- Politics and Social Issues
Can White Americans Criticize President Obama and Not be labeled A Racist?
Is The Shoe Now On The Other Foot?
Since the early settlers from England first landed on Georgetown they have been blamed for all that is wrong with the country. Four hundred plus years later it has been the favored past time of White American liberals, African American radicals and the disenfranchised to continue to blame White Americans for the ills of America. Open criticism of White American leaders has become an intricate part of the American political fabric. Even during the presidential primaries, the American media, and the world was focused on the White American vote to see where they really stood on the issues of race relations and if they could really get past their racial biases and actually vote a African American man into the highest office of the land. If they voted against Obama, or criticized him publicly it was seen as a racist act and somewhat expected. If they verbally supported him it was viewed as nothing more than a deterrent thereby avoiding the racist label while exercising their true feelings at the voting booth. It was in fact, a no win situation for most White Americans, particularly those above the age of 40 years - and perhaps the most difficult election process for them in the history of American presidential elections.
Now that President Obama has survived his first 100 days in the Oval Office, for the majority of White Americans in the United States, this does not mean the conversation on race is over, nor does it mean we as Americans are past race as a polarizing issue. And finally, it does not give any White American a free ticket to make the claim that "I'm fine with race since I voted for Obama". Even though Barack Obama won the presidential election on the majority of the White American vote can White Americans safely criticise him publicly – without being labeled a racist?
This is a fair question because contrary to popular belief it was not the African American or the Hispanic vote that ushered Obama into the White House, although they did help significantly in delivering key states the Democrats would have lost under normal circumstances. Barack Obama ultimately won the White House on the backs of the White Suburban female, and a significant percentage of the corporate White male. The White Suburban female for an example, gave him numbers much larger than Al Gore's and John Kerry's combined. This group also helped him win critical states such as Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. Overall, it was the White Suburban female or former Clintonites who put Obama in the White House. However, African Americans claim Obama as their man of the century and will not tolerate any negative criticism of him – Black or White, not even from another African American favorite – talk show host Tavis Smiley. Tavis Smiley once criticised Obama during the Democratic primary and was swiftly condemned by the African American community from coast to coast. Jesse Jackson made negative comments about Obama and found himself on the wrong side of the African American community – although the African American community owe him a great debt for his sacrifices during the Civil Rights Movement - - the movement which allowed Obama the freedom to run for election. World renowned comedian and scholar Bill Cosby once criticised the lack of African American male involvement in stabilizing the African American community and was chastised for his remarks while Obama was praised for the same perception.
Apparently, the task of scrutinizing the new president is apparently left to those, White or Black, with sworn allegiance to Republican or conservative ideologies. However, In order to move forward, and perhaps closer to the post-racial era that Americans have been striving for – supporters of Barack Obama, particularly African American supporters, must learn that every time someone – particularly White Americans harshly criticises him, it's not racist and doesn't necessarily reflect racism. If the African American community insist on using the “race card” as a political defense against criticism of President Obama, White Americans will ultimately throw in the towel and say "enough is enough" and re-unite around issues of race thereby setting the stage to wipe out potential Democratic gains in 2010 and setting the stage for a defeat of President Obama in 2012. To keep things in perspective, this sense of protection is not necessarily a bad thing - in fact it’s quite common however, it can become a bit excessive thereby insulating the President from a level of scrutiny he needs to be effective. Ardent African American supporters of Obama must understand that if Obama is to make any significant changes to the African American’s plight, whether social, economic, or political - that plight, such as it is, will change only inasmuch as that of all Americans. On the other hand those who do critizise him must understand that motivating the President cannot be accomplished by attacking him personally. Attacks are best served if they are made against policies and not personalities.
There is a cultural difference among African and White Americans in the area of criticism which suggests that in the African American community, criticism is presented and received personally, regardless of its objective. By the same token within the White American community, professional or political combatants of one moment are often seen drinking together soon after. African Americans view this act as hypocritical while White Americans see it as quite normal. Illinois Professor Kochman, in his book, “African American and White American Conflict in Styles”, argues that White Americans debate the idea, while African Americans debate the person debating the idea, which is a significant distinction not fully understood among the races. The majority of African Americans must understand that they can, and in fact they have the right to disagree with the president, tossing away the rose-colored glasses that may blind them to Obama’s bad decisions which may eventually hurt their community and ultimately the country if he is not called on them. This is not to imply that African Americans are incapable of critiquing the president. There were certainly a significant number of African Americans who did not vote for President Obama. It must be understood that African Americans are not a monogamous community. They are as diverse in their thinking and philosophy as other communities. This was recently demonstrated during the general election as we saw numerous African Americans supporting both John McCain and Hillary Clinton, although a significant number rallied behind Obama during the primary against John McCain. However, a large percentage although a minority number among the African American population as a whole, supported John McCain as the Republican candidate.
How will President Obama encourage an atmosphere of open criticism for White Americans? Well, one of his missions is to restore American prestige and good will around the world thereby raising the level of worldwide appreciation of diversity and the multi-cultural make up of the United States – subsequently elevating the understanding and tolerance of racial issues in the United States. Another consideration is to launch a nationwide series of Town Halls meetings to foster open discussions of race relations – encouraging John McCain and perhaps Sara Palin’s participation among others.
In the meantime – White Americans should feel free to openly critique President Obama without fear of being labeled a racist. Just as all Americans – it’s your right and obligation under the First amendment guaranteeing free speech! White American leaders have been openly criticized for hundreds of years and the result has been improved living conditions and race relations for all Americans. It’s now time for African Americans to move beyond the protectionist mentality and accept the reality that one of their own is now a world leader and must now face the opposing viewpoints of a world wide jury. This is the only way to ensure that President Obama is truly a President for all Americans and a respective representative of a free and powerful nation.