I was meandering about the Internet today when I came across the "cartoon" to the left (the artist gives her name as Darleen Click). Clearly, my Aunt Dorothy is wrong about exploding heads because if mine was ever going to blow, this should have lit the fuse. Although my head is still intact, I do have a throbing headache brought on by the various streams of thought running through my brain in response to this image.
I’ve been having some interesting discussions with friends on Facebook about the progressive left and the discontent expressed about President Obama’s advancement of a progressive agenda. I get that no one is above critique, certainly not the president. I also concede that many of us, myself included, have been guilty of challenging any criticism from the left as unrealistic expectations based on a lack of understanding on the political process.
After viewing Darleen’s cartoon, I’ve decided to come clean as to what really annoys me about the left’s head shaking at what it perceives to be Obama’s need to be liked and not offend the recalcitrant Republicans in Congress. I don't think that it's the limits of the political process that progressives don't understand, at least not as the sole issue or even the biggest issue. I think what progressives don't always fully appreciate is what it means to be the first black president. I don't say this as an insult or as an accusation. White men have had centuries of never being the "first" anything. The power structure in this country has always belonged to white males.
In spite of the wishful thinking of some, this is not a post racial age. I read a lot of my news on the Internet. Every day, I read comments on those news stories. Every day I read the most insulting racist comments that I have ever heard in my lifetime. I don't recall such insults even in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up. I cannot visit a website and read the comments unless I am prepared to be insulted. I am not using hyperbole; I literally mean every day. The people who post this vileness defend their right to spout racist commentary under the guise of the 1st amendment.
Friends and family tell me that I should just stop reading these comments. My response is, “Will they disappear because I don't read them?” Mind you, I'm not talking about white supremacists websites; I'm talking about trivial stories about which Hollywood starlet is going to be the next big thing or some how to article on the best way to organize your closets.
These trolls exist to spread their crap; they don't care that their comments have nothing to do with the story at hand. They are simply seeking an opportunity to make ugly, depraved racist commentary. They have invaded websites that specify that they are geared to a black audience such as Black Voices, The Griot, and The Root, for the sole purpose of making racist comments.
Since Obama has taken office, it's as if these people have upped the ante in expressing their racism. Every step Obama takes, every move that he makes, he is being watched with a scrutiny that no president has ever had to endure. There have been more death threats against him than any other president. Dimwit Darleen’s cartoon portraying Obama as raping Lady Liberty disingenuously claims that there is nothing racist about this portrayal of a black man as a rapist, conveniently ignoring the history of false allegations of rape that lead to the lynching deaths of thousands of black men in the 20th century. Michelle Obama has suffered the indignity of being portrayed as an ape on multiple occasions. As a black woman, I can tell you that it is an insult that cuts to the core, especially when you must maintain your cool and never let them see you break a sweat.
I have no problem with progressives calling Obama to task for not following through on his agenda or even for not being forceful enough in promoting his ideas but where I take offensive is anyone daring to suggest that this man has made any decisions because he fears being disliked and holds some kind of Pollyannaish notions about bringing us all together to join hands and sing Kum Ba Yah. I find such commentary insulting to the very real dangers that Obama and his family faced in simply running for the presidency. I think that he and Michelle are both incredibly brave.
I get that the Republicans in Congress are obstructionists and are unlikely to change. I agree that wooing them was useless if the point was to get them to participate in a bipartisan agenda. However, I don't think that was ever Obama's agenda. It wasn't the Republicans in government that he was playing to, it was the American public. His win seemed solid and overwhelming, but he knew from the start that he would be judged by a different standard.
Since the election, there has been an interesting shift in the mood of the country. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 48% of voters feel that the Tea Party more accurately reflects their views. Along party lines more of the Tea Party supporters self identify as Republicans or Independents. Democrats continue to be more likely to favor Obama’s agenda.
I don’t believe that polls are gospel. Statistically the samples are limited and people’s responses are influenced by many factors including the wording of the questions asked. However, even when you factor in a percentage of error, polls do shed some light on the pulse of the country. My point is not that Progressives have become members of the Tea Party, nor is my point that progressives have betrayed Obama.
It’s the Independents who have shifted from supporting Obama to threatening to vote Republican in 2010 and 2012 that disturb me. My take on this is that if these folks had ever been fully committed to Obama's agenda, then hell would have to freeze over before they would capitulate to a right wing agenda, no matter how dissatisfied or disappointed in Obama they were.
I'm not a cynic by nature but my life experiences have fed my growing cynicism. I think that there are people who voted for Obama because it made them believe that they were not racists. From my perspective, there are a lot of white people who spend an inordinate amount of time declaring, "I am not a racist." Normally we don't declare that we don't possess a negative belief. For instance, no one feels compelled to declare, "I'm not a child abuser," or "I am not a wife beater." When someone declares that they are not a racist, I believe he or she has doubts and is trying to convince him or herself.
Obama was the fashionable trend of the moment. Now the hate against him in many quarters is palpable. I think that his efforts to cultivate the public failed, but he wasn't acting out of some fear of not being liked. I don't think that a black person who has worked his or her way into the dominant power structure could possibly get there if we were so thin-skinned that we honestly worried as to whether people liked us on a personal level. My people are made of sterner stuff; it is a strength forged on the anvil of oppression.
I recognize that it is an unintentional slight, but to characterize Obama as being motivated by a fear of being disliked or a desire to be liked is to trivialize the reality of race in this country. It has taken more than 200 years since the inception of these United States for a person of African heritage to achieve the highest office in this land. Two hundred and thirty-two years of not being counted as people, of legalized abuse, of denial of the most basic of human rights--how can anyone honestly think that this man, this black man is worried as to whether or not he is liked! If black people spent our time obsessing as to how to make white people like us, none of us would ever have the courage to leave our homes.
Obama’s moves were strategic; what he wanted was to build public momentum and support for his agenda. He thought that he could achieve that by demonstrating reasonableness in the face of unreasonableness. It didn't work. I think that he misjudged the depth of the unreasonableness, the strength of the animosity of those who declare their lack of racism as if speaking the words makes it so and negates their actions to the contrary.
Say that Obama made a strategic error in spending so much time trying to cultivate a bipartisan health care plan and you’ll get no argument from me. Say that this man is motivated by the insecurity of an ego that needs to be stroked by being liked and I will borrow the mantra of the GOP, “You lie.”