Obama and Race: Where We Are and How We Got Here

In a few days, America will swear in the first president who identifies himself as black. In the early days of the campaign, when no one thought Obama had a chance, there was discussion among the “lions” of the civil rights movement on whether Barack was “black enough.” Early in the campaign, people like Al Sharpton questioned whether he was authentically black and later on Jesse Jackson said in a very colorful way that Barack was “talking down to black people.” Both men have since gotten onto the president-elect’s team, but there was a feeling that Barack Obama was an upstart, half-white man who had not paid his dues.


I am a lifelong Southerner who is old enough to remember desegregation of schools, but not old enough to remember segregated water fountains. I am the first generation of integration and in the South we talk about these things — race issues — all the time. It’s actually quite fun to see people falling all over themselves to portray an image of being above the racial divide when we know no one in the world is above that discussion. It is because of America and its ideals written in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution and practiced over our history that people of all races, colors, and creeds still come to America for the opportunity of a lifetime.

When I was a teenager, we had a black woman working for us. This was during the height of integration on all levels in Georgia. I remember clearly one afternoon when her son came to tell her that he had bought his first home. He was so proud and his mother said something like, “But that’s a white neighborhood; you can’t live there.” He replied, “Momma, I can afford that house and we are going to live there.” That exchange represented the change in times.

Fast forwarding to today, embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich appoints Roland Burris to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Burris is black and a former attorney general. At the appointment, Representative Bobby Rush — who incidentally beat State Senator Barack Obama in his run for Congress — takes the podium and declares that Senator Harry Reid is like George Wallace if he tries to “block the doorway of the U.S. Senate” and not seat Roland Burris. You can’t make this stuff up.


All the controversy covers up bigger issues for the soon-to-be president. First, all this bickering in Illinois and related to Illinois reminds people that Obama is a Chicago politician, not some guy who is above the fray. Secondly, how do we criticize Barack Obama and his administration? Will we be hung up in name-calling for the next four years?

I have made a firm commitment not to participate in anything looking like Obama Derangement Syndrome. I’m going to criticize or praise Obama on the merits of his decisions. Race isn’t even on the list. Inexperience, ideas, and inability to understand the value of the free market system to get us out of the economic woes we are in are on my list of what to watch for in an Obama administration.

The real problem for Obama is that Democrats don’t know how to deal with race issues. They were the party of Jim Crow; they were the party of segregated schools. The biggest PR coup of the 20th century was that Democrats gave blacks the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Without the support of a majority of Republicans, the legislation wouldn’t pass. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were wins for the American people, by the American Congress, but Democrats have taken and gotten all the credit.

Prior to the election of Barack Obama, all the powerful positions held by blacks that paved the way for the election of Barack Obama were appointed by Republicans. You can call it white guilt, but I don’t like to get into the heads of people. You can judge people on the actions and their words; you can’t read their minds. Colin Powell was plucked out to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and then was considered a viable presidential candidate in the Republican Party; he was the secretary of state for a Republican president. Condoleezza Rice was the national security adviser and secretary of state for a Republican president. It was these appointments by a Republican that laid the groundwork for a successful Barack Obama candidacy.


And let’s not forget our colleagues in the House of Representatives; when J.C. Watts was in the House as a Republican, he held higher positions of leadership than any of the Congressional Black Caucus Democrats ever did, with some of those members serving for 30 years or more. Republicans need not be afraid of their racial heritage and they need not be afraid to challenge President Barack Obama on his ideas and policies. If Republicans do not stand up to the attack on the free market system, our way of life will be gone.

The presidency of Barack Obama is not about race; it’s about the very salvation of our way of life. The lesson I learned from this election and the reaction of the Congress and President Bush to the economic crisis is that our citizens do not understand our history or our economic system. We are at the precipice of getting so far away from the free market system that we may never recover and then the beacon of freedom in the world will be vanquished.

Barack Obama’s story could only happen in America. He will and must be challenged on the bad decisions he makes and praised on the good decisions he makes. And neither criticism is because of race. So, criticize Obama if necessary and know that you may be called racist for it. America and its values are worth it.


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