Obama’s Policy Missteps

Question: What is your opinion of Obama’s handling of the Gates affair?

Glen Ford: Well, the Gates affair was probably as innocuous an example of racial profiling as it really exists in this country as one could find. Now, there are those who say that we should be grateful to Barack Obama for at least calling attention to racial profiling in any form, that he has given us this teachable moment. And, you know, we could still be having that discussion, except for the actual place, that teachable moment went. That within days, the teachable moment was playing itself out on the White House lawn with a couple of guys drinking a beer and resolving what was finally depicted as a misunderstanding among people.

Racial profiling in the United States is not about misunderstandings among individuals. Racial profiling in the United States—racial profiling in New York City sees half a million stopped and frisked every year on the streets of New York. 90 percent of them are black and Latino. Now, we know this, because the ACLU sued the City of New York and forced them to come up with the figures broken down, not just by incident, but by race. And that’s the only reason we can quantify what all black folks new was happening. Many of us, of course, were astounded that it was at that kind of scale. Half a million, more than half a million last year, if the stops and frisks continue a pace, this year they will exceed 600,000. That’s 600,000 people finding themselves in the jaws of the law, 10,000 a week, because of public policy. That has nothing to do with misunderstandings among individuals.

If we took the Obama model, I suppose the City of New York would have to invite several hundred thousand black and Latino men to Central Park to have a beer with 35,000 cops. The problem is, that the next year, the process would start all over again.

So the net result of the Gates affair was to trivialize racial profiling as it actually exists. It’s not a question of can’t we all get all along, in the famous words of, well, you remember those famous words. It’s about confronting a state policy that puts black and Latino men at risk of arbitrary action by the criminal justice system.

Question: How should Obama be handling Sudan and Darfur?

Glen Ford: Well a meaningful approach would be to stop being an imperialistic power, which tries to subject every other nation to your will. That's what imperialism is about. Within that context, humanitarian military intervention is just another excuse for military intervention. I certainly wouldn't want to be put on the other side of the line from being a humanitarian, but certainly the United States is not the power that decides what regime is humane and what is not, what is good government and what is not for other people. Since we know that the United States, just like any other imperial power, is making decisions and bringing its power to bare in order to help itself, or at least the dominant forces in the United States.

Question: Which of Obama’s actions as President have you admired?

Glen Ford: I think that Obama did do the world a service and many people on the left disagree with me, but I'll say it. I think he did the world a service with his speech in Cairo. There was nothing of substance in that speech but he did go a long way, I believe, towards reversing George Bush's rhetoric to the world, which was actually American racist’s domestic approach written globally in attempt to create false enemies of the American project in racial terms. In the Muslim world, of course, [there were racial] cues. The cues were meant for the American people in order to rally the Americans around this geo-political military crusade, but the way that George Bush went about it was to in fact incite racist emotions in the American public. The Muslim world caught that and realized that it was in fact being targeted as some kind of sub-human group on the planet.

It was necessary for -- just for the tone of discussion on planet Earth, that Obama start speaking to people as if they are human beings. That's not much to ask but in a world that has been poisoned by the rhetoric of Bush, it actually was something quite necessary. I commend him for talking to people like human beings for a change. That's not something we're used to from an American president.

Recorded on: August 6, 2009


Glen Ford outline specific areas—like the Gates controversy—in which he has been disappointed by Obama, and reveals Obama’s greatest success story.

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