In the last presidential campaign, Barack Obama seemed to make a genuine effort to bridge the gap between those who think we will always be a racist society and those who believe that we are finally color-blind. Unfortunately, that hope has not been realized.
The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.
During the last presidential campaign, Barack Obama bumped up against that omnipresent third rail of modern American politics: race. He gave what most people considered to be one of his best speeches right here at the National Constitution Center, and he invited all of us to address the issue fairly, with an understanding that we were far from being a post-racial society. Nonetheless, he seemed to make a genuine effort to bridge the gap between those who think we will always be a racist society and those who, conversely, believe that we are finally color-blind.
Unfortunately, the promise of that speech has not been realized.
If anything, we are more polarized as a people than we have been in many years, and — to paraphrase Cassius — the fault lies not in the stars but with ourselves. Despite the fact that we are more racially integrated as a society than at any time in the past century (interracial marriages are commonplace, bi-racial citizens are a rapidly increasing demographic, Jim Crow is a dirty memory and, oh yes, our bi-racial president is running for a second term), there is still the tendency among certain groups to “cry race” in order to explain certain facts and phenomena.
Sadly, it is significantly more apparent in so-called progressive circles, where talk of equality and civil rights has morphed into what some (including this author) see as paranoia and exaggeration.
For example, after the debates last week Wednesday, the general consensus among both Republicans and Democrats was that Mitt Romney had claimed a significant victory. There was quibbling about some of his facts and lamentations over why Barack Obama hadn’t kicked 47 percent of that elephant in the room over to his opponent’s lectern. But in general, fair-minded people had to give the debate to the GOP challenger.
And then, a funny thing happened. People started making excuses for the president’s mediocre performance by opining that he was too busy doing presidential things to prepare for the debate (David Axelrod) or too oxygen-deprived to think clearly (Al Gore). By far the most offensive tactic used to defend the president came when some commentators pulled out the race card and said that anyone who called the president “lazy” in his debate prep was actually employing code for “black.”
Then you have the head of the National Association of Black Journalists criticizing George Will for even suggesting that “[Americans may be] especially reluctant not to give up on the first African American president.” Given the fact that many who supported Barack Obama in the last election did so because they were so excited about electing someone who would break the color barrier in the Oval Office, this objection seems a bit disingenuous. And it shows, to an unfortunate degree, how race is being used as a sword against those who make certain uncomfortable observations.
And then, even more egregiously, you have the teacher at a local Philadelphia school who attacked one of her students for wearing a Romney T-shirt because the school is “Democratic.” The teacher, who is black, further ridiculed the white student by suggesting that wearing a Romney T-shirt to school was akin to the teacher wearing a shirt emblazoned with “KKK.” And when the student’s parents showed up at school to discuss the matter with the administration, they were verbally attacked with obscenities.
Finally, we have the whole issue of Voter ID. I happen to agree with Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s decision to stay the implementation of the provisional ballot section of the law, primarily because the commonwealth did such a poor job in creating mechanisms for people to obtain appropriate identification. However, I cannot stomach the claims of Voter ID opponents that the law was simply another form of voter suppression like a poll tax, which we all know was used to keep minorities from voting during Jim Crow.
As the daughter of a man who spent a summer in Mississippi registering black voters in 1967, it is incomprehensible to me that citizens would challenge any legitimate attempt to guarantee fraud-free elections. As a lifelong Philadelphian who is well aware that there are polling places at graveyards, it is equally offensive.
We do not live in a post-racial society. But the extent to wish some supporters of this president will go to manipulate race in order to gain an advantage, or place the opposition at a disadvantage, is troubling. And it offends both the letter, and the spirit, of Barack Obama’s historic speech.
Christine Flowers is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.