Friday, July 23, 2010

The Age of Reagan, 1980-present

In this year that we have now declared
the year from Shogun to Reagan,
I remember what I said about Reagan…meant it.
Acted like an actor…Hollyweird.
Acted like a liberal.
Acted like General Franco
when he acted like governor of California,
then he acted like a republican.
Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for president.

Gil Scott Heron “B-Movie”

Two weeks after the 2008 presidential elections, Cornel West, the preeminent negro intellectual in the world today, stated on Democracy Now! that the election of Barack Obama signals the beginning of the end of the ‘Age of Reagan.’ The Harvard trained intellectual proves that Carter G. Woodson’s famous saying remains true “Harvard has ruined more good negroes than bad whisky ever will.” In fact, the new administrations neoliberal economic advisors, bank bailouts, and support for wars of foreign aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the current period of right wing conservatism has not ended. Actually, the Tea party activist and politicians might represent a move from the current form of democratic or covert fascism to the openly white supremacist fascism seen during the era of segregation.

The seeds of the contemporary period begin, oddly enough, at the highpoint of the African Freedom Movement and World Revolution in the late 1960s. In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States on a ‘law and order’ platform that appealed to the white middle class and southern segregationist. In addition, the FBI through its COINTELPRO targeted African and other revolutionary organizations for infiltration, imprisonment, and assassination. Although in the 1970s there were attempts to rebuild the movement from its peak of 1968, by the late 70s it was apparent this moment of African insurgency had ended unsuccessfully.

The consolidation of the right-wing national security elites, the moral majority, and fiscal conservatives in the 1970s culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan. In order to prove his White Nationalist credentials, Reagan kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS where three civil rights workers were murdered by white supremacists in the 1960s. Dr. Ronald Walters, former chair of political science at Howard University, states “White Nationalism might be defined as that radical aspect of the Conservative Movement that intends to use both unofficial power and official power of the state to maintain White Supremacy by subordinating Blacks and other non-Whites.”

At the same time, the Reagan administration adopted neoliberal economic policies advanced by the University of Chicago Economics department. According to neoliberal ideology, human beings are primarily rational, self-interested actors, therefore, the state should be eliminated as much as possible so that human nature can flourish. Its characteristics are 1) removal of trade barriers 2) privatization 3) elimination of social services and 4) liberalization of financial markets.

In relation to Africans in America, the most debilitating aspect of this period is the emergence of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). For example, according a study reported in the New York Times, there were 143,000 African men in prison or jail in 1980 but by 2000 the number had exploded to 791,600. Moreover, African women are one of the fastest growing prison populations in the U.S.

This process of mass incarceration was facilitated by the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the Crime Control Act of 1994 and other draconian drug laws. Currently, in the United States a person convicted of possessing 5 grams of crack receives the same sentence in federal court as a person convicted of possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine. That is, literally, 1:100 ratio. What is the difference: the crack form of the drug is primarily used by lower income Africans and the powder form is the drug of choice for middle class and elite Whites. Then, in 1998, Rep. John Conyers entered into the congressional record a document called “A Tangled Web: A History of CIA Complicity in Drug International Trafficking” to show the role of the US government in the drug trade.

In 1994 the so-called ‘Republican Revolution’ facilitated the passage of White Nationalist legislation such as the previously mentioned drug laws. After gaining control of the House and Senate in 1994, the republicans revealed their Contract with America which focused on restoring so called traditional American values and fiscal conservatism. In an attempt to help the democratic party remain relevant, Bill “slick willie” Clinton began to chip away at the New Deal and Great society programs so that the democratic party platform corresponded to the Contract with America.

