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guardian.co.tt Tuesday, January 10, 2017
From Page A19
some 250 communities.There have
been disappointments, as well.
The House refused to consider
immigration reform, and so Obama
used his executive power to tem-
porarily halt the deportation of 1.5
million people brought here illegally
as children. A lawsuit prevented him
from expanding that to others.
Says Gaby Castillo, an immigra-
tion lawyer in New York: "I had
these unrealistic expectations that
all these changes would come and
there would be no opposition to it
and it was going to be this glorious
initial first four years."
Others point to the yawning in-
come gap that has left some Afri-
can-Americans at the bottom of the
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates argued
in a 2013 piece in The Atlantic that
the Obama administration wasn't
aggressive enough in dealing with the
foreclosure crisis, which devastated
African-Americans. He character-
ised the president's work on housing
segregation as "run of the mill."
Harris, the professor at Columbia
University, says Obama didn't suf-
ficiently address the persistence of
racial inequality and championed the
causes of other key constituencies,
such as the LGBT community, more
"In eight years," he asks, "this is
the best you can do?"
For Obama, just talking about race
has always meant walking a rhetorical
tightrope. He's been criticised as too
strident and too timid, too slow to re-
act and too fast to make a judgment.
Some white critics accused the
president of taking sides when he said
Trayvon Martin, the black teen killed
by a neighbourhood watch volunteer,
could have been his son. Some black
activists insist Obama should have
been more outspoken in denouncing
police killings of African-Americans
in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere.
"On one hand," says Cleaver, "the
president is suffering from inflated
expectations on the part of Afri-
can-Americans. On the other side,
you have people who have a magnify-
ing glass out looking for a statement
... that would allow them to say he's
a card-carrying member of the Black
Cleaver says Obama's style has al-
ways been calm and deliberative. He's
the "most careful African-American
in a leadership position that I've ever
Dyson argued in his New York
Times op-ed that Obama's reluc-
tance to address race had significant
political ramifications. If Obama
"had spoken more forcefully on race,"
he wrote, "it might have blunted
some of the bigotry" that helped to
fuel Trump's ascent.
In recent years, as tensions wors-
ened between law enforcement and
communities of colour, the presi-
dent grew more vocal but still tried
to strike a balance when addressing
racial conflict. At a memorial for
five slain Dallas police officers last
summer, he noted the fears many
African-Americans have of law
enforcement---but also the dangers
officers routinely face at work.
"We wonder if an African-Amer-
ican community that feels unfairly
targeted by police and police depart-
ments that feel unfairly maligned for
doing their jobs can even understand
each other's experiences," he said.
That kind of message doesn't sat-
isfy Constance Malcolm, a Jamaican
immigrant who supported Obama
in 2008. Her frustration has deeply
Her 18-year-old son, Ramarley
Graham, was fatally shot by a New
York City police officer in 2012 in the
bathroom of her apartment. Police
had followed Graham, thinking he
was armed. He was killed when he
tried to flush some marijuana down
the toilet. The officer, who was not
prosecuted, said he thought Graham
was reaching for a gun.
Malcolm says she had hoped Oba-
ma would have been bolder in ad-
dressing police treatment of young
"I understand sometimes it's a po-
litical thing," she says, "but some-
times you have to break that barrier
and speak up about what's going on."
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black
Lives Matter, also thinks Obama has
been more inclined to preach consen-
sus rather than highlight injustice.
His approach, she says, has been:
"Let's bring all sides together ... this
is still the greatest country in the
world, and ultimately cooler heads
need to prevail so that we can come
to a solution.
"What's really disappointing and
frustrating ... is that it essentially
assumes that there is an even and
level playing field between black
communities and law enforcement."
Eight years ago, it seemed America
had turned the page --- a black pres-
ident in a nation scarred by slavery
and Jim Crow. The euphoria was
measured in public opinion; a New
York Times/CBS News poll in April
2009 found 66 per cent of Americans
regarded race relations as generally
Last summer, that poll found 69
per cent of Americans believed race
relations were mostly bad.
That dramatic turnaround fol-
lowed a year beset by racially charged
incidents, including the death of
Freddie Gray in Baltimore while in
police custody and the massacre of
nine black worshippers by a white
man at a South Carolina church.
Recent surveys have shown huge
gaps in how blacks and whites view
race. In a June poll by the Pew Re-
search Center, nearly 9 in 10 blacks
--- 88 per cent---said the nation need-
ed to continue making changes for
blacks to have equal rights with
whites. For whites, that number
was substantially lower: 53 per cent.
The divide was even starker when
it came to Obama.
About 51 per cent of blacks said
Obama had made progress toward
improving race relations, compared
with 28 per cent of whites. The poll
also found 32 per cent of whites
blamed Obama for making race re-
lations worse, compared with 5 per
cent for blacks.
In his final weeks in office, Obama
addressed racism, maintaining in a
CNN interview that it wasn't a major
component in GOP opposition to his
agenda. But, he said, it was a factor
for some Americans. "Are there folks
whose primary concern about me has
been that I seem foreign, the other?
Are those who champion the 'birther'
movement feeding off of bias? Ab-
solutely," he told CNN.
Some historians believe Obama's
race will ultimately matter less than
his record. He'll be measured by
"Obamacare," how he handled the
staggering financial mess he inher-
ited and advances in gay rights, says
Princeton University historian Kevin
That view was supported in a Pew
poll last month that found 35 per cent
of those surveyed believed Obama
would be remembered most for his
health care legislation --- double those
who said it would be for being the
first black president.
Kruse also says Obama stayed true
to his promise to be colourblind. "He
really tried to be a president of all
In hindsight, Harris sees that as
a failed strategy. "How can you be
colourblind in an increasingly racially
polarised nation?" he asks.
Harris says there's no simple Oba-
ma narrative. Though the 2016 vote
totals were partly a repudiation of the
president, he also notes Obama's ap-
proval ratings have been strong as he
prepares to leave office.
"He's already made his mark," he
says. "I call it the black Camelot...
You have this wonderful black family
in the White House. The dreams of
generations of African-Americans
have been realised.
"He was a hero to the Afri-
can-American community," Harris
adds. "He demonstrated leadership
when there was a lot of opposition.
He stood his ground, stayed the
course...and people saw him as be-
ing above the fray. That will be the
lasting legacy of Obama." (AP)
Chicago resident Qwanchaize Edwards believes Obama tried to accomplish
a lot but was blocked. "I think if you look at...all the factions that he had to
deal with, he probably got as much as he could get done."
Eight years ago, it seemed America had turned the page---a black president in
a nation scarred by slavery and Jim Crow. The euphoria was measured in public
opinion; a New York Times/CBS News poll in April 2009 found 66 per cent of
Americans regarded race relations as generally good. Last summer, that poll found
69 per cent of Americans believed race relations were mostly bad.
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