Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is the US post-racial? Think again.

Following the historic election of Barak Obama in a country built on slavery, many in the media, Right and Left have argued that racism has ended and the 'divisive' concept of race has been rendered irrelevant. This article in the New Republic takes this argument to absurd lengths, suggesting that since neo-fascists and white supremacists such as David Duke do not hate Obama, we have somehow entered a new age of tolerance. The author suggests that

white supremacists feel compelled to explain away the confounding notion of an immensely gifted and appealing black man. Yet it also reflects the fact that, unlike Jesse Jackson, Obama simply lacks certain cultural signifiers--not to mention an urban-centric policy agenda--that would viscerally threaten racist whites obsessed with maintaining "white rights," ending affirmative action, and cutting off nearly all non-European immigration.
Frankly, in a country where millions of Americans stand to lose their homes, child hunger is skyrocketing, and jobs are being slashed in the tens of thousands, this country needs more 'urban centric' policies. And pissing off white supremacists is a great thing in my book.

But that's neither here nor there. On the question of racism, a recent incident of police brutality brings to the fore the weaknesses of Obama and his campaign to confront racist attacks from the McCain camp and Hillary Clinton and also to take up issues pertaining to the virulent racism of the criminal justice system (Sean Bell, the Jena Six, Troy Davis).

The father of Green Bay Packers star receiver Donald Driver was brutally beaten by Houston cops on Sunday. Police allegedly picked him up on a warrant for traffic violations and then took him behind a gas station and beat him mercilessly:
As they beat him and forced him to swallow something, the officers told Marvin Driver Jr. he was "going to see Jesus," according to relatives and community activist Quanell Evans, who identified himself as Quanell X.

"Mr. Marvin Driver Jr. is now at Hermann Hospital in ICU where he can't even speak," relatives said in a statement. "Doctors say there is some bleeding on his brain from blunt force trauma."
The two accused officers are still on the street, pending investigation. However, according to a community activist, "One of the officers named in the arrest report is Hispanic and has a history of harassing African-Americans."

This event is a sobering wake up call to people who believe that Obama's election could instantly bring and end to the systemic racism embedded in the US from housing and hiring to the criminal justice system.

In another sense, however, this event presents an opportunity to expose this. As Dave Zirin has argued time and time again, professional sports presents a huge platform for athletes to take a stand on against oppression and political injustice, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics, Billie Jean King's victory in the "Battle of the Sexes". Who knows how the Driver family will respond to this tragedy, especially given the pressures on athletes from their coaches, team mates, and the talking heads in the sports writing world (See Brandon Marshall and Josh Howard?) Despite these pressures, athletes are also affected by the sense of hope and joy that Obama's election brought about nor can they ignore the anger and mass outpouring of activism against the draconian Proposition 8. If Driver's brother's response is any indication of the sentiment shared by the family, we could be in for a battle: "if we can't trust these people, who can we trust? ... I think that my father was targeted for being black."