Electing Obama wasn’t Sign of Post-Racial America I was Hoping For
Originally published August 6, 2016
I started my blog just after Barrack Obama was elected president in 2008 — when blogging was still a relatively new platform. In hindsight, many of my early posts were naïve and idealistic, as I still tend to be at times. I honestly thought electing our first non-white president was indicative of a tipping point in US race relations, the beginning of a post-racial America in which MLK’s dream for its people to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin would finally come to pass, at last. What was exposed, instead, in the months and years that’s followed, is a vile and venomous undercurrent of racism, which still sadly flows freely across this nation.
America is a racist nation. Period. The bane of racism is its greatest threat. It tears at the fabric of our society. The Obama presidency exposed its prevalence. Fox News and an emergent social media provided affinity and affirmation for droves of white supremacists itching to come out of the closet. And, as the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump has provided legitimacy to its hateful agenda.
At the risk of giving in to cynicism I’ve so long resisted, it’s tempting to concede that it is perhaps simply unrealistic to expect otherwise from a nation founded by the savage murder and displacement of millions of indigenous peoples and built on slave labor. Racial disparities are everywhere, still. The kind of racial unrest boiling over in the summer of 2016 is the evil fruit of what centuries of white supremacy have sewn. When police kill black people who pose no threat, or someone bearing the confederate flag kills innocent black church goers, or a black former soldier says he wants to shoot white police — these are all tragic consequences of our history of systemic racism. White America is fortunate that most blacks want only equality, not revenge.
More than a half century after Governor Wallace stood at the front of Foster Auditorium blocking blacks from entering the University of Alabama, racism is an illness that still infects our institutions to the core, the worst of which comes in the form of racist, corrupt, morally bankrupt police departments and at every level of the legal and justice systems. Institutional racism is by design, not unintentional. There are systems in place (and have been since slavery) to keep blacks down and disempowered.
The Black Lives Matter movement took root in 2013 following George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It gained momentum as the number of senseless killings of blacks by cops mounted, many of which caught on police dash cams or camera phones providing irrefutable and damning evidence of rampant police brutality those of us heretofore inclined to give cops the benefit of the doubt could no longer ignore. Predictably, white supremacists countered with cries of “All Lives Matter” and illogical inferences to reverse racism. Whereas rational people have always understood an implicit “also” or “as much as” at the end of the Black Lives Matter hashtag, racists conjured an implicit “instead” or “more than” at the end — threatening to their sense of supremacy and privilege, spurring retaliation and fueling further racist acts and widening the divide.
Supremacy isn’t just about violence, though. White privilege, white ignorance, white apathy… is in no great shortage. Think of it as the bulging middle of the bell curve with small percentages of whites who are openly racist and dangerous on one end; and enlightened, activist, open-minded whites on the other. The majority in the middle are whites who are indifferent, clueless, naive, misinformed, and content with the status quo. They don’t burn crosses in their yards but their inaction is harmful, nevertheless.
This is white privilege: When I read about the deaths of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling or any of the other horrifying instances of police brutality against black people, I am outraged instead of terrified. I am able to voice my anger, to show up to protests, to loudly condemn the racist criminal justice system because I will not be its next victim.
As racial tensions heightened throughout the land, the vitriol hurled at President Obama was unprecedented in its viciousness. Republicans have plotted and planned to destroy the man and his administration since his first day in office, flooding the country with an intentional and negative barrage of misinformation about him. There’s no way you’ll convince me that the animus directed against Obama was based on his policies or politics. No, it’s based on something far deeper: a gut-wrenching fear of color change in our nation. The foreshadowing of a browner America which is relentlessly approaching just over the horizon.
Consider this: when Obama took office, the country was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Financial institutions were in shambles under the weight of its own greed and gluttony while our deregulate at all cost government turned a blind eye. We were in process of destroying Iraq (killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, women and children and losing over 4,000 of our own, along the way) — destabilizing the region and creating the kind of terrorist backlash that exists there today — as many predicted it would — in a misguided act of retaliation by President Bush. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden was still alive (you know, the one who actually had something to do with 9/11, not Saddam Hussein). Gas prices were hovering around $4 a gallon. The unemployment rate was 7.8% by the time President Bush left office, but was on a skyrocketing trajectory that would eventually peak at 10%. The stock market was in free-fall.
The country was in the throes of the Great Recession with somber speculation that a depression was right around the corner.
Today, the unemployment rate is under 5% (about 7 million more people have jobs than when Obama took office). In fact, the country has added five times more jobs than it did during the Bush administration. Gas prices are under $2 in most places. The resuscitated auto industry produced 11 million vehicles in 2014. Stock prices have soared. The economy has enjoyed 70-plus straight months of private-sector job growth. The deficit has shrunk by nearly $1 trillion and Medicare’s long-term solvency has been extended by 13 years. The Great Recession is over.
Osama bin Laden was executed during Obama’s first term. Gays can now serve openly in the military. Solar energy installations are up nearly two-thousand per cent, and carbon emissions have dropped. More Americans have health insurance than ever before (despite continuous efforts by Congress to thwart the Affordable Care Act). Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
America is safer than it’s been in decades too. Even though 70 percent of Americans think that the crime rate is increasing, in reality, the national crime rate is about half of what it was at the peak in 1991. And while an average of 101 police officers were intentionally killed every year during Reagan’s presidency, the annual number is just 62 under Obama — the lowest recorded amount, even as the far right describes Obama as a race-baiting cop hater responsible for the shootings of police officers in Dallas earlier this summer.
I have no doubt that history will be kind to Barack Obama. The accomplishments are many, indeed. But instead of acknowledging the President’s steady leadership out of tumultuous times, he’s mocked and vilified.
Just imagine, though, what could have been accomplished had the Koch-sponsored Congress not successfully attempted to obstruct and sabotage everything President Obama attempted.
Now, the Obama presidency is in its twilight. As I write this, the General Election is less than one hundred days away. The choice between the two candidates vying to follow Obama is as stark as it has ever been: a seasoned public servant with unprecedented international and domestic experience and credentials prepared to build on the progress made during the Obama administration against Donald Trump, a poisonous mix of white supremacy and ultra-nationalism, woefully unfit to be president. A misogynist, ego-maniac whose candidacy is built on anger, fear, lies, and racism.
Electing Donald Trump would be disastrous on many levels. But the inevitable escalation of racial unrest unseen since the days of Appomattox and from which this country may never recover might be the worst of it.
For the sake of the country and the future of my children and yours, choose wisely, America.
This article is included in Stephen Raburn’s collection of short stories, essays and articles entitled The Unraveling… And Other Stories.