Monday 21 September 2009

Obama can’t escape the issue of race

When Obama was elected US president last year, it seemed as if America had entered a new era. An era where finally a person of colour could make it to the White House. People were saying that Obama’s victory meant America was now a post racial society, where the issues of race no longer mattered in the way they once did.

It looks like some people may have got carried away a bit too soon. Following the growing opposition to Obama’s policies, particularly his healthcare reforms, the former US president Jimmy Carter claimed last week that much of this opposition was based on underlying racism.

I have to admit that I never truly fell for this post racial society. The issue of race is so much more prominent in the US then anything we can imagine in this country. It’s going to be a very very long time before race doesn’t matter in America!

Jimmy Carter made his comments in response to the abuse Obama received from the Republican back bench congressman Joe Wilson who shouted ‘You Lie’ at Obama following a speech he made at a joint session of Congress last week.

It's pretty extreme stuff to have someone come out and directly accuse the President of lying! Nobody said a similar thing to George Bush when he was stating his case for the invasion of Iraq, but for some US politicians it seems perfectly acceptable to say this to Obama. Is it because he’s black?

Personally this is the last thing I would want to admit. You have to accept that in political debate people are going to be against Obama purely for his policies, but I do think there is a growing movement particularly amongst right wing Republicans who are mobilising against the President. Motivated in part because of who he is and what he represents, which includes his race. Taking this into consideration part of this growing opposition is race based and by association is racist.

I touched upon this subject a few weeks back in my post entitled: ‘Obama may be president, but some Americans refuse to believe’
There is a large percentage of Republican voters who don’t believe that Obama is a true American citizen and shouldn’t be president. There’s the ‘birther movement’. which claims that Obama wasn’t born in America but Kenya and is therefore an illegitimate president.

Even before he was elected, Republicans were trying to portray him as being an outsider and un-American. He was supposedly a Muslim, a dangerous Communist, he had links to black radical preachers such as Jeremiah Wright .

Essentially these smears are all part of a strategy by Republicans to portray the President as being somehow ‘other’ not truly American or ‘legitimate’ The fact that he's black is the clearest demonstration that he's unlike any other President that America has had.

I stumbled across a great article written by an American journalist called Maureen Dowd who writes for the New York Times, in which she wrote about this issue and touched upon similar points.

The over top efforts of trying to portray Obama as an outsider, dangerous Communist, Socialist, Fascist (Do Americans actually know the meaning of these political ideologies?) are due to the fact that many in America just cannot except a black president.

More interestingly though she explained that the politician who accused Obama of lying, Joe Wilson is a right wing southern Republican from South Carolina.

I know it’s easy to take the view that all white, southern Republicans, hold some form of racial prejudice about them, but when you read that this Joe Wilson belongs to a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans and led a campaign to fly the Confederate flag above the State Capital building you can’t help but think the opposition to Obama is all about race.

For those of you not familiar with the Confederate Flag, it’s the flag that represents the states of the old Deep South, and has connotations of racism and White Supremacy.

We’re entering a really interesting period in American politics. Many Democrat presidents from the past have had to endure huge amounts of criticism and opposition from Republicans, but what we have now with Obama is different.

America is changing both socially, culturally and demographically, and all of this is to the disadvantage of the Republican Party and its core base of voters. Obama represents this change, which they are struggling to deal with and in many cases actively hate!

If anything it’s to the advantage of these conservatives to focus on the issue of race. By doing so they can portray Obama as a ‘black’ President rather then a president who happens to be black. It says to their core vote, this President isn’t one of us, he isn’t here to represent you. He’s different.

One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard was from Fox News presenter Glen Beck who has argued that Obama is a racist and hates white people! Unbelievable. Obama’s mother and grandparents where white and he was brought up in a white household.

Returning back to Jimmy Carter’s original point of racism being at the heart of much of the hostility that Obama is facing. There is some truth in this, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s all part of a bigger narrative of trying to de-legitimise the President, to show that he’s somehow alien. Thankfully for Obama he’s keeping quiet on the race issue and trying to show that he’s a President for all Americans.

This issue is going to be one of the biggest tests of his Presidency, and it seems that race will never be far from the political agenda during his time in office.

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