Commentary: Obama Not a Racial Silver Bullet

Commentary: Obama Not a Racial Silver Bullet

Racism is still a serious issue in the United States, and having a half-Black president in the White House has done little to change that. But should it have?

Published May 8, 2012

Even before he was elected President of the United States, when he gave his famous “race speech” in March 2008, Barack Obama has been considered a leader on race. Americans of every color have looked to him over the past four years for guidance and leadership on race, one of America’s most difficult and cumbersome problems.

And yet, in a new New York Times article called “4 Years Later, Race Is Still Issue for Some Voters,” Sabrina Tavernise explains just how deep the nation’s racial divide still runs:

"For nearly three and a half years, a black family has occupied the White House, and much of the time what has been most remarkable about that fact is how unremarkable it has become to the country. While Mr. Obama will always be known to the history books as the country’s first black president, his mixed-race heritage has only rarely surfaced in visible and explicit ways amid the tumult of a deep recession, two wars and shifting political currents.  

But as Mr. Obama braces for what most signs suggest will be a close re-election battle, race remains a powerful factor among a small minority of voters — especially, research suggests, those in economically distressed regions with high proportions of white working-class residents, like this one.

The point is clear: Racism is still a real serious issue in the United States, and having a half-Black president in the White House has done little to change that. But should it have?

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Obama himself said he “never bought into the notion that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period.” Though he added: “I do believe that we're making slow and steady progress. When I talk to Malia and Sasha, the world they're growing up with, with their friends, it's just very different from the world that you and I grew up with.”

It’s a bit sad to realize that so many people are only now waking up to the fact that Obama isn’t a panacea for racism, nor will he ever be. In fact, if you’re looking for someone to take on racism in America head-on, don’t look toward the Oval Office at all.

Obama may be a person of color, but right now he’s got much bigger fish to fryOsama Bin Laden, for instance, was a hugely successful mission — than peoples’ disagreements about race. If anything, Obama can serve as an example of what a Black man can achieve if given the appropriate opportunities.

But when it comes to the daily work that needs to happen in order to help destroy racism, that work begins with you. If you’d like to see some racial progress, then you need to help be a catalyst for that progress in your own community. To paraphrase Gandhi, “Be the change you wish Obama was.”


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Olivier Douliery/ Images)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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