If you had predicted six years ago that America’s first half-black, half-white president would actually make race relations in the U.S. worse, they would have laughed you out of the room.
If you had said that, in the face of a sudden racial crisis, the president — portrayed as black throughout the campaign — would be impotent, neutered, unable to speak powerfully about the situation, they would have scoffed incredulously.
Who are “they”? Everyone. If you had expressed those fears out loud in the run-up to his historic 2008 election, everyone within earshot would have mocked you mercilessly. More, they would have expressed a shattered disappointment in your very existence: How could you not get on board the Hope and Change bus? How could you not embrace the new post-partisan — even post-racial — world that candidate Barack Obama promises?
And just what happened to you as a child to make you so pessimistic and bitter? They’d actually feel sorry for you.
Mr. Obama had first spoken of race in his 1995 autobiography, of that “alien” race — whites. In 2007, he complained about his plight as a black man in America. “If I’m outside your building trying to catch a cab,” he told Charlie Rose, “they’re not saying, ‘Oh, there’s a mixed race guy.’”
He cashed in on Joe Biden’s description of him as a “clean” African American. And he had for years benefited from identifying as black, using race as a bludgeon when necessary, and as a shield when subtlety was required. According to some pundits, he was in fact swept into office by white guilt — white voters broke his way in hopes of putting behind them the painful legacy of racism and slavery.
He had immersed himself in black culture after growing up in Hawaii, raised by his white grandparents. He discarded the “Barry” nickname for “Barack” in time for college, just when universities were looking to bolster their minority ranks. He joined a black church in Chicago, led by the very racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and married a black woman after years of dating whites.
That union pushed him further along. Michelle Obama, the first lady of the nation, is a bitter black woman. Although given every opportunity to achieve (which she in fact seized), Mrs. Obama said in 2008, as her husband was moving toward the Democratic nomination for president, that “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country.”
She has busied herself with the plight of fat children, an odd choice for such an accomplished woman. But behind the scenes, she pushed her husband “to be more aggressive in attacking Republicans and to side with blacks in racial controversies,” according to a new book.
That demand, the author says, led to Mr. Obama’s volatile statement after a black teenager was shot to death in Florida in 2012. Instead of saying, “Let’s wait for the facts,” he said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Not so healing.
He had the same knee-jerk racial response in 2009, when a black Harvard professor was arrested while trying to break into his own house. Although he admitted knowing none of the facts, he said, “the Cambridge police acted stupidly.”
And so, now, Ferguson. No one yet knows what happened there. Far too early to know. Did a racist cop kill a young black man (albeit one 6 feet 4 inches tall and 290 pounds) in cold blood? Or was he in fear of his life, defending himself from a man charging him after trying to seize his weapon?
No one knows, certainly not Mr. Obama. So why, then, say the shooting was “heartbreaking”? It was, if Mike Brown was killed for no reason; it was most certainly not, if he was a thug who attacked a police officer.
While he didn’t say the teenager could have been his son, or that police had acted stupidly, he also did not tell those in Ferguson to stand down, to just stop. While he didn’t call the moment “teachable,” he also didn’t say that the rule of law supersedes all, that everyone should step back, stop the violence, and look to the courts to resolve the matter.