One day after former President Jimmy Carter offered an honest and reasoned assessment that some of the criticism being leveled at President Obama was racially motivated; the 44th President took issue with the observation of Mr. Carter. Sadly, President Obama’s obsession with painting a picture of a post-racial America has left him incapable of being forthright on the role that race is playing in opposition to him, and in creating a climate of resentment among some white Americans. In many ways it seems this President is so intent in proving that racism is a vestige of our nation’s past that he is in denial over its role in our present.
Black Americans have been placed in a difficult quandary. While other groups can make claims over their mistreatment due to their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or faith, the minute Blacks call out acts of racism we are delegitimized. It leaves us overwhelmed with a quiet rage that simmers behind a mask of forced contentment. We seethe silently over mistreatment that is obviously driven by the color of our skin; whether it is being labeled a “threat” or characterized as having an “attitude” when we dare defend our dignity, or trailed by store security because we fit a “profile.” Yet, when we take issue with the disrespect shown us, we are told we are being overly sensitive despite the lengths we go on a daily basis to not call attention to our race.
The phenomena Barack Obama has created a fictitious “Super Black Man” who possesses a force field through which racism cannot penetrate. It is an unhealthy creation because it gives license to individuals to feed the fears of those who see a Black bogeyman taking their job because of affirmative action, deem every young Black male a criminal or inmate-in-training, see little value in spending money on public schools that most Black children attend, and abandon neighborhoods and whole cities because they equate Blacks with a loss of economic value in communities. So, while President Obama stands tall, cape waving in the air, deflecting racial taunts off his chest, we catch the shrapnel on the back end.
The President and the White House is being disingenuous in denying the role that race is playing among some people who are opposing his presidency. By failing to acknowledge it, Mr. Obama is giving his tacit permission for the worst elements of our nation to sow the seeds of hate while hiding behind the defense of “I am not a racist.” The denial of racist behavior is akin to the alcoholic who denies being one despite downing a fifth drink. Like the drunk who claims he can function while inebriated, racists see themselves as incapable of being racist and charge Blacks who call them on it as playing the "race card". If such a card exists, it comes from a deck that we do not shuffle, cut or deal.
I know that this President is in a bind when issues around race surface. Still, we cannot allow him to brush aside legitimate complaints that cut to the core of race relations in America. During the campaign he was unfairly saddled with the word of his former pastor, and was forced to defend his blackness in a much anticipated speech in Philadelphia. On that day he offered a reasoned analysis of our nation’s racial dilemma, yet in the aftermath of the arrest of Harvard professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, the President trivialized the very real issue of racial profiling with a “beer summit” between the scholar and the arresting Cambridge police officer. It makes me wonder what qualifies as an offense that will compel this President to take issue.
Every taunt, every report of gun-toting protesters, every You Tube video of bug eyed protesters frothing at the mouth sends chills through most of us. Many of us know what contagious hate can breed. In many ways President Obama’s upbringing outside of the Black civil rights experience has given him a sense of freedom while also holding him captive to an aspirational vision of an America that does not exist. For all the rhetoric around progress, and some evidence of forward motion, Blacks continue to exist at the lower rung of our economy, our children face a bleaker future than their parent’s past, and significant numbers of us are dying, either as a result of violence or illness. Yet, we are suppose to believe that these conditions are self imposed in a country that spent 300 years exploiting our labor, sanctioned violence against Blacks, and denied us rights that were boldly heralded as symbolic of our democracy.
Sometimes it’s what you see and deny that can hurt you most.