Americans elected their first black president eight years ago with Great Expectations, the greatest among them that that the election of a president with a brown face would improve race relations. In fact, it was this “hope” that was the most attractive qualification of Barack Obama. But hope, as he has demonstrated, is not a strategy.
With his administration now in a quickening fade into history, this expectation is left unfulfilled. This should not surprise anyone. America’s legacy of race, beginning with slavery, is a deep and complex one. The legal segregation of the races was abolished only in the time of many Americans now living. Prejudice against the color of skin is a universal sin, even in nations where people of various colors and hues comprise the majority. Color consciousness is enshrined in literature and folklore.
Barack Obama, in a further complication, did not emerge from the mainstream of American black life. He was abandoned at an early age by his black father, a Muslim from Kenya, and when his mother married again it was to an Indonesian, and young Barack was largely reared by his mother’s mother. He has written that his grandmother expressed fear of young black men as she commuted to her work as a bank officer.
Mr. Obama’s experience as a community organizer among blacks in South Chicago did not raise his consciousness much. He was largely unsuccessful as a community organizer, taking as mentor a radical left-wing Marxist, and he failed to establish close relations with the black Christian ministers who presided over the political and social structure of the ghetto.
Once in office he demonstrated that he had not learned as much as he could have. His quick and offhand comments on racial incidents confused both black and white. With ignorance of all the facts, he often plowed ahead with false analysis and fixing of blame. He has by inference now endorsed the “Black Lives Matter” movement whole, as if ignorant of the fact that this radical organization is based on the lie that an innocent black life was taken in the death of Trayvon Martin, 17, who struggled in a fight to the death with George Zimmerman, a sometime security guard, in Florida in 2012. Mr. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and after deliberating for 16 hours a jury comprised mostly of blacks and Hispanics acquitted him. Mr. Obama nevertheless continues to paint the incident as a violation of black civil rights.
Mr. Obama is correct in saying that black Americans face difficulties of prejudice and discrimination that whites, who do not suffer similar snubs and slights, cannot easily understand. But as Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, says, Mr. Obama and other black leaders refuse to grapple with the high level of crime among blacks which is at the root of much of the violence in black communities.
In the president’s own hometown of Chicago black gangbangers shoot each other every day, and the level of violence there is rising. Four men were killed and 62 other persons, including three children, were wounded in shootings across Chicago over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Sadly, such statistics are typical, not unusual. The president and his attorney general, Loretta Lynch, say that black and white must engage each other to talk about race in America.
We agree. But that conversation must include the breadth and depth of what’s happening. Only then will the conversation, which could be the beginning of something real, actually accomplish anything.