Skip to content

Obama ≈ Chavez ?

17 September 2009


not Venezuela

An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man…

Former United States President James Earl Carter

During his own tenure as President of the United States (and after) Jimmy Carter —  who,  having grown up in the segregated south, and having served as one of the first post-segregation southern leaders,  knows racism when he sees it — was, like Barack Obama now, also tarred with being a socialist by the far right (and the merely uninformed).

Living in a country where two of the three main parties (PRI and PRD) explicitly define themselves as “socialist” and where another national party (Convergencia) calls itself “Social Democratic” (as did the Social Democratic party, which has lost its national registration, being somewhat redundant) and another — PT — claims to be Maoist, this seems to be a lame insult for the 21st century, but then, the United States has a different political vocabulary than the rest of the planet.

Socialism, for whatever reason, is anathema in the United States and politicians go out of their way to deny that any proposal of theirs is at all influenced by Socialist thinking.  When Carter was attacked (and he was despised by many for all kinds of reasons) he was usually slurred as a “European Socialist” — presumably meaning his proposals might do for France or Italy or Sweden, but not for the U.S. of A.

But when Barack Obama is called a “socialist”, he’s not being compared to some French or Italian leader, but to Hugo Chavez. There’s a reason, one that bolsters Carter’s observation.

Nicholas Kozloff, writing on “The Politics of Race” in Venezuela back in 2005, said:

Unlike the United States, Venezuela has not experienced poisonous anti black racism. But the idea of racial democracy does not stand up under scrutiny: the caste like divisions of the colonial period are still latent in society. “Venezuelan elites,” one scholar has remarked, “judged people by their appearances. Accordingly, individuals with ‘anxious hair’ or ‘hair like springs’ lived in the shadow of their black slave ancestors. The elites considered respectable the whiter Venezuelans who had ‘hair flat as rainwater, of an indefinite light brown color which is neither fair nor dark.'” Though some blacks were able to enter white society through marriage and miscegenation, “in the long run, such individuals provided the exceptions that proved the rule.” Blacks who sought social acceptance had to adopt the clothing, education, and language of the white elite. In present day Venezuelan society, notes respected commentator Gregory Wilpert, “The correspondence between skin color and class membershipis quite stunning at times. To confirm this observation, all one has to do is compare middle to upper class neighborhoods, where predominantly lighter colored folks live, with the barrios, which are clearly predominantly inhabited by darker skinned Venezuelans.” Meanwhile, journalist Greg Palast noted that rich whites had “command of the oil wealth, the best jobs, the English-language lessons, the imported clothes, the vacations in Miami, the plantations.”

Hugo Chavez,who does not “adopt the … language of the white elite”, as does Obama, does have something in common with the U.S. President however:

Physically, Hugo Chávez is a pardo, a term used in the colonial period to denote someone of mixed racial roots. “Chávez’s features,” writes a magazine columnist, “are a dark-copper color and as thick as clay; he has protruding, sensuous lips and deep-set eyes under a heavy brow. His hair is black and kinky. He is a burly man of medium height, with a long, hatchet-shaped nose and a massive chin and jaw.” In an interview, Chávez remarked that when he first applied to the military academy he had an Afro.

I agree that Venezuela (and most of Latin America) has not had the anxiety over “race” that was experienced in the United States, but, when it comes to political tactics, the overt displays of racism are cross-cultural:



The photoshopped images I took from political opposition websites, where one might expect the ethics of journalism are not applicable, but the two political cartoons appeared in “respectable” daily newspapers in Caracas (left) and New York (right).

Confusingly enough, the same political groups that claim their nation’s elected leaders are socialist and compare their black(ish) Presidents to monkeys will also try to compare them to Herr Master Race himself.  That confuses me, but in both Venezuela and the United States, there is a sense that the traditionally controlling “race” deserves to remain in control… as it was then, so it shall be, forever and ever, Amen.

That attitude doesn’t depend on being the majority (as “whites” supposedly still are in the United States). In Venezuela, the majority is non-white, as it is   in Bolivia, where very real fascists accuse the indigenous president of fomenting “race war” and also resort to comparing him to a monkey. But, Evo Morales for some reason, isn’t seen as a threat by the right in the United States… could it be there aren’t many Indians in the U.S., but a lot of blacks?

“Digby”, a U.S. political blogger, writing about a connected issue 8the attempts by the right to deny they are racists) notes:

… these people are a perfect example of the modern racists. They don’t go around calling black people “boy” (to their faces) and they certainly don’t think of themselves as bigots. But in their minds, racial minorities [or, in Bolivia, majorities] are dangerous barbarians who are threatening to destroy their way of life.

This being a Mexican site, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that  anti-black attitudes exist here, too.   Alex Okeoko writes a well-balanced article for Time about Afro-Mexicans and mentions both that persons  identifiably Afro-Mexicans only number about a million people, whose discrimination is based more on social class than color.  And that country has had Afro-Mexican leaders.

Okeoko mentions historical leads like Vicente Guerrero, but ovelooks contemporary ones like former Quintano Roo Governor, Joaquin Hendricks Diaz. Racism, as such, is not the same as it is in the United States and the irrational fears raised by the “other” have different causes.

As to “white privilege” in this country, I have to go back to the 19th century to find overt evidence of it.  The Emperor Maxmiliano, called Juan Altamonte, he Regent who ran the occupation government until Max could get to Mexico, “that nigger”.  And Maximiliano was never a Mexican, just a wannabe.

Carlos Fuente’s “The Days of Laura Diaz”, concerns itself with the social changes among the Mexican upper class after the Revolution.  Laura doesn’t so much marry down under Pre-Revolutionary thinking because she marries an Afro-Mexican, but when she marries a poor man for whom “the revolution has done justice” … in other words, a political hack, not a member of Laura’s own haciendado class.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary O'Grady permalink
    17 September 2009 11:12 am

    The people who are calling Obama socialist do not have the faintest idea of what socialism is, but they have been trained to perceive it as evil. Meanwhile, what passes for the left in the US, including the occasional real socialist, attacks Obama for being too centrist.

  2. 18 September 2009 9:38 pm

    Oh, if only Obama WERE a socialist. And if only these people did understand what it actually means to be one. The health insurance racket would be out of business in short order if that were only true.


  1. Posts about race discrimination (best posts combined for review) as of September 17, 2009 | Discrimination Law News

Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: