Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Obama and the racial divide

Accustomed as one is to encountering utterly daft remarks online, it’s still possible to stumble upon one so blindingly stupid as to take one’s breath away.

This morning I came across a comment from a woman castigating the news media for refusing to recognize how much Donald Trump has done as president to heal the racial divide in this country that Obama started.

By my count, our racial divide dates from 1619, when the first enslaved people were imported.

It was plainly present in the constitutional debates of 1787, when the notorious compromise of counting each enslaved person as three-fifths of a person in the census to give the slave states the politircal heft they demanded as the price of entering the Union.

The racial divide was on display in the compromises of 1820 and 1850, again to placate the slaveholders, and most certainly on display in 1861-1865, when the cost of ending slavery was more than 600,000 human lives and the destruction of the South’s economy.

One might say that a racial divide developed, or widened, after the stolen presidential election of 1876, after which white supremacists were permitted to regain political control of the former Confederate states and enact a raft of Jim Crow laws.

One might have spotted a racial divide in the twentieth century, in the segregated military, in voter suppression, in the legislatively and administratively endorsed redlining of city neighborhoods.

One might have surmised that a racial divide existed when screaming crowds of white men and women opposed allowing children of color into integrated public schools, or when Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb,  Jonathan Daniels, and many others were assassinated for attempting to help black people get to vote.

I did discern a racial divide in this country associated with the election of Barack Obama to the presidency (twice, incidentally, with substantial majorities in the popular vote and Electoral College each time). What I saw was that a black man in the White House became an emblem for white people who feared that demographic and cultural changes threatened their fragile sense of superiority. They were quite right to see white supremacy in danger, and their rage and resentment are continually on display.

What I didn’t discern—and perhaps some of you can help me here—is just what President Donald Trump has done to heal that racial breach, beyond bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tiger Woods.


  1. It was all Hillary's fault. It was probably in some of the e-mails she destroyed.

  2. Nothing about what you've been reporting along these lines (might I guess that the person mentioned was yet another of your high school classmates?) has made me regret for a nanosecond that (1) I severed all ties with my high school the minute I was handed my diploma in the secretary's office in August 1972 and hightailed it out of there, and (2) I avoid Facebook like the plague. I can't begin to imagine the number of utterly pointless arguments that these two decisions have saved me.

  3. I think there's a real phenomenon in which people think a problem is getting worse as they become more aware of a problem, even if the problem is getting better. And for a lot of white people, racial tensions certainly became more visible during the Obama administration, partly because a black man was president, and of course he's going to talk about the issue, and partly because of things like the Black Lives Matter movement. I also think that for a lot of white people, making them aware of racial issues makes them uncomfortable, which makes them feel like the issue is getting worse.

    Were things actually getting worse during that time? I don't know, but if they were, I suspect that it was partly because of the backlash against BLM and partly because, as you said, a lot of people seemed uncomfortable with Obama as president (you know, because of *economic anxiety*).

    So there's a very real sense in which some people feel that things were worse under Obama because they were made more aware of the problems (and probably made to feel guilty for their own implicit racism). And then along comes Trump, spouting a lot of racist rhetoric while also claiming to have healed the racial divide, which reassures racists that there isn't really a problem because they're not really racist.