Jeh Johnson, Changing the Hue Of Hegemony
On October 18th I watched in awe as a progressive Democrat, the nephew of a Tuskegee airman and alumni of Morehouse – a traditionally Black university – addressed the nation. He was fellow Black man I remembered well, because he’d said something once that I would never forget. He said, “I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms.” The man who uttered these words will likely head the Department of Homeland Security.
That man is Jeh Johnson, who recently accepted the President’s invitation to succeed Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. During his acceptance speech, he casually mentioned being a New Yorker and brought up the significance of his birthday which happens to be September 11. Standing in the Rose Garden he recalled “the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history.” And in doing that, Johnson – who helped shape the policy that made it legally permissible to extrajudicially assassinate suspects abroad without trial – hinted that he would be carrying on the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism legacy. Interestingly enough, Johnson will be the first Black American to hold this seat.
Johnson’s appointment signals the affirmation of a new hue for the U.S.’s tradition of hegemony and imperialism. While seeing a face of color is enough for many, political placements in high profile positions where terrorizing communities of color both at home and abroad is part of the job description are no cause for celebration. A record number of immigrant deportations have already happened under the watch of Johnson’s predecessor, Janet Napolitano. But what is truly ironic is that the grim milestone of the most deportations ever to occur in the history of the U.S. could be reached under the leadership of a Black man working in a Black President’s administration.
In a country where racial demographics are changing quickly, the diverse, multiracial population expects to see itself proportionately represented in the halls of power. Barack Obama’s election as the 44th president was symbolic of this ascension for many, including myself. During his second election campaign, the President received overwhelming support from voters of color with Black, Asian, and Latino voters all supporting him by 70% at least. And since Obama has been elected to office a second time, we have seen Black faces like Susan Rice, Eric Holder, and now Jeh Johnson emerge as representations of racial progress while maintaining the same devastating ideologies of their white predecessors.
If this nomination goes smoothly with minimal Republican backlash, we should expect him to show his true colors. As the state official who approved post-acquittal detention – detaining terror suspects even after they were acquitted – I cannot say I feel good about what this nomination means for Muslim Americans. Johnson is already a veteran of “Terror Tuesdays”, the infamous series of meetings where the President decides which enemies of the U.S. government will live to breathe another day (or won’t) based on their “baseball card” biographies. Anyone who excuses the so-called disposition matrix that took the lives of Nabeela ur-Rehman’s grandmother, 16 year old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and countless others does not deserve a seat of power. Many more victims will never have the violence inflicted upon them documented by the media or in an Amnesty International report. Some will never testify before a committee pleading that their village not be “double-tapped” with hellfire missiles by a drone operator on the other side of the globe.
And at a time when the immigrant community inside the U.S. – and, increasingly, abroad – has felt the effect of nearly 2 million deportations, Johnson’s appointment does not signal a forthcoming show of mercy. His mercy has only come in defense of the corporations whose interests he has protected in his law practice.
It has been disappointing for me to see these Black faces in positions of political prestige leave communities of color in this country and abroad reeling. We also witnessed this troubling trend during the Bush Administration, when Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell advocated the warrantless destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. Had Susan Rice endured the trumped up Benghazi scandal and secured her seat as Secretary of State, we might have seen more than the arbitrary arrests of Blacks that took place after Muammar al-Gaddafi’s removal.
A generation of young people who cast their first vote for the first Black President are forced to choose between the GOP, a party increasingly bent on alienating itself from people of color, and the Democrats, a party that seemingly employs perpetual compromise as one of its core values. For many like myself who were optimistic and supported presidential candidate Obama – who did not sound like or physically resemble the status quo – Johnson’s looming confirmation shows that the current changes are more about appearances than principle.
Follow William on Twitter @Williamcander.