Obama: America Was Not Ready for a Black President

I was originally going to post this essay in January of 2017 at the end of Barack Obama’s second term but for reasons that will become clear later, I am posting it now.

The United States of America is not a racist country. It is, however, an acutely racially aware country. The population falls roughly into these categories:

  1. The outright bigots – blacks and whites who hate each other on sight. Sociologists much smarter than I can get underneath the reasons for the deep-seated bigotry but it is there. Fortunately the numbers in this category decrease with every passing generation.
  2. The racially wary – blacks and whites who don’t completely trust each other but will bond given enough time and exposure to common interests.
  3. The overcompensating – these folks, primarily white, are consumed with guilt over the “black experience” and go out of their way to make up for it. Examples range from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to Rachel Dolezal, so crazed about race she faked being black.
  4. The race-neutral – these folks take everyone as an individual and judge them by their behavior. MLK’s ideal citizen.
  5. The racially oblivious – these folks “don’t see race”. Virtually no one above the age of five qualifies for this group.

The most famous example of the fifth category was Stephen Colbert’s conservative alter-ego that he played on Comedy Central. Colbert was famous for telling his guests “I don’t see race. Am I white? Oh, you’re black – I didn’t notice.” As I said, few adults can make this claim, and it doesn’t make those that can’t, bigots. It just means they live in a society immersed in racial awareness.

Toss these five personality types into a workplace environment and things get interesting. In “Black-ish”, a situation comedy on ABC, Anthony Anderson plays a successful black ad agency employee. In this scene from the pilot, we see an exchange not atypical in a white dominated workplace.It does indeed happen that the well-meaning white will ask a black man for the answer “only a black man” could give him. Because America is so racially aware, blacks in a white dominated work environment get a special kind of scrutiny. The scrutiny goes both ways. Some assume the black man can’t do the job. Others consider him a hero and inspiration for just being among the successful. For the average black man, both assumptions miss the mark.

Now, take the workplace environment described above and put it on display 24/7 in the news media. That is what working in the White House is. It is a workplace environment magnified 100 fold for all the world to observe. Now, make a black man the boss in that workplace environment that is under a microscope. That is what Barack Obama has been dealing with for the past six and half years. He is a black man running a predominantly white “company”, with all the complexity that racial awareness brings, and everyone gets to watch how he deals with it.

Remember in the “Black-ish” clip where Josh asks Dre how a black man says good morning? In 2009, that is essentially what happened to Barack Obama at a press conference about health care. After taking a series of on-topic questions, Obama is asked by Lynn Sweet a question that would never have been asked of him had he been white.

It has always disappointed me that Obama did not respond, “Lynn, what does Skip Gates’ arrest have to do with this press conference or anything else that I, as leader of the free world, need to be worried about? What other “black news” would you like to ask me about?” Instead, Obama played right into her hands and made life difficult for himself. It would not be the last time. While trying to be race-neutral, he has addressed race at the worst times, often in the worst ways – “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”, a prime example.

But my heart goes out to the President. He simply cannot win. If he ignores race or goes even further to say race should not be an excuse for failure, he will be called an Uncle Tom. If he advocates for “black causes”, he will be called a race-baiting radical. In this country, founded on the falsely professed belief that “all men are created equal”, race is ever-present. Even when a situation is not about race, it is, because we have to THINK about whether it is or not. As a society, we just can’t seem to shake it. I don’t think we will in my lifetime and until we do, we cannot have a black President without a lot of accompanying drama.

Race relations since 2009 have deteriorated. Having a black President didn’t help matters and in fact, probably made matters worse. Despite electing a black man to the highest office in the land in 2008 and 2012, America really is not ready for a black President and won’t be until we get our heads straight about race.

Post script: Three events coincided in the past month. First, I lost my job, the second time I have been laid off in eight years. Second, WordPress sent me an automated congratulations on the eighth anniversary of this blog. Third, someone is whispering to me from beyond, today.

I started this blog in September of 2007 shortly after I was laid off after 24 years of service to IBM. Since then I have written well over 500 articles and for a short time even hosted an Internet radio show. It has been mostly a labor of love. But back to that person who is whispering to me.

Had my mother been alive in 2007, she would have said, “stop blogging and get a job”. Of course, since then I have pursued employment but with limited success. Today, the third “event” that I referred to, marks the 11th anniversary of my mother’s death and I hear her again saying “you just lost your job and you have a family to support. Focus. Enough with the blogging.”

