*Folks will blame any and everything on the president, so I initially didn’t pay much attention when some people were berating Obama on Facebook. In fact Obama is more of a target than most presidents because he entered office with a wider base of support and with the country in such bad shape, so more people were expecting more of him. It would’ve have been hard to please everyone.
One of my Facebook friends, a person who was very influential in my life, was quite definitive in his opinion of how bad a job Obama has done. When I asked him to clarify his response was that Obama has emphasized race too much.
After thinking about it a bit, I concluded that this criticism is both makes sense and is unfair.
Barack Obama is an African-American man who grew up during 1960s and 1970s when the country experienced a revolution (perhaps two) in terms of how we view and interpret race. So the life experience he brings to a situation has been colored by that. It makes sense that he would be more cognizant of a racial aspect of something; it also makes sense that he would, now that he has the ability to affect change, to influence people to improve upon race relations.
For many white Americans Obama is agitating an issue that has been decided long ago. Black people have the ability to earn a living and achieve their dreams just like any other person in the country. While they believe race is no longer a factor in the lives of people, Obama highlights instances when race crops up. So for these folks Obama is emphasizing race too much. Furthermore his emphasis is a negative for the country because it brings the country back to a place of turmoil. In this way I understand why some have the criticism of Obama.
The other side of the coin is that for many black Americans race is still a factor in their lives. Recent current events illustrate this clearly. Some people have trouble getting a job, or housing, or access to things because of their race. Being black can add an additional obstacle to success the same way being a woman or being LGBTQ can. In this way I assert that Obama perspective on race in this country, while not completely objective, is reasonable and the criticism of him unfair.
It should also be said that the recent events between African-Americans and law enforcement and how the President has reacted to them should not be very surprising. In other words, that group of white Americans who believe the president is over-emphasizing race could have anticipated his reaction. Within the first year of his presidency there was an incident between a prominent black professor at Harvard University and a local police officer. The police were called because a neighbor thought a burglary was in progress and the professor, who was in fact at his own home and not breaking in, did not react well to having the police at his home. Obama took this incident seriously enough that he asked the professor and the officer to come to the White House for a beer and to hash out their feelings. In hindsight the takeaway for the rest of the country should have been that the president is in tune to the everyday annoyances of having one’s integrity questioned because of one’s race.
The truth is that two groups can have different perspectives on the same event/stimulus. If you’ve never experienced the police questioning you at your home, it is hard to conclude that such policing is a substantial issue. On the other hand, if you have experienced that sort of intrusion (as I have), it is refreshing to think that the president is on the same page when you complain.
I can’t say that Obama is not emphasizing race. But I can say that he isn’t doing anything wrong with that emphasis.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.