Commentary: Columnist Questions Obama’s Blackness

A new op-ed piece suggests the president’s racial authenticity is questionable because of some things he’s done in office.

Posted: 06/11/2012 05:31 PM EDT

A lot can be said of Barack Obama’s first term in office, and not all of it is nice. Perhaps you don’t like the drone wars Obama has instigated, thus making a common practice out of killing innocent civilians. Or perhaps you have a problem with the way Obama has kept Gitmo open, despite the fact he'd promised to close it years ago.

The fact is that Obama is not a perfect man, and thus not a perfect president. To that end, there are lots of valid reasons to criticize him if you’d like, just as there are lots of valid reasons to criticize most people. Which is why it’s so frustrating to see people attacking Obama for patently ridiculous reasons.

Enter Frederick Harris, who wrote a piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today called, antagonistically, "Still waiting for our first black president." The thrust of the article is much what you’d expect after a headline like that:

Mr. Obama has pursued a racially diffuse electoral and governing strategy, keeping issues of specific interest to African-Americans — such as disparities in the criminal justice system; the housing foreclosure crisis, which disproportionately hit communities of color; black unemployment; and the persistence of HIV/AIDS — off the national agenda. Far from giving black America greater influence in U.S. politics, Mr. Obama's ascent to the White House has signaled the decline of a politics aimed at challenging racial inequality head-on.

Harris’ main gripe is Obama does not publicly address racial issues the way he did before he was president. It’s an accurate assessment, but it’s also a naïve one. Expecting the president of the United States to have the time and focus necessary to dutifully go after one issue throughout his entire four years in office is to expect a level of calm in the White House that just doesn’t exist anymore.

Do I wish President Obama had the kind of ideal conditions necessary to give a daily rousing speech about America’s racial tensions? Of course. But I’m also well aware he’s been kind of busy navigating two wars, Osama bin Laden, a horrible economy and uprisings in the Middle East, among other things. In other words, I forgive him for not getting around to race all the time.

Beyond just that, it’s a pet peeve of mine for people to question a person’s race simply because of their politics. A headline that questions Obama’s Blackness simply because he hasn’t made the political decisions someone wanted him to make is vile, just as it’s vile to call Black Republicans Uncle Toms.

Being Black doesn’t mean behaving like one monolithic bloc. To suggest otherwise is far more offensive than Obama not talking about race more while in office.


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