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Who let the dogs out?

Obama: facing racist backlash

After Barack Obama’s historic election, there were significant voices on both sides of the Atlantic who talked about a post-racial world; a place in which the colour of one’s skin, or the religion one practiced would no longer hold any negative connotations in this brave new world.

Many of us here, whilst dancing with delight about the threshold that had been broken, acutely understood that it was not only misleading to talk about a post-racial America, but actually regressive because it meant the necessity to deal with racial inequalities was no longer needed. The facts, of course, have shown us otherwise.

One year and nine months later the American Right have galvanized around an issue – the Islamic centre, relatively close to ‘Ground Zero’ – which has the tenor and tone of a racist lynch mob. The most shocking part of the hyperbole was that the building of the centre had little or nothing directly to do with Ground Zero until a Ms Pam Geller paid some eight thousand dollars to link the centre with Ground Zero in the most inflammatory way: she placed ads on New York buses,  using the shocking picture of a plane crashing into one of the twin towers juxtaposed with a mosque in the vicinity.

Not surprising – given the sensitivity, the posters caused strong emotions fueling rampant Islamaphobia and racism.

To his credit President Obama did not duck the issue. He could have done. After all he wasn’t making the decision as to whether the centre would obtain consent or not. And given its contentious nature, one would imagine his advisors telling him, ‘Mr. President, stay clear of this one’. But he didn’t. He told Americans what they as a nation stood for: religious freedom. The rabid racist dogs could now turn their attention to a  President they never voted for or wanted.  Spewing their pent up anger, along with a heavily biased media, 20% of the American public now believes their President is a Muslim.

Right-wing America now has a hate-filled bit firmly between its teeth and it’s both racist and Islamaphobic all wrapped up in one.

At times like this, hate can be a more powerful emotion than decency and fairness. As a result that dream of closer racial and religious harmony moves further away.

Ms Geller will no doubt believe that that was eight thousand dollars very well spent.

By Simon Woolley


4 Responses

  1. This is a very one sided view of an issue that involves a wide range of topics.

    I do not believe you will achieve the aim of social cohesion if you attempt to dismiss the concerns of others that may not agree with your views.

    “Right-wing America now has a hate-filled bit firmly between its teeth and it’s both racist and Islamaphobic all wrapped up in one.”

    This appears to be an attempt to stereotype the population to fit in with the collectivist views of this organisation. Some may consider this naive and insensitive. Perhaps some Muslims do not agree with the building of the Mosque. Did you consider such a premise?

    The above article appears to expel only emotional opinions and does not even attempt to debate the issue. There is something to debate.

    America must ask itself what stance it takes on the trading of rights versus conveniences. The right to build what one desires against the convenience of not insulting people. Such questions are asked of us all every day of our lives.

    I believe personally that only the builders of the Mosque can chose, what they believe, to be the best decision in this matter. I believe that others also have the right to try to appeal the decision in order to show their bereavement, display their own personal feelings of anger and finally to try and persuade people to their ideas. Criticism is key in the development of ideas. You yourself must be prone to at least some irrationally found insults, right?

    The truth is that we all are; we also can, by no perceived means of ourselves, do things that are considered insensitive by others.

    For example: many Muslims find any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad to be insensitive. Many people who are not Muslims find this to be irrational.

    Who’s right? Both are right; to a degree. We must balance and compromise between these views; lest we reject one-another and divide ourselves. Both of such ideas would have to be ‘right’, at this point in time, in order to maintain stability and cohesion because I cannot imagine that either side would change its mind.

    Trevor Phillips appeared to be interested in separating black children in school. This is illegal and impractical/immoral , which he should know, but that did not stop him from voicing an insensitive idea. Expression is the key here. We can respect what people say but, at the same time, sometimes not respect what people aim to, or actually, do.

    The stark reality is that many people from different communities are unhappy with the lack of progress on the part of the U.S government and, in particular, Barak Obama. This was just one of many issues that was bound to rekindle the same sense of social division that was around during the election campaign. One of the other issues, that led to division, was healthcare reform.

    The group of poor, working class ‘black’ Americans that voted for Barak Obama, in huge numbers, are now disillusioned as, to them, he has appeared to have reneged on his promises to focus on this group of people that he claimed required the greatest support; of which he promised to act upon.

    One might suggest whether he actually had credible policies to deliver on his promises and, even more concerning, whether the democrats preyed on the perceived racial divisions, that separate America, simply in order to get into office.

