Race relations & President Obama

Should Barack Obama be elected President of the United States in November, the world will have not only the first black President of the USA but the first black leader of a world super power. This would undoubtedly be a welcome and symbolic achievement but one I feel is coming to soon for America as the racism that haunted it in the 1950’s still remains but in a very different form: institutional racism. There are those who have naievely claimed that the election of Barack Obama would mark an end to the racial divide in American politics and society. In reality however I believe an Obama presidency will have the reverse effect. Race relations will deteriorate or remain static.

The New York times has just issued a poll which claims that majorities of both whites and blacks agree that the country might be ready for a black president however the consensus between blacks and whites ends there. The respondents perceptions of Obama and his Republican challenger McCain, break sharply along racial lines. The survey found that more than 80 percent of blacks said they had a favorable opinion of Obama, while among whites only about 30 percent said they viewed him favorably.

However the most telling of the results lay in the respondents feelings toward how they view race relations. A slight majority of whites believed race relations were good (55%) while only 29% of black respondents could agree. This represents a sharp racial divide because the fact remains that blacks do legitimately feel like an ‘underclass’ in American society and they are clinging on to Obama in the hope he will reverse the systemic and racial inequality potent in American society. An Obama Presidency represents a dangerous path for American race relations. I believe that should Obama be elected President then many white Americans will ignore the ever present systemic and institutional biases that exist in American society.

By electing a black president many whites will believe that they have somehow ‘reached the racial promised land’ and everything else will fall in to place. Indeed it has become customary in America to use popular and prominent figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Condi Rice and Colin Powell as examples of how race is no longer a barrier in America allowing whites to dismiss other legitimate racial issues. Obama risks joining this misleading list of ‘blacks who broke the barrier’. Real changes in racial inequality, like those of the 1950’s, have been stalled as on the surface things appear more equal than they have ever done while in reality things are far from equal.

Steve Sailer, a columnist for The American Conservative magazine, wrote last year that some whites who support Obama aren’t driven primarily by a desire for change they want something else Obama offers them: White Guilt Repellent. According to Sailer many whites want to be able to say, ‘I’m not one of those bad whites. …I voted for a black guy for president,’ They know that all is not well in American race relations and they feel that by voting for a black man as their President that guilt over the inequalities that remain between blacks and whites can be relieved. Even African American commentators such as Andra Gillespie agree that Obama’s success doesn’t mean America has become a ‘post-racial’ or hemogenous society. She says it may signal the decline of individual racism but not another form of discrimination: systemic racism. She believes Obama is a token gesture to distract attention from the real issues of racial inequality and his election would overshadow these issues.

Systemic racism is alive and well in America and she feels that Obama’s election will do little to combat this as he has yet to acknowledge it exists publicly. African Americans, and indeed many whites, are clinging on to Obama as they believe he will hearald a new dawn in American race relations. Many African Americans are sick of feeling like an underclass and to put a black man in the Oval Office for them would be a huge symbolic victory even if they aren’t quite sure who Obama is or what he stands for.  This is exemplified by the support of leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who passionately want to see the day a black man walks in to the Oval Office.

However clearly all is not well in paradise after Jacksons now infamous remarks that he wants to cut ‘Obama’s nuts off’. The fact is, Jackson is backing him passionately because he knows how close they are to claiming the Oval Office and that historic symoblic victory. That is all an Obama victory will be: symbolic. Jackson doesn’t care who it is who takes the Oval Office, he doesn’t have to like them, they just have to be black. The reality of an Obama Presidency will be very different, I cannot see race relations improving much but I can see many blacks feeling even more let down that a black man could only get to the Oval Office by ‘acting white’.

Obama might be incredibly popular in Europe but Europe isn’t America. Obama’s support is slipping back home and a tight race is getting that bit tighter. At a time when the Democrats should be a shoe in for the presidency and with a leader as charismatic and internationally popular as Obama one has to question why the race is so close with latest polls putting the two nominess almost neck and neck. Since Barack Obama became the presumptive nominee for President the question on almost every commentators lips has been ‘Are the Americans ready to elect a black president?’ The very fact we have to ask that question shows they as individuals might be but America and its institutions certainly aren’t.

