Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obama will divide, not unite, says UK equality chief

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, is likely to stir up a hornet’s nest after claiming that Barack Obama might prolong racial divisions in the US, rather than heal them, if he becomes President.

In an article entitled ‘Healing postponed’, which appears in the new issue of the UK current affairs magazine Prospect, Phillips - who is black - suggests more forcefully than many US commentators have that Obama’s success is in large part due to white guilt (they'll vote for him 'so long as they don't have to live next door to him'), and goes so far as to suggest that he’s taking advantage of racial divisions.

Phillips, whose observations on the failure of multiculturalism in Britain have drawn criticism from white ‘progressives’ such as odious London mayor Ken Livingstone, draws on many of the arguments put forward by Shelby Steele in his book on Obama, A Bound Man, in which he divides America’s black leaders into ‘challengers’ (Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson) whose power derives from real or imagined black victimhood, and bargainers (Cosby, Oprah).

Phillips, like Steel, portrays Obama as the quintessential bargainer, and claims that Obama is more Bill Clinton that JFK, writing:

Both challengers and bargainers offer a strategy that needs the racial divide to stay at the centre of US life. In truth, Obama may be helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America, and I think he knows it. If he wins, the cynicism may be worth it to him and his party.

But he takes issue with Steele’s assertion that underachievement by blacks is primarily the result of a lack of responsibility, characterised by violent rappers and feckless fathers, pointing to factors such as the effects of globalisation on poor communities.

And he also suggests (although not very convincingly) that domestic issues of race may have become less of an issue since 9/11, with Osama bin Laden representing a ‘new other’ for both blacks and whites.

Phillips writes that Britain hasn’t produced an Obama-like figure partly because it has proportionally much smaller black population, but also because ‘At a personal level, few people are as charismatic, capable and ruthless as this mixed-race political phenomenon.’

Read the whole thing. It's a serious contribution to the analysis of Obama-mania from a man who hasn’t been afraid to address difficult issues about race in his own country.

Thanks to Dan for linking.

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