For example in 1996 Clinton signed welfare reform or PRWORA into law. The bill limited the amount of time a family could be on welfare to five years and had stringent work requirements. Unfortunately, the primary jobs available to undereducated and poor people are low-wage service jobs that do not offer a living wage. And, since Africans are disproportionately poor, they were and are unduly affected. Several of Clintons cabinet members resigned in protest asserting that the new law would cause increased poverty among children. Although these policies are a component of the White Nationalist assault, Africans are told the U.S. is a color blind, now post-racial, society. Therefore, according to the White Nationalists, their problems are the result of their bad morals and pathological behavior.

But don’t be fooled, Reagonmics is global. In 1980, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Britain. Both countries, particularly the U.S. uses the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, World Bank, and United Nations) to project imperial power. The IMF and World Bank utilize the Washington Consensus to impose structural adjustment programs (SAP) on Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In short, poor formerly colonized countries with little to no capital must accept a neoliberal agenda to receive loans with interest thereby undermining their self-determination and further impoverishing the countries. For example, Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel prize for economics, claims that the policies of the IMF and World Bank have negatively impacted the economies of poor countries.

Iraq isn’t new, the U.S. will stop at nothing to impose its will on smaller countries. A case in point, in 1983 following a socialist revolution in Grenada led by the New Jewel Movement, the U.S. invaded the predominantly African nation of 100,000 people. Maurice Bishop, the prime minister, warned that the “state department views us as a threat because we represent a different path of socio-economic development.” A few years later in 1991, the CIA backed a coup on the predominantly African island of Haiti. Then, only returned Aristide, the democratically elected leader, to the country after he agreed to a SAP.

White Nationalist policies from Reagan to Obama are too long to list here. But, how can we transition out of this period? First, African activists, artists, intellectuals, and journalists must engage in an intense ideological struggle with, white and negro, White Nationalists who state “Black people are to blame for their own problems.” We have to unequivocally and boldly state our problem: imperialism and capitalism. This requires us to move from a defensive posture to an offensive posture. In other words, i am calling for something akin to Mao’s Cultural Revolution or the Black Consciousness Movement that challenges bourgeois values and elements in society. Finally, White Nationalism can only be defeated, i think, by Revolutionary Black Nationalism.

Butterfield, Fox. “Study Finds Big Increase in Black Men as Inmates Since 1980” New York Times August 28, 2002.

Cha-Jua Sundiata. “The New Nadir: The Contemporary Black Racial Formation” Black Scholar Spring 2010

DemocracyNow! Cornel West on the Election of Barack Obama: "I Hope He Is a Progressive Lincoln, I Aspire to Be the Frederick Douglass to Put Pressure on Him."

Harvey, David. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mitchell, Alison. “TWO CLINTON AIDES RESIGN TO PROTEST NEW WELFARE LAW” New York Times September 12, 1996.

Stiglitz, Joseph. (2003). Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Umansky, Eric. “History 101: The CIA & Drugs.” MotherJones.

Walters, Ronald. (2003). White Nationalism, Black Interests: Conservative Public Policy and the Black Community. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.


  1. "Weed and Seed" was another devastating Reagan-Bush policy for African American communities. In essence it restored cuts Reagan had made in antipoverty funding for cities - in return for local cooperation with local/federal draconian (and blatantly unconstitutional) policing practices. When Seattle adopted "Weed and Seed" in 1993 police could legally take anyone on a given street into custody if they declared it a "high drug traffic area." Once in jail, the obligation fell on the detainee to prove their innocence. Another really heart-breaking provision was the seizure of homes if the police made an arrest and found illegal drugs on the premises. I knew several elderly African Americans who lost their homes when police found their grandchildren using pot in their absence. This aspect of the law had no provision whatsoever for having the property returned - even if charges were dismissed or the actual property owners found to be innocent. I write about this and other struggles of Seattle's African American community during the eighties and nineties in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (I currently live in exile in New Zealand).

  2. Peace

    As always nice breakdown of the political climate here. Interesting that you have made this connection. Obama's neo-liberal politic are...The solution is i agree is revolutionary nationalism which provides a frame of reference to have an effective conversation that is not confused by ideas of "post racial" and "multiculturalism."

    Many Thanks,