Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Obama's impact on race in America
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day a year after the first African-American president took office, Americans appear to have mixed views about the impact of President Obama's election on race relations.
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Mr. Gates was arrested at his house in Cambridge last year after neighbors called in the police about an intruder, an incident Gates and others charged reflected racism. Obama initially weighed in on Gates's side, and then had the cop and the professor over to the White House for a reconciliatory beer. As for Senator Reid, it was recently revealed that he had said during the 2008 presidential election that Obama could win because he was a “light-skinned” African-American candidate without a “Negro dialect”.Skip to next paragraph
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“The Gates’ episode and Senator Reid’s comments emphasize that this is a long journey with potholes and perhaps setbacks along the way,” says Dr. Benjamin Akande, dean of the School of Business and Technology at Webster University in St. Louis, Mo. He adds, “They also remind us that perhaps one day, sooner rather than later, this will no longer even merit conversation.”
But those incidents weren’t really about race, counters Jason Hill, a professor of philosophy at De Paul University in Chicago. “Speaking as a black person who identifies as a liberal, I believe the [Gates] issue was about civic responsibility performed by an officer of the law and that Gate's race was purely incidental,” he says, adding, “What we ought to learn from this issue is the value of not elevating an error of judgment to the level of a national catastrophe.”
Similarly, he says the only thing offensive about Reid’s comments was the use of the word “Negro.” Everything else Reid said was true, he adds. “Race relations have improved in tandem with the continued advancement of blacks into the middle class strata,” he says. “Such blacks are non-threatening to whites because, among other things, they both share quintessential American middle-class values and, like Obama, are not distinctly "black" in the old stereotypical manner.”
The very notion of a “post-racial” society emerging from the election of a black president is a “racist idea,” according to John Altman, an associate professor of political science at York College of Pennsylvania, and one that minimizes the gains made by black leaders over the past five decades.
Continued racial disparities
Some suggest Obama himself hasn’t done enough to address the problems of African-Americans. Mr. Altman and others point to a study released Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute showing racial inequities have worsened in the recession, with unemployment among African-Americans projected to reach a 25-year high this year, soaring to 17.2 percent.
“When the only memorable thing that our current president has done to further the discourse on race relations is to bring together a white cop and a black college professor for a beer, it will be a long time before anything changes,” he says.
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