Barack Obama and Oscar Grant: The Post Racial America?

I was out in Oakland, CA. this past weekend for a friend’s birthday. Naturally, I visited Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley–my old stomping grounds–while I was there. Things have changed there while remaining the same. The area is certainly much more ethnically diverse. Gentrification has slithered in, but its presence is quite minimal when compared to other sections of Berkeley, Oakland or San Francisco. Peoples Park looks better than it has in years, with its native plant life dominating the east and west ends of that small piece of turf where so many battles have been fought. Doorways that used to shelter street people have been blocked off and some benches have been removed from areas where those same folks used to relax. In short, the presence of corporate America was greater than it used to be some thirty years ago, but the character of those few blocks that was carved during the 1960s and 1970s remains as its essence despite numerous attempts by city and university officials and businessmen and women to convert the strip into just another pedestrian mall.

The politics expressed on t-shirts for sale and in posters pasted on fences and shop windows were less radical then I remember. Indeed, the overwhelming number of Obama images was a bit of a surprise to me, especially when compared to the very small number of posters reacting to the ongoing Israeli invasion of Gaza and massacre of Palestinian children. Yet, the most interesting juxtaposition of political imagery appeared in a shop window that featured a poster of Obama and several leaflets calling for protests against the murder of a young black man by the BART transit police. For those of you who don’t know, the facts of this case are these. Early New Year’s morning an argument on a BART train erupted into a fight. Several passengers involved in the fight were removed from he train at Oakland’ Fruitvale station. Several transit police took those involved off the train, cuffed some of them and forced them all to squat near a wall in the station. One young man, named Oscar Grant, was lying face down on the station floor with his hands behind is back when a police officer took out his gun and shot him. He died several hours later. This is my interpretation of the events derived from viewing at least two cellphone videos taken by other passengers and posted on the internet. It is an interpretation shared by thousands of other (if not millions) viewers. In fact, it is the opinion apparently held by the prosecutor involved in the case, as the officer was indicted for murder and turned himself in January 14th, 2009.

The reaction on the street to Grant’s murder was definite and quick. People around the Bay Area saw the video and saw murder. Protests were organized by a variety of groups, including churches and radical political sects. The first protest on January 7th attracted a thousand or so people and ended with a small riot in downtown Oakland and the arrest of more than a hundred protesters. Most people were not just angry about the murder, but also that no charges or arrests had been made in the case even though a week had passed since the shooting.

Then there is Barack Obama. If the state of black America could be summed up with the life of one individual, which of these men would we choose to represent that state? Barack Obama, who will become president of the United States on January 20th, 2009, or Oscar Grant, whose life was ended by a police bullet on January 1st, 2009? The very fact of Grant’s death shows the world that there is no post-racial America. In fact, it reminds us all that, despite the gains in the area of race in the United States, Barack Obama is the significant exception to the rule. This fact is not a denial of the hopes his election has raised for African-Americans and the nation, but it is a cold reminder that making a black man president is a long way from ending the very real fact of the systemic racism that made this nation what it is. The death of Oscar Grant, like the presence of so many African-Americans in the US prison system, is an even harsher reminder of how that racism plays itself out in the daily lives of so many of its citizens.

Racism will end in this country when it no longer serves the interests of the elites that run it. The presence of a black family in the White House may be a symbolic victory for the forces opposed to racism, but the men and women chosen by Obama to help him rule represent the real nature of his presidency. Malcolm X once said that “An integrated cup of coffee isn’t sufficient pay for four hundred years of slave labor.” Well, neither is a black man in the White House sufficient enough to forget the death of Oscar Grant and the many other African-Americans whose lives have been destroyed by the very system soon to be governed by Mr. Obama.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Brian Koontz said on January 19th, 2009 at 7:26am #

    “Racism will end in this country when it no longer serves the interests of the elites that run it.”

    Unless the elite are overthrown and the country becomes subject to popular will, in which case it will end at that time.

  2. lloyd rowsey said on January 19th, 2009 at 7:30am #

    I just emailed you some Telegraph pics, Ron, which you may be interested in putting up at a site which is picture-enabled.