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12 thoughts on “Race relations & President Obama

  1. Did the march for women’s equality end with the election of M Thatcher,no, would the fight towards racial euality end in america? no.

  2. Dan, I’m willing to bet a lot of money on this…

    Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

  3. Ryan – Margaret Thatcher in many ways hindered the feminist cause, by reaching the ‘top job’ many dismissed allegations that women were unequal to men as a woman became the most powerful person in the country for 11 1/2 years. However over 20 years later women still face discrimination in the workplace whether it be pay or sexual. Therefore whilst the push for womens equality did not stop with thatcher, her election did little to combat inequality and in many ways pushed it lower down the agenda.

    Dan – I agree, and it is not a pretty prospect

  4. Well, I suppose the downside of democracy is that the electorate decide what is and what isn’t a pretty prospect. Can’t have that can we.

    Your argument that Obama’s election as president may be an obstacle to institutional racism is a side-show. This may be or may not be an upshot of America’s first black president. However, it is no argument against a candidate who is clearly extremely able.

  5. Dan youre making out as if he is a shoe in. However polls are concluding now that the race is tight… much tighter than it should be when faced with such an unpopular republican party and such ridiculously positive media coverage. He is riding on an unbelievable media wave and wave of international good will and yet STILL 46% of Americans dont want him. He is a dangerous left winger with protectionist economic policies and he will be a threat to international security with his slap dash quisling approach to Iraq and foreign policy. I think he will get it but not by the margin you seem to think. Remember this is the election for the democrats to lose not the republicans to win.

  6. I’m not sure of the margin. But he’ll win. Most of the major national poll results put Obama in the lead.

    The major pollsters have almost consistently put Obama in the lead. CNN research, ABC news, CBS news, the Cook political report, Democracy Corps, Diago, Fox news, Gallup, NBC, and the list goes on. Your right that the lead is tight in many of the cases, but I the consistent result is that Obama, despite his apparent inexperience and youthfulness, is holding out.

    I also imagine that in a race between an old man and a youthful, charismatic opponent is pretty much sealed. Though not definately,

  7. Obama is riding on a wave of good will and he is recieving ridiculous amounts of press attention, of course the polls are going to reflect this. This election has to be one of the most biased on record. The media are being totally unacceptable in their coverage of John McCain and Barack Obama. However all that aside this election like all previous ones will be decided in the swing states, remember you dont have to win the popular vote to become president.

    The swing states are increasingly turning to McCain although Obama does hold a slight lead. McCain is ahead in Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and he is closing the gap in crucial states like Michigan and Minnesota. However Obama is doing well in other swing states and McCain needs to close the gap. I don’t think he will do it in time but I certainly believe America, and the worlds interests are best served with McCain.

    Yes hes old (although id say hes experienced) yes hes not as charismatic (although id say hes got conviction) and yes hes got unbelievable odds stacked against him, but he is holding his own and this race is far from over. One more Reverend Wright disaster and Obama is history.

  8. The media will, by in large, report what they think people want to read/hear about. If they are biased towards Obama, though I’m not sure they are, then it is because they are reflecting genuine interest.

  9. Its almost a 50.50 split daniel and I cant believe you can even suggest the coverage is fair. Its always OBAMA THIS, OBAMA THAT, McCain gets a footnote. Obama is popular because he is young, he is charismatic and most importantly hes not a republican. The Democrats were all but guarenteed to win this election before any candidate emmerged so obviously the Democrats have taken most attention.

    Even in the campaign for the party nominations the focus on the democrats was grossly disproportionate. It was always Hillary this Obama that. McCain was on the back foot from the get go. I personally think it is remarkable the race is so close given the undeniable media bias that has occured throughout this race.

  10. It is not almost 50:50 really. There is a bigger gap than 5 points in many of the polls I indicated above. Though, I would say that the fact there isn’t a vast difference suggests that the media coverage isn’t that much more bent in favor of Obama. I am of course talking about the American press rather than the British press, who do appear to have a fascination with Obama.

    And of course Obama is popular, charismatic, and not a republican. This is in large part why he’ll win.

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