a stereotypical and overtly simplistic view of civil society today, which, as he implied, consists of politically and socially victimized black people and superior, oppressive white villains. His ‘black and white only’ formula was the bottom line of an emotional and colourful speech, in which the individual vote suffered a crashing defeat from a long- term political opponent – the colour vote.
In a very populist, neo-fascist manner, Rev. Sharpton exploits the historical past in order to create political tension, to gain support and to create the false impression that it is ideological struggle that we are talking about. Ironically enough, it is people like Sharpton who actually exacerbate racial tensions and create racist discourses, by re-inventing the historical tradition and placing it in an obscure and very inappropriate context. People like Sharpton, who normally lack political expertise and rely on obscure, biting and senseless theatrical techniques in order to attract the listeners’ attention, usually manage in one and only thing – to verbally reconstruct the past so that it fits a current political reality. Activists like this are very often classified by political experts as neo-fascist, in the sense that they mythologize a particular race at the expense of another, prioritize historical parallelism for politics’ sake and mythologize a ‘glorious’ past, spreading xenophobia and fear. Figures like Sharpton are unfortunately a commonality in some Western and Eastern European countries, where popular discontent with the political situation transforms itself into far-right dogmatism.
An average observer with some right-wing affiliations would be petrified by the idea that black people should go out and vote against ‘the ones who have convinced them to accept a secondary status’. This forced, propagandist invitation to vote contains some dangerous characteristics of what political scientists call the ‘opposition vote’ and even worse – the racial vote. Both of these political phenomena have proven to be a failure in the past. Voting for the sake of condemning the incumbent government or out of a feeling for collective belonging has never been able to change the political realities. People should go out and vote not because they are black or white or because they belong to a particular ethnic community. People should register to vote as individual members of a free democratic civil society, not in a collective and totally exclusive fashion, and not, as suggested by Sharpton, as historically or racially burdened individuals. Otherwise we will keep on facing the same binary opposition where one group of people is treated as ‘different and other’ by a hypothetically superior and stronger one. In this sense, Sharpton is no better than BNP’s notorious leader Nick Griffin with his outrageous racist rhetoric and far-right ideas. A close observation on the verbal techniques and ideas of the two will disclose a striking similarity – only the colours of the stigmatized communities are different.
Ferociously condemning right-wing politics, Rev. Sharpton’s dogmatic appeal dangerously reminds extreme right propaganda and a power-political game. It bears all the features of populist oriented neo-fascism, where the white community is inevitably depicted as evil and aiming to politically cripple the black vote. Of course, this does not mean that there is no racial problem in the UK or the rest of the world. Until racial differences exist, tension will be there too. The question is, why should colour issues be transformed into an electoral pattern? Can’t we play politics without the racial card? In the end of the day the exit polls will not detect colour, but the electoral result – an amalgamation of the individual will for a change and progress. Because in the final countdown politics will not have a colour and political changes will affect all individuals equally, regardless of race, age and religion.
© January 2010