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  Global Views
The Principal Hope & Danger of Black America: Barack Obama
Special Contribution
By Ananda Selah Osel
Barack Obama

In case you're pretending not to be paying attention, the presumptive democratic presidential nominee is black, just the right amount of black, and he's come not a moment too soon. Privileged liberals may find it bewildering that while Barack Obama stands on the periphery of the presidency of the United States, racism and racial bias are alive and well. If you live in a place like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, or the like, you may not have realized it but you're living in an elusive microcosm. You know the intergraded neighborhoods, the interracial couples, and diverse people you see grinning at each other in the street? Well, that doesn't exist everywhere. It might not even exist at all. In-fact it's quite the opposite.

The United States, even now, is flush with blatant racial discrimination and bias. It manifestly exists in housing, education, disaster relief, public elections (in the form of voter disenfranchisement), law enforcement, criminal defense, and prison admission to name only a fantastic few.

As Barack Obama enters the nascent stages of new history, black and Hispanic Americans comprise approximately 63% of the incarcerated population even though they roughly comprise only 25% of the national population. Human Rights Watch has documented new statistics and found unrelenting racial disparities among drug related offenders sent to prison in 34 states. These states send drug offenders of African decent to prison at significantly higher rates than whites even though whites commit more offenses.

Furthermore, young blacks arrested for homicide, are at the very least, three times more likely than white youth arrested for the same crime to receive a life sentence without parole. Are we to believe that blacks and Hispanics have a genetic predilection for crime or is it more likely that systematic oppression of minority groups continues to noticeably affect these groups even as the United States is electing its first African-American presidential nominee?

According to Uniform Crime Reports, in 1996 Black Americans were the victims of sixty-eight percent of all racially motivated hate crimes. Fast-forward a whole decade later and Blacks still comprised over sixty-six percent of hate crime victims. Even after September 11th and the push for same-sex marriage in the early 2000's, anti-Black hate crimes astoundingly dwarfed those hate crimes motivated by religious affiliation and sexual orientation — a staggering and telling fact that illustrates the ongoing undercurrent of racial feeling in the United States.

While it's obvious that overt racism has waned since the days of Jim Crow, it's probable that racial bias still influences the vast majority of U.S. inhabitants. If your privileged enough to have health coverage you've more than likely heard something resembling the following from your physician: "do not stop taking the antibiotics just because your symptoms began to lessen. Finish the entire prescription, otherwise the virus may return." Eradicating the virus of racial bias needs to be regarded similarly by Americans otherwise racism and its discontents will simply continue to morph, infecting us in new and different ways.

After more than thirty years of research, Professor Jack Dovidio of the University of Connecticut estimates that as much as 80 percent of White Americans have racist feelings they may not recognize. The Professor says that racism has mutated into a new form that is hardly identifiable. 'Contemporary racism is not conscious, and it is not accompanied by dislike, so it gets expressed in indirect, subtle ways,' says Dovidio.

Studies conducted at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin support Dovidio's position. The results of these studies were published by the Association for Psychological Science in 2007 and revealed that only a mind-boggling seven percent of white college students did not show any racial bias. What's noteworthy here is that the tests were conducted on university students, one of the most liberal and progressive crowds in the United States and a sizable portion of Barack Obama's support base.

The results discovered that non-biased subjects differed from biased subjects in a psychologically fundamental aspect — they were less apt to develop negative emotional associations. According to the researchers 'whether someone is prejudiced or not is linked to their cognitive propensity to resist negative affective conditioning.' In other words, the very few who are resistant to conditioning are likely to hold less racial bias. This means that while the majority of Americans may adopt progressive principals which could lessen implicit racial bias; those principals do not rid one of such bias.

Because racial associations remain deeply embedded in the U.S. psyche, a change in the predisposition of the masses may require a collective reconditioning of social and cultural mentality. The authors assert that this overhaul could be accomplished through affirmative interpersonal experiences with minorities and/or more exposure to positive media portrayals of minority groups.

The research here suggests that reason alone cannot eliminate racial bias, yet the United States has arrived at a tipping point – a tipping point that could perhaps be the catalyst to our permanent reconditioning. If the overwhelming white majority elects a black man to represent its national interests it will be defiantly doing so in the face of mammoth historical precedent.

In-fact, a successful Obama run at the White House could not only change the way the majority of U.S. inhabitants have been conditioned to view (consciously or unconsciously) African-Americans but could also revolutionize the way black America sees itself. This is expressly the case for young African-Americans who are still in their developmental stages. What's more, a flourishing Obama presidency would open wide the door for other Americans of color, creating a boon for historically underrepresented citizens and their descendents. This fact cannot be understated.

On the other provisional hand, a catastrophic Obama presidency, for whatever reason, could prove noxious, slamming the proverbial door in the faces of Black Americans for decades because it would reinforce the misconceptions and historical conditioning that is so ubiquitous in the United States on a massive scale. Any clear-thinking person knows that Barack Obama, because of his blackness, could never get away with even a fraction of the blunders George W. Bush has, let alone those that preceded him.

This is not to say that the entire fate of Black America rests on the actions of Barack Obama — only that Obama's triumphs and failures will have a vast bearing on the lives of Americans of color. This may seem an unfair weight to place on the shoulders of a single redoubtable man, but sadly, it may be the case none-the-less.

Former Assistant Attorney General turned academic, Roger Wilkins, declares when comparing civil rights leaders of the past and Obama that, "Nobody wants someone whose mind is stuck in and formed by events of four decades ago." Consider though that anyone whose mind is not molded by events of recent history could be said to suffer from a serious detachment disorder. Even as researchers suggest this type of conditioning of the mind unavoidable, we've grown inured to accepting this sort of sentiment, hearing it time and time again from academic leaders, elected representatives, friends and neighbors.

In truth, many agree with Wilkins, alleging that a person's race does not warrant consideration in matters of politics or anything else. However, this type of egalitarian attitude while progressive is a fallacy for many minorities. The reality is, race only exists as a non-issue if you happen to be in the majority, in this case Caucasian. If you're black it seems to be awfully important. The same can be said for an array of concerns: Gender doesn't matter — unless you're not a man, then it does matter. Sexual orientation doesn't matter — unless you're not heterosexual, then it matters quite a bit. Religious affiliation is not that important — as long as you're not an Atheist, and so on and so forth.

Contending that race is a now a non-issue in the United States, or that it somehow should not be considered, is tantamount to ignoring the sea of evidence that African-Americans are awash in daily. Common practices and patterns in real estate, media coverage, national and local elections, educational attainment, disaster relief, dropout rates, and the entire criminal justice system must all be disregarded to seriously avow that a person's race does not matter when the only discernable difference between minority Americans and Caucasians is skin color, ethnicity, and history.

In real life of course, Senator Obama is an African-American man that it running for the office of President, the highest office, where all those who have preceded him have been everything but diverse. Anyone who does not recognize the importance of Obama's blackness must be ogling the prism of historical privilege, living in an imagined utopia, or not paying close enough attention to the world they're living in. Because of the overriding saga of the United States, Obama's skin color could not be more central to the moral, emotional, and insensible development of this country. To deny these things is not only exceptionally unfair to the historically oppressed, it is a gross perversion of history and of that which is yet to be written.




Ananda Selah Osel, who serves as a special columnist for The Seoul Times, is poet and polemicist currently perusing a degree in Psychoneuroimmunology. He writes a column for American Satellite Magazine called "As-U-waR". Ananda lives in Seattle, Washington USA.

 

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