Barack Obama’s original sin: America’s post-racial illusion

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2017-01-16 19:47Z by Steven

Barack Obama’s original sin: America’s post-racial illusion

The Guardian
2017-01-13

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Assistant Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University


Illustration by Joe Magee

Barack Obama’s refusal to use his position as president to intervene on behalf of African Americans is a stain on his record many activists will never forget

In the first hours of the new year in 2009, just weeks before Barack Obama was to be inaugurated as the next president, shots rang out in Oakland, California. A transit officer named Johannes Mehserle shot an unarmed 22-year-old black man who lay face-down in handcuffs on a public transportation platform. His name was Oscar Grant.

Dozens of witnesses, many of whom were returning to Oakland after New Year’s Eve celebrations, watched in horror. Some captured his killing on smartphones. Shortly afterward, black Oakland exploded in palpable anger, with hundreds, then thousands of people taking to the streets, demanding justice.

Perhaps this outcry would have happened under any circumstance, but the brutality of Grant’s death in the few weeks before the country’s first black president was to take office felt like a shock of cold water. Police brutality had long been a fact of life in California, but the country was supposed to have entered into a post-racial parallel universe. The optimism that coursed through black America in 2008 seemed a million miles away.

A local movement led by Grant’s family unfolded across the Bay Area to demand that prosecutors charge and try Mehserle. Protests, marches, campus activism, public forums and organizing meetings sustained enough pressure to force local officials to charge Mehserle with murder. It was the first murder trial of a California police officer for a “line of duty” killing in 15 years. In the end, Mehserle, convicted of involuntary manslaughter, spent less than a year in prison, but the local movement foreshadowed events to come.

As for President Obama, he turned out to be very different from candidate Obama, who had stage-managed his campaign to resemble something closer to a social movement. He had conjured much hope, especially among African Americans – but with great expectations came even greater disappointments…

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Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2017-01-16 18:03Z by Steven

Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama

The Guardian
2017-01-09

Cornel West, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice
Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York

Our hope and change candidate fell short time and time again. Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility

Eight years ago the world was on the brink of a grand celebration: the inauguration of a brilliant and charismatic black president of the United States of America. Today we are on the edge of an abyss: the installation of a mendacious and cathartic white president who will replace him.

This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism. Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville – the two great public intellectuals of 19th-century America – wrestled with similar questions and reached the same conclusion as Heraclitus: character is destiny (“sow a character and you reap a destiny”).

The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our “post-integrity” and “post-truth” world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.

The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility…

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Farewell to the chief

Posted in Articles, Arts, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-01-16 01:35Z by Steven

Farewell to the chief

The Times of London
2017-01-15

Trevor Phillips


April 22, 2013: the president pauses for a moment of silence in honour of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings
PETE SOUZA

After eight years in the White House, Barack Obama relinquishes the top job this Friday. Trevor Phillips criticises his legacy on race, while the White House photographer Pete Souza shares candid portraits of the outgoing president

Most of the 40,000 graves in New York’s Flushing Cemetery are marked by neat marble headstones, mostly white or grey, occasionally black. A few bear elaborate tombs, but for the most part they display the quiet restraint of immigrants for whom the American dream means exchanging a precarious existence in a developing country for a steady blue-collar job in the world’s greatest metropolis.

These modest memorials also tell the story of the borough where America’s flamboyant president-elect, himself the son of a Scottish immigrant, was born and raised. Queens claims to be the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world. The tombstones carry thousands of names charting two centuries of ceaseless migration: English Quakers, German Protestants, Italian and Korean Catholics, African-American and Caribbean Episcopalians. Under a tree close to the cemetery’s southern boundary lies one marked “Marjorie Eileen Phillips”. My mother.

I always make a point of running over the family’s news for her benefit. We sometimes also talk politics. Last time I was there, shortly after the presidential election, we reflected on Obama’s tenure. I was keen to know what the wise matriarch thought the legacy would be of America’s first black president, who steps down this Friday…

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How Black America Saw Obama

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-01-16 00:32Z by Steven

How Black America Saw Obama

The New York Times
2017-01-14

Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

I stood in Grant Park on election night 2008, along with more than 200,000 other people, and watched as a man I’d known as a fellow member of a Chicago church, a man I’d worked to help get elected, took to the stage. He would be the first black president of the United States of America. My joy at the surreal scene was transcendent. The jumbotron flashed the face of the civil rights stalwart the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, with tears streaming down his cheeks, an image that evoked the profound elation of black America at the election of Barack Obama.

