Why Black Americans Don’t Have a Leader

Racial tensions are ever more pronounced in the USA. The worry is that Obama has made self-organization difficult for black Americans.

The most recent survey presents a dark snapshot of the racial question in the USA: Sixty-one percent of Americans think that relations between various ethnicities, but above all between whites and blacks, are very bad. In the survey, carried out by The New York Times and CBS News, the percentage of people who say they are pessimistic about the situation is very high.

This statistic comes after the events in Baltimore, and it is decidedly higher than the one recorded in a similar survey carried out in the months following the Ferguson riots. Then, “only” 44 percent of those interviewed judged current interracial relations negatively. But after Michael Brown, other blacks were killed by the police. The indignant protests, pacifist in many cities, didn’t stop the rage spreading in black neighborhoods and culminating in the Baltimore riots.

A Revealing Survey

According to the survey, whites and blacks are pessimistic to more or less the same extent. But their approach to the question of police relations is different. Black Americans feel targeted. Seventy-nine percent of them say that there is only one thing behind the lethal use of force by police: racism.

What is emerging from this survey is rather clear. The racial issue has been exacerbated in the USA, and black people don’t feel protected. On the recent anniversary of the Selma march, Barack Obama said that there was still a long way to go toward integration in the United States. It’s true. And this is despite the fact that America has been led for some years by the first black American president in its history, or maybe, it’s precisely because of this.

The Obama Paradox

It could seem like a paradox, but it was precisely Barack Obama’s election to the White House that caused racial tensions to increase. An increase of black representation in the institutions (mayors, representatives and senators), culminating at a federal level with Obama’s presidency (and the nomination of a black attorney general for the first time), provoked a very strong reaction in wide swathes of American society, which are flooded with racial or racist sentiment.

This resentment has translated into concrete actions, as in the case of the murder of blacks by the police. These episodes in turn provoked frustration in the black American community, which then culminated in the Ferguson and Baltimore riots.

Lacking Leaders

On a symbolic level, black Americans feel represented by Obama. But he is at the head of the federal government. In individual states, or even individual cities, the Washington executive can’t interfere: Just look at the judicial inquest in Ferguson. So, for black American communities, the issue is having their own representatives on a local level.

In many cases this has happened; in others, it hasn’t. In others still, even though it has happened, it hasn’t led to substantial changes in living conditions of those communities – statistics still show high poverty, illiteracy and prison populations.

They’re lacking leaders. They had them once, during the civil rights movement. That time has passed, and new important figures haven’t materialized. Only characters such as Jesse Jackson succeeded in crossing the various political eras, but now, they are a little faded, with no great appeal or following any longer.

Now that there is a need for new men and women capable of channeling all the drive and tension in these communities into a new movement, they aren’t there. Social and political break-up and disintegration in recent years have prevented them from appearing.

Will There Be a New Black Rights Movement?

Even associations defending black rights don’t seem to have much impact or hold on the situation. They throw themselves into big national campaigns and support this or that representative in the local elections, but at the moment, they seem quite far from setting a precedent. They too were born in the past, and they struggle to take any really effective action. And in this case, too, the issue is the lack of an opinion movement that moves in parallel with their work.

The question comes down to this: Will a new black rights movement be born? The answer is that there still isn’t one. What has happened in the last year is just an embryo (the pacifist protests in so many American cities), but no one knows how it will develop. For now, riots are making headlines. To avoid them, as Obama has said, America still has a long way to go. The first stage is accepting it has a black American president. It seems like a paradox, and it is one.

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