No change in blacks' plight despite Obama

Updated: 2014-08-21 06:51

By Stephan Richter(China Daily)

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Tension has been escalating in Ferguson, Missouri, since the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer early this month, with the shooting triggering debate on whether it was the result of racial discrimination. And this warrants a broader look at the issue of how African-Americans are faring in US society today.

On a symbolic level, having a black man as president of the country may be important, but on a practical level, African Americans continue to face the same very real problems. At best, US President Barack Obama's election in 2008 can be considered an interim point in a healing process that must continue.

The core issue by which to measure progress is the actual situation of African Americans in the United States. The social and economic status of African Americans today actually is, truth be told, rather catastrophic. For example, the unemployment rate of black Americans is more than twice the rate for whites. Black teenagers are more than twice as likely not to finish high school than white teens.

No change in blacks' plight despite Obama

And perhaps most shocking of all is the fact that the imprisonment rate of black Americans is nearly six times that of white Americans. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, blacks account for about 1 million of the 2.3 million Americans currently imprisoned in the US.

True, in a purely legal context, African Americans are now formally equipped with the same rights as whites. And without any doubt, the unvarnished racist hatred and unbelievable violence against them that marred the US in the 1960s has been pushed out of view and toward the fringes. But there are many subtler forms of discrimination that can hardly be squared with living in the 21st century. The constant needling by the governors, legislatures and courts of many US states to suppress the black vote is a constant reminder of one fact of American life.

The level of violence and outright criminality in the white establishment may be gone, but the eagerness to discriminate in any other available form is not. It is especially instructive to look at documentaries from the 1960s, the heyday of the struggle for civil rights. Despite all the unfathomable oppression that blacks experienced when they stood up for their rights, there was also a lot of hope, especially among young black people. They were hoping for a better future, solid education, a solid lifestyle.

That hope has now vanished for many African Americans. The only thing that provides comfort about the 72.1 percent of young African American children born out of wedlock is that they are no longer alone in dealing with that challenge. The corresponding rate for white children now is 29.3 percent.

Republican opposition to real social reforms that would improve these children's lot is fierce but not surprising. What is surprising is Obama's reluctance to tell the truth. While delivering a speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial in August 2013, he didn't even blush in limiting himself to offering mellifluous words and dismissing any critics "who suggest ... that little has changed".

Americans have a bad habit of celebrating at the mile marker, instead of finishing the marathon. It was necessary to take bold action in the 1960s to make full the hollow words of the Declaration and the Constitutional amendments adopted after the US Civil War.

Likewise, the election of Obama was an important milestone, but not a crowning achievement in itself.

The US must still meet the promise of that event and work to correct the insidious and less visible violations of civil rights - and the economic imbalances that are the legacy of past misdeeds - which still persist across the country.

The author is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist

(China Daily 08/21/2014 page9)