Obama’s utopia of having overcome racism doesn’t hold out against reality. Because he has blanked out the problem, he is finding it hard to engage with the crisis in Ferguson.
It took 10 days after the death of the black teenager Michael Brown, who was killed by six police bullets. Only then did U.S. President Barack Obama speak out. And when he did pipe up, his words disappointed almost everyone in the United States.
The country is divided over that which is taking place on the streets of the small town of Ferguson, Missouri. African-Americans and fellow campaigners for the civil rights of the black minority are simmering with rage over the continued police brutality against themselves; for them Michael Brown was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The conservative faction, however, is only showing a small amount of understanding for that which they see as an overreaction to an unexplained incident.
“Activists and journalists are stuck in the racial resentments of the 1960s,” wrote Fred Siegel, from the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute.
Meanwhile Obama, as so often happens when race relations in America are addressed, is trying to do justice to all sides. “In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement,” he said. “In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.”
He ended his short statement by saying that people should stop yelling at each other and start a dialogue.
As If He Were White
That was too indecisive for even the most sympathetic commentators. The African-American news portal The Root actually wrote that Obama’s speech was perhaps “exactly right” for the current heated atmosphere. In the long term, the president is certainly not bound to take a firm stand on the larger problem of the systematic violence perpetrated by the state against African-Americans.
Not all reactions were so understanding. For example, black CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill criticized Obama for once again ducking out of addressing the true problem.
“Obama needs to address the topic of racial inequality directly,” he said. “The nation requires it of him.”*
Hill’s criticism was the tip of the iceberg of an atmosphere that has accompanied Obama since he took up office in 2008. Even during his election campaign in 2007, civil rights activists wanted him to campaign more forcefully for African-American issues. Former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson ranted about the fact that Obama was conducting himself “as if he were white.”*
The Utopia of a Post-Racial America
Instead of explicitly addressing the continued economic and institutional discrimination against African-Americans, something long-serving campaigners for equal rights would have liked him to do, Obama chose a rhetoric of mutual understanding and of overcoming old differences. In his memoir “Dreams from My Father,” Obama places emphasis on his mixed-race ancestry and describes himself as “part of America’s long history,”* which will live on in his daughters. It was the beginning of his self-appointed role as president of a “post-racial” America.
He consolidated this position with his only extensive speech on the topic of race to date, in Philadelphia in 2008. In the dialogue between the races, Obama said at the time, one side needed to rid itself of its anger and the other side of its feelings of guilt. The goal was a “perfect union,” a country that would eventually manage to do justice to its noble ideals.
The wonderful utopia of a post-racial America, in which the entire country was basking around the time of Obama’s inauguration, is rapidly being overtaken by reality. Demands were made of the president for the first time when, in 2009, prominent black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested in his own house because he was mistaken for an intruder. Obama took the same stance that he has, to this day, found most comfortable: He invited the police officer and the professor out for a beer together and tried to cool their tempers.
*Editor’s Note: This quote, translated accurately, cannot be verified.
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