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President’s critics are an Obama-nation

David-DalgleishBarack Obama rejected Jimmy Carter’s claim that racism was behind recent criticism of the President. But when you look at what Obama’s critics are saying it’s clear race plays a part, says David Dalgleish

Less than 12 months after the election of President Obama and America moved in to a so-called ‘post-racial’ era, the issue of race has yet again risen to the surface of public discourse and made headline news outside of the country.

When addressing a public meeting last week, former President Carter stated that there was a feeling among many people in America “that an African-American ought not to be President, and ought not to be given the same respect than if he were white”.

Later on NBC News he added, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man”.

Jimmy Carter (far right) and successors

Jimmy Carter (far right) and his White House successors

His comments drew strong criticism from right-wing commentators and from Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, who argued that the former President was “flat out wrong”, and that the criticism was not about race, but about policy.

The White House also sought to distance themselves from the comments, with spokesperson Robert Gibbs informing the press corps that the President did not think the disapproval was based on the colour of his skin.

In an interview with ABC News President Obama declared that whilst he was sure some people disliked him because of his race, he felt that opposition to the healthcare reforms were more about concerns over big government.

By seeking to reassure those who believe that opposition to him is racially charged and also reaching out to those who oppose him on healthcare and making sure he distanced himself from labeling them as racist, the President added to his already strong reputation for statesmanship.

Yet, I’m still left wondering if these responses truly addressed President Carter’s points. Most rebuttals of President Carter’s comments have narrowed the issue to the protests about healthcare. However, President Carter was referring to the wider point of a lack of respect shown by many opponents and detractors.

What we have here is one of many tactics employed by those seeking to deny or downplay racism – narrow the debate. Another is to confuse the issue by changing the topic from what the person said or did to what or who they are – the “I’m not a racist” defence.

Glenn Beck of Fox News

Glenn Beck of Fox News

Instead, or in addition to the above, there is the attempt to conflate the facts being debated with examples that have no bearing on those facts. In context this has included the lack of a KKK revival, the absence of an assassination attempt, or the election of President Obama himself.

So sticking to fact-based approaches, let’s consider the conduct of some of the conservative opponents and detractors.

FOX News commentator Glenn Beck stated everything being driven through congress by President Obama was driven by reparations by stealth, and a desire to “settle old racial scores”.

That’s the same Glenn Beck who said the President has a “deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture”, before going on to label the President “a racist”.

Mark Williams (organiser of the ‘Tea Party’ protests) referred on his website to the President as an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug”, and the “racist in chief”. When challenged on CNN he stated “that’s the way he’s behaving” and “he’s certainly acting like it”.

Sherri Goforth, an aide to Republican Senator Diane Black from Tennessee, an apology for an e-mail she sent depicting President Obama as a pair of eyes in a black background.

Mike Green, a Republican activist in South Carolina had to apologise after ‘tweeting’ that he’d just read that “Obama is going to impose a 40% tax on Aspirin because it’s white and it works”.

Dean Grose, the Republican Mayor from California eventually resigned after sending an e-mail with the White House lawn portrayed as a watermelon patch.

These are before we examine the ‘birther’ movement – encouraged by some mainstream commentators – which believes that the President is Kenyan / Indonesian / Arab-African, or anything but a U.S. citizen.

The above are nowhere near a comprehensive account, as they exclude the banners, the posters (including those portraying the President as a witch-doctor), and the comments of people at tea party protests, town-hall meetings, and on the internet.

Therefore, it is hard for me to say that President Carter is way off the mark. It is also difficult to deny the argument made by people such as anti-racism activist Tim Wise, that some of the opposition to the President is intended to evoke resentment among white people. As to whether specific comments are grounded in racist sentiment, it is often more a matter of speculation.

This leads me to South Carolina Republican Senator Joe Wilson, famed for yelling “you lie!” as President Obama made his case for healthcare reform to the US Senate. His decision to accuse the President of being a liar was disrespectful, but whether it was grounded in racist thinking is a matter of opinion.

I would rather address the racist comments of his South Carolina colleagues, such as the aforementioned Mike Green, or another Republican activist, Rusty DePass, who commented that a gorilla that had escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors”, referring to the First Lady.

Whilst giving credence to President Carter’s argument, these comments certainly render the ‘post-racial’ epithet redundant. In its place we should look to have a more honest and meaningful conversation on race.

One that learns from past mistakes, avoids the defence tactics, empowers people rather scares them, and moves to viable ways of addressing this nonsensical yet pervasive belief system that affects us collectively, despite how powerful we become individually.

David Dalgleish is the author of the forthcoming educational guide ‘Where Does Racism Come From?’, which is designed to help people examine the theories that brought about and maintained racism

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One Response

  1. You raise critical points my brother and yet, the illusions continue to shadow everything else. Whether it is the patriot act, denial of racism clearly overt and structural, the fact remains that it has simply become more sophisticated in its delivery. I look forward to your educational guide and know that it will help many understand origins-present and future implications. May we begin to focus on what we want…we clearly know what we do not. Catch you soon. Peace…through Freedom.

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