    Many people of America believe that Barak Obama has forgotten about the Everyman that makes up society and question if he ‘did his homework properly’ before coming into office. They cannot sympathise with him when he receives enormous sums of money in return for corporate advertising (blackberry phone). His acts have created, at least, the impression that Obama is only motivated by self-interest and not in the pursuit of collective societal benefit.

    These were some of the main concerns that Martin Luther King had about the risky business of racially derived politics. He said everybody should unite to overpower the “big shots that keep up down”. Many people in the U.S see Obama simply as one of those big shots.

    This was one of the main concerns that Martin Luther King had about the risky business of racially motivated politics. He said everybody should unite to overpower the “big shots that keep up down”. Many people in the U.S see Obama simply as one of those big shots.

    I do not believe that critics of Obama can be collectively branded as racists. People are critical of him for many different reason. If people weren’t critical society would not be fulfilling its role properly to come up with new ideas and solve problems.

    Regarding the Mosque, it is not up to a few individuals to dictate the social acceptabilities of society. This is known as fascism and has not had a good record with regards to a happy society. Society can decide itself what it finds acceptable and people will argue about things. It is a better outcome than violence and, although sometimes hard to believe, is a constructive process.

    Two groups can be critical of one another as neither are perfect. They will both have practices that are not effective or useful in the pursuit of prosperity and sustainability.

    Instead of just dismissing people, I would ask such people the reasons for their opinions. They must have them for some reason, right? People exercise the uncontrollable right to think all of the time. When we ask; we will know the problems and we can deal with them.

  2. Joshua, get real. This a blog. I am sure your intentions are not malicious but your pious faux-objectivity is bordering on farce. Whilst ‘Right-wing America’ does encompass a broad spectrum it is pretty clear that the prominent right-wing voice as Simon correctly asserts stinks of racialised and Islamophobic fear-mongering.

    It is not for OBV – especially in the context of blog – to perform some kind of in-depth evaluation of the motives of these hate-mongers. I do not understand why you feel that calling them out is not a force for social cohesion. Surely you are best off asking those stirring up the hate fear and mistrust.

    If you are (to paraphrase your final comment) up for ‘asking so that we know’ why they invest time, money and effort in to suggesting that:

    – Healthcare reform was a type of “reparations for slavery”,
    – The President is not a US citizen, but a “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug” and a “racist in chief”, or a “racist” who has a “deep seated hatred of white people”
    – A gorilla who escaped from a zoo was one of “Michele’s ancestors” or
    – The First Lady’s recent vacation was another example of “reparations”

    …then go ahead. You’ll be at it for a long time.

    OBV will be no strangers to people questioning their response to racial injustice and inequality. No doubt they are no strangers to people who feel that by responding to these issues is ‘racially derived politics’.

    By the way. You seem to be a fan of MLK which isn’t in itself a bad thing but by only ever quoting one anti-racist activist you might be an example of the person who is “just dismissing people” by neglecting the myriad of people who may reflect the views in this post who do not suit your argument.

    This is not to close you down or besmirch you but I can’t help but feel you have more issue with those who respond to the realities of a racialised world, rather than those who perpetuate it.

    Oh and by the way two factual points:

    Suggeston or assertion, Obama and the Democrats didn’t prey on “perceived racial divisions, that separate America, simply in order to get into office”. The constant mantra was “the middle class”.

    “Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us — the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of “anything goes.” Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America”. Barack Obama.

    Oh and as a Northerner based in London. If people even saying hello on the tube or in the street is a rarity, do you really think this blog is endangering “the aim of social cohesion”? Come on now.

  3. “This is not to close you down or besmirch you but I can’t help but feel you have more issue with those who respond to the realities of a racialised world, rather than those who perpetuate it. ”

    I have exactly the same issue with those that respond as with those that perpetuate, as those that respond are are just as must a part in the self-perpetuating cycle. It takes two to tango. I wish you would understand that you are beginning to help perpetuate racism, stereotypes and prejudice.

    Your organisation writes articles that you do not perceive (or care) to be insensitive. I do not believe in using embellished phrases such as “rabid racist dogs”. Perhaps you should try to befriend such “rabid racist dogs” and then they might not have such ideas. Do not attempt to drown these people out because they do exist (unfortunately they will not go away easily) and you need to find real, concrete, solutions to dealing with them. I have yet to see any evidence of any such solutions.

