Not 1959. Not 1929.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Really? Why Must Every Criticism of President Obama Be Racist?
Now, don't get me wrong. Before anyone starts to say that racism is not a factor in today's America, I want to preface this by saying that it's pretty clear that we don't live in a post-racial America. We still have a lot of problems with racism. We still have a lot of mistrust coming from all sides of the racial spectrum. A glimpse at the recent St. Louis school bus "brawl" (seen here at http://videos.stltoday.com/p/video?id=6172583 ) shows that some of the viciousness from today's racial problems can come from different sides.
And don't get me wrong. There was a segment of Americans that lost their minds for a second when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in November 2008. I remember the death threats. I remember the graffiti and some of the comments.
But let's be real, people. It's 2009.
And not every criticism of the 44th president is based on race.
The more it seems to be said - that race is not as much of a factor in America - the more we hear that it is when it comes to President Obama.
Now, we hear it from former President Jimmy Carter, someone who, by the way, Obama's spending and snafus are often compared to by conservatives that experienced both administrations.
I can't get over the fact that someone as worldly as Carter would go on national television to address this Wilson situation (as well as the ongoing Tea Party phenomenon) as a racial knee-jerk reaction to the nation's first Black president. If the United States was such a cauldron of overt racism, how did President Obama win the presidency in the first place? Applying race to every aspect of criticism is getting not only old, but toxic in a nation that doesn't need many other factors to contribute to the heightened level of anxiety throughout the country.
A former president should know that. A former president should act very responsibly. A former president from a southern state should know exactly what happens when the brew of race, economic hardship, joblessness, anxiety about the future, and rapid change come together.
Yet, Mr. Carter added his two cents to a situation that needed to be defused, not ignited. On national television no less. Why?
Adding to a debate by suggesting that criticism of the president - a far-left leaning president that is growing more unpopular (from a policy point of view) as his administration continues forward - is primarily fueled by race only plays to the lowest points of ourselves and discredits the hard work of civil rights leaders from years gone past. The very efforts that allow for President Obama to be the first Black president must also be the very essence of why he can be criticized for his positions, his actions, his affiliations and selections, and his directives for the nation. The door that Obama walked through to gain the opportunity to become president did not close once he walked through. It has been and will be propped open for the rounds of criticism and debate that comes with the Office of the Presidency.
The continued race card being brought up regarding President Obama not only cheapens any true issues of racism that he has faced (and will face), but also numbs the nation to the calls of racism when it actually does occur, such as continue incidents of "driving while Black" or imbalanced funding of public schools' revenue between schools within the same system. It diminishes the sacrifices made by others (of all races) for racial equality in America. It takes proud history and personal growth and makes it cliche.
Having seating Congressmen making this argument also makes a tough situation - one where many people are trying to navigate through debates and disapproval without being wrongly defamed by the dreaded "r" word - worse. To hear Congressman "Hank" Johnson speak that folks will soon be "...(wearing) white hoods and white sheets and riding through the countryside..." not only smacks of overreaching dramatization (do we really think that several generation of leaders and citizens post-Civil Rights movement would tolerate open terrorism by the KKK?), but seems to reflect a desire to reflect the worst of our history and attempt to paste it to these tough times today.
It's ironic. When Democrats (including key Black Democrats) wanted Secretaries of State Powell and Rice to "fail" under the Bush Administration (i.e., not deliver the goals set forth by the Bush Administration in the best interests of the American people), it was not out of racism and not wanting to see the first two Black secretaries of state to success. Of course, it was out of principle against the Bush foreign policy.
No offense, Colin and Condi.
Now, the rules of racial engagement have swung so suddenly and dramatically for the Democrats' third president since 1977, moving to a point where the horrific imagery of the Ku Klux Klan has been thrust into the national spotlight by a US Congressman.
Is it because a very popular personal figure has become a very polarizing president? Is it because a personal project of many Democrats (i.e., universal health care run by the government) keeps hitting roadblocks every time the political climate seems right in Washington? Is it because approval ratings for this president and his supermajority in Washington keep slipping? Is it because, at this rate, voters may vote Democrats out of office in 2010, perhaps for the same reasons why Republicans were voted out of office in 2006?
Or is it because pulling the race string makes the American puppet jump in reaction, perhaps in an attempt to yank the American people back in line "behind" the president and his proposals?
It's sad that President Carter felt the need to come out and offer his two-cents on this. One thing that people cannot say about President Bush is that he has been sticking his nose into these affairs, ones that have remained heated through the Obama term to date. Introducing race into this equation as an ex-president only brings a dangerous fuel into the fire, particularly as we look to our country's history with racial tensions.
As an elder statesman (and a rarity over the past 40 years...a one-term president), Carter had an obligation to speak with restraint, regardless of how others (including Joe Wilson) act in kind. As a nation, we have a duty to trust the best within us - including and especially in regards to race - even when we act otherwise. Without some common trust, we can only expect a shared failure to meet our challenges with any measurable and sustainable success.