Obama has angered millions of blacks

Who says that the white middle-class family is a norm to be aimed at? It is a rickety form against w

Barack Obama is pretty close to the tape. But beneath the mass adulation he received in Berlin, the politesse in Israel and his quietude in England lies a haunting mass of black people in the US whom he cannot take for granted. A slip could lead to a momentous slide.

His is the dance of the wolves. On the one hand rest the expectations of black people in the United States who, for the first time in their history, in the alliance with progressive whites, seek to make real the fact that a black shoeshine boy can be president. Around the world, expect ations are rising, resembling the hope of millions who, in the postwar world, demanded an end to colonialism.

Obama is feeling his way. Before setting off on his world tour, he turned up at a conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the moderate wing of the black movement in the United States.

Obama missed a step, and let fly in a rhetorical flourish his hostility to absent black fathers as the major source of the pain and suffering of the black communities in the US. Hardly any attention directed, so far, to the racism heaped upon American blacks from slavery to this day, and which accounts for the ceaseless revolt of black people internationally. I suppose he is being cautious not to alienate the white vote.

This is nothing new in the national politics of America. Every modern president has played it this way. This tendency received intellectual legitimacy as far back as 1965 in the Daniel Moynihan report, which charged black men with the failure to create a black family. There was much condemnation of this report in the black community. Martin Luther King gave his partial support, saying: "Nothing is so much needed as a secure family life for a people to pull themselves out of poverty and backwardness." But he offered criticism, too: "The fact is that problems will be attributed to innate Negro weaknesses and used to neglect and rationalise oppression."

Toni Morrison, much later, expressed her opposition to Moynihan's report. "The black family we have is the one created in the revolt against brutal slave conditions. Who is to say," she asked, "that we have to replicate the family structure of slave-owners?"

The issue resurfaced in 1995, when Louis Farrakhan organised the Million Man March, which mobilised 900,000 black men to correct the burdens heaped on black women for the failure of fathers to participate in the lives of our children.

Obama angered millions of blacks, I am sure, most of whom displayed a mature and tactical political awareness by their silence. An open microphone revealed Jesse Jackson's desire to de-ball Obama. Jackson apologised and postponed a hot debate for another day in order not to injure Obama's chances in the presidential race.

Reverberations spilled over to the UK. David Cameron, the consummate opportunist, jumped in for a free ride, repeating Obama's attack on absent black fathers in the UK. They are responsible, he says, for black-on-black knife crime in the inner cities. Within days, he trotted out his only black card, Shaun Bailey, who praised him to high heaven for making this argument.

I have listened to Bailey's recent television interviews and read his article in the Sunday Times, which reads like an official release from the Conservative Party.

It is all political mischief. Cameron and his cohorts know that his follow-the-leader comments will have little or no impact on black men in the UK, particularly since his own father packed him off to Eton for others to bring up. And who says that the white middle-class family is a norm to be aimed at? It is a rickety form against which middle-class white women are in full rebellion. It is on its way out.

Old social relations are in the throes of death as we search for the new. The Moynihan report must remain where it belongs - in the dustbin of history.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 04 August 2008 issue of the New Statesman, China: The patriot games