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The Obama legacy on race

Even those not particular about following political speeches were moved to tears listening to the now famous Yes, we can!” victory speech by Barack Obama in 2008.  I remember having printed copies of the speech and distributing them to my study-circle.  

US had come a long way since abolition of slavery, since Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement and the final nail on the racial coffin was the election of a black to the topmost position in the nation. Since, any further criticism on the continuing poor treatment of blacks is rebuffed with: “How can you talk about racism any longer, when a black man is the president, the most powerful human being on earth?”  At least this is how legitimate concerns about the enduring racial discrimination are papered down, feels author Richard Crasta.

In his latest offering The Many Faces of Barack Obama and Race in America: An Immigrant's View the author of the path-breaking Impressing the Whites: The New International Slavery, reviews the legacy of Obama with specific reference to race.  Race continues to be of paramount importance to blacks; blacks are more likely to be randomly questioned by police, more likely to lose life if they behave too suspiciously and more likely to be found in jails (disproportionately higher than their population-share).  In this context, it must be seen if Obama’s presidentship improved blacks’ status in the society.

Crasta quotes Joe Biden’s description of him in 2007: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and “clean” and a nice-looking guy, I mean, that's a storybook, man" (emphasis supplied). Crasta emphasizes how “clean” part was instrumental in his elevation: first as a potential candidate and later as the President. Essentially, what distinguished him from other blacks is precisely this: that he appeared closer to the dominant whites in consciousness, than to other blacks. Indeed, he had to repeatedly impress upon the US audience that his middle-name “Hussein” was only an appendage and that he was a practicing Christian. To think that his personal faith is a matter of public interest in a supposedly secular state, and that this doubt persists despite the fact that his administration continued the war against the ‘axis of evil’ (which, coincidentally, happen to be Muslim nations)!

In the preface, Crasta notes that he considered alternative titles, of which one is most telling: “Playing by Their Rules? The Dilemmas of a Black President and a Brown Writer”.  Crasta feels that in his endeavor to be seen as non-partisan (read lacking black consciousness) , Obama had been playing by their rules and impressing the whites. What makes this book unique is that they record author’s feelings at various moments of writing, extending from his rise, victory speech day, and during his tenure. Did his regime signal the end of discriminative practices to those millions of unprivileged blacks? Crasta gets tantalizingly close to the harsh truth elsewhere: “..but for his (Obama's) present fame .. anyone else looking like him, and wearing scruffier clothes, would run into trouble walking around in a white American neighborhood.

As a brown immigrant, Crasta offered his views on the neocolonialism in "Impressing the Whites", and he asks pertinent questions about media's obsession with trivia regarding celebrities while relegating more serious issues of human interest (of colored people) to background. He thus empathizes with Obama's dilemma, having faced similar situations, though as a lesser known individual. Its unfortunate that color should matter to anyone, but as long as color remains an ineradicable part of colored people's life and influences how they're treated,  it shouldn't be pushed into over-simplistic black or white zones, and must be be discussed with the nuance it deserves.

Yes, he tried!”, but he fell short of accomplishing what the millions who voted him hoped he would. Personally, what strikes me as particularly ominous is that the pendulum of racial balance swung back with vengeance. Donald Trump, with his Orwellian-sounding “Make American Great Again” slogan, seems to have captured the imagination of many whites (in passing, why does he think America ceased to be great?). Bernie Sanders, however, does have the admiration of the author, who unburdened with “impressing the whites” agenda, might be able to enforce lasting change to the dispossessed poor, of whom blacks constitute a majority.

Appreciative, but not uncritical! Read a deeply compassionate, yet objective account of Obama's legacy: The Many Faces of Barack Obama and Race in America: An Immigrant's View

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