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:
- 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.
- The racially wary – blacks and whites who don’t completely trust each other but will bond given enough time and exposure to common interests.
- 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.
- The race-neutral – these folks take everyone as an individual and judge them by their behavior. MLK’s ideal citizen.
- 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.