    And, oh yeah,

    AFTER 14,900 DAYS, AMERICA BEGINS ANEW: From (and including) Thursday, April 4, 1968, to (but not including) Monday, January 19, 2009, there are 14,900 days.

    Celebrate ! ! !

  3. Beverly said on January 19th, 2009 at 9:12am #

    Another cold fact black Obamabots need reminding is Obama is biracial, the product of a Kenyan father and white American mother. This all out claiming the “brotha” as one of our own and walking about with heads in the clouds and chest puffed high is ludicrous.

    The reality is that the “black” man in the House still ain’t one of you, i.e., a product a typical U.S. born black parent. It’s beyond amusing to watch and listen to black folks, many of whom aren’t too keen on Africans, now enraptured with all things Obama. I guess good looks do carry one far; if the guy was 20 years older with the body of Al Sharpton and the hue of Michael Jordan, he’d never have captured 99% of the black vote – or the votes of many others for that matter.

    What will remain most maddening is how people are so easily appeased with a black face, female face, or any other P.C. symbol that their common sense and reasoning go out the window. The man has surrounded himself with the same crooks and cronies who’ve brought the nation/world to the brink of collapse and not one person or entity – not even so-called pillars of the civil rights heyday -dare raise an eyebrow at his wicked ways. Yes, there are critical voices in independent media such as this site, but what is missing are critical voices in the mainstream media where 90% of the public, regardless of demographic, get its info.

  4. mary said on January 19th, 2009 at 10:54am #

    I hear it’s all Balls in Washington tomorrow night. I looked up a couple at random to see what price the tickets are – anything from $495 to $795. Was inclusivity in the Democrat agenda? It can’t be good to be hungry and poor in Amerika and on the outside looking in.

  5. Ron Horn said on January 19th, 2009 at 12:00pm #

    I think there are inaugural balls everywhere in the US if my town of 70,000 in Washington state is typical–there are two here. I agree with the writer that Obama is not at all typical of African Americans. As far as I can see, he has nothing in his background that would have caused him to experience American racism. He was raised mostly by his white banker grandmother in Hawaii, a very multi-racial state where, based on my experience in the 70s, racism mostly took the form of prejudice against Caucasians–yes, Caucasians do not have a monopoly on racism.

    I think his appointment to the presidency (forget about corporate sponsored elections as legitimate) by the ruling class is a brilliant move on their part. The disillusionment that will set in as the economy continues to disintegrate will be so enormous that I wonder what it will be like living amongst my fellow citizens. The American Dream that has kept so many millions of its citizens grasping for its straws, and funded mostly on credit, will be blatantly out reach for all but a few. Many US states are bankrupt and looking to sell off assets, teachers’ salaries are being cut, schools closed, higher education curtailed and more expensive, mass unemployment, etc. In the next five years life in the US will not lack for excitement, but it probably won’t be the enjoyable kind.

  6. lloyd rowsey said on January 19th, 2009 at 12:39pm #

    I’m probably just a numbers freak, but note that after Obama has served his “First Hundred Days,” we can evaluate his performance for exactly the 15,000 days since Martin Luther King was….

  7. The Angry Peasant said on January 19th, 2009 at 2:08pm #

    Beverly, I always love your comments. Spot-on. One thing the media of course never mentions is the fact that Obama is half white. Because there’s an undeniable truth buried under that: If he were a fully black man, he wouldn’t have Hope in Hell #1 of being President. How many times has Jesse Jackson run? You’d think he’d at least get the damn Democratic nomination once, wouldn’t you? If this was the “post-racial” America we live in now, wouldn’t that have had to have happened by now? Actually, no way, Jose, because HE’S ACTUALLY BLACK. This is a guy who stood next to Martin Luther King, remember, and he still isn’t good enough to even be taken seriously by his own party. How hypocritical we are about how far we’ve come.

    The fact is, a truly black man or woman would pose a grave threat to the corrupt system Whitey put in place. I doubt you’ll ever see a 100% black person standing at that podium on Inauguration Day. Much like all our “black” news anchors (has anyone noticed that? Always half-white), we’ll never have a Martin Luther King, a W.E.B. DuBois, or a Cynthia McKinney for President. The best we can hope for in this area is what we got: Bryant Gumble.

