Ta-Nehisi Coates's article titled "Fear of a Black President" offers a powerful answer to the question Professor McKinney posed to the class on the first day: "Why African American History?". To quote Nehisi, "What we are now witnessing is not some new and complicated expression of white racism—rather, it’s the dying embers of the same old racism that once rendered the best pickings of America the exclusive province of unblackness." Coates's message demonstrates the relevance of the course while simultaneously identifying a source of racial tension in the U.S. today. Legal discrimination and segregation are not so far removed in time from the lives of many Americans that racial prejudice and bias have been completely eliminated from current life and politics. With that in mind, Coates presents and supports his main argument in the article, which is summarized in an interview Coates had with NPR:
[M]any white people are especially uncomfortable with the idea of a black person with the power to investigate - or order an investigation of a white person...the idea that someone even named Barack Obama would not just represent the country, but that he would actually be our commander-in-chief. This is a different sort of power wielded by an African-American.
This power provides discomfort and fear that undoubtedly shapes conservative thought and criticism of President Obama's behavior and decisions today. This source of tension has, in turn, affected President Obama's leadership on matters of race.
Fear of a black president has influenced President Obama's strategy to address racism. Some, like Coates, argue that he takes a passive approach that sacrifices the integrity of his true voice that slows or hinders the resolution of present issues of race. If he partook in more outspoken, active participation in matters of race, however, some argue that he would "play directly into Republican rhetoric about race." It would be difficult to argue that President Obama's character and actions would not be subjected to harsh scrutiny that might reduce receptivity to his messages and actions regarding race; it could risk the chance of his reelection and the potential to make subsequent efforts to address racism on a national level as the president. This conflict of interest represents a critical dynamic to Obama's position and the future actions he takes. Although it is unfair that Obama should involuntarily have to subdue his messages, actions, etc., it is possible that he is taking the best measures, according to his own evaluations, to handle matters of race in a way that will promote racial equity in America. It may not make for hasty change, but it may serve as the most (currently) effective effort to address racism in the U.S.
Given the risks involved in serving as a leader on present issues of race and serving as the first black president of the United States, how should President Obama address the subject of race to promote the "becoming America" that is a better, more compassionate nation? Should he continue to "soothe race consciousness among whites" by taking a less vociferous approach; should he take a more aggressive, unrestrained role in tackling the issues of race in the U.S.; or, should he utilize a strategy that is a mixture of both?