“As long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible”, said Barack Obama in March 2008, months before he became the first ever black President of the United States of America.
The big question. Why did it take two hundred and thirty years for the US to elect an African American as its President ? The answer probably dates back to 28 March 1963. On this day, more than 250,000 people marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to demand voting rights and equal opportunities for African Americans and other minority communities.
It was here that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech “I have a dream” that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. His speech became a turning point in the civil rights movement in the USA. The Federal and State Governments accelerated the pace of repealing the segregation laws. President Obama can be seen as one of the high points in the overall struggle of the Afro-Americans of the USA towards political, social and economic equality.
The Presidential election of 2008 historic in the American Elections. According to Pew Research, the white vote share (65.8%) was the lowest ever, with nearly one-in-four votes being cast by non-whites (Blacks 12.1%, Hispanics 7.4% and Asians 2.5%). Barack Obama’s slogan “Change, we can believe in” swayed the minorities straight to the polling booth. The exit polls revealed that voters were clearly spread between the white and the colored people. 55% of white voters preferred the Republican candidate John Mccain, while 95% of Black voters, 67% of Latino Voters and 62% of Asians voted for Obama. Two million more Blacks, two million more Latinos and 338 thousand more Asians were instrumental in voting Obama to power.
In 2012, the American electorate gave Obama a second chance to further his agenda for the ‘change’ that he promised in 2008. But it is difficult to say if he was able to cut much ice. According to Bureau of Labour Studies statistics released this year, the average unemployment rate of a white American over 16 years of age is just 4.6%, whereas that of a black American is 9.6%. Another New York Times investigation finds out this difference in unemployment rates between Blacks and Whites has been consistent for the past forty years.
This 2016 Presidential elections, both the presidential candidates are whites. The Democrats are trying everything to secure the minority votes. Hillary Clinton has carried out many personal attacks on Trump. Two weeks ago, Hillary Clinton released a video which suggested that Donald Trump’s campaign had the tacit support of white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan (KKK). She even called Donald Trump’s supporters as ‘deplorables’, ‘racists’ and ‘haters’. She later regretted the statement. Bill Clinton said that Trump’s call to “Make America great again” is racist and an appeal to whites that they will be up in the ‘social totem’ once again.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, accuses Hillary Clinton of playing politics with the minority voters. In a recent rally in Mississippi, he said: “Hillary Clinton is a bigot, who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future”. He is talking tough on building a wall across Mexico border to stop the route through which many Latin Americans illegally enter the United States of America. In early June, he accused Judge Gonzalo Curiel of ‘conflict of interest’ in Trump University verdict as the judge had a Mexican descent. In mid-June this year, Trump also said that Mexicans are bringing drug, crime, and rapists to the USA.
In between these heated debates, there have been voices of dissent. Colin Kaepernick, A US National Football League (NFL) quarterback was recently in the news. He refused to stand for the national anthem of USA. He said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” Donald Trump mixed no words in advice to Colin : “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
In the final two months leading to the Election Day, we can expect more such political fireworks. But it remains to be seen if any of these two candidates go beyond the verbal rhetoric. A need of the hour is to come up with a comprehensive strategy to fix the inequality of opportunities that has so far been institutionalized in the American system.
Credits : The blog has been written jointly by Kunal Ranjan and Shabbir Sarwar