    Simply “calling them out” will not solve the problems as it does not deal with the issues and you end up advertising your own offenders. Just ignore them where possible.

    I would argue that Obama’s candidacy was a very well calculated political move by the way in which it targeted racial ideas (“preyed” was a harsh word, I admit). It wasn’t their mantra but you simply cannot deny it was one of the democrat’s tactics. You should realise that most politicians are adept in the skill of deviousness (irrespective of colour). The Democrats reinforced the ‘combo-breaker’ element of Barak Obama as a move that, irrespective of policies, would create change; this change was associated with the human concept of ‘good’, which is known psychologically as Positive Reinforcement. Quite simply, a deciding aspect of his victory was because he was black in the same way that (you perceive) someone might lose because of their colour. Racism works both ways my friend. Superiority and inferiority.

    Americans are now disillusioned with Obama because Negative Reinforcement has kicked in (which they are also currently using to express their concerns, albeit in insensitive ways). Many Americans (and that does include black ones) have now become bored with the ‘combo-breaker’ novelty of Obama now that, after the election excitement has worn off, rational thought is returning they are asking about proper change that will lead to a better society to live in. Unfortunately, for the poorest out there, they cannot see such a thing happening. They believed, emotionally, that Obama would solve their problems and, as you have claimed yourselves, we, as a collective, have no idea of what a social and economic utopia will be comprised of. Obama now owes these people because of, what I describe as, an Emotional Deficit. It also took a year to get healthcare through, during a second try, which all people would see as too forceful. People might argue that he could have done something more productive in that time. People were also so enthralled by the charisma of this man that they believed he would provide economic recovery in a short space of time. He hasn’t delivered on the promise of economic recovery and they, poorest in particular, are sceptical of whether his office will even achieve such a thing.

    Here’s a hint; stop looking at people’s skin and pry inside their mind (and perhaps peer into their wallets).

    Racism is just one of the (many) means that people use to get what they want. It is but one aspect of the study of selfishness. Historical circumstances have shown that, for those who agree, racism is not an issue (see the story of African descent Trade Unionists within Britain; people who liked them, and, or because they, shared mutual interests, were not racist in the slightest but, for the people who were against them financially it was a different story). Barak Obama will heap scorn from others, in some way, because he is the President of the United States. It’s really that simple. No leader would be successful if they broke down at the slightest hint of insult; you do not have to shield Obama. I don’t think political parties fund you to do that.

    You should attempt to look at the true problems as to why people have been made to suffer in life. Who knows, perhaps the minority poor are so because of the same reasons as the non-minority poor? I personally believe this is the overriding case. This would, unfortunately, make the current pursuits of your organisation redundant and of a regressive interest to society.

    There are many people in America, and now here, that have now taken the habit of ‘crying racism’ in order to make a fuss and achieve preferential treatment or defer their responsibilities to others. Rich and successful people are making accusations that they are treated badly (racism). How does someone who is truly treated badly achieve success? They don’t! A lot of rich and successful people appear to follow the trend of simple stubbornness and insensitivity (and this includes black people). I am referring partially to the event where Obama personally got involved, as the president of a federal government, in a silly incident where ‘crying racism’ was involved and was blown way out of proportion. Cry “racism” and everyone comes running. People can cry racism over anything these days, and they do.

    People now misconstrue fiscal inequality, or ‘class based prejudice’, with racial inequality. They do not examine the true reasons for poverty. It’s all a big excuse. This “colour of skin” idea, your organisation focuses on, is a monumental over-simplification of what goes on in this crazy world we live in.

    The only kind of socialism your organisation appears to understand is the incomplete, one-liner, form of Racial Socialism. Do not neglect to mention (the lack of) fiscal socialism in society, for this is true reason for your observations of disadvantaged minorities. Disadvantages minorities are just a small part of the ‘Disadvantaged Many’ within society.

    Your organisation, a racial derivative, is but one side of the coin of racial motivation. Any flip of said coin results in racist values. Can’t your organisation just try to be a part of society rather than trying to dictate social trends and control people’s right to (sometimes insensitive) free expression? Dictation creates a boring, but tense, society. Do not lower yourselves to other people’s level.

    Do not use politics in an attempt to change society (fascism). Use (all of) society to change politics (democracy).

