The Great Black Hajj of 2009

They were pilgrims, one million African Americans bent on fulfilling a solemn, silly, tearful, giddy, deep-felt, mindless, gotta-be-there obligation. They were the faithful, the heretics, the high priests and low-lifes, the innocent and the guilty-as-sin. All were committed to a once (or, at least, first) in a lifetime trek to Washington to bear witness to The Biggest Black Event in History, as so it must have been, based on the numbers. And oh yes, there were white folks there, too, about an additional million. Let it be recorded that all ethnicities were welcomed at the great Black Hajj of 2009.

Obama, the one-word incantation — Oh-Bah-Mah! — would not be denied. The sea of humanity lapped at his feet, as the mountain had come to Muhammad.

The Black multitudes waited to be told who they were, and why they were there. They learned that “Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” They cheered in acknowledgement of their shared culpability in the “collective failure” that had destroyed the global financial system, the workings of which were beyond their capacity to comprehend, much less influence. Yet, they must be guilty of something. Obama said so.

He informed his followers that, “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered.” This they already knew, many through painful, personal experience. What is to be done? Well, “in the words of Scripture,” Obama proclaimed, “the time has come to set aside childish things.” Things like boorishly interrupting the nation’s business (now Obama’s business) with complaints about particular African American grievances such as chronically high jobless rates, neglected schools, gross criminal injustice, housing segregation. Citing the litany is bad form — damn near un-American, Obama seemed to indicate.

He pressed the point. “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.” Who was Obama talking about? In hindsight, possibly Obama was referring to those whom he knew would in less than a week be complaining that he had delayed congressional action on “universal” health care, dashed the hopes of besieged homeowners in need of a law that would allow judges to adjust their mortgages, abandoned the Gulf Coast Civic Action bill to create 100,000 jobs and affordable housing for Katrina-ravaged Americans, and put organized labor’s Employee Free Choice Act on the back burner. Yes, that would be cause for “recriminations” and deployment of “warn-out dogmas” regarding the people’s rights to health care, housing, jobs and dignity.

Obama, object of the Great Hajj, personification of Black Mecca, continued: “Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.” Even far out near the Washington Monument, pilgrims understood that Obama was preparing to lower the boom on some undeserving, “narrow interests” that had malingered on the public dole for too long. What they may not have noticed in preparing to join the Hajj — at considerable sacrifice, for some — was that two weeks before, Obama had revealed the “unpleasant decisions” he was contemplating. Social Security and Medicare were “a central part” of his planned overhaul of federal spending.

Those who thought the battle of Social Security had been fought, and won, back in George W. Bush’s first term, were mistaken. This time, Obama the Democrat is putting “entitlements” on the chopping block, on his own initiative. Few on the Mall understood his meaning. No surprise — Obamites characteristically invest their own meanings to his speeches, while remaining oblivious to his actual political positions.

In 17 minutes, it was over, and the pilgrims began to disperse. Obama had spoken of “a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.” In fact, Black people haven’t lowered their expectations, but instead, imagine that their wildest dreams have come true in the form of Obama. It is an unsustainable delusion, which Obama himself will dispel over time. But you couldn’t tell the 2009 hajjis that. As with the Jewish farewell, “Next year in Jerusalem,” they left Washington making plans for January 20, 2013.

Glen Ford is Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report, where this article first appeared. He can be contacted at: Read other articles by Glen, or visit Glen's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 28th, 2009 at 9:57am #

    bears repeating: meanings are in people; not in their words. and since obama had been (s)elected for prez it cld have been concluded that his meanings (wishes, intent, plans,etc.) are identical with the meanings of the ruling class.

    yes, america is ruled; so is every other empire/land. question is, who are these rulers? and if one can’t find who they are and how many there is, aren’t that a tragedy in itself?
    and who is standing in the way of an inquiry? but of course, the same unknowns!

  2. Michael Kenny said on January 28th, 2009 at 2:29pm #

    Don’t be too hard on the blacks! I’m old enough to remember JFK and the effect he had on American Catholics in general and Irish-Americans in particular (to say nothing of the Irish!) (And the Catholic Church, for that matter!). 50 years from now, black men and women, and not just in the US, inspired, not by what Obama may say or do but by the mere fact of his being there, will have done all kinds of things, some good, some bad, that they would never have got a chance to do otherwise.

    In 1960, America’s Catholics were predominantly poorly-educated, working class people. There was a very limited presence in academia, often, indeed, priests, and practically none in journalism or the higher ranks of the military. Catholic politicians were almost always big city, machine politicians. And Democrats! And of course, there was the Mafia, with their elaborate church funerals.

    Kennedy swept all that away, not by what he was but by what people wanted him to be. Now the turn of the blacks has come. Let them take advantage of it. More than a few will make thorough fools of themselves, but so what? We only learn from our own mistakes.

  3. Magarulian said on January 29th, 2009 at 12:24am #

    Yes, Michael Kenny, it’s all about what we want our singular presidents to be.

    Camelot. Our perceptions of JFK’s charm and practiced grace is what counted. What he appeared to do – both here and abroad – was controlled by TV and newspapers.
    He became a martyr. He didn’t even finish his first term in office. This is why people remember JFK today. Now, in this era, people don’t care about his particular Christian religion. His time was also before our major involvement in Vietnam. We had relative peace, except for those pesky Russians and Cubans.

    Now, we have the Internet. Obama will not get away with much. 5o years from now, you honestly must question whether or not this country will still exist. It certainly won’t continue to exist as the American Empire. Obama has huge foreign entanglements to deal with, along with massive economic problems here at home.

    Obama has already proven that he represents the white, corporate elite – by his actions, not his words (although he is very clever). Black people 50 years from now (a lot sooner in my thinking) will not even remember that he was black.

    His goal is to preserve the American Empire and all that it represents. He will fail miserably, unless he either wakes up or goes out like JFK.