Thursday, April 25, 2013

Is Obama Black Enough?

Many people didn’t think that America would see the day that there would be a non-white president in office.  Even if a minority president were to be elected, it didn’t seem plausible that he would be of African American descent.  However, against all odds, and against America’s violent and rough racial history, Barack Husein Obama II was elected president of the United States in 2008, and then again in 2012.  

With an overwhelmingly supportive African American community backing him up through the election, Obama had some big shoes to fill, some high expectations to live up to.  These expectations, however, may have been too high and have certainly not been met.  In an article published just a couple of weeks ago in The Atlantic (, this exact criticism of Obama is discussed.  Many African Americans, from across economic and social lines, had high hopes for his presidency, hoping that he would use his voice to speak up for the black community and look out especially for their interests.  However, in his first four-year term, these hopefuls were disappointed by Obama’s “neglect” of race and racial problems in America. 

This portion of the black community certainly has a point.  Discrimination and inequality are still negatively affecting the black community, with higher unemployment rates, lower education rates, and much higher poverty rates than other citizens living in America. Home ownership rates are lower, and foreclosure is much more likely to occur to a black family than to a white one.  While the institutionalization of racial discrimination is still a clear problem in America, Obama has kept relatively quiet on these grounds, something that has angered much of the black community, who expected him to be their advocate. 

For a first-term president, however, Obama’s relative silence does not surprise me at all, nor does it surprise many of the hopefuls.  Because there was a clear chance for re-election, Obama had to tread lightly on controversial issues.  In fact, because he is our first black president, and because racism is so highly institutionalized in American life, Obama had to tread even lighter than many other presidents on these issues as a way to buffer racist feelings that still exist in America.  In many ways, Obama had to gain the trust and respect of the millions of Americans who were opposed to seeing a black president in office.  Furthermore, NPR asked Obama in 2011 what he felt has special responsibility to the African American community was, and Obama diplomatically and eloquently stated that he had a “special responsibility to look out for the interests of every American” and that his goal was to “promote the kinds of policies that are going to make the biggest difference for the most number of people so that they can live out their American dream.”

Do y’all think that Obama owes the African American community more than that? Or do you think his job, as president, is to treat each group equally, even if their situations aren’t necessarily equal? Do you think that Obama’s second term will differ dramatically from his first as far as race issues are concerned? 


  1. I think that this blog post is particularly interesting in light of a topic I have studied in another class. This is the idea of the "new racism". While racism still stands as a serious social problem in and of itself, some scholars believe that there is also a new racism that has emerged. New racism is the idea that white folks relieve themselves of the label "racist" by saying they do not discriminate against people of color or race as long as they fit within white middle class norms. For instance, people will say that they aren't racist because they support our black president but this is because Obama is an individual who has conformed to the white middle class norms. He dresses, speaks, acts and was largely raised under these norms. This does not mean that this supporter of Obama would not be racist towards the black or latino man he passes on the street. I thought that this was a very interesting argument and something to consider in our everyday lives

  2. This is very interesting. I would say that being Black in America is definitely a lived in experience but not all Black people have the same lived experience. Obama for example has a very distinct experience being Black due to where he was raised, how he was raised and the friends that he made in school. However, it is the truth that no matter the lived experience of Obama, his wife and children will probably have a more contentious upbringing with respect to race relations than that of Obama. That is just an interesting point I wanted to make.

    I believe that Obama should definitely look to help all people equally, that is help them to the extent that they need to be helped. Poor people have a hard time and many Blacks in America are poor due to institutionalized racism and systems made to inhibit social mobility. Thus, Obama should definitely help Black people regardless of whether he is "black enough" or not.