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Obama claims the US is now less racially divided – but is this true?

“Change is coming to America”. These were the words that stood out during Obama’s victory speech at Chicago in 2008. These words can be interpreted in many different ways, from an ideological shift within America, away from the dominant right-wing rhetoric, to another interpretation that racism within America is in the past and that America is now in a ‘post-racial’ state. Stanley Elkins presented an argument back in the 1950s that the violent history of slavery has still had an effect on certain institutions within the US; we can even see today that racism is present within the police force and the judiciary.

In a speech to the White House press corps on the 19th July 2013 President Obama mentioned that “violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country”. There was obviously a concern here on the issues of race within the United States. However, recently President Obama claimed in an interview that the US is now less racially divided than it was back in 2009. The nation-wide protests on the incidents that took place throughout 2014 say otherwise.

Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States. From this alone we can see the lengths to which America can be seen as ‘post racial’. Along with this, the gradual removal of affirmative action programmess over the years can show both interpretations of equality and inequality among race relations. For instance, it can show the much higher employment and equality of minorities and confidence therefore to remove the programmes.

On the other hand it could be argued that by reducing the affirmative action programmes it has expressed the views of the elite to discriminate against minority rights. When looking at the unemployment of African Americans it has been consistently double that of whites within America for the past six decades according to a report back in August 2013 by Drew DeSilver. When looking at this and the other socio-economic disadvantages faced by African-Americans the removal of affirmative action programmess should not have occurred, discrimination is still present within America. This is evident in the amount of stop and searches on African Americans which are carried out by the police.

During the 1990s there was an attack on welfare from the right wing by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. The attack on welfare particularly harmed single African American mothers and there is still a sense of shame about being on welfare today, not just in America but also here in Britain. Used as a form of scapegoating to distract from the ever more damaging white collar crime such as tax avoidance and the diminishing worker rights within both America and Britain.

Efforts have been made to try and curb police brutality. For example, the Obama administration put forward $75m on body cameras for 50,000 police officers to help deter undesirable behaviour when arresting civilians after the unrest within Ferguson in 2014. This measure was too late, body cameras should have been used far earlier, at least back in 2012 after the Trayvon Martin shooting.

There was really no need for Obama to issue a statement claiming that the US is now less racially divided because it is obviously not the case. Obama is now part of the executive and the policy-makers within the administration, it could therefore be seen that he is blind towards racism that occurs within the poor neighborhoods. Mychal Denzel Smith, who writes for The Nation, argues for a ‘conscious raising’ of white America and that the system needs to change completely not just reform. Maybe that’s what the answer is, to change the system to root out the deep racism that occurs within these institutions. The forecasts for the 2050 census have predicted that whites will become the minority within the United States, what will this say about racism for the future? President Obama is seen as an icon of ‘post-racial’ America, but icons don’t represent reality.

13/01/2015

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Cameron Sparkhall