By Margaret Kimberley, BAR Executive Editor and Senior Columnist
“You know me, and I know you.”
Those words were spoken by president Joe Biden at the recent Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Legislative Conference. No doubt he was purposefully evoking Congressman James Clyburn’s 2020 endorsement. Clyburn famously said , “I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us.” The identity of the other party in the first person plural was never stated, but was widely assumed to mean Black people. The oligarchs of the Democratic party had chosen Biden and that meant Clyburn went along as well. He is not the king maker he is made out to be. Of course the importance of his endorsement extended beyond the South Carolina primary and was considered to be a stamp of approval for all of Black America.
The CBC hasn’t improved any since that time. The annual conference host is the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which this year secured a sponsorship from Amazon, the corporation whose warehouse workers suffer injuries at double the rates of counterparts at other companies. Amazon’s low pay and working conditions churn out low income workers so rapidly that in many places their warehouses have run out of people to hire. The behemoth corporation fought tooth and nail against a successful Black-led unionizing drive at one of their warehouses in New York.
As always the CBC conference was sponsored by corporate giants such as Amazon, Coca Cola, Pepsico, Delta airlines, Bank of America, fossil fuel corporations Dominion Energy, BP, Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, and big pharma corporations such as Genentech, Johnson & Johnson, Ferring, and Bristol Meyers Squibb. It is no coincidence that Congressman Clyburn receives more campaign money from big pharma than any other member of the House of Representatives. As the House Whip he is unlikely to allow any legislation that his funders would not want to see realized.
Biden acted like the good white boss in his appearance, telling jokes about attending Howard University, bragging about appointing Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, “With the CBC, we invested an historic $5.8 billion dollars — that’s “B” with a — “B” — billion dollars…” He even told a story about the Voting Rights Act being passed when neither he nor CBC members seemed to be concerned about protecting it after SCOTUS made its most important provisions null and void. Biden bragged about Medicare negotiating drug prices but left out the fact that this won’t happen until 2026 and will apply to only ten drugs. Kingmaker Clyburn surely played a role in securing that outcome.
The Black political class is doing what it always does, serving as a prominent buffer class, and giving a pass to the Democratic party. That is their most important function, not fighting for their constituents, but keeping their constituents in line by propping up Obama or Biden or any other Democratic president while mouthing fake condemnation when Republicans are in office.
If Biden is the good white boss who can tell jokes and get reliable laughs in return, he won’t be taken to task for giving Ukraine and the military industrial complex $80 billion. He won’t be asked about the failure of Build Back Better or why the majority Black city of Jackson, Mississippi has a failing infrastructure that doesn’t provide clean water.
Of course CBC leaders aren’t stupid and they held sessions on topics of importance such as Black maternal health, obesity and stopping gun violence. But a closer look shows a mishmash of corporatist nonsense which absolves them of taking effective action on a number of critical issues. The Prosperity Gap could be reduced with a higher minimum wage and legislation making it easier for workers to organize at Amazon and other corporations. How can there be a Self Sustaining Africa under imperialism and the control of AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command? How can Black workers aspire to home ownership when they are relegated to jobs at conference sponsor Amazon?
The CBC was once called the “conscience of the Congress” but that was before the Democrats became a party of, by, and for wealthy people and corporations, just like the Republicans. Now it is a shell of its former self, happily joking with presidents who give the police $30 billion.
Two days before appearing at the CBC conference the Biden administration announced that its already insufficient student loan debt relief program would help fewer people than initially intended. Now recipients of private loans will no longer be eligible for the $10,000 or $20,000 in inadequate relief. Biden didn’t mention that in his speech at the conference though and continued saying of his plan, “It’s a gamechanger.”
The game changers in politics always spring from mass movements. That is why the Black Alliance for Peace protested on the first day of the conference. As part of its International Month of Action Against AFRICOM BAP demanded that the CBC end AFRICOM and give African nations their sovereignty and people in this country the billions of dollars that are spent on the military industrial complex.
Electoral politics is the place where movements go to die, and the Congressional Black Caucus is Exhibit A. It is true that “Joe knows us.” He knows that too many Black people are wedded to the notion that they have no options other than following Democratic party politics which have failed them time and again. A movement will get rid of scams like a belief in king maker politicians who are in fact owned by the Democrats. We do know Joe, Jim Crow Joe, and must act on what we know to be true.