We hear now phrases like “Driving while Black,” and more recently, “Walking while Black,” so imagine what it is to be “President while Black.” President Obama is, of course, only half Black, but according to American tradition that makes him Black (even 1% makes you Black if it is known, ridiculous but true). I said when Obama was elected, and thus shattered the basic paradigm of Western-European culture that had White superiority at its apex, it would create a serious problem for many that would take years to overcome (Morialekafa, 11/5/08), and so it has been and continues to be.
Curiously enough, at least to me, for the most part the racial prejudice that exists seems to exist more under the surface than I would have expected, at least for most Americans. There are some on the right that are blatantly racist and express their racism openly in vicious caricatures, cartoons, and disgusting jokes, or belong to obviously racist militia movements, but we do not hear much about this activity in the mainstream press unless a particularly egregious example slips out now and then. Such slips occur often enough to remind us of the prejudice still exists, particularly if it is a judge or politician caught making a racial slur. When caught such people usually excuse theirselves by denying their remark was racist, they just thought it was funny, or they claim it was taken out of context, or some other usually feeble explanation. Few are willing to come right out and say they are prejudiced. Even the “Birthers” and others of that ilk, avoid their racism by not mentioning Obama is Black at all, and pretending their objections have to do with where he was born, or that he is a Muslim, or a socialist or communist, or some kind of unknown “Other.” In what might be considered the mainstream of American culture it is no longer permissible to be overtly racially prejudiced, even if you are, you must pretend not to be. There are, to be sure, many Americans who are probably genuinely not prejudiced, but there are a great many more that are probably unaware of their prejudices, having slowly acquired them unconsciously through acculturation and socialization. It is my understanding that there have been and are far more threats against Obama than against any other President in history which, if true, tells you a great deal about the prejudice that still exists over having a Black President.
Being a Black President presents an extremely unusual situation when it comes to the issue of racial prejudice, as it is virtually impossible to tell whether criticism is merely directed at Presidential acts as such, or has a racial element. Chuck Grassley, whom I cannot but help considering a kind of political Buster Keaton, recently referred to President Obama as stupid. There are some who have been rather upset about anyone referring to Obama as stupid, some going so far as to say this is insulting to the President and even the Presidency. But as far as I know accusing a President of being stupid is pretty much par for the course. Certainly people did not hesitate to describe George W. Bush in such terms (I myself often said I thought he was probably marginally retarded). So did Grassley say Obama was stupid because he was Black (and Blacks are supposed to be less intelligent) or was he merely objecting to an Obama act he didn’t like? No one can come right out and claim Obama is stupid because he is Black, not with a Harvard degree and a sterling academic record (except perhaps for questionable affirmative action suspicions). Being President Obama is fair game for criticism and unless there is some overt mention of race you cannot know how much is racism and how much is just normal Presidential criticism. Racism, in the case of Obama, is a far more subtle phenomenon and not always obvious. No one could possibly have the temerity to address the President of the United States as “Boy,” but it seems to me that impulse lingers under the surface sometimes, at least for some.
For example, would the White female Governor of Arizona (a kind of “failed State”) ever have wagged her finger at a White President in public as though she were scolding him? I doubt it; would a Congressman (basically unfit to even carry Obama’s briefcase) have ever yelled out “You lie” in the middle of his State of the Union address? I think unlikely. There have been other examples that escape my memory for the moment but were clearly believed to have been disrespectful not only of Obama, but of the Office of the President as well. This has been more of a concern during the Obama Presidency than ever before, or so it seems.
Personally, I believe the entire Republican approach to the Obama Presidency has been predicates on racism from the beginning. Mitch McConnell announced almost immediately that making Obama a one term President was the Republican number one goal. He said this before Obama had done anything at all, in effect announcing that no matter what Obama did, Republicans would reject it. Has there ever been a precedent for an opposition party to announce that no matter what a President did it would be rejected? On what conceivable basis could such a claim be justified? What rationale could be used to explain such an unprecedented act? It seems clear to me that the answer is clear, the belief before the fact that the President would be not up to the job. In Obama’s case he could not be considered not up to the job on the basis of his personal achievements, his academic record, his previous accomplishments, so what is left? The answer I think is his race, he’s Black, he must be out of his depth, he cannot possibly be either trusted or expected to be able to handle the job, he doesn’t belong there, he’s out of his place. Tell me if you can what other President would have been so cavalierly dismissed out of hand, before he was even given a chance, and what explanation could have been offered?
I believe that whoever tries to think things through honestly will soon recognize how unworthy and even fatal is the traditional bias against Negroes. What can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by words and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by racial bias.