by Peter Byrne
(Swans - November 19, 2012) What does Obama's reelection say about racism in America? It says, at the very least, that we had better put the subject in perspective. I can now sit on the other side of the world and read the racist slurs of his fellow citizens on their president. These comments are brief, anonymous, unreasoned and right from the sewer. They are very like those I heard about FDR when I was eleven in Chicago. The difference is that it's harder, thanks to electronics, not to hear them now. Racism then targeted the Jews. A good part of the Midwest truly believed that their reelected president was a Jew. The belief was encouraged by The Chicago Tribune, which was probably the country's most powerful newspaper in that era of print dominance. Bias against blacks was so endemic it passed as a fact of nature, a norm of life, that wasn't thought of as racism at all.
I worked fifty miles from the city at a golf course. My redneck boss told me we shouldn't be at war with the Germans because they were white. Fighting the Japanese was all right -- "natural" -- because they were yellow. He was obsessed by the blacks of Chicago's south side and insisted that Washington had a huge cache of arms there ready to put down a "Negro" uprising. His paranoia was much like the present defense of the "homeland" from imaginary terrorists. There was no question of blacks getting anywhere near the golf course. The rare times a black family drove out for the day to fish in the nearby river there was talk around town of raising vigilantes. Jews were not allowed to join the golf course club. Finally one came along with so much money he couldn't be refused. A special "temporary" membership was created just for him. Lynchings across the nation were still not all that rare.
Today an impressive biopic depicts Lincoln as waging the Civil War in order to end slavery. Though hardly reliable history, the distortion goes in the right direction. We have a reelected black president and racism has in the main been driven underground. It will nevertheless be a long time before black Americans achieve full equality. They would quite rightly pooh-pooh my white man's impression that much progress has been made. Too much remains undone. The same, however, can be said for the rest of the world. When I asked young Bulgarians and Turks what they thought of their Roma co-citizens, their replies were obscene. The reelected president's first foreign trip will be to Burma/Myanmar. The government there continues to persecute a Muslim ethnic minority called the Rohingyas. About 110,000 of these people have been displaced since June, often forced over the border into Bangladesh. Will the visiting fireman find time between photo ops with Aung San Suu Kyi to say a word in favor of the Rohingyas? It would be ironic if he did. The president, himself a target of racism, is perceived by many of the billion and a half Muslims in the world as continuing his predecessor's wars against them.
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