In DepthColumnsRacism: Obama's Conundrum

Mon,20Oct2014

Posted on Monday, 25 March 2013 13:44

Racism: Obama's Conundrum

Linn Washington Jr.

The controversy raging across America over the Satan character in cable television's miniseries The Bible bearing a haunting likeness to President Barack Obama is yet another flashpoint in America's persistent roil with racism that is rooted in serious, unresolved issues arising from slavery.

 

Portrayals of Satan traditionally shown on American television and movies consist of either a red-skinned creature with horns or a white man. Thus, portraying the devil imaged as Obama – a black man – sparks the specter of racism.

And, like the denial dynamic that enabled the 18th Century leaders who founded America as a bastion of freedom to accommodate slavery, the producers of that miniseries curtly cast-out racism implying criticisms of their Satan slight as balderdash of biblical proportion.

President Obama, fearful of inflaming whites, is politically reticent to even appear to address issues identified with blacks in the public's mind

Americans, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder rightly noted in a February 2009 speech, are a "nation of cowards" in their repeated failures to frankly confront the issue of racism.

Needless to say, Holder, the first black to hold that pivotal position, received hellish criticisms for his accurate statement of fact; another example of America's denial dynamic about its history of racism.

In December 1799 when 74 free black Americans presented a petition to the U.S. Congress, requesting a gradual elimination of slavery, that body indignantly rejected the eloquently worded request.

The lone Congressman not opposing that petition castigated "prejudice" among his colleagues.

Pro-slavery defenses from Congressmen rejecting that petition included citing protections within the U.S. Constitution for slave owners possessing their valued 'species of property' – an euphuism utilized to dismiss the humanity of the enslaved.

Free blacks during the slavery era, many forget, faced hellacious deprivations like constant kidnapping into slavery and denials of their right to vote despite their owning property and paying taxes – the two criteria then required for voting.

Free blacks literally endured taxation-without-representation, the same deprivation that drove American colonists to revolt against the King of England.

In December 1951 American descendants of slaves and free blacks delivered a petition to the United Nations charging the U.S. government with committing genocide against their race, stating in part that the suffering triggered by American apartheid resulted from the "...consistent, conscious, unified policies of every branch of government."

U.S. officials in 1951, exhibiting that denial dynamic, vigorously attacked that petition and those behind it, even going so far as revoking the passport of that petition's primary author who was then in Paris presenting the detailed document to U.N. officials.

Evidence of genocide cited in that 1951 petition, inclusive of apartheid practices in employment, economic opportunities, housing choices, health care access, police abuses and voting rights denials persist in contemporary America, where a black man now holds the U.S. presidency.

Unemployment for blacks remains double the rate for whites. Unemployment is a direct consequence of continued, discriminatory economic exclusion.

The beautiful building in Philadelphia, Pa where then presidential candidate Barak Obama delivered a major speech on race in March 2008 – the Constitution Center – was built without any involvement of minority workers and minority owned construction companies.

That horrible reptile

Interestingly, Obama's race speech calling for changes on racism didn't reference that example of the race-based construction industry's economic exclusion that provoked raucous public protests.

Weeks after President Obama's January 2009 inauguration his administration announced it would boycott the U.N.'s Conference of Racism scheduled for Switzerland weeks later.

That withdrawal from the international conference on racism maintained a stance similar to the George W. Bush Administration's bash of the UN's 2001 racism conference.

That withdrawal angered many among Obama's black constituency that gave their votes overwhelmingly to the candidate they hoped would make head-way in addressing the systemic racism that has hindered the equitable progress of blacks since the inception of the United States.

Given America's intense legacy of racism and its denial dynamic on that legacy, it's not surprising that neither the Obama White House nor the conservative Republican controlled Congress plan major events commemorating the annual March 25 UN observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Because racism remains so contentious across America, President Obama, fearful of inflaming whites, is politically reticent to even appear to address issues identified with blacks in the public's mind, like the massive poverty in urban areas and the crime poverty provokes.

In Chicago, the hometown of President Obama, 63 school-age children died from gun violence in 2012 and another 458 were shot according to data from that city; a devilish condition that neither the White House nor Congress loudly condemned or sought to remediate.

Yet the President quickly travelled to Newtown, Connecticut, following the December 2012 rampage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School that cut down 20 children.

It is sick for a nation that rightly mourns the senseless murders of children inside a Connecticut school to ignore the Chicago slayings of Heaven Sutton (7) and Aliya Shell (6), both struck by stray bullets while standing outside their homes.

America has twice elected a black man as president but it has yet to do what famed anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass requested in a famous 1852 speech. It is time to end the racism that Douglass described as a "horrible reptile coiled up" in the bosom of America.



Linn Washington Jr.

Linn Washington Jr.

Linn Washington Jr. is a journalist and journalism professor who works in Philadelphia, Pa USA. Washington specializes in analytical/investigative coverage of issues involving law, social justice, race-based inequities and the news media. Washington teaches courses in investigative and multi-media urban reporting. He is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.

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