Published on Socialist Worker, by Nicole Colson, October 31, 2012.
THE UGLY undercurrents of racism in the Republicans’ “red state” America, which usually pass unreported, are rising to the surface as Election 2012 reaches its final days … //
… BUT SOMETHING more must be said beyond recognizing how the Republicans are stirring up racism for political gain. It’s also true that Barack Obama and the Democrats have done nothing to confront it, and that has enabled this bigotry to spread further.
Back in 2010, when the Tea Party was its height and some liberal voices like the NAACP were beginning to expose it for what it is, the Obama administration avoided any similar criticisms. On the contrary, Vice President Joe Biden declared, “I don’t believe, the president doesn’t believe that the Tea Party is–is a racist organization.”
Likewise, in 2012, the Obama administration has occasionally chided the Romney campaign for its “incivility,” but refuses to confront racist attacks and attitudes. Instead, the standard response is to duck the issue.
In part, it’s because to do so would raise real expectations and hopes that Obama would concretely tackle racism in the U.S. – even if just rhetorically. But he hasn’t.
By many measures, life in Black America is harder today than when Obama took office.
The African American community remains in economic free-fall, with official Black unemployment rising to 14.4 percent in June (and the real numbers are even higher). Fewer than half of young Black men have jobs. The percentage of adult African Americans living in poverty rose from 19.8 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2010, and the percentage of African American kids in poverty rose from 34.5 percent to 39.1 percent in 2010, according to the Census Bureau. The median wealth of Black families has declined dramatically.
As Frederick Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University,
wrote in the New York Times:
Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality…
[A]s president, Mr. Obama has had little to say on concerns specific to Blacks. His State of the Union address in 2011 was the first by any president since 1948 to not mention poverty or the poor. The political scientist Daniel Q. Gillion found that Mr. Obama, in his first two years in office, talked about race less than any Democratic president had since 1961. From racial profiling to mass incarceration to affirmative action, his comments have been sparse and halting.
Many liberals and progressives will advocate a vote for Obama on the grounds that a Romney victory would unleash a tide of racism and worsen the state of Black America. There’s no doubt about the bigotry of the Republican Party. But during Obama’s four years in office, the mainstream political debate has shifted further to the right on almost every question, while the suffering of African Americans has been ignored.
Those who argue that we need to “be patient” or that Obama has been unable to act because of the right wing are discounting the ways in which Obama has been complicit in the ongoing decimation of Black America. And the consequence is that criticism of Obama from his left is blunted–and a real conversation about race and racism in the U.S. is left on the backburner.
Frederick Harris quoted Rep. Cleaver, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who last month told The Root, “With 14 percent unemployment, if we had a white president, we’d be marching around the White House. The president knows we are going to act in deference to him in a way we wouldn’t to someone white.”
Cleaver is exactly right.
The revolting rhetoric of the Republican Party–from the bottom to the top–has given people ample reason to fear a Romney presidency. But that can’t mean burying our criticisms of Barack Obama and the Democrats in order to vote for the “lesser evil.”
No matter who wins on November 6, we are in desperate need of a renewed movement–independent of both mainstream parties–to challenge racism in the U.S. and the government policies that promote it.
(full long text).
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