So today marks my last full essay for the Bar and Grill. One thing I did not anticipate eight years ago was that in addition to blogger, I would be a community moderator. As of this writing, about a dozen people gather here just about every day to share their opinions and more importantly, share what is going on in their lives. They have become friends of sorts — not all of them to me — but definitely to one another. Since I don’t want to “break up the band”, I’m not closing the bar. I will sort of put it on automatic.

Every week (or so) I will publish two or three one-line assertions, much as I did in the post prior to this one. They may not even represent my views. They will simply be there to start discussion and more importantly open up a new thread so discussion threads don’t get bogged down and impossible to load in browsers. I will participate, minimally, in those discussion threads while I focus on what is most urgent right now.

It’s been a pleasure writing here. I thank everyone who has visited in the past eight years for their patronage.


The Bully Pulpit

It is July 22, 2009 and President Obama is holding a press conference on health care reform. As the press conference nears its end, reporter Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asks the president what he thinks about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates outside of his own home in Cambridge MA.

Obama replies, “Lynn, first of all we’re here discussing health care reform so what’s with the off topic question? Second do I look like the friggin Mayor of Cambridge to you? Or even the Governor of Massachusetts? I’m the president of the United States. I don’t spend my time worrying about local issues. Or maybe you think you get to ask me my opinion on anything black? Is that it, Lynn? Stupid question, next.”

Sadly that is not how it went down. Obama answered the question and inserted himself into a local issue he didn’t belong in.

My preferred answer would have come from Chris Christie. Folks call Christie a bully but he calls out stupid when he sees stupid whether from a reporter or a potential voter.

“Bridgegate” will be hard for Christie to overcome if for no other reason then it shows his incompetence if not outright dishonesty. That’s a rotten shame because I would love to see a straight talking president who actually does inspire some fear in our enemies and even our Congress.

I LIKE the fact that Christie intimidates people. Perhaps he can overcome the bridge fiasco and we can get a much needed bully in the White House.


Evil Leaves a Nasty Stain

My friend and fellow blogger The 800 lb Gorilla, has been quite upset with reverse racism of late. He wrote a long exasperated post that boiled down to (and I paraphrase), “black folk need to stop whining and take responsibility for themselves. The time to blame white people for their ills is over.”

There is no doubt that on some level, Gorilla is correct. Self reliance is the fastest route to success. Success is achieved through winning strategies that transcend race. If we compare successful blacks with successful whites, I submit we will see many of the same behaviors. If he left it at that, there would be little in his post to refute. However, G used enough rope to hang himself. Let’s look at three examples G used to make his point

First, he critiqued an excerpt of a speech by Michael Eric Dyson, renowned author, professor and preacher.

Gorilla had a problem with the following statement: “white Americans have never been taught to think of themselves as a specific ethnic formation in the broader context of American ethnicity or race”. Where is the problem here? This is a fact. When we talk about “Americans” the default is white Americans. We will sooner identify someone as Irish, Polish or Italian before we will identify him as white, even though his ancestors came from those countries generations ago. That is a simple fact. We do not identify people of color in this country as Kenyan, Ethiopian, or Nigerian unless they just got off the boat yesterday. Otherwise they are called “black”. Why is that? It is because when Africans were brought to this country against their will centuries ago, they were stripped of their heritage. They did not come here to lend their ethnic background to the melting pot. On the contrary, they were objectified as if they were the pot itself, part of the infrastructure of a growing nation. They had no more rights than the wagons that crisscrossed this country with white settlers making homes for themselves. So no, Gorilla, white folk don’t walk around thinking “mmmm I’m white”. Nor do they refer to each other as “white”. They do however refer to people of color as “black”. Blacks whether they like it or not are faced with being “a specific ethnic formation in the broader context of American ethnicity or race.”

The quote that should have blown Gorilla’s gasket was this one: “I don’t want to stop being a black man … now we can be very circumspect and  also much more sophisticated about what that blackness might mean but I don’t want to stop being black. I just want people to overcome their bigotry and violent stereotypes about what it means to be black.”  Now we have a problem. Who defines what “black” is? Dyson likes being identified as black so long as it fits some definition he finds uplifting. But I’ve got news for Michael. Much of what passes for acceptable in “the black community” is total nonsense, most of rap music being at the top of that list. I much prefer being Rutherford as opposed to being a black man. I don’t know what a “black man” is. This ties back to my first observation. Being black in this country is not the same as being of African heritage. Being black in this country is being the product of the legacy of an evil institution. Even if you don’t have a single slave in your family tree, your dark skin or other physical features (in my case large lips and nose) associate you with that shameful legacy. So much like Morgan Freeman, I’d be happy to dispense with the whole “black thing”. The problem is that evil leaves a nasty stain that is hard to ignore. As much as I’d like to agree with Freeman to just stop talking about race, I’m not sure ignoring it cleans up the stain.

