Confronting Black And White Prejudice
Before President Obama’s election in 2008, the advertising media overwhelmingly featured white actors almost exclusively in commercials and magazines to sell products. After the election, all that changed as more advertisements targeted a multiracial image of the American family. This all became noticeable once Obama was declared president-elect.
One can only wonder why it took the election of a black president to embrace the multracial nature of the American family, a cultural trend that has been increasing for decades. It boggles the mind to think that a few corporate executives exerted so much control over the advertising industry and that they were allowed to ignore the demographic changes in the American population.
Obama’s roots do not represent the centuries of oppression that American blacks experienced, though he was still subjected to the same prejudice other blacks were forced to endure. When he first ran for office, he was accused of being too white, as if his Caucasian lineage disqualified him from being considered black enough. Even after his election, his citizenship was questioned. This remains unprecedented in American political history.
I have had many black friends. This provided me with the opportunity to have intimate and honest conversations with several of them about race, as our close friendship made it possible. One of them is German-Haitian. I asked him to describe the differences in racial prejudice in Europe compared with the United States. “In Europe Blacks are allowed to climb the ladder, but once a certain level is reached they are barred from going to the top. In The United States, they are prevented from even getting on the ladder,” he said.
When I asked about his greatest fear as a black man in America, he responded that he was afraid of being seen as a “Street Niggah.” Despite being well educated, this was the way he felt he was being treated in the United States.
We talked about the prejudice that light skin blacks had against dark skinned. He also commented on the inferiority complex of American blacks and how slavery continues to impact on the national consciousness, less common in the non American black community.
Being from a white Jewish background, I was particularly interested in exploring the conflict between Blacks and Jews. Both have similar histories with respect to discrimination. The difference between the two groups is skin color. Jews are able in many cases to deny their lineage by changing their name or converting to Catholicism and blending in to reach levels of acceptability not afforded blacks because of color. Jews could attain higher levels in white society that blacks continue to be denied resulting in the contempt blacks had for Jews for taking the easy way out by not owning up to who they are, and yet African Americans still resent Jews because even if they wanted to, it would not be possible to do what the Jews could.
On the other hand, light skinned blacks, seeking the same advantages and benefits that Jews could attain also discriminated against those with darker skin primarily for the same reason – accessibility to education and economic opportunities darker skinned blacks could not hope to achieve, creating a pecking order based on skin tone.
There has been much discussion about the gridlock in Washington. Viscerally, I feel that this has been due in large part to the underlying racism that whites in positions of power still have towards the first black president. No previous chief executive has faced this form of stalemate and it is time to cut through all the denial and bullshit and deal with it. The United States needs to open up public discussion and finally confront racism in all its forms. President Obama has the bully pulpit and can use the full weight of The Presidency to initiate the dialogue, but much of the responsibility also lies with Congress, State officials, religious leaders, educators, sociologists, anthropologists, private entrepreneurs and the American people, including, “Street Niggah.”