The article version of this post was published by Chowk.
Almost a year after Obama’s historic election, the strange wave of euphoria that swept around the world is finally morphing into some long-awaited rational discourse. What was it at the time? What was it that appealed to people’s emotions but words could not describe it at the time.
I have been hesitating to write about this as the man stands for a lot more than just his bi-racial ancestry. It felt as if talking about his race was somehow distracting from his 21st-century global persona. However, the ‘birther‘ movement, the tea parties, and the silly signs and antics of demonstrators in the United States have started to form a pattern — a pattern that finally hit home for a lot of us at the same time, including Maureen Dowd of the NY Times (Boy, Oh, Boy).
Rich Benjamin is dividing this into ‘interpersonal racism and structural racism.’ While the former is going down, the latter is still there. He also finds class differences to be a major part of the problem also. Poor whites in America are suffering, and it is their plight that Obama was somewhat successful in channelling as part of his victorious coalition.
The implications for the U.S., and for many other countries: With Obama breaking the highest glass ceiling there is, the poor non-white class has finally broken out of the spotlight on its plight and the general put-down perceptions created by structural racism. The laws enacted against racism have finally put a multi-racial person in the highest possible office, but at the same time, the structural racism that developed over time to prolong the status quo is now working against the poor white class itself. In other words, the thinly-veiled non-egalitarianism that took root with Thatcherism and Reaganism, together with the glorification of privatization and greed around the world have resulted in less social mobility and reduced safety nets. There has been a slight decline in social mobility since 1970 levels, and social scientists have studies showing that people are driven to paying less taxes and being less charitable when they perceive that their money will be spent on ‘others’. For example, the cost of higher education has gone up for everyone, but non-whites have more opportunities as less racism have opened up opportunities for them, while whites have seen a reduction of opportunities as funds have dried up and the profit motive has invaded all spheres of life.
This economic shift has now created a predicament for a new poor white class. Now, the spotlight is on them, and the next 10 years will decide which message gets picked up by them: The two messages vying for the support of the poor white class are:
The non-whites, through sheer numbers, are going to take over and change our way of life. Meanwhile they are the burden on the government that does not let you benefit from its largesse, and you remain poor and without opportunities.
We are all very similar in our strengths, weaknesses, and problems. The solution to our problems is to pull together and provide a level playing ground for the weakest of us, so that economic security and social mobility returns.
When you see him comfortable in his skin, you can see a truly post-racial leader, who appeases no special ethnic group. When he told bankers that they were talking to a person who had recently relied on credit cards to get through life, and when he says that no sick person should have to worry on their death-bed like his mother had to, he really means it.
Which message gets picked up by the majority poor white class will determine the national and international peace for the rest of this century.