Monday, September 10, 2012

Reaction to "Fear of a Black President"

       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?


  1. I agree that, unfortunately, race played a factor in the 2008 political election. There were two categories of racist voters in the 2008 election, both of which Obama has formally recognized: 1) some racially intolerant (mostly white) voters who refused to vote for Obama simply because of the color of his skin and 2) some (mostly black) voters who voted for Obama simply because he is Black. I however do not think "addressing racism" is something Obama should prioritize during his time in office. In fact, Obama himself has claimed that his tasks as Presidents should extend to all citizens of the United States, not a particular ethnic segment of the population. After all, he was elected President of the United States, not the head of a Civil Rights organization. Of course, being a Black President, he can promote equality on all levels, while at the same time being a symbol of achievement and strength for African Americans. I personally think the appointment of a "minority President," no matter the minority, is a move in the right direction for American politics. Although it’s not a measure of absolute equality in the United States, it is a huge step for American politics and is a sign of increasing political liberty.

    Basically, a political agenda with ethnic segmentation may not currently be the most important task for Obama. Yes, there are problems in black communities and black populations that deserve attention, but I don't think most Americans (including those who voted for him in 2008) were expecting him to make any drastic moves especially for black people. I agree with Obama in the fact that while black people deserve someone to stand up for their freedoms and to fight for the betterment of their condition in America today, that may not be a job for the President of the United States to tackle.

    To quote our President, "The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period."- President Obama

  2. Race is a factor that, unfortunately, Barack Obama cannot escape. Because he is African American, he will forever have that barrier to overcome in the the election; but, that does not mean he should emphasize race during his time in office. Yes, race is a major problem in our country. After all, we have been racially divided from the beginning. If Obama chooses to emphasize race, I feel that America will not respond. Only a small portion will choose to respond, which will be predominately African American.
    To draw attention to this racial issue will only cause white voters to develop a negative opinion of Obama. It will cause him to be seen as "pro-black" or that he is only in the office to benefit African Americans and not America. Obama is the only president to have this issue to hinder him. He must not make this a priority, but keep America in mind, not only African Americans.

  3. I think that the election has become too much about race and the color of an individual’s skin. This election as well as the past election became more of a popularity contest, but not on the basis of which side of the government can do a better job of running the country, but more of a contest that resonates whether or not the black guy can be more popular than the white guy. This whole “race” factors of the election over shadows the fundamentals of why we as American even vote. Presidential elections are supposed to be focused on issues like health care, job security, taxes, deficits, economic growth. But who really pays attention to any of these things now a day, especially with our generation. I have spoken to my peers about the election and when I ask the question of “What makes you want to vote for Obama?” I always get variations of the same answer, “He’s black, I’m black, I have no idea what he stands for or what his campaign is based on but if he’s black he’s got my vote”. And I know of white people that do not want to vote for him just because he’s a black man. These outlooks are so disgustingly terrible! It just makes me feel that Americans are becoming too shallow. We do everything based on the surface, based off of what we see. There seems to be little interest in digging deeper into things. And I think this is keeping Americans from showing him the respect he deserves. We praise this man because he is America’s first black President, but at what point do we stop praising him for that alone and start recognizing him for his political work, (although some may argue he has not done anything worth being honored). This must also be a lot of pressure on him. It makes me wonder if Obama personally struggles with the task of trying to get America to look past his “blackness” and see him for his political intelligence.