State of “Race Relations” in an Age of Black Presidency
If you ask people what’s the most important aspect of the Obama presidency, many would mention the fact that he is the first black president. The fact that this is even considered a “major achievement” or at the very least a significant event in American history by most people says much about the state of the so called “race relations”, which is nothing but a euphemism for plain old racism in this country. After all, “relations” implies reciprocity, whereas racism is anything but reciprocal. The fact is that, substantively, Obama’s presidency, from the point of view of long term US policies, has been nothing but routine, ordinary and completely within the framework of the military industrial complex and along the lines of his predecessors since World War II, including and especially George W. Bush. Substantively, it’s been in fact so ordinary that it can be categorized as bland, boring and predictable, like most Hollywood movies whose ending can be predicted from the very first minutes of the film. The nature of Obama’s presidency too could be and indeed was predicted by some on the left, including myself back in 2007.
But, in a society where racism is as much a part of the American culture as munching on popcorn and guzzling down a huge cup of Coke in theaters and where such an absurd and nonsensical question as “Is America ready for a black president” can be seriously asked by TV personalities and somehow understood and even answered by their viewers, race is bound to overshadow just about anything that happens here. While Obama did pledge his allegiance to the ruling class of billionaires even before his candidacy and assured them of his faithful and unwavering servitude when in office, his race was a factor even for the class of multibillionaires when they decided to give him their support. Not that the ruling class isn’t racist – it very much is – but it knows when to use race to its advantage. And an advantage his race indeed was as it was used to give the appearance that racism was no more, as well as to win the acquiesce and pacifism of the black community. There is precedence to this. President Nixon was a known Jew hater, but significantly increased US aid to the “Jewish state” because of the role Israel played in support of US imperialism in the strategically vital region of Middle East. Racism is practiced by the white supremacist class of billionaires, but not to its own economic or strategic detriment. Obama’s winning of presidential elections twice with the financial help of this class is a testament to that.
But, while his presidency had a calming effect on the black community, it couldn’t have been without its blowback among the racist whites who’d answer “hell no” to “Is America ready” question. Of course, a more appropriate question to ask would have been: “Is America ready to continue the policies of his predecessors like Bush and Cheney?”, rather than one that diverts attention from the substance to the skin color. But the corporate media isn’t interested in asking substantive questions. It’s interested in protecting the interests of the class it’s a part of. The fact is that skin color alone was never a reliable judge of people’s allegiances, positions, principles or their humanity. Many a slave never wasted a moment to fetch the whip for their master when whipping of another slave was in order. Obama is such a slave.
But, in a society where racism has been used to divide the poor for many generations, the presidency of a black man was bound to generate an outcry. The best indication of the displeasure of many of the whites with having a black president is how far some racist Republican politicians from the South are willing to go to undermine, discredit, humiliate and oppose Obama, despite his servitude to the white ruling class. It matters little to these politicians that the president has served the wealthy whites as well as or even better than any before him. They simply can’t restrain and hide their contempt for him and “his kind”. Since the beginning of his presidency, questions were raised about his birthplace, whether he really did graduate from Harvard and whether he really was Christian. Well known politicians like the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani also questioned his “love for his country”. The answer of course depends on what’s exactly meant by country, but that’s another story.
While many would argue that these politicians’ vitriol towards Obama is solely due to policy differences, I beg to differ. Race has a lot to do with such animosity. President Clinton was a Democrat too and, in some respects, more liberal than Obama. Yet, he never generated as much hatred and contempt among the whites as has Obama. Just yesterday, it was reported by news organizations that 47 Republican Senators signed and sent Iranian officials a letter which besides being ignorantly condescending and ignorant of international laws and even of the rules and duties of different branches of the US government, basically told Iranians not to waste their time negotiating with Obama over Iran’s nuclear program because they, not Obama, are the ones who matter and they are going to ignore and toss aside any pending agreement between the two countries. This comes at the heels of the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of the US Congress in opposition to the ongoing negotiations between the Administration and Iran, without even notifying the President about the invitation. To top it all off, Republican leaders also skipped the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March in Selma. These actions by members of an opposing party are unprecedented. Again, they may be attributed to policy differences, but, I disagree. Race does play a role here and a major one at that as it does about just about everything else.
Not only Obama’s presidency did not improve “race relations” (i.e.: racism), it actually made things worse. His presidency served to give the appearance of diminished racism (what racism if a black man can be the president?) and gave the space to its actual growth and intensification, as it incited many whites to more fiercely cling to their long held racism. A recent poll showed that almost 40% of Americans believe “race relations” are worse now than before Obama’s presidency. But, you don’t need a poll to know that. Just look at how frequently young black men are shot and killed on the streets by police who are nothing but dangerous killer gangs legally carrying guns with the legal protection of district attorneys and courts. The fact is: racism is as strong as ever and a black president put in office with the help of billionaire CEO’s, intent on serving their interests would not and could not change that.
Now, we are being told it’s time for a woman president, meaning of course Hillary Clinton. And once again, substance and policies are being ignored and sacrificed in order to put the attention and focus on the gender so it can be said: US broke the glass ceiling, too, that “we as a nation have come a long way”. Yes, “we” have. “We” are now engaged in multiple and endless wars killing brown people everyday, aiding an apartheid settler state with its ongoing genocide, killing and incarcerating black youth in the thousands while letting fraudster bankers walk free, spying on the citizens, jailing whistle blowers, attacking women’s rights while continuing to pay them less than men for the same work and criminalizing immigrants. Income and wealth inequality and hunger and poverty is as high as ever. The middle class has all but disappeared and people’s standard of living continues to decline, with millions not able to afford healthcare expenses even with Obamacare. Education has become out of reach for many and college graduates can’t find a decent job even after undertaking huge debts to finance their higher education, while billions and trillions are spent on wars. And racism is as strong as ever. But, no matter because the presidency of a woman like Hillary Clinton will be a major step forward, just as it was with the first black president.
It’s ironic and at the same time quite telling that as the photo shows, President Obama gave his commemoration speech in front of a bridge that was built in honor of and bears the name of a Confederate general, Edmund Pettus, who was the Grand Dragon of Alabama Ku Klux Klan!