On July 16, world-renowned African American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was questioned and arrested in his own Cambridge home as though he was an intruder. A neighbor had called 911 after seeing what she thought might be a burglary in progress. It was just Gates and his driver trying to force open the front door, which was jammed.

Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley arrested Gates for disorderly conduct even after Gates showed Crowley his Harvard ID and driver’s license. Gates’ only crime was to be vocally angry at this humiliating racist mistreatment and to dare to ask for the officer’s name and badge number.

For a brief media cycle, an ugly hint of widespread racial profiling plastered itself on the news, briefly interrupting the comfortable myth of a “post-racial” America.

The election of the first black president was heralded by many in the media as the signal to finally end “the politics of racial grievance.” The truth is, what happened to Professor Gates is only a small glimpse of what too often happens to ordinary poor and working-class blacks and Latinos.

The Facts Deny a “Post-Racial” America
The Justice Department’s own data from 2005 for the percentage of stopped drivers who were searched shows the figures at 3.6% for whites, 9.6% for blacks, and 8.8% for Latinos. The Rand Corporation found that “[i]n 2006, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stopped a half-million pedestrians for suspected criminal involvement…89% of the stops involved nonwhites.”

The 2007 Sentencing Project report found if current trends continue, one in three black males born today will end up in jail at some point in their lives. These facts must not have been far from the mind of the poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who charged that for blacks, “The cell block has replaced the auction block.”

Further, as greatly as all American workers have suffered under today’s economic slump, the price paid by black and Latino workers is much worse. Nationally, black unemployment has reached 14.5%, while the Hispanic rate is 12.3%, and the white rate is 8.6%.

Without a fundamental reorientation of policy to commit major resources to impoverished communities of color, the nation’s first black president will preside over a worsening of the structural racism that blights most of these communities.

President Obama’s reaction to Gates’ arrest was to call out the Cambridge police for acting “stupidly” and to acknowledge that there was a history of police mistreatment towards blacks and Latinos. After this generated negative media coverage, even these mild words were retracted. We were then treated to the shameful spectacle of Obama and Gates making nice with Sergeant Crowley at a White House “beer summit.”

“You Can’t Have Capitalism Without Racism” – Malcolm X
While great strides have been made towards overcoming racist attitudes, the conditions of life for millions of people of color haven’t changed much, despite Obama’s historic election. There is no evidence to date that Obama or the Democrats will seriously challenge racial disparities beyond rhetorical crumbs.

We have yet to hear of any major national initiative against racial profiling or for living-wage jobs, decent housing, education, or other essential social services badly lacking in communities of color.

Any policies that meaningfully address racial inequities will involve real resource redistribution, threatening the profits of the rich capitalists whose millions in campaign contributions put Obama and the Democrats in power. Racist conditions persist under capitalism in part because they help corporations divide ordinary working people against ourselves, leaving all of us weaker in the struggle against corporate domination.

We cannot wait for capitalist politicians to save us. The victories of the Civil Rights Era didn’t come due to the benevolence of politicians who saw the light of day. The light of day was forcibly shone upon their racist policies by a ferocious rebellion of millions of black people who demanded justice!

The same must happen today if we are to rid the cancer of racism from U.S. society. A united movement of antiracist workers and youth of all colors, linked to a wider program challenging capitalism itself, is the only route to genuine, lasting justice.

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