The headline of a recent article by the Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten capsulizes, inadvertently, the supreme paradox of the Obama presidency.
“Obama struggles to balance African America’s hopes with country’s as a whole,” it says.
The story documents Obama’s struggles over the last four years, which continue today, to avoid overplaying his hand as the first black president, yet to also not ignore this fact.
But nowhere does Wallsten note the irony that four years ago many understood the meaning of Obama’s election as the beginning of the end of the perception of black America as a world apart from the rest of America.
There was exhilaration that the nightmare was over – finally. That wrongs have been righted, that we can get on with America’s business without the ongoing issue of race looming, and that we can stop looking at blacks politically as a special class of Americans.
Yet here we are now at the end of four years of the presidency of this first black president and attitudes about race seem to have hardly changed at all. There is still the sense that black America and the rest of America are not on the same page and that blacks and the country “as a whole” have different needs and different agendas.
Wasn’t Obama’s election supposed to have changed all of this?
Not only have racial tensions not improved, but the racial divide appears to have widened.
“Win or lose,” Wallsten continues, “the electorate that decides his fate November 6 will be far more racially divided than the one that propelled him into the history books.”
According to a Gallup poll done last year, the third year of the Obama presidency, the election of a black man as president had little impact on the enormous difference in perceptions of blacks and whites on the need for government activism.
Fifty nine percent of blacks, compared to 19 percent of whites, said that government should play a “major role” in trying to improve the social and economic position of blacks and other minority groups in this nation.
Fifty two percent of blacks, compared to 15 percent of whites, said new laws are needed to reduce discrimination against blacks.
If Barack Obama’s election has had little or no impact on improving racial politics or changing the sense that blacks must be viewed as a special political class, what exactly, practically, has it meant?
Rather than making things better, it has really made matters worse.