    I do not want to drone on about different Civil Rights leaders as that would require me to write an essay or a book. Malcolm X was a black supremacist who’s ideas actually encouraged segregation; unlike Dr King (you can only really agree with one of them because they definitely did not agree with one-another; that is not to say that both cannot be analysed). MX was a Middle Class man who was comfortably well off and yet he persevered in bitterness and hostilities. He was a charismatic person who, unfortunately, used his talents for his own self-serving and divisive ends by manipulation. He had no real substance to his arguments, with some incredibly far-fetched ideas, but aforementioned charisma filled this void.

    Nelson Mandela committed acts of ‘civil disruption’. He initially followed the ideas of non-violence, in admiration of Gandhi, and then dismissed them in favour of violence (civil-terrorism) with plans for guerilla warfare. After being in jail, he then became the freaking president. These events show parallels with Northern Ireland. Mandela definitely did not stick to his principles. I do not think these two are good role models as their examples might encourage others to believe that stubbornness, over-hostility or violence rewards positive success. Nobody should attempt to excuse these people over their actions based on perceived intent. Dr King was the only one of these three pursuing reasonable strategies instead of gambling on the future. He stuck to his principles and, I at least believe, achieved his dream. He was a good man with much more benign, and realistic, intentions.

    You appear to make his dream much more complicated than it was. He wanted legal segregation to end; that was it. Your organisation is appearing to go down the Malcom X route of lack of substance and simply not knowing when to quit.

    You would aim to dismiss, or complain about, all criticism that would be aimed at yourselves. I would perhaps like some form of positive reinforcement rather that simply criticism. Read what I say and do not attempt to judge my aim. I don’t really have an immediate one other than to try and change an organisation for the better; discussion is also interesting.

    It is important always to try and turn the other cheek.

    “Oh and as a Northerner based in London. If people even saying hello on the tube or in the street is a rarity, do you really think this blog is endangering “the aim of social cohesion”? Come on now.

    Now I just think you’re being a bit facetious. I’m not going to debate the social reasons, or implications, as to why somebody doesn’t talk to you on the train.

    By the way, what did you think of the Mosque ideas?

  4. Joshua

    I’m not from OBV. So many of the premises you base your arguments on are assumptions about me, and what I do or do not think about OBV. Or you blend us in together as a kind of ‘Adversary United’.

    Rather than copy quote each point, I’ll respond in the same order.

    So you have the same issues with perpetrators and responders? That’s your call. That is interesting because it leaves us with the question: just exactly how does this ideal work? How do those who try to maintain cohesion and eradicate racism/inequality do so without responding to fear mongering and divisiveness?

    You equate an opinion expressed by an organisation, and an organisation trying to eradicate inequalities, with those actions designed to inflame and reinforce division and maintain inequality. Go ahead with that. Thanks for saying that by not sharing your worldview that I perpetuate racist, stereotypes and prejudice. That’s a really fascinating take on the debate.

    Whilst not being from OBV, I have engaged with those you refer to, both face to face and over the internet. Some are prepared to re-evaluate, some are not prepared to budge even when they admit that they have their facts wrong.

    However, be clear, calling out the Glenn Beck’s and the Rush Limbaugh’s of this world is necessary as they have found a very lucrative business in cynicism and hate and I think that’s fair game for critique.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, whether it is anti-racists vs. white supremacists / far-right (try Tim Wise as one example); or working with white supremacist / extremists (see Community Cohesion Pathfinder work or even http://www.youngfoundation.org/our-work/research/extremism/the-far-right-britain).

    You should be doing this work though, seeing as though you want to make assertions based on your own knowledge on the subject. It isn’t hard to find the evidence.

    People aren’t just solely calling them out. Responding to misinformation and divisiveness is one piece of a bigger jigsaw of the work done by various people, their organisations, their allies and people who have shared interests.

    My work is in communities and schools and is works to understand the origins of racism as a way of showing it is based on a nonsense concept i.e. race does not exist but racism does.

    All political candidacies are calculated. Thanks for the heads upon Obama. If you actually look back the word race was seldom mentioned by his camp and he only came out and addressed it after the Jeremiah Wright issue. He clearly mostly targeted the middle class verbally and in terms of policy decisions. He went with peace rather than war.

    However you are right his colour was a defining factor. I am flummoxed though that you see Obama being elected as racism. Wow. The deciding aspect in his victory was also white voters ticking his box because he “transcended his blackness” – whatever that means – you didn’t mention that though.

    No, here’s a hint: realise that many people who you are debating with feel he could deliver more. Realise that we know he filled his campaign with rhetoric that has not been delivered. Realise some of us expect more, some are being more patient.