But his weeping visage summoned a darker prospect for me, one that cast a shadow over Mr. Obama the moment he announced he would make a run for the Oval Office: They might shoot him. Mr. Jackson had been present when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met his violent end on a balcony in Memphis. As I viewed Mr. Jackson’s watery eyes, I couldn’t help but associate him with Dr. King and the fear that our newly elected president might be assassinated.

Black America has held its collective breath during every second of Barack Obama’s presidency. I remember stumping early for the Illinois senator, only to have black people I met on the campaign trail tell me that they couldn’t possibly vote for my man. Not only was he not as well known, or beloved, as his opponent Hillary Clinton, but didn’t I know that he’d be harmed if he even got close to the White House? “You know they’re going to shoot him.”…

…President Obama’s historic tenure ends as the nation celebrates what would have been Martin Luther King’s 88th birthday. As I see it, Mr. Obama is the only figure to ever give Dr. King a run for his money as Greatest Black Man in American history. More than a gentle rivalry for supremacy in the history books joins the two. They are tethered by death, too — if not by its actual occurrence, then by its looming possibility….

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No Racial Barrier Left to Break (Except All of Them)

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2017-01-15 22:17Z by Steven

No Racial Barrier Left to Break (Except All of Them)

The New York Times
2017-01-14

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy, HKS Suzanne Young Murray Professor
Harvard Kennedy School
Harvard University

We can’t create a more just nation simply by dressing up institutions in more shades of brown. Now we must confront structural racism.

In a moving farewell speech before an enormous crowd in Chicago last week, President Obama evoked the American creed of unity and aspiration as the foundation of our democracy. He has always embraced a vision of America as a “melting pot.”

Mr. Obama embodied for many Americans the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we celebrate on Monday. Our national memory of Dr. King has, for nearly 50 years, reinforced the belief that America, unlike any other nation, could extend opportunity to everyone regardless of his or her identity. In Dr. King’s name, assimilation and aspiration have been the keywords of the post-civil rights era, and diversity and inclusion its currency. And Mr. Obama has symbolized more than anyone in American history the idea that racial representation and the content of one’s character were the perfect antidote to racism.

It’s true that, in fulfilling the duties of the presidency with great dignity, Mr. Obama represents the highest expression of the goal of assimilation. But for African-Americans, he was also the ultimate lesson in how this antidote alone is insufficient to heal the gaping wounds of racial injustice in America. It’s clear that black leadership, in itself, isn’t enough to transform the country. So we must confront the end of an era and the dawn of a new one…

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Jolted by Deaths, Obama Found His Voice on Race

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2017-01-14 14:09Z by Steven

Jolted by Deaths, Obama Found His Voice on Race

The New York Times
2017-01-15

Michael D. Shear, White House Correspondent

Yamiche Alcindor, National Reporter

Tensions across the country prompted the president to abandon his early reticence on race again and again.

WASHINGTON — Only weeks after 70 million Americans chose a black man for president, shattering a racial barrier that had stood for the entirety of the nation’s 232-year history, no one in the White House, especially the man in the Oval Office, wanted to talk about race.

President Obama had made a pragmatic calculation in January 2009, as the financial crisis drove communities across the United States toward economic collapse. Whatever he did for African-Americans, whose neighborhoods were suffering more than others, he would not describe as efforts to specifically help Black America.

Mr. Obama made the decision knowing how powerfully his election had raised the hopes of African-Americans — and knowing that no matter what he did, it would not be seen as enough.

“I remember thinking, ‘They are going to hate us one day,’” said Melody Barnes, who is black and served as Mr. Obama’s first domestic policy adviser, recalling her sadness when she stood in an auditorium in those early months as a crowd cheered for the success of the new president. “I knew that we couldn’t do everything that people wanted to meet those expectations.”…

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In stark farewell, Obama warns of threat to U. S. democracy

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-01-13 18:31Z by Steven

In stark farewell, Obama warns of threat to U. S. democracy

The Washington Post
2017-01-10

Juliet Eilperin, White House Bureau Chief

Greg Jaffe, Reporter

CHICAGOPresident Obama used his farewell speech here on Tuesday to outline the gathering threats to American democracy and press a more optimistic vision for a country that seems more politically divided than ever.

Obama said goodbye to the nation against the backdrop of one of the most corrosive elections in U.S. history and a deep sense that the poisonous political environment has pitted Americans against each other.

“America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but malevolent,” Obama said. “We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.”

Obama fretted about anti-immigrant sentiment, racism and economic inequality.

“If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves,” Obama warned in an not-so-subtle jab at his successor, President-elect Donald Trump.

Obama, the first African American president, acknowledged the continuing difficulty of race relations in America.

“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic,” he said. “For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago — you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be.”…

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The Obama Paradox

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-01-09 21:25Z by Steven

The Obama Paradox

Slate
2017-01-09

Jamelle Bouie, Chief Political Correspondent

Our first black president has an unyielding faith in the goodness of America. It got him elected. And it will cost him his legacy.