  8. kalidas said on January 19th, 2009 at 3:37pm #

    “Whitey” huh? Well, good luck with that.

  9. The Angry Peasant said on January 19th, 2009 at 5:14pm #

    Ah, yes. Yet another knee-jerk poltically correct reaction. Spare me. Shoo.

  10. Deadbeat said on January 20th, 2009 at 1:37am #

    Ron writes another excellent article on racism in the U.S. He clearly writes with an adept and nuanced understanding this issue.

  11. tony smith said on January 20th, 2009 at 3:59am #

    Obama gave white “liberals” — as opposed to progressives and radicals — the opportunity to discard their white guilt. They could imagine themsevles as “antiracist” voting for someone that “they don’t even think of as black.” Meanwhile, they send their kids to school systems that are separate and unequal — privileging white children, and disadvantaging black and Latino kids. This problem is worse in “blue state” America than anywhere else.

    Remarkably, black people acquiesced in the “post-racial” discourse because many of them have apparently chosen to define equality in symbolic terms. Maybe that’s all we can hope for….Either way, white supremacy will get a big boost today. See this: Free at Last? No! or this: An Obama Presidency Would Cause the Death of Racism and the Civil Rights Movement, Says Alec Baldwin.

  12. tony smith said on January 20th, 2009 at 4:02am #

    Well, neither is a black man in the White House sufficient enough to forget the death of Oscar Grant and the many other African-Americans whose lives have been destroyed by the very system soon to be governed by Mr. Obama.

  13. Ramsefall said on January 20th, 2009 at 11:40am #

    It’s all just a façade — nice and new on the outside, same old foundational flaws underneath.

    Gaud bless Amerika!

    Best to all.

  14. George Thompson said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:32pm #

    Race is used by the elite to divide and conquer the masses. It was a by-product of the Jewish Hamatic myth which then spread to Europe who then spread it all over the world. Religion also divides us. So does the “rat race” or consumerism. They are all forms of rankism. For some reason people in power are consumed by ranking us all. Go figure. While we fight with each other they make off with everything. It’s not complicated folks and yet we either do nothing, too little or live in denial. If we did enough it would be enough. Plain and simple. I like simple. It’s not hard to memorize. Nosce te ipsum!!!!!!!

  15. The Angry Peasant said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:40pm #

    Time to storm the ol’ Bastille, I say.

  16. George Thompson said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:47pm #

    Let me dispel the myth of Obama’s blackness once and for all. Being black only really happens in America. Americans will refer to other African people that come here with no accent as black. They will refer to Jamaicans without an accent or dreadlocks as black. So what is black? Black is looking black to white people. There is nothing else to it. Black people do not have the luxury of defining their own race as the European Zionist Jews do. The original Jews would be considered Black Hebrews because that’s what they were but history is revisionist.

    There is one other component to being black in America that few discuss. It depends on your income and how famous you are, mostly the latter. Obama is not black but not because he is half-African or half-white. That would normally be sufficient to make him black. He’s not black because whites know he’s half white. Once you are famous and people become familiar with your ethnicity then you can be whatever you actually are or choose to be. Almost everyone in America knows Obama is half-African which they equate with half-black. They also know he’s half-white and that apparently was enough for many whites to entrust their financial futures to him. They knew McCain would only make matters worse.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of rich and famous blacks who are not famous enough to escape racial profiling in the wee hours of morning in America’s largest and smallest cities. Some white Americans have probably never heard of Obama but Obama is now protected by white supremacy. No one can touch him as he continues the agenda of the global elite to our collective ultimate demise ladies and gents. Sleep tight. Don’t let the ‘Bama bugs bite.

  17. Desire Grover said on June 21st, 2009 at 5:49am #

    I don’t know if it concerns anyone else but it bothers me that I have not found nor heard anything in the news that even suggest that Obama has acknowledged the execution of Oscar Grant. Which rings sad and frightening to me.