    Realise too though, that he has an adversarial senate (both his own party and opposition), he has a plethora of nay-sayers and misleaders (have you seen the Palin / Beck bandwagon?) Realise that he may not be able to achieve all that he said he would, but please realise that I don’t expect him to.

    Racism is much deeper than just one aspect of the study of selfishness. If that’s all you see it as then it’s obvious why we will be at loggerheads. For those who you claim “racism is not an issue”, we can look back on that with respect and learn from it, but please don’t pretend this was the norm. Please highlight that those European heroes were attacked and besmirched for their actions. Please clarify that whilst Wilberforce was an abolitionist, he was also an ardent colonialist who held racist views.

    I am not trying to shield Obama, nor do I think OBV is. I think they are reporting on the beginnings of a landmark presidency for BME communities. They and I celebrate his successes, question his mistakes, and report on his publicity – negative and positive. I think you know that too.

    So we get to the rub: class over race. May be you are right, may be you are not. How about sometimes it is race, sometimes it is class? How about when race and class (and gender etc.) the situation is compounded. Until there is clear evidence that racism does not play a part – as much as we both want that – you should perhaps re-intepret your analysis.

    For example, several studies show that so-called “ethnic-sounding names” are a bar to employment even when the candidates are equally qualified (even when the “non-white” is more qualified). So please explain this through the lens of class. Yes, I know you said over-riding not absolute but there are many other examples in housing, education, finance etc.

    Those who ‘cry racism’ or play the ‘race card’ are equally destructive for those fighting racial inequality and racism, as they are frustrating to you. Don’t you get that it is harder to shed light and respond to genuine issues of racism because of these selfish individuals. However, when I say that I know that there are several people who get the “you’re playing the race card treatment” when they are not.

    Just because there are people in America and the UK are sick of it doesn’t mean jack. I’m sick of benefit cheats because my family worked hard, but that doesn’t mean I want to see all benefit claimants as “playing the poverty card”. What a childish response. The people you refer to need to grow up and see this as a reflection of a wider problem. People cheat in all areas of human activity, wider issues of racism shouldn’t be dismissed because some people lie about it.

    The Skipp Gates affair was one of several issues that related to race that have happened during the Obama presidency. If he really wanted to play the presidential race card he missed so many opportunities far more prescient than Skipp Gates.

    So now OBV are socialists, hang on, no, racial socialists. Damn, you’re on a roll. Then the question: “Can’t your organisation just try to be a part of society”? May be you should check the shadowing schemes that OBV runs which aim to enable participation in “society”. For someone eager to dispense advice, you could have at least checked first.

    Just like your portrayal of MLK your portrayal of Malcolm X is frozen in time (to the time most convenient for your arguments). MLK did take the argument to white people about themselves. Malcolm did have varying views throughout his life as a leader. You would know that if you’d read his autobiography rather than relied on ‘wikiquote’, and which years of his life was he a middle class man?

    You sit here typing away about how Mandela lost his principles – how pious can you get? By the way, if you’re so sold on King answer me this question. If he was the be all and end all – how come after years of a UN Human Rights charter, was he claiming ‘civil rights’?

    Malcolm X claimed human rights as he saw the UN, not just the US government as the target audience (i.e. shame America on the world stage). If you thought he was a black supremacist you can’t have followed him for the last stages of his life.

    By clear mistakes on your part, you show how you couldn’t provide a balanced analysis on black liberation activism if you tried. I can’t either, so I won’t insult people by trying to bother. I will however, call you out. I’m now off to chastise myself for being as bad as you. “I do not want to drone on”, give me a break.

    Some of the above and previous was facetious, but seeing as though you value free expression why get so prissy. Oh, you’re above that, yeah. Weirdly though you got my comment about social cohesion wrong. I wasn’t being facetious. It was about the lack of human interaction on the tube (or bus) en masse.

    The comparatively insular, unfriendly, and competitive nature of London and how OBVs comments are unlikely to damage social cohesion in that context as you asserted i.e. there are much bigger social cohesion issues at hand.

    “It is important always to try and turn the other cheek”, good for you. Try telling those who are against the Islamic Centre NEAR Ground Zero. Yes, my opinion: why should there be an objection? Many Muslims died in 9/11. There are Jewish and Christian places of worship nearby. Only a fear and hate monger would stir up the kind of nonsense being pushed there.

    Free speech is encouraged, disagreement is not censorship.

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