Obama’s Second Term and Pre-Post Racial America
December 29, 2012
From the elation of a historic night in Grant Park to the ebullient but frozen National Mall that watched the nation’s first black president take office, there was a great hope of the birth of a new era. A country whose constitution and history have been scarred by race seemed to be entering a post-racial era.
That belief was quickly shattered as the Tea Party backlash took shape, but we were admonished not to make too much of the overt and coded racial message emanating from the movement. In 2009, I was the token Democrat on a conservative talk radio show and repeatedly asked to discuss this troubling development. When I went on vacation they were happy to address it with a show “Democrats playing the race card.”
This tension between Democrats seeing percolating racism and Republicans dismissing it as “playing the race card” or merely the acts of only a handful of people played itself out over the last four years. As the election approached, we saw Republicans enact voter suppression efforts in state after state, with some advocates openly admitting the measures were designed to suppress minority voting and to elect Mitt Romney.
I saw first hand people waiting in line to vote for hours and hours in Florida. They knew the long lines was intentional which only made them that much more determined. It dawned me on that just over the border was Selma, Georgia (where in 1965 voting rights activists were attacked by police as they attempted to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday” and which led to passage of the Voting Rights Act) and how sad it was that African-Americans still had to fight for their right to vote in America today. President Obama and the Justice Department are looking into what can be done to fix our broken voting system and ensure that what happened in Florida never happens again. This must be done!
On election night and the days that followed, however, the thin curtain that had veiled many racist sentiments fell as we saw a torrent of racist messages throughout social media. A Republican Facebook “friend” and fifth-generation Texan declared that the “America in which I grew up is gone. We are now left with an electorate who will continue to exist on what the government will give them.” The Texan asked all Obama supporters to un-friend him as he complained that it was up to Republicans to save the country from the fiscal cliff since “the majority of Obama’s supporters have no idea what we’re talking about–nor do they care.” Yes, after it all it was White Republicans’ superior understanding of economics that led them to disregard the conclusion of even their own economists that tax cuts for the rich do not pay for themselves and pursue two wars without attempting to pay for them.
While in 2008 there was hope that America had evolved, what we saw election night and immediately thereafter was a defiant white America lashing out as it realized it was outnumbered and would always be from now on. Governor Romney echoed their belief with his assessment that his bid for Presidency of White America was stolen by government handouts to minorities and youth. It was a telling moment, for the candidate who was thought to have no convictions whatsoever, revealed his true belief and demonstrated how out of touch he was.
As President Obama begins his second term, the overt racism we saw following the election will again recede into the shadows but its intensity is unlikely to subside. It will not remain in the shadows for long as the next four years will include the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the Birmingham Church Bombing, Selma and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act that followed.
Moving forward we at least know that what we perceived as percolating racism is real and something we ignore at our peril. We will not eradicate racism over these next four years, but as we approach the historic Jubilee celebrations of the civil rights era we owe it all those who sacrificed in the fight to ensure that the celebration is a victory in what they fought for and not a reminder of progress yet to be gained. For if it is the latter, however, let us all go to Selma in 2015 and get the job done.