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
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]
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
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
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.
MIKE & MARIANNE FARINAS DE LEON
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
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
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
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
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
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!