Race in the time of Obama

The road to Ferguson started at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

I am not an attorney nor am I familiar enough with the judicial system to bloviate about the grand jury decision in Ferguson Missouri. But I am an American, I’m a human being I’m a Jew and I have a soul. Many people choose to focus on the subsequent rioting and looting and use it as a motive for avoiding the elephant in the room; that systemic racism has increased not abated during the Obama era.

Oh, us white folk will pat ourselves on the back and point to twice electing an African American as president to prove our enlightenment and our having entered a post racial era. Yet, I seem to recall that in 2000, a national ticket with an Orthodox Jew on it received more votes nationally than the eventual winners but anti-Semitism since then is on the rise, not in decline in the United States. In other words, one has nothing to do with the other. Bravo to us for shedding an upbringing of overt racism; shame on us for maintaining our internal prejudice.

It begins with culture. As any businessman or professional knows everyone has a goal but achieving it means passing through obstacles. A salesperson wants to sell you an insurance policy or get your loan approved but those pesky underwriters keep asking for more data to approve the sale. Sales culture demands the close, underwriting culture demands the client meets guidelines. Both want to get to the same place; they just have different views of the best way to get there. Law enforcement has a culture and it’s to get the bad guys. The constitution may say we are innocent until proven guilty and our laws may be colorblind but cop culture never really cares much for such niceties. Racial profiling may be against the law, but really, does anyone doubt it is employed daily by many officers in every agency of law enforcement?

It’s very easy for us to look up to our police, salute their bravery, appreciate how safe they make us and applaud the high risk – for low compensation job they do daily. And we should. Our neighborhoods are safe, crime is down, our cities are cleaner and we are unlikely to be pulled over or stopped by a police officer for anything other than a traffic violation. Indeed we are the blessed beneficiaries of a crime fighting strategy that has gotten us these results. As a white man I can say that because for me it’s true. However, to achieve these favorable statistics we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, a shockingly high plurality of black and Hispanic prisoners, increasing poverty in minority communities and systemic cutbacks in government assistance. The Obama era was supposed to usher in more racial and financial parity, instead it has given us unpunished criminal bankers, deprtations and Ferguson.

Much the same way I couldn’t possibly conceive of the pride African Americans must have felt on election night 2008 when Obama was elected, I can’t possibly grasp the pain they are feeling now. Another young black man is dead, killed by a policeman’s bullet. Supporters of Officer Darren Wilson will point to the video of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store before the shooting. Even supporters of Michael Brown will concede that he likely gave Officer Wilson attitude. Physical evidence points to some kind of confrontation, yet……………..

I will grant you that Michael Brown may not be the ideal case on which to base a whole protest movement but on the heels of Trayvon Martin and the daily indignities and injustices African Americans face is anyone really surprised? I’m not a big fan of the Reverend Al Sharpton and can easily point to his faults and sins, but do I select who speaks for those outraged? I may not like or agree with every tactic employed by the protestors or concur with every point they make, does that make their grievances any less pertinent? I have a soul and a heart and they ache for those in pain from our indifference and our apathy.

This is an ideal time for self-reflection. Our system is broken in so many ways. I hope that the steam doesn’t run out on the Ferguson induced outrage. It would be so easy to ease ourselves back into the status quo after a few days or weeks. After all this is happening to them not us. It is so easy for us to sit in the safety of our well-protected homes and tell African Americans to clean up their own house first before looking to us for relief. We punt the ball on race every day and it is a huge stain on the fabric of American life that is not going away anytime soon. We have to face race now and again because it is staring at us and not going away.

Barack Obama was elected to be a different type of leader; he was supposed to bring us hope and change. What we got was a revolving door between his administration and Wall Street, the largest gap of income inequality in the Western World, higher black poverty than under George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, more deportations than under the previous administration and frankly an abandonment of our allies in the geo political arena. His is not a recipe for a post-racial world. It’s high time that those that voted for hope and change demand it. Change begins from within. The road to Ferguson did not begin with the robbery of cigars in a convenience store; the route started at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can begin to heal as a country.

About the Author
Joel Moskowitz is a businessman and writer who finally made it to Jerusalem. He is currently chronicling this move in an Aliyah Journal posted on this site.