David A. Love
Executive Editor of Black Commentator.com
March 18 marked the fourth anniversary of the speech Barack Obama gave on race as he tried to get past the controversy surrounding his one-time pastor Jeremiah Wright. Lauding his race speech as a destiny-alerting moment — and not just a turning point of his candidacy — some students of politics and history compared Obama to Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Articulating the legacy of slavery and racism in America, as well as Black anger and White resentment, Obama was in a unique position to speak on an issue that is often provided superficial treatment. The speech saved Obama’s campaign, and ultimately helped cleared a path to the Oval Office.
The Obama era has fundamentally changed how those inside and outside the Black community view themselves. And yet, so much about race has remained the same. The wealth gap between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics has widened to record levels since the bursting of the housing bubble and the onslaught of the Great Recession. Black unemployment remains at double the national rate.
President Obama made a pledge to assemble the most diverse cabinet ever, and has achieved that diversity in his cabinet and through the confirmation of two women on the Supreme Court — including the court’s first Latina justice. Yet, for his core advisors, Obama opted for the usual suspects — the best and the brightest white guys and Wall Street insiders with Harvard pedigrees. This homogeneous inner circle arguably did not serve him well, providing poor advice and, at times, hurting the Obama brand.
Even as an African-American who has moved into the White House, Obama is not bringing African-Americans along behind him, at least not yet. There is no resurgence of Black leadership in the age of Obama. Moreover, only one Black candidate throughout the country — Maryland state senator and U.S. Senate candidate C. Anthony Muse — is seeking a high-level statewide office, according to a recent American Prospect story.
By the end of the year, a maximum of merely two Black politicians will serve among the nation’s 150 governors and senators. Blacks and Latinos are still overrepresented in the criminal justice system. People of color constitute over 60 percent of U.S. prisoners, 56 percent of death row inmates, and 61 percent of condemned death row inmates later found innocent. Further, Black defendants receive 60 percent longer sentences than whites for the same crime, as prosecutors are twice as likely to impose mandatory minimum sentences on Blacks.
Perhaps the most telling sign of the stubbornness of racism in the Obama era is the backlash against the nation’s first Black president. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011 was a record year for extremist and militant hate group activity, due to hard economic times, shifting racial demographics, the rise in right-wing anti-government sentiment, and anti-Obama anger and conspiracy theories.
In short, the extremist right has found their enemy, and his name is President Barack Obama.
With a Black president at a time of changing demographics, race is a major dividing line for the nation’s two major political parties. The Democrats are a Blacker, browner and younger party, while the Republicans are an older and nearly exclusively White party.
Many GOP-led state legislatures have enacted voter ID laws, which require a photo identification to vote at the polls. The laws could disproportionately affect African-Americans and Hispanics, who are less likely to hold driver’s licenses.
To be sure, nearly all of these challenges preceded the Obama presidency, and it would be almost impossible for him to make major headway in a single term.
And President Obama has brought with him a number of changes for the good. Young Black children can now grow up in America and see themselves as president, and not just in the abstract sense. With a poised, confident and intelligent leader in the White House — and a family man with a brilliant first lady — the Black community has a great role model and standard bearer in Barack Obama.
Further, the world now views America as a less racist and more reasonable nation, one that is engaged with the world community rather than — as was the case with his “cowboy” predecessor — fighting against it.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove