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Millennium Post

Race tensions have not left US

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, it had appeared to the world, including Americans, that the nation has turned a page in history. An African-American at the helm of affairs had kindled hope, even in the pessimists, that it is possible to transcend multiple levels of identities that divide and become part of a larger whole. But on 9 August those hopes received a huge setback when an unarmed 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown received at least six bullets, two in the head, from a police officer in Missouri’s Ferguson city which has a majority population of blacks guarded by a police that has mostly white officers. Missouri has been on the boil since then.

Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 promised a lot and also achieved some bit of it, it failed to bring about any considerable change in the daily lives of African-Americans. From 1965 to 2000, the poverty rate among blacks fell from 41.8 per cent to 22.5 per cent. After which it rose to 27.2 per cent. The global economic meltdown hit the blacks harder than the whites whose poverty rate for the same period rose by a marginal 3.2 per cent. Interestingly, studies have shown that for the blacks the downward economic trend started even before the recession of 2008-09. An African-American president must have been a ray of hope. But acquiring positions in politics is about symbolism and symbolism has only a limited role in true empowerment.

The elevation of India’s own ‘Dalit ki beti’ Mayawati to the post of chief minister in a state deeply divided around caste lines and the subsequent building of statues across Uttar Pradesh were acts aimed at empowering Dalits. But a simple walk down the Dalit villages in UP will tell the rest of the story. The distance Ferguson has to cover in achieving black-white equality is more than the distance between America and India. 

The 2010 forced resignation of Shirley Sherrod and the subsequent US apology to the African-American tells us that Obama’s rising to the presidency was only half the battle won. US needs some real course correction.
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