Obama 2007 until today – My view in photos and words

I first saw Barack Obama speak in New York City in the summer of 2007. On that day, surprised by the multi-generational, multi-racial crowd, I realized that something very major was going to happen in the next (2008) election.

    

2008 came… I spent a lot of time writing and doing TV and radio appearances in the lead up to the election.

I also watched, with fascination, the intense public sentiment about the possibility of the first African American president.

Barack Obama’s election took place on November 4th, 2008. My 28th birthday.

     

My piece for The Guardian written shortly after his win was announced talked about Obama’s election crossing racial lines.

I was at President Obama’s historic inauguration in 2009.

      

Despite being one of the coldest days I have ever experienced, I managed to rush back to The Guardian offices to thaw out my fingers and type a piece. In it, I mused that Barack Obama’s ambitions could not be achieved without the help of a supportive public.

….this means a more responsible America, which as a nation has a less arrogant way of dealing with the world and doesn’t take its greatness for granted or misuse its power. It goes without saying that there are many in the world – Obama talked specifically about the Muslim world in his speech – who will have been pleased to hear that and are looking forward to seeing America take that new approach, which is so markedly different from the aggressive ways of George Bush.

This also means a more thoughtful and reflective American individual who will continue to “take in a stranger when the levees break … and who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” Obama’s campaign was built on people power and today he made it clear that it is that same power that will help lead America, under his presidency, become an even greater nation.

I also did some partying afterwards! It was a momentous time to see, and be there to celebrate, the first African American president sworn into office.

  

I have been to the White House a few times since then. Here is a recent photo, taken from the White House lawn, as Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama spoke at a joint press conference.

A lot has happened, and much has changed, in the past 4 years, the global economy being a prominent issue. In 08, race was a big issue. This time around it’s class and socio-economics. The American Dream is in jeopardy.

Politics has become increasingly divisive. It really is right v left. The Tea Party emerged after the last election to claim their place in American history. Sadly, despite the President’s desire for bi-partisanship, American politics continues to be even more highly partisan and highly oppositional. Washington, I believe, is even more broken. I don’t think this is Obama’s fault per se – if anything, I think his election simply drew more attention and added more fuel to the already-existing issues.

In 2012, it is now former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney v Obama. Obama is now the incumbent and clearly a threatening one as super PACS aim to spend plenty of money (one group will spend $1bn) to destroy the incumbent. Despite the Occupy protests and growing discussion about politics for the people, there are some who are clearly not listening.

Romney continues to swing to the right, to his detriment in my view. Romney could have stood strong as a business man and played that card right. I have actually worked at Bain, and I very much enjoyed my time there. I found it an excellent company. Instead, Romney has gone socially conservative, talking about women’s rights, abortion (which, honestly, I think is a woman-only domain) and courting Donald Trump who continues to bang on endlessly about Obama’s country of birth. As if this is what matters.

Obama has both centrist and leftists to factor in, as well as those sorely disillusioned by his 08 promises of hope and change. The grassroots swell has died down, and the Occupy movement has come in to provide the space for those who thought that an Obama presidency would mean radical change in the US. Obama certainly has work to do.

I’d rather this election was just about pragmatism and what is best for the country, but that’s partisan politics for you. Polls in key states are saying that Obama and Romney are close. We shall see.

Four years is not a long time, and not long enough to fulfill a mission for a nation. I hope that Obama gets another shot.

King’s dream meets Obama’s reality

One year in office for a black president was never going to be long enough to cool America’s heated battles over race
Martin Luther King
 Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial in 1968. Barack Obama used the day before his inauguration to honour King. Photograph: Francis Miller/Getty

The past year has provided the world with the opportunity to see whether or not the potent symbolism of Barack Obama’s inauguration has translated into reality. This is particularly so today, a federal holiday in the US to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King, on the subject of race relations – a topic so fundamental to America’s history and one unmistakably tied to its present day social, economic and political reality.

According to a recent Pew poll, America’s race relations are in better shape now than they were two years ago. African-Americans are assessing race relations and prospects for the future more positively than at any time in the past 25 years.

Yet others might argue the contrary, that a number of high profile race-related incidents over the past year suggest a lack of progress. Henry Louis GatesGlenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, tea-party goers, the New York Post and, most recently, Senator Harry Reid are just some of those who have been involved in controversial events which have led to questions, criticism and scrutiny about exactly how much racial progress has been made under Obama’s presidency.

Yet, expectations that President Obama could single-handedly overturn centuries-old individual prejudices and systematic racial issues – particularly in the space of one year – was merely setting him up for failure. There have been enough successful and powerful Americans of colour to suggest that one person’s acheivement will not radically alter the day-to-day lives of the rest. Nor should it be left to one person to bear that responsibility. In fact, by adopting the notion that casting a vote is enough and that all subsequent efforts are to be made by the president and his administration, people are absolved of their own responsibility for creating a society that works well for everyone.

The most important question now, going forward, is how to get to the root of the matter – so that the situations which lead to higher than average unemployment rates for minorities, even when there is no recession, and disparities in healthcare, education, economics and elsewhere no longer exist. It is here that an opportunity for something new lies.