The myth of Barack Obama usually begins with his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and for good reason—it was the speech that jump-started his political career, putting the then–state senator on the fast track to national office. But it wasn’t the speech that made him president. That speech was delivered at a moment of crisis. His former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was in the middle of a media firestorm over a sermon he had given in 2003 in the wake of the Iraq invasion. “No, no, no. Not God bless America,” thunders Wright in the now-infamous video. “God Damn America!”…

…For Obama, who built his political appeal on his distance from this rhetoric—from the tenor and tone of traditional black politics—Wright’s sermon was a disaster in the making. To operate in the mainstream, to attain influence and power, black public figures have to navigate a narrow strait of acceptable behavior. They cannot indulge their anger or give way to their passions. And for Obama, who sought an office all but reserved for white men, he had to prove that he wasn’t an Al Sharpton or a Jesse Jackson, that he held no resentment or frustration with the country. And so on March 18, 2008, Obama delivered an address in Philadelphia now known as his “A More Perfect Union” speech. In it, he repudiated Wright’s anger without dismissing its sources, and along the way he demonstrated the qualities that have defined him as president: a sense of balance, a willingness to look to the better angels of his opponents, a belief that there is always common ground…

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A reflection on Barack Obama’s presidency

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-12-30 20:18Z by Steven

A reflection on Barack Obama’s presidency

The Economist
2016-12-24

Barack Obama’s presidency lurched between idealism and acrimony but some of his accomplishments will endure

1 “A skinny kid with a funny name”

Watch it again. He is unusually stilted at the beginning, as you might expect of a debutant on the autocue and the national stage. But soon he finds his rhythm, those crescendos alternating with electric pauses, ecclesiastical notes chiming with his scholarly charisma in a musical voice. Grippingly, he recounts the story of his life, in his telling a parable of unity in diversity—a moral he was still pushing 12 hard, disillusioning years later. “We are Americans first,” he urged in the Rose Garden on the day after Donald Trump was elected.

In fact, by the standards Barack Obama subsequently set—in a presidency defined by its speeches, and perhaps to be best remembered for them—his turn at the Democratic convention in 2004 was mundane. But his ascent will still be dated from the moment he loped onto that stage in Boston, with the rangy gait that became as familiar as his smile: an unknown politician from Illinois, soon to be the country’s only African-American senator, before, in short order, becoming its first black president. The paean he offered to America, a country that had embraced him as “a skinny kid with a funny name”, was also a kind of dare; the self-deprecation camouflaged a boast, since many in his audience saw the obstacles he faced as clearly as he did. “I’m the African-American son of a single mother,” Mr Obama reportedly told Binyamin Netanyahu when, years later, Israel’s prime minister lectured him on the world’s hazards, “and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House.”

His presidency will be counted in speeches because its trials proved harder to overcome than the barriers he scaled to attain it. Often he spoke as no other president could, becoming, through his identity and eloquence, a receptacle for the hopes of Americans and of—and for—the world. Think of his speech in Berlin in 2008, when he extolled multilateralism and the rule of law, or his now-defunct conciliation in Cairo the following year. Think of his eulogy after the Charleston killings. Yet posterity might score him higher on a broader metric had he been as effective in the more intimate persuasions of Congress, as consistent in projecting empathy as at exhortation, or more resolute abroad; had he been as adept at championing legislation or facing down tyrants as he could be at stirring hearts…

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The Blackwashing of President Obama’s Legacy

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-12-29 01:45Z by Steven

The Blackwashing of President Obama’s Legacy

The Root
2016-12-27

Daniel Johnson

There is a deeply embedded danger in the collective black American consciousness to defend the cultural and political blackness of President Barack Obama.

On the surface, his very presence  in the Oval Office is an act of political revolution, an unprecedented response to this nation’s inherent anti-blackness. But when his destructive neoliberal politics prioritize white Americans, and his personal politics seem to pathologize blackness, what then, is revolution?

This black family in the White House, while certainly a switch from the lily-white inhabitants of the past years, is only a cosmetic kind of revolution; they just look different from the Clintons and the Bushes and the Kennedys. They exist in a space that both challenges white power and solidifies it.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent piece for The Atlantic, he does an excellent job of positioning the racial nuance of President Obama’s past with his centering of whiteness. Obama himself acknowledges that his working assumption of white benevolence is different from first lady Michelle Obama’s baseline, and that has been evident these past eight years in his willingness to openly castigate or patronize black people—the demographic that has remained the most supportive of him despite being neglected and ignored by “our black president.”…

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