Why is Barack Obama so passive in the face of racial injustice?

It seems inequality gets even more entrenched when a person of colour reaches the top

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The Independent Online

Black anger is being directed against Barack Obama. Not before time. Millions of African-Americans came out to mark the historical moment of his election in 2008. They praised the Lord, and wept with disbelief and joy. The whole of Africa burst into song. His inauguration was among the most watched global events ever.

In his victory speeches, Obama invoked Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, and Martin Luther King. Real freedom  would come, he said – so too justice and unity. Today his black supporters can claim, with some justification, that he failed to deliver. Badly. Deplorably.

African-Americans are still more likely to go to prison than to university, to be victimised by police, courts and various state institutions, to be poor and ignored by Washington, to have neo-natal mortality rates twice as high as white babies, to have lower life expectancy, and so on and on.

They are out on the streets again, with brothers and sisters of other races, all across the US – in Washington, New York, Baltimore, Denver, Arizona, everywhere, now shedding tears of rage. ’Tis come to this? How and why? Because five unarmed black males have been killed this year by white police officers.

In July, Eric Garner – father of six, suspected of selling black market cigarettes – was pushed to the ground by a NYPD policeman, and held so tight that he died. A video of the incident records him saying; “I can’t breathe”. In August, Michael Brown perished after he was shot a dozen times by a Darren Wilson  in Ferguson, Missouri. Apparently the teenager had refused orders to walk on the pavement and that led to an altercation. Grand juries decided not to indict the policemen involved.

In November, in Cleveland, Ohio, Tamir Rice was killed by 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann, an officer deemed unfit for duty in 2012. Rice, a schoolboy who loved basketball, had a toy gun in his hands. His family are suing the police. The same month Akai Gurley, 28, was brought down in a darkened stairwell, by police who claim it was an “accidental discharge”. A grand jury will examine this incident.

And finally,  last Tuesday, Rumain Brisbon, who had four children,  was killed by officers in Phoenix, Arizona. Police said they thought the bottle of pills he was holding was a gun. Stevie Wonder wonders how this is possible. I wonder that he wonders.  Living on the hills of fame and fortune, it must be hard to know what is being done to your people way down below.

Seems it is even harder for the President. In February 2012, when Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot dead by a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator in Florida, Obama did at least identify with the pain of the parents and community: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon”. (The police officer was, needless to say, acquitted. ) Today Obama makes, makes tepid, middle-management noises about the responsibilities of law enforcers. No fire or fury in his belly any more. Like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, he is now a caretaker of white power.

Obama’s self-belief must be crashing as the accusations build up. Black congressman Charlie Rangel  is  forthright: “Having a black president has not solved the problem at all. ...the colour of one’s skin determines how lives are going to be and whether they live at all.” New York University academic Frank Roberts goes further: “We had hoped he would be Moses; he turned out to be the pharaoh. We have a lame duck president who does not have a moral conscience.” Or as an angry young black man put it: “Obama is a bummer”.

Perhaps it was foolish to expect too much from him.  He has pushed through health care reforms, but that’s it folks. Remember all that loose talk about post-racial America? It actually stopped the fight, disabled the struggle so lethally that today R&B star Alicia Keys is able to say, “We absolutely feel disregarded as human beings.”

It seems inequality gets even more firmly entrenched when a woman or person of colour gets to the very top. Margaret Thatcher didn’t do it for feminism and Theresa May won’t either. We have more MPs and peers of colour than ever before and racism is rising again. Once they get to where they want to, even those who used anti-racism to push in, go strangely quiet, seek approval rather than confrontations.

Obama’s presidency represents the perils of entryism. The rough Texan Lyndon Johnson, who pushed through civil rights legislation, did more for African-Americans than Barack Obama. Johnson didn’t give a damn for the establishment, wasn’t intimidated by white opinion. Here, Ken Livingstone pushed equality policies with courage of a kind we do not see in most black and Asian people in power. My heart cracks as I write this. The truth hurts, but can no longer be dodged or excused.

Bethlehem as you’ve never seen it before

Mary, heavily pregnant, and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem. Christ is born in a stable. The angel Gabriel had foretold this birth of the son of God, come down to save humans from temptations and themselves. The first believers followed the brightest of stars to pay homage. Bethlehem is where it all began.

It’s Christmas again. Millions of Nativity scenes are being re-enacted in infant and primary schools all over the world. Parents film these scenes, and rejoice. But do any of them know what is happening to the actual Bethlehem?

I didn’t until I saw a new film, Open Bethlehem, by a Palestinian woman, Leila Sansour. A Christian, she was born and raised there, and then, like many others, went off to the West. Her father’s death drew her back and she found her home town cowed and shattered by aggressive Israeli anti-terrorism measures.

Huge walls are being built, homes and old businesses confiscated, human rights trampled. An old man died broken-hearted after his beloved shop was bulldozed. Church leaders watch helplessly. Sansour’s poignant film is both a recovery of her own memories and a cry against the lock-up of Jesus’s birthplace.

Good people rightly condemn the persecution of Christians by hardline Muslims and Hindus. But as Israel strangles the life out of Christianity’s holiest site, nobody dares speak out. This woman has. Go to her website, join her campaign. It could be the noblest thing you do this Christmas.