It was an absurd notion all along that President Barack Obama, as the nation’s first black president, could somehow miraculously suppress racism in America simply by using his White House bully pulpit.
In an interview with BET Monday night, it was important to hear Obama put racism into its proper historical context as racial tension in America has been heightened by two high-profile cases: The non-indictments by grand juries in the police-related deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Brown and Garner were Black and unarmed. Former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown and NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a fatal chokehold, were cleared of all potential charges.
For many Americans, it’s a hard reality to accept.
“This isn’t going to be solved overnight,” Obama told BET News in an interview aired on Monday. “This is something that is deeply rooted in our society, it’s deeply rooted in our history. We have to be persistent,” Obama says. “Because, typically, progress is in steps — it’s in increments.”
“It’s important to recognize that as painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what is happening now to what happened 50 years ago,” Obama said. “If you talk to your parents, your grandparents, they’ll tell you things are better. Not good, in some cases, but better. The reason it’s important to understand that progress has been made is that it then gives us hope we can make even more progress.”
The President has been the subject of constant criticism on race, particularly from Princeton University Professor Cornel West, who seems to blast Obama at every opportunity for not doing enough to address the racial inequities in America. But how can you blame the President for grand juries who fail to indict police who kill unarmed Black men? And how can you blame Obama for a police culture that systematically targets Black men?
Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer, told CNN Monday that the St. Louis Police Department is “deeply racist.” He also said many white officers don’t want to participate in cultural sensitivity training seminars because they consider it a waste of time. Obama can put policies in place to deter police from firing at Black men, but he can’t ride in every patrol car every night and stop cops from pulling triggers.
The President proposes policies – he doesn’t enact laws. That’s the job of Congress – a now Republican-controlled Congress that is hell bent on blocking much of Obama’s legislative agenda during the next two years. Obama, I believe, is doing the best he can: He is calling for police body cameras to be worn by cops across the country following Brown’s death. The proposal calls for $75 million in spending for 50,000 police officers.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will issue revised racial profiling guidance for federal law enforcement. The newly revised guidelines will expand beyond race and ethnicity to include bans on profiling on the basis of gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and general identity. The guidance applies to federal law enforcement officers and also to state and local officers involved in federal law enforcement tasks.
“As Attorney General, I have repeatedly made clear that profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective,” Holder said in a statement Monday. “Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level, and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process, it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices.”
Obama and Holder’s new efforts on race and policing comes as new polls show a widening racial divide in America. According to the results of a new NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday, 47 percent of Americans say that they believe police apply different standards to Blacks and whites, while 44 percent disagree.
But among African-Americans, 82 percent say that the police apply different standards based on race, as compared to only 39 percent of white respondents. And in a new Bloomberg Politics poll, 53 percent of the American people say white and Black communities are further apart than since before Obama’s election.A majority polled agreed with the Ferguson decision, while most objected to the conclusion in the Garner case.
But other intangibles should be factored into this discussion. Since Obama took office in 2008, the number of hate groups has increased significantly from coast to coast. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacist groups, there are 1,018 active hate groups in the United States.
Experts say there are several factors that can be attributed to the rise in white supremacist groups: resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy – and the election of Obama. Days after Obama’s historic election in 2008, some were celebrating a new “post-racial” America.
The fact is racism and discrimination still permeates our republic and it’s not a problem that can be solved by one Black man in the White House. Racism is a collective problem which calls for a collective solution.
What do you think?