“…in some ways Democrats have been gifted with the rage and incoherence of their opposition”
Nearly a year after Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States, the euphoria that prompted pundits to proclaim a post racial society has been dampened by the reality of rising tensions.
Several prominent white preachers have urged followers to pray for Obama’s death. Hate groups are growing. And a wave of anger-charged protests of Obama’s domestic policies has set people on edge.
“It’s quite scary out there,” said Mark Potok, who investigates hate groups with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“There’s a lot of anger. A lot of guns. A lot of hateful ideology in a kind of witch’s brew that could well give rise to domestic terrorism.”
There has been a sharp uptick in hate crimes in the wake of Obama’s November 4 victory, Potok said, such as the man with a swastika carved into his forehead who shot three black immigrants the day after Obama was inaugurated.
“What is remarkable about this reaction is the real desperation it reflects,” Potok said of the extremists and white supremacists who feel marginalized by Obama’s election.
“The truth is these people have lost. Nothing they can do will turn history around. This country is going to become a genuinely multiracial democracy and there’s nothing they can do.”
The United States has made enormous progress since the 1960s when police turned dogs and water cannon on civil rights protesters and federal troops had to be called in to protect the first black children attending a white schools in southern states.
Interracial marriage — once banned — is now commonplace. Laws prevent rather than institutionalize discrimination. And Obama’s victory comes long after African Americans broke into the ranks of billionaires, astronauts, police chiefs, governors, news anchors, and other previously unattainable posts.
Yet stark disparities remain, especially for those who live in neglected inner-city neighborhoods ravaged by gangs, drugs, violence and unemployment.
“This country has always been built on black exceptionalism but not black inclusion,” said Robert Rooks, director of criminal justice programs for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“You have blacks that have done phenomenally well today… (then) you have the majority of the black community feeling totally marginalized.”
Nearly one out of every four black families lives below the poverty line compared to just six percent of white families.
Nearly one in five blacks didn’t graduate from high school: twice the rate for whites.
African American babies are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. The homicide rate is six times higher.
And the justice department estimates that 32 percent of black males will go to prison at some point in their lives compared with just six percent of white males.
“The real, deep difficulties that exist, a year later they’re the same because it takes time to change,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, a leading civil rights organization.
Many of Obama’s policy goals — such as improving public education and extending health coverage to the uninsured — will address some of these disparities.
He has also inspired a “sense of hope, a sense of inclusion and, with some, a sense of reconciliation,” Morial said.
A CBS News survey found that 59 percents of African Americans said race relations were good in April compared with just 29 percent in a July 2008 survey.
The question is whether the increasingly ugly attacks — such as a Republican senator who shouted “you lie!” during a September address to Congress by Obama or the people who carry guns and signs depicting the president as a witch doctor to protest health care reform — will erode those gains.
“African Americans are very watchful and fearful about the far right,” said Mark Sawyer, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics.
While Obama has rejected racism as the main driver of the protests, it’s hard not to see a racist undertone to the irrational rage and lack of respect for the office of the presidency, Sawyer said.
“It’s socially very damaging to see this stuff, but in some ways Democrats have been gifted with the rage and incoherence of their opposition,” he explained.
“There are legitimate conservative arguments to be made and real conservative policy options, but that’s not what we’re seeing coming out of this movement.”
And Obama has already made significant inroads on tackling discrimination, such as when he got the equal opportunity office to stop pursing cases which aim to dismantle affirmative action programs and to begin aggressively pursing cases brought by women and minorities.
“Those kinds of things are the things that do make real differences in real people’s lives,” Sawyer said.