Never letting an opportunity to bash Barack Obama slip by, Gorilla brings up that old chestnut about Obama taking sides in the Cambridge Police vs Skip Gates case. Apparently Obama is a racist because he called the white Cambridge policeman “stupid”. Guess what? He was stupid. Once you know a man is trying to get into his own house and is not robbing the house, you don’t arrest him. Why did Officer Crowley arrest Gates? He arrested him because Gates was talking smack. Gates was being stupid and the two of them got into a “who has the bigger dick” contest. Professor Gates was too stupid to remember that be you white or black, the dick contest is always won by the cop.

But this is where Obama went wrong during that infamous press conference. The press conference was meant to be about health care reform. At the end of the presser, journalist Lynn Sweet asked Obama his opinion about the Cambridge incident. What Obama SHOULD have replied was “Lynn, would you have asked a white President that question? Why do you think I have an opinion about a local police matter just because it involves a black friend of mine? Next question.” Instead, never one to pass up an opportunity to pontificate, Obama got race-baited and bought it hook line and sinker.  Gorilla’s problem should start and end with Gates who unnecessarily injected race into the incident. As for Obama, all he did was answer a question that was really beneath his dignity. Gorilla should also wonder why Sweet would ask such an inappropriate question. The question was racially charged and she knew it. The nasty stain strikes again.

After a couple of paragraphs of railing against affirmative action, Gorilla shows off a video of a black man he respects. The fellow is an ex-President of a Texas chapter of the NAACP, and now a conservative Tea Party member. C.L Bryant conjectures that he could have been Ben Jealous (National President of the NAACP) or even Barack Obama. The phrase “I coulda been a contenda” comes to mind. What stopped Bryant from becoming Barack Obama? It was liberal whites and blacks who wanted to define him.

He calls this attempt to define him “socialism”. Like a typical Tea Party member he does not know what socialism is. But more to the point, he shares the same blind spot as Gorilla. Both of them criticize affirmative action out of context. Is it “fair” to take race into account when choosing candidates for a degree program or a job? Absolutely not. As G so proudly quotes Martin Luther King Jr. it is the content of our character and our qualifications that should rule the day. But G ignores the fact that King hoped that day would come in the future. At the time of his death, it had not yet come. King no doubt believed that measures had to be taken to ensure equal opportunity for blacks. Favoritism? No, not in light of the rich and lengthy history of racism in this country. Is G aware of the studies done where identical resumes were reviewed with only the names being different and Bob Smith’s resume was favored over Leroy Jackson (or something even more obvious like Mousa Mtumbe). Great strides have been made but racism still exists and efforts to counteract it are still needed.

I feel bad that Gorilla thinks he is persecuted by society for being white. He is indeed the innocent bystander in the consequences of history. No white man living today should be saddled with the blame that his slave-holding ancestors should have borne. No black man living today should live under the cloud of shame and under-achievement simply because he comes from an American heritage so cursed. But history has consequences. Both Romeo and Juliet on their own were good hopeful people. Their families, the Montagues and Capulets were rivals for generations and the star-crossed lovers paid for that rivalry with their lives. History has consequences. Shakespeare understood that.

A white politician came to my house when I was a boy and asked to see “the lady of the house” when my mother answered the door. History has consequences. My seven year old daughter was threateningly referred to as “black girl” on the school bus. History has consequences. A classmate of hers told her that she couldn’t be good at gymnastics because she is black. Out of the mouths of babes … history has consequences. Blacks struggle between self-reliance and victimhood. History has consequences. Objectification and indignity breed hatred and so a black man stands in the street advocating “killing whitey”. History has consequences.

I have proposed in the past that it takes 300 years of correction to wipe out 100 years of slavery. As long as folks like Gorilla choose to ignore history, they will feel justified in their own sense of persecution and oblivious to their natural advantage in American society. History has consequences and evil leaves a nasty stain. Both whites and blacks will continue to struggle with these consequences for the foreseeable future. The stain soils all of us. That’s just the way it is.


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