News Release

Obama, Clinton, Malcolm X, and the Novocaine Effect


imgres-1Thursday, May 19 is the birthday of Malcolm X (Malcolm Shabazz). For upcoming events,

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY, kevinagray57 at, @kevinagray
Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina. His books include The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama (2008). He has also contributed to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (2012) and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence (2014). CounterPunch recently republished his 2002 essay “Soul Brother? Bill Clinton and Black Americans.”

In his 2009 essay “Obama and Black America,” Gray invoked a Malcolm X quote to explain the effect of Obama: “It’s like when you go to the dentist, and the man’s going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he starts pulling. So he squirts some stuff in your jaw called novocaine, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. So you sit there and ’cause you’ve got all of that novocaine in your jaw, you suffer peacefully. Blood running all down your jaw, and you don’t know what’s happening. ’Cause someone has taught you to suffer — peacefully.”

Gray said today: “This has been the role played by Obama. Many people — but especially black people — have silently suffered his policies because he has had the effect of novocaine. This is partly because, certainly, some rightwing attacks on Obama have been racial. But most of his core policies have been corporate and neoliberal. From a pro-corporate health insurance plan, to drone warfare, to not closing the wealth gap, to continuous wars, to trade deals and on and on. There’s been progress on gay rights, he deserves some credit for that. But he — like Hillary Clinton now — pretends to be progressive while implementing policies that are actually regressive.

“And because people are on novocaine, they don’t agitate, and so, you get nothing. … It’s fine that some people are out there with Black Lives Matter, but that’s a brand, not a movement. It’s a top down model, which is what we don’t want. Some ‘leaders’ from BLM are now embracing corporate policies — corporatization of schools and charter schools. That’s what happens when you don’t have historical and ideological grounding to your politics. That’s what we don’t want and that’s what Malcolm X warned against.”

Excerpts from Malcolm Shabazz’s speeches in the final years of his life:

“Back during slavery, when black people like me talked to the salves, they didn’t kill them. They’d send some house Negro behind him to undo what he said. You have to read the history of slavery to understand this. There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for his master. When the field Negroes got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put ‘em back on the plantation.”
— “To Mississippi Youth,” December 31, 1964. This and many other speeches are available via YouTube.

“They have a new gimmick every year. They’re going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet so he can walk around Washington with a cigar. Fire on one end and fool on the other end. And because his immediate personal problem will have been solved he will be the one to tell our people: ‘Look how much progress we’re making. I’m in Washington, D.C., I can have tea in the White House. I’m your spokesman, I’m your leader.’ While our people are still living in Harlem in the slums. Still receiving the worst form of education. …

“But how many sitting here right now feel that they could [laughs] truly identify with a struggle that was designed to eliminate the basic causes that create the conditions that exist? Not very many. They can jive, but when it comes to identifying yourself with a struggle that is not endorsed by the power structure, that is not acceptable, that the ground rules are not laid down by the society in which you live, in which you are struggling against, you can’t identify with that, you step back. …

“It’s easy to become a satellite today without even realizing it. This country can seduce God. Yes, it has that seductive power of economic dollarism. … When they drop those dollars on you, you’ll fold though.”
— “The Prospects for Freedom in 1965,” at the Militant Labor Forum, New York City, Jan. 7, 1965.
 Audio from this and other speeches here.

“While I was traveling, I had a chance to speak in Cairo, or rather Alexandria, with [Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser for about an hour and a half. He’s a very brilliant man. And I can see why they’re so afraid of him, and they are afraid of him — they know he can cut off their oil. And actually the only thing power respects is power. …

“This is a society whose government doesn’t hesitate to inflict the most brutal form of punishment and oppression upon dark-skinned people all over the world. To wit, right now what’s going on in and around Saigon and Hanoi and in the Congo and elsewhere. They are violent when their interests are at stake. But all of that violence that they display at the international level, when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we’re supposed to be nonviolent. They’re violent. They’re violent in Korea, they’re violent in Germany, they’re violent in the South Pacific, they’re violent in Cuba, they’re violent wherever they go. But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be nonviolent. …

[On the Congo:] “And they’re able to take these hired killers, put them in American planes, with American bombs, and drop them on African villages, blowing to bits black men, black women, black children, black babies, and you black people sitting over here cool like it doesn’t even involve you. You’re a fool. …

“And with the press they feed these statistics to the public, primarily the white public. Because there are some well-meaning persons in the white public as well as bad-meaning persons in the white public. And whatever the government is going to do, it always wants the public on its side. … So they use the press to create images.”
— “The Last Message,” address to the Afro-American Broadcasting Company, Detroit, Michigan, Feb. 14, 1965, the night his home was firebombed and a week before his assassination; text and audio here.