AFRICANGLOBE – My most recent visit to the United States coincided with the turmoil caused by the decision of the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict Mr Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown seven times, killing him.
Street protests followed the jury’s judgment.
The refusal of the jury to indict generated a firestorm of protest in Ferguson and many cities and campuses across the US.
The rage was in part a by-product of the age-old controversy that plays itself throughout the United States where Blacks are routinely stopped, frisked and quizzed by white police officers on the assumption that they are more than likely transporting drugs, weapons or some other illegal commodity.
Few Black men escape being stereotyped, profiled, and harassed which is associated with it.
“Driving While Black” is a major criminal offence in America.
Many Americans, but Blacks in particular, expected that great achievements would follow from the election of Barack Obama. While few, if any, expected that the race problem would disappear, quite a few expected the fulfilment of Martin Luther King’s dream.
It was assumed that “freedom” had finally come, and that Jim Crow and the colour bar would be anachronisms of the past.
There is now a great deal of disappointment among some naive Black folk.
As Obama explained in one of his speeches, “On the heels of my victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post-racial America, and those problems would be solved…That did not work out so well.”
That was of course one of the understatements of the year.
Many “post Blacks” are disappointed about how little of the Black prophetic agenda Obama has been able to deliver. Statistical data indicate that many are in fact poorer now than they were before Obama. The Black middle class has shrunk and rates of Black unemployment is said to have increased.
Young Blacks are also being incarcerated in droves—six times the rate of white people—and few are finishing high school.
One in 15 Black children have a parent in prison compared with one in 111 white children.
The median wealth of white families is 20 times that of Black families. The average Black family has US$5,677 in wealth compared with US$113,149 for the average white family.
This disparity is said to be the highest it has ever been.
Race-based remedies bearing the taint of affirmative action are for the most part a no-no,even though Jim Crow is still alive and the cross still burns in suburbia.
Some of Obama’s problems are by-products of his own hybridity as well as the manner in which he campaigned for the presidency, having regard to the demographics that characterise American society.
He had to fashion a style that would make him acceptable not only to Blacks of all classes, but also to whites, Hispanics, Asians, Southerners, Eastern liberals, first time voters whom he mobilised, and other minority communities. As one scholar put it, “In racial terms, Obama was singularly polysemous and multi-vocal enabling voters of multiple stripes—Black and multiracial, post-racial, immigrant pacific islanders and so on to see him as a pan-racial candidate who dignified their experiences and advocated their interests.”
Given Obama’s many pan-racial constituencies, it is not surprising that he satisfied no one fully. Once the honeymoon was over, and given the collapse of the banks and economy as a whole, he was hogtied. He was acceptable only to a minority of whites, some of whom felt he was too Black, too liberal, too “socialist”, etc.
He could neither move to the right or to the left. He had no consistent base.
He had to be strategic and opportunistic to survive.
Any initiative that was Afrocentric was shot down with the assertion that he was an American President and not an American with what has been called “wounded identities”. Those who belonged to the right-wing lunatic fringe, (the “Tea Party”) were hostile on all counts.
They would lynch him if they could.
Many Republicans and even some Democrats saw him as a dangerous radical who must be opposed and blocked comprehensibly, whether it was on Obamacare, his healthcare programme; on immigration, which was blocked in the Congress even though it had had bipartisan support in the Senate; appointments of ambassadors, etc.
What we have had for the past six years or so was a political system in near total gridlock.
Governance had fled from the US Congress. Very little moved.
Politically, the US was worse than Trinidad and Tobago in some respects.
The result of all this, in a political nutshell, was that Obama was unable to get much of his declared policy agenda through Congress, and in the end had to rely unilaterally on executive orders and what is euphemistically called “prosecutorial discretion” which allows
Presidents to use their discretion when it is deemed necessary in the public interest so to do.
Some accuse Obama of political overreach, and accuse him of being a “rogue” president who wanted to be a dictator to secure his legacy. Some even talked about impeachment and of dismantling Obamacare, his main policy triumph.
Obama denied any such aim, and insists that his policies are within the law: “The actions I am taking are not only lawful, they are the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half century.”
Obama spokesmen noted in particular that some of those who used the executive route were Reagan and George Bush.
Obama also denies that nothing has changed.
As he pleaded, the problems facing Blacks are deeply rooted and will take time. He told young Blacks in particular to be steady and not quit when you don’t get all the way there.
America is not yet a “post-racial” society.
Things have moved forward somewhat, and we can’t equate what is happening now with what was happening 50 years ago.
By: Selwyn Ryan