I wasn’t gonna post about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ earlier post on the same topic, but what the hell:
The power and symbolism of Obama’s election is compromised by the extent to which his presidency has been shaped by white expectations and white racism. Obama can’t show anger, he can’t propose policies tailored to African Americans and he can’t talk about race. In other words, he can’t remind white Americans that their president is a black man as much as anything else.
Really? Why not?
Who decided he can’t do those things?
At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that Coates will inspire howls of unfairness from the Right. It’s almost forbidden to discuss the role racism has played in shaping opposition to Obama. Conservatives dismiss such concerns as “playing the race card”—and use it as an opportunity to accuse liberals of racism—while more neutral commentators note that Bill Clinton also faced a rabid conservative opposition. But as Coates points out, no one called Clinton a “food stamp president” or attacked his health care plan as “reparations.” Local lawmakers didn’t circulate racist jokes about the former Arkansas governor, and right-wing provocateurs didn’t accuse Clinton of fomenting an anti-white race war.
Maybe it’s not the use of the race card that bothers people. Maybe it’s the cynical use of it. Maybe it’s the overuse of the race card.
With that said, I’m honestly amazed that—for many people—it’s beyond the pale to accuse a political party of exploiting racism for political gain. We’re only 47 years removed from the official end of Jim Crow and the routine assassination of black political leaders. This year’s college graduates are the children of men and women who remember—or experienced—the race riots of the late 1960s and 70s. The baby boomers—including the large majority of our lawmakers—were children when Emmett Till was murdered, teenagers when George Wallace promised to defend segregation in perpetuity, and adults when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed for his belief in the humanity of black people.
I was eight years old when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Now I’m a 52 year-old grandfather. I changed a lot in the intervening years.
Of course there are politicians and political parties that capitalize on racism. Why wouldn’t they? The end of our state-sanctioned racial caste system is a recent event in our history; more recent than Medicare or Medicaid, more recent than the advent of computers, more recent than the interstate highway system, and more recent than Social Security. Taken in the broad terms of a nation’s life, we’re only a few weeks removed from the widespread acceptance of white supremacy.
It wasn’t that many years ago that we fought a bitter war against Germany and Japan. There are still people alive who fought that war. Now Germany and Japan are loyal allies.
Race remains a potent way to activate voters and motivate them to the polls—see Mitt Romney’s current campaign against Obama’s fictional attack on welfare. To believe otherwise—and to see this country as a place that’s moved past its history—is absurd.
Race remains a potent way to activate voters and motivate them to the polls—see Barack Obama’s campaigns against Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Maybe I should have just stuck to my original tweet: