Obama, racist emails and post-racial America

Written by Remi Joseph-Salisbury

The myth of a post-racial America has been further demystified this week. The alarming racial disparities in employment, law enforcement, healthcare and education, should ensure that any assertions that race no longer matters are nothing more than laughable. The killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and the subsequent non-indictments, have become the emblematic face of these larger systemic problems. Despite these cases and many others gaining much attention, there have still been those that argue race no longer matters. Those who advocate post-race arguments often cite the presidency of Barack Obama as the ultimate evidence.

Such arguments appear even more fallacious after, this week, a department of justice investigation into the events of Ferguson found racist emails directed at that very image of post-raciality, Barack Obama. Racist sentiment toward Obama has not been uncommon, but these incidents uncover overt racism within state institutions. Policing and the criminal justice system has long since been a key site of tension between African American communities and the state, and the uncovering of racist emails about the president, sent by Ferguson police, shows that merely having a black president does not change racism that permeates society or State institutions.

Emails include the invoking of racial tropes to comment on Obama’s presidency; ‘what black man holds a steady job for four years’; the depiction of Obama as a chimpanzee; and an image of topless women dancing - supposedly in Africa – given the caption ‘Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion’.

Evidently, having a black president does not, in isolation, eradicate racism. Perhaps more worryingly it can bring about a degree of laziness and complacency in commitments to racial equality. If this complacency ensues, Obama’s presidency may actually be to the detriment of the black masses. It is important to remember that Obama is a figurehead for white corporate America. In a position where the majority around him are white, and in a society where white privilege remains pervasive, it is inconceivable that he alone can bring about the radical change that is needed. The ascendency of a few black faces in high places, should not allow us to waver on the journey to racial equality for the black masses, and for all. Cases such as these make that abundantly clear.

The evidence shows that police and state actors are not suddenly going to develop racial sensitivity as a result of having a black president. If the police can be so overtly racist to Obama, then the shocking evidence of racist policing emerging from the report, and the killing of Mike Brown should come as little surprise.

The argument of Obama representing a post-racial America are damaging and detrimental, hopefully these incidents have finally shattered the myth.


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