Since President Obama’s inauguration, there have been repeated calls for more talk about race as the key to solving issues and improving race relations. However, if there’s anything the past year has taught us, it is that Americans already talk a great deal about that topic. If talking about race were the only, or best, way to end race-related issues, they would surely have ended a long time ago.

Racism – indeed, any –ism – and race-related issues arise from a fundamental, and often subconscious, belief that people are unequal. When Martin Luther King gave his famous “Dream” speech in 1963, he proclaimed his desire to see an America which would hold “self-evident, that all men are created equal”.

Unfortunately having an African-American president does not mean that all people believe that “all men are created equal.” Indeed, some of the views that have been expressed since the inauguration suggest that there are those who clearly still see the president himself as not being equal.

If President Obama is to really fulfil Dr King’s dream, and to make a real difference in his presidency when it comes to America’s race relations, it will be by having the notion that “all men are created equal” come to life as an integral part of American beliefs, such that all America’s systems – educational, economic and the rest – continue to change to reflect that. Until that happens, it is likely that we will see a continuation of disparities that will limit not only minorities but America as a whole.

Who’s the racist, Rupert?

By backing Glenn Beck’s wild rant that Barack Obama is racist, Rupert Murdoch is as incendiary as his Fox News pundits

When watching the likes of Glenn Beck (or other pundits of his leanings) on Fox News, I’m not just alarmed by the man himself. It takes a big team of people to sustain a daily TV show, so there are producers, writers, researchers and executives who decide there is value in him saying the things that he says. I’m often left wondering who those people are, and how it is that they feel comfortable with trying to pass such divisive and often bizarre ranting off as journalism. It has become clear that the support for Beck’s rhetoric goes much higher than just those involved in his show. In fact, Beck has support all the way from the very top – and it appears that the guy at the top is equally as misguided and ill-informed as he is.

Just this week, Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor of News Corp, which owns the Fox network in the US and so many other news entities around the world, told one of them – Sky News Australia – that Glenn Beck was “right” in his assertion that President Obama hates white people. The announcement that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture” is one of Beck’s most inflammatory and eyebrow-raising statements to date. This incendiary pronouncement, which was followed by a number of advertisers withdrawing their ads from Beck’s show, came after President Obama criticized the policeman in the Henry Louis Gates saga for having acted “stupidly” in arresting Gates just outside his own home.

Murdoch’s interview has, unsurprisingly, caused controversy, with civil rights groups like Colorofchange.org now demanding that Murdoch – whose position on whether or not Barack Obama is racist has changed a number of times this week – settles once and for all whether he agrees with Beck.

Murdoch’s words are indeed troubling. But it’s not even necessarily troubling that he believes that Obama is a racist. He is, after all, entitled to his opinion. In any case, Murdoch’s disdain for Obama is no secret: earlier this year he also described president’s policies as “dangerous”. What is most problematic here, however, is that he is the owner of influential news outlets, which are supposed to provide their viewers with facts, information and the truth about what’s happening in the world. This is an issue of journalistic standards and the future of the media.

When the White House denounced Fox News for acting as a “wing of the Republican Party” many conservatives saw this as the president using his power to silence his critics. However, it cannot be coincidental that News Corps’ news outlets – such as Fox News or the New York Post – seem to appear at the centre of racist or sexist controversies, that their pundits engage in race-baiting, or that the man who runs the company has now come out in public support for the views of the organisation’s most alarming pundits.

This isn’t just about media output but the very culture of at the heart of Murdoch’s News Corp. Currently, Sandra Guzman, a Latina who worked as a senior editor for the New York Post, is suing News Corp and the Post. She alleges that she was fired after she objected to a controversial cartoon published in the Post earlier this year, which made a thinly-vielled reference to President Obama as a crazed chimpanzee. She claims that the Post is a “hostile work environment where female employees and employees of colour have been subjected to pervasive and systemic discrimination and/or unlawful harassment based on their gender, race, colour and/or national origin.” While conspiracy theorists have their own conclusions about what Murdoch is aiming to do with his media empire, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Murdoch appears to be consciously fostering an organisation which has ugly practices and the propagation of a certain kind of ideology at its root.

It is also clear that Murdoch has little regard for the truth. Not only did he misrepresent the president’s remarks in his TV interview – saying that Obama “did make a very racist comment about blacks and whites and so on” but was unable to explain exactly what it was – but at several points he also made inaccurate statements. One of these was his denial that Glenn Beck or anyone else had compared the president to Stalin when there are a multitude of video clips available in which Fox pundits do just that. This is more than just one elderly man’s perspective. It is an issue of journalistic integrity that, it is becoming clear, News Corp’s oputlets appear to sorely lack.

Deliberate distortion of the facts, bias and partisanship in the media are serious issues, especially considering how powerful the media can be in shaping our perceptions and ideas. While some silppage is to be expected, a line must be drawn somewhere. Fox News, in particular, cannot continue to pretend that it is a neutral entity when the very man who owns it is far from neutral in his views.

Just last night, Lou Dobbs stepped down from his position as a CNN presenter, an event long encouraged by protests from civil rights groupsupset that he was using his platform to voice his anti-immigrant statements as though they were truth. The public demands better of its journalists and news organisations. Murdoch owes that much to the public. If he continues along the same path, his staff can expect more reaction of the Lou Dobbs variety.