Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Myth of a Post Racial America

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.”


Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is a great post, Sheria. I couldn't agree more. Very well said.

You are loved,


Nance said...

Good! GOOD! I entirely agree. Obama is the man this country needed, the man this country needs, the president I need. He proves it daily. Sometimes, when he makes a decision I don't understand (Alan Simpson as co-chair of the Fiscal Reform Commission or certain aspects of the Afghanistan strategy), what I most want is to hear his thinking. I have never respected or trusted a president more and was never prouder of our country than the day we elected him. How I hate to see that pride so debased!

It grieves me, it sickens me, to continually find the racist abuse...it is a form of domestic terrorism, no less, and I am deeply ashamed and afraid. Thank you for this post.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I am dismayed and ashamed at how a large part of our populace is reacting to our President. I do not think that his attempts to bring the right into the fold are wasted, but the way they are reacting is wasted energy. If you do not like the ideas, then enter into thoughtful dialogue, don't just blither and blather. He is a rock, and I am proud to have him as our President, as my President.

belaymylast said...

I like the signal that President Obama sent with the recess appointments. Time to get on with the actual running of gov. What a concept! I'm not convinced he ever believed he'd 'win over' Republicans, but he did a great job demonstrating leadership during his wisely televised conference with Republican house members. Seems to me that the other side is just flat out of ideas and those who have affixed themselves to that block mentality are beginning to flail.

Mark said...

Flailing around to explain his endless quest for a bipartisanship that was clearly never going to happen, I did posit that perhaps Obama wanted too much to be liked. That may have been wrong, but hardly an insult. More accurate is probably that he doesn't like to dislike people, and I think this bleeds into a willingness to see the possibility of compromise where there is none, to see reasonableness where it is absent.
I think Obama has bent over backwards way too far so that no one could accuse him of not having made every effort to accomodate. There is a mass pychosis afoot when 48% consider themselves tea partiers, and these people need to be fought, not understood, not explained, not compromised with, any more than you would understand or compromise with an anti-semite in Nazi Germany.
I love Obama, I really do. I am very glad he's finally got his mojo back and really leading, and fully acknowledge no President has faced what he's had to. But I will assess his performance by the standards I would any President, to do anything else would be racist as hell. And for a while there I was thinking he was just too nice to be Prsident, to willing to impute good faith to people who clearly have none. I think he's woken up, but I think it grieves him. He has an idealistic streak that really believed in the possibility of a post-Partisan America. Was he not paying attention when they almost destroyed Bill Clinton? When Bush could do no wrong no matter how badly he destroyed this country? I think he has a slightly naive streak, I really do, and that's hardly a horrible thing in a person, but maybe not good in a President.

Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Unlike the unexamined life which is not worth living, the Examined Life is definitely worth reading. Great stuff - and love the music!

All the best,

Tom Degan

Darlene said...

I plead guilty of believing that Obama tried too hard for bipartisanship. You have given me food for thought.

This is an excellent and very well written post. I'm glad I wandered over from Tom Degan's Rant.

I, too, love Obama and his smile melts my old heart.

Teeluck said...

I also wandered over from Tom's place but alas, I think the stone has been cast...and my glass house broken...so my dear lady, you shall not evict me from this place even if you tried...
I promise to return...often :)
PS I have also added you to my blogroll :)

Bennett said...

Great writing, great music. Thank you!

pitbull friend said...

This column makes me think. Great! I have sometimes felt that President Obama is trying too hard to be liked. However, I've also felt that way about Reid, Pelosi, both of the Clintons... There seem to be just a handful of Dems in general who hold true to their progressive roots, which is why we so mourned Paul Wellstone.(I think Senator Wellstone proved that you can firmly hold onto your convictions AND get things done. But then again, he wasn't in the leadership.) I very much enjoyed Dreams from my Father and feel sure that the President's heart is in the right place and that he is brilliant. But I don't understand why leadership Dems are constantly seeking bipartisanship when GOPers are not. It's not an Obama problem. It's a Dem problem I've been scratching my head about for almost 20 years now.

Cathy said...

I question whether blatant racism has increased with the historic election of a black President - those people were already racists they just spoke up more than usual because of who's sitting in the Oval Office. An excuse to speak their closed minds. To me I've sensed a clear DECREASE in acts of intolerance against blacks. It's only been a few hundred years since whites saw nothing awry in keeping slaves. I think it behooves us more to celebrate your victory rather than critique those who still live in ignorance. While we remember the horrors of this country's past behavior, as a white women living with blacks I say use what gains you've made and keep the machinery from back-sliding. I know I have privileges other humans don't because of their ethnicity. But I also feel strongly that, although we may not be on the same page, it's okay because finally we're reading the same book.

Beth said...

I agree completely. I don't think the Pres was trying to be liked; I believe he is idealistic enough to believe in the power of ideas AND ideals, and thought that others would understand his motivations and plans. Many of us did, and still do. What is hard for some of us to realize is that there are still many who hate him because he is "different" (at least to them) and a threat to their status quo and mistaken version of our country. As for the GOP, they are merely playing partisan politics and obviously want him to fail...no matter that that could also mean the failure of our country as a whole. It really is pathetic.

Octopüß said...

Sheria, you and I are ‘children of the times,’ meaning we are of a generation that has shared memories of the civil rights struggle and the anti-war movement.

Here is one memory: At the Democratic National Convention of 1964 (Atlantic City, NJ), the Dixiecrats staged a mass boycott that left all southern state delegation seats empty. High school aged kids were bussed in to fill those seats so they would not appear empty before national news cameras. I ought to know. I was one of those kids.

Today’s Republican Party is a coalition of former Dixiecrats who defected from the Democratic Party and right wing corporatists who fought FDR’s New Deal. When FDR fought the Wall Street corporatists, the Dixiecrats were in his pocket. In 2010, President Obama has both forces arrayed against him.

I don’t think Obama ‘misjudged the depth of unreasonableness’ but I do think he treads a very fine political line and knows this all too painfully well. Our President is one of the most intellectually gifted men ever to occupy the White House, and he is executing a masterful political strategy against all odds.

When we hear the Tea Partiers' familiar refrain of ‘socialism,’ we are hearing multiple voices behind a single word: Voices of former Dixiecrats, voices of Wall Street corporatists, voices of lobbyists and special interests, voices of hardcore right wingers, and the malcontents of civilization. Again, we find ourselves living in tough times.