The president’s race problem
Some years ago, a few pals and I took our first excursion to the deepest, darkest Delta.
Mