The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Obama and Race

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 17, 2009 @ 01:51

Such a thoughtful expression can only mean he's thinking about one thing: Daddy or chips?

Such a thoughtful expression can only mean he's thinking about one thing: Daddy or chips?

It sounds like it could be the title of a comedy double act, but, sadly, it’s not.

We know America has a racial problem. No – not the one of southern hicks who won’t vote for a black man. In any case, as last November demonstrated, it doesn’t run that deeply any more anyway.

But there is a problem from the perspective of the communities that form part of America: particularly the African American one, and others too.

The problem is one that was demonstrated so shockingly by the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. I’m speaking of white America and its effective abandonment of parts of black America. The white attitude that ethnic minorities are to blame for their own problems of poverty and deprivation. The white argument that black people have just as many opportunities as white people but fail to take them through their own free will, and not of any remaining societal barriers that keep them down.

In some respects we touched upon this argument a few days ago when I wrote about the problems of working class neighbourhoods in the UK. But in America, the argument is seen through the prism of race – when perhaps it may owe just as much to class as the legacy of the racial divide.

Back when I wrote about the class issue, I said that the difficulty is in talking to those who are downtrodden and despairing, the fatalistic, and getting them to have realistic ambitions that they can aspire to and create an achievable plan to get them.

But where does any of this involve Obama? Well – if there’s a better placed person to talk to his own community and give them the lesson of the previous paragraph, I don’t know.

And so it has begun. Obama has begun a dialogue with the black community to tell them that the problems of his community are as much to do with individual lack of will and motivation as they are to do with society. As he calls it “a new mindset, a new set of attitudes”.

Obama’s message has always been one of personal salvation. That the individual can achieve a great deal if they aspire to it – and don’t merely accept the low expectations poured upon them by society – particularly in the case of those from a black background which, paraphrasing Obama a little, is very accepting of mediocre (or worse!) behaviour almost because that is what is expected of them.

I have read both of Obama’s books: and his message on race is always the same but very compelling. Yes, the black community have suffered greatly. But great strides have been taken to level the playing field. He admits that much more needs to be done… but at the same time implores that they do not fall into the victim trap and live a negative existence simply because of low self-esteem and low importance ascribed to them by society. That only by ridding themselves of this mentality will they begin to bridge the gaps that mean so few African Americans are in corporate boardrooms, etc. It’s difficult and tough, and they will suffer much along the way.

But as Obama has proved, it is achievable.

In many ways, Obama is trying to answer the chicken and egg dilemma with race relations. Can blacks only thrive when the society becomes less racist? Or will it only be when blacks thrive that society will finally lose its racist shackles? Obama’s answer seems to be to go with the latter: and implore the African American community to be the ones that take the first step to prove the doubters wrong, because no one else is going to do it for them.

Of course, he can say that, being in his lofty position. But the beauty of Obama saying it is that he can do it in a way no other American President has ever been able to. I mean, imagine if George Bush had told the black community that there are “no excuses” for not working hard.

Suffice it to say that it would have been explosive!

If Obama only achieves one thing with his Presidency, it will a signficant breakthrough in improving the engagement of African Americans in US society. That can only be a good thing.

But it is good that Obama and I are on the same wavelength about motivating people who have no apparent hope in life, even if we were talking about different targets. I think he might even have been reading my blog…

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One Response to “Obama and Race”

  1. […] Obama manages to square the circle in his response, something I’ve discussed in a previous post. His solution to most things appears to be to tell both left and right that they’re wrong […]

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