2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Will Obama as President Hurt or Help the Black Community?


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Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law


I have been reluctant to wade in the discussion on Obama because I am conflicted. On the one hand, I am very proud of Obama  and believe that he truly wants (and is capable) of making a difference and improving the lives of Americans.  On the other hand, I am very skeptical of his willingness to work om eliminating the disparities in black people's lives in access to and quality of goods, services, resources and opportunity. A race based gap that exist at every income level in every area of black life. A race based gap that can only be eliminated by race based solutions.

I have long felt that when black people and white people hear his message of hope - they hear the exact opposite.

Black people hear the hope of having a president who will eliminate the gap between whites and blacks in access to services, goods, resources and opportunities. White people hear the hope of not only improved lives from themselves but also the hope not having to deal  with the issue of race any more.

This makes Obama's presidency particularly dangerous to the black community.

Given America's almost universal unwillingness to address issues of institutional/cultural racism, the aggressive criminalization of black men and the black child, the dehumanization of black women, the historical destruction of the black family, the inability to elect blacks to the senate and house in proportion to the representation in the population - I can't help but wonder what makes Obama the exception, what makes him the "safe black man". What hope does his personage provide to the white masses that is different from the hope that is being provided to the Black masses. What hope does Obama provide to White masses that allows them to "not see him as Black".

A British Broadcasting Corporation program "Is America ready for a Black President" may be informative. Below is a relevant part of the transcript discussing why white people like Obama.  (Full Transcript and Video)

Professor DREW WESTEN [white male]
Political Psychologist
There is no escaping that America is a divided nation divided by race and that even those of us who have.. who consciously are not racist and don't make decisions based on race are still influenced by the colour of a person's skin, whether we'd like to be or not.

NAR: Obama knows exactly what he's doing though, bye bye slums of black America, hello Barrington Chicago. He's raised eye-popping sums of money from America's elite. Obama is a hit in well-heeled Liberal white suburbs like this. In this peaceful haven it's easy to imagine that America's race problems don't exist. We've been invited to an Obama barbeque organised by enthusiastic local supporters.

MICHELLE HARDMAN [white female]: If you stay long enough you can have lunch and dinner here, you're more than welcome. Have fun. Thank you for coming out.


NAR: Neighbourhood do's like this have turbo boosted his campaign.

I actually invented a recipe just for the event today and it's my Barack the ribs, South Side Chicago Hawaiian fusion and we've got a bit of South Side Chicago sauces mixed with some pineapple salsa and some coconut and a little bit of Asian twist in the spices, so we thought we'd blend it cos he's a blended kind of guy.

NAR: So do you see Barack Obama as a black candidate?
No, I see him as a global candidate.

NAR: The white middle classes are taken with Obama's charisma and his vision of unity. Today's American, they say, is not the country they grew up in.

FRED WARD [white male]
George Bush has pretty much destroyed our country and if anybody could heal it I think it's Barack Obama.

NAR: And frankly here they like the fact that he doesn't go on about black victims of poverty.

MARIANNE [white female]: Part of why I like him is because I think he represents everybody.

MIKE [white male]: He doesn't take the tack that Jessie Jackson would. It isn't so in your face and aggressive, we deserve to be in this position.

MARIANNE: That's what we like about him, that he seems to care and represent us, you know, everybody, regardless of race, culture, religion, any of that.

NAR: Obama's vision has inspired whites partly because he appears to have neutralised the race issue and made people feel good about themselves.

DREW WESTEN [white male]: He's every white person's fantasy of what they'd like a black man to be. You know, he's thoughtful, he's articulate, he's handsome, he doesn't fit any of the stereotypes of the dangerous, dark skinned, black male that people see every day on television, you know, hauled off in handcuffs by the police. He's the kind of man that Americans would like to imagine themselves being able to vote for and being able to say: "You know what, race doesn't matter."

OBAMA: There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America, an Asian American, just the United States of America.

If you want to see the entire video it is on my website I am developing ( http://academic.udayton.edu/race/2008ElectionandRacism/Obama.htm ).

Also, yesterday (January 9th) on "Morning Joe", Joe Scarborough said that as a conservative he really liked Obama. He said that he loved his message of hope and the fact that Obama did not try to load guilty on white people like "so-called civil rights leaders."   The Fox news jerks have also climbed onto this bandwagon saying "the fact that Obama can be a viable candidate for President, proves that race is no longer a barrier to anything in America anymore, and anyone who thinks otherwise is the real racist and America hater."

If it is true that what every first term president want is a second term. If Obama gets elected on an implicit promise to whites that he will not overtly address racial issues, will he take steps in  to eliminate the significant racial gap between blacks and whites in the access to and quality of services, goods, resources and opportunities?

I am worried.

His message has been if he improves the United States for everyone, he improves the United States for Black people. Although he articulates support for affirmative action (which of course is very limited ins ability to address all forms of racial discrimination), he has also said that there is no need for special programs targeted to Blacks. So I don't see how he plans to "eliminate the gap or disparities between whites and Blacks, Latino/as, Asian, Native Americans.

Will he take the Bill Cosby route and ultimate blame black people?

NAR: Obama visited a school here in August. Yes, he says, blacks have it worse, but the answer isn't lots of black programmes. It's a strong economy. He says this isn't just a race issue. His message for blacks is tough. "Clean up your rubbish, stop having children you can't care for" and he adds "be better parents."

OBAMA: What parents are doing is critical and parents need to parent and they need to turn off the television and put away the video games and emphasize educational excellence in their children.

I know thay some will say that he isn't different than the white candidates. They are right.

 Some may say it is unfair to expect more of Obama than we expect of white candidates. They are wrong.

Obama is more dangerous to the Black community than a white candidate taking exactly the same position. He is more dangerous because allows whites to claim racial innoncence. He is more dangerous when he is president whites will feel validated in believing that there is few (10% by Obama's account) racial issues, that racism is not among the most significant problems facing America and that if Black people are not doing well it is there fault. On the issue of race and racism he is more dangerous than any of the white candidates because white people will be saying "I can't be racist I supported a black man". "I can't be racist because if my objection to "special programs" were racist than Obama would object because he is a Black man".

If the candidates in general, and Obama specifically, want our support we should demand of them clear an unequivocal acknowledgment that racism and discrimination, particularly institutional and cultural racism, is a significant issue facing America and list it as a separate issue from civil rights that they will be addressing. They should also commit to supporting an anti-discrimination law for the 21st century and to introducing legislation in the first six month of their presidency which, at a minimum, outlaws not only intentional discrimination, but disparate impact discrimination and negligent discrimination; which allows individuals, testers and advocacy organizations to sue based on statistical discrimination; and which requires data collection and reporting on racial discrimination  by all governmental agencies and large employers

Without these commitments, we [the Black community and other communities of color] may in fact be better off - because as Obama says "all America will be better off" - but we will still be uniquely suffering under discrimination, racism, and racial gap in goods, services and opportunities.

We will still be living a seriously racialized United States while rest of America is in denial and self-congratulation because they elected a Black president.

Ultimately, we will be worst off!


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