by Kay B. Day
Al Jazeera interviewed singer Harry Belafonte on Thursday, and the entertainer spoke candidly. Asked if the US had moved to a “post racial period” after the presidential election, Belafonte said the country is still in a “deeply racist period.”
He wants dialog. “America has never held an honest debate on racism,” Belafonte said, adding that President Barack Obama has been “very clever in bypassing the issue of race.” Attributing that to politics, he said Obama advisers probably didn’t want “to scare white people.”
The well-known musician was one of the largest funders of the civil rights movement in American history. Despite achieving monetary and artistic success on a grand scale, Belafonte has devoted his life’s work to the poor, and not just those with brown skin—he said poor people come in “all colors and stripes.”
Belafonte has a global perspective—he doesn’t focus only on the US poor, but on the world’s poor. And he isn’t sure about the president’s understanding. Belafonte asked, “Does he have a real handle on the kind of radical thinking necessary to change the way the whole system does business?”
Belafonte also said capitalism has a “hostile history,” and he viewed it “not as a friend but as something that oppresses.”
The singer acknowledged Obama hasn’t invited him to the White House, but added, “He may find reasons to invite me.”
Belafonte also seemed to blame third world problems on the US, a tactic entertainers often adopt when they’re in a foreign country. The interviewer didn't ask about civil wars, Islamic extremists, deforestation, cronyism or tribal disagreements. Nor was mention made of corruption like the oil-for-food scandal that plagued the United Nations. Celebrities have a conspicuous podium, especially in countries without a free press, and their opinions are often accepted as fact.
As for America, Belafonte apparently has something in common with the Obama administration—an affinity for labor unions. “The voice of workers in this country have yet to be heard,” he said.