Race Relations Worse Under Obama, a Majority Say: How Come?

Many hoped the election of the first black president would improve race relations in America, but six years into the administration of Barack Obama, a new poll shows them worsening.

According to a Bloomberg Politics poll, 53 percent believe race relations have worsened under Obama, 36 percent think they are unchanged, and only 9 percent believe they have improved.

45 percent of black people surveyed believe race relations have gotten worse, while 56 percent of white people do.

How can this be?

First of all, the premise that a black President can “make race relations better” merely by the fact of his race is naive and absurd. At most, the election of a black President would suggest that race relations had already improved, to the point where the (black) race of the winning President was no longer a factor. It’s as naive to think that a black President — merely by waking up and being black every day — will somehow “make race relations better” as it is to think the government can solve a whole host of other social and economic problems that government has never solved, and in fact only makes worse.

It’s more than naiveté, however. The idea that a black President might or should have made race relations better is based on an error about the definition of racism. To a lot of people, especially in the present-day American context, racism simply means, “hating black people,” or, “white people assuming that they are better than black people merely by virtue of their race.”

While it’s true that these two things are instances or examples of racism, they’re not the definition of racism. The definition of racism is the elevation of race above all other, more relevant factors. When you make race the primary or only important factor in any context, you’re engaging in the intellectual fallacy of racism.

This idea that “a black President will make race relations better,” aside from assuming that a President or government possesses power it does not really have (i.e., to shape people’s attitudes), is in itself racist. Why? Because it elevates the race of the President to the most important factor. It demotes to secondary importance such things as how good a commander-in-chief the President is, how rational and effective his approach to the economy is, and how competent (or Constitutionally consistent) he is with respect to his running of the executive branch of the federal government. This has the effect of suggesting that people should not judge this President — this first black President — by the usual standards because, after all, he is the first black President … and we must cut him some slack.

Obama was set up to be a failure — by his own supporters, most of all. No, it was not deliberate. But it was his own strongest supporters who probably hoped that Obama, by being a “black President” (although technically only half-black), would somehow transform race relations in this country in a way that free-acting and free-thinking individuals — outside the compulsion or “persuasion” of government — had already been doing on their own, for decades. The improvements in race relations over the generations of the American republic are not a tribute to the ability of some political leader to impose this enlightenment on people’s minds against their will; it’s a tribute to the rationality and sense of justice that most Americans, on this issue, have developed over time.

The irony in all this: Obama was able to become President because racist attitudes against black people had been incrementally declining over the many decades since Jim Crow laws were struck down in the South, and Martin Luther King decried separate lunch counters and rides on the back of the bus for black people, etc.

However, the elevation of race to such an important factor took the spotlight off of Obama’s competence and ideology with respect to his qualifications for the presidency. In so doing, the implication became: He has to succeed. If he doesn’t, the first black President will have failed!

Perhaps this is why those of us who question Obama’s policies or ideology — which have nothing whatsoever to do with his race, and are not shared by every member of his race — are quick to be labeled racist merely for questioning Obama. The implication of such a charge is, “You can’t criticize Obama. Only racism could lead you to challenge the first black President.”

It’s a sad legacy, not only for the cause of race relations, but also for the enlightenment of the electorate when it comes to figuring out what will resolve our still unresolved economic, social and political problems. And these polls reflect that difficult fact.

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