When President Obama took office in January 2009, he also brought with him the hopes of millions of Black voters across the United States, who hoped that he would make their lives better by ending the systematic racism inherent in the US-American system. However, after 6 years not much has changed for the African American community, systematic racism is still rife in the country and high profile cases like those of the shootings of Trayvon Martinand Michael Brown have particularly highlighted this problem in American society.
President Obama carried the hopes of nearly 39 million African Americans when he took office. They hoped he would address the root causes of institutionalised racism that is rife throughout the United States. By all accounts, he started well by signing the Fair Sentencing Act in August 2010.
The Fair Sentencing Act greatly helped to reduce the levels of institutionalised racism prevalent through the US-American judicial system, inherent since President Reagan’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act was introduced to help deal with the problem of Cocaine in the United States. A major stipulation of the new sentencing rules included different mandatory minimums for powder and crack cocaine. At the time of the bill, there was a public debate as to the difference in potency and effect of powder cocaine, generally used by White Americans, and crack cocaine, generally used by African-Americans, with many believing that „crack“ was substantially more powerful and addictive. However, crack cocaine, a cheaper version of cocaine was more popular in poorer areas, in which a vast majority of African-Americans lived. Because of this, Reagan established much harsher sentencing for crack cocaine, handing down stiffer felony penalties for much smaller amounts of the drug. A result of this was that the sentencing disparity between the two drugs was 100-1, thus disproportionately affecting the African-American communities where the drug was more prevalent.The implementation of the Fair Sentencing Act did a great deal to reduce the levels of institutional racism in the judicial system, but is only one of the few measures that Obama has brought in to combat the problem.
We only need to look at the terrifying statistics that highlight the problem of institutionalised racism in the American system, not just in the judicial system but also the plight of ordinary African Americans in society.
What is most disturbing is that incarceration rates for Black US-American men stands at 4,347 per 100,000 persons, which is almost 6.5 times the national average of 707 per 100,000 persons. The overall US prison population, has at the same time reached a staggering 2.4 million people. Out of this number, 38 percent are Black. Compare this to Whites, who make up 35 percent of the US prison population while constituting 78 percent of the population at large. The root causes of these statistics can only lie in institutionalised racism. Stop and Search laws unfairly and disproportionately target Black people, indeed African Americans are three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police and three times more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts. These figures highlight the problems inherent in the American system, African American citizens are persecuted because of the colour of their skin and the fact that they often come from poorer neighbourhoods.
Indeed the economic statistics look even worse: median African American earnings were $39,715 in 2010, which equates to 61% of the earning of their White counterparts. The unemployment rate of African Americans during 2010-11 stood at 15.9%, whereas that number in the same year for White people stood at 8%, which is still a lower percentage than the pre-recession annual unemployment rate for African Americans, which stood at 8.3%. The median net worth for African American families stood at just $4,900 in 2010, compared to a median net worth for White families of $97,000. These figures clearly show the economic disparities between African American families and White families in the United States. Poor economic conditions under which the majority of African American families live means that they simply do not have the same opportunities as White US-Americans.
Another factor that reinforces racism in the United States is the militarization of the police. This has been particularly highlighted by the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Two US-American teenagers who were shot dead whilst unarmed by people who were there to protect the communities in which they lived. Indeed, they were assumed dangerous just because they were young Black men walking around in the night. Because of their skin colour, they were shot dead.
Rather than serving the public, especially in low income Black communities, the focus of the US-American police is self-evidently on intimidating African American communities with overwhelming force and the sort of firepower associated with a warzone rather than the streets of a small town. The mind-set involved therefore is one of confrontation rather than cooperation, coercion rather than consent, with young Black men being particularly demonised as gang members and criminals even if they are neither.
Although there are no longer any laws discriminating against members of the African American community, it is self-evident that racism in US-America is a problem that is still persistent to this day. It is time to face up to the facts that this is a problem that will not go away, and is indeed, as shown by the mass protests and riots that nearly tore Michael Brown’s hometown of Ferguson apart, a problem that is not going to be accepted by the US-American population as a whole for much longer, White communities are becoming just as outraged as African American communities. It is a problem that Obama could not yet solve and it does not look like he will before the next election.