Politics and Race


The US Presidential campaign was vicious as both candidates embraced negative campaigning but this is not new.  In an online forum that I frequent, a friend referenced a September 24, 1864 issue of Harper's magazine in which the derogatory terms apparently applied to Abraham Lincoln in previous months were listed.   These include: Filthy Story-Teller, Despot, Liar, Thief, Braggart, Buffoon, Usurper, Fiend, and Butcher.  Like Obama, Lincoln went on to win a second term despite being so vilified and his Presidency is remembered for doing much to advance the cause of equality.  

A recent LA Times article by Sandy Banks was one that reminded me of the sensitivity that continues to surround issues of race.  "I've never been able to completely shed the sense of 'them' and 'us,' " wrote a white Obama supporter who grew up in a rural area "where there were no black people at all." The voter went on to say that "I'm embarrassed to admit that I still see the 'black' first, and only after shaking hands and talking does that fade away, at which point the person emerges and the color ceases to matter."

There were also comments from a "white, Christian, successful businesswoman,” who was “so embarrassed by the Republican Party that I hate to admit I ever was one."  Yet she feels "the pull of Romney's 'he looks like me' persona."  She went on to list things that she appreciates from Obama's first term, including affordable healthcare for her grown children.  Still, "Obama is different than me. His name is funny and he reminds me of things that feel scary. I overcome this unease with my intellect and my ... moral compass," she wrote.

Most importantly however, the US has shown the world and itself that it driven by a genuine desire to become a ‘better’ society.  More than re-electing a non-white President, more women were elected to Congress, more states acknowledged gay-marriage and two states acknowledged the futility of the so-called ‘war’ on marijuana.    

Last Saturday I was chatting with a white English friend of mine about the US elections and racial sensitivities.  The subject of course turned to the UK.  During the Second World War, the African American troops, especially those from the southern US stationed here in the UK, perhaps found English society quite tolerant.  After all, in the US, Jim Crow was more than a set of laws entrenching racial discrimination, it was a way of life.  Now despite anxieties, the US appears to have leapt past the UK and re-elected a non-white President.  We wondered how long it would be before the UK is able to do the same? 

Here in the UK the situation is very different as historically, discrimination may not have necessarily been along purely racial lines like the US but rather along class lines.  The British preoccupation with class is something that is so hard to explain to those that have never lived here.  Nevertheless, I sometimes worry that the 2010 elections have seen the UK take a backward step as once again we see a Cabinet in which a seemingly disproportionate number of Ministers went to the same small group of elite schools.   It does not help that Prime Minister Cameron’s wife’s stepfather is a Viscount, or Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne’s father a Baronet.   Symbolically, it sends a powerful message to the wider society, if not to the world at large. USA Tax Singapore

Naipaul has famously suggested that we are still a “half-made society.”  In light of the US Presidential elections, I could not help but wonder if this term may still be applicable, at least to some extent, to the US.  Like Trinidad, the US is also a plural society struggling to define itself with its people who originally come from so many parts of the world.

Like the US, Trinidad and Tobago decided to redefine itself in its last general election.  It voted for a coalition which represented itself as braking away from a past in which politics were tied to ethnicity.  So like many others have already commented, I have to agree that the PNM has a lot of work ahead, if it is to be perceived by the population as a government in waiting.  The Opposition Leader’s rumoured make-over is long overdue but hardly sufficient.

One of the problems encumbering the Republican Party in the US is the party itself.  Its powerbrokers were and are still disconnected from a wider society that has since evolved.  Some say the same ailment plagues the PNM so that meaningful change must start at the core and then work its way outwards.   

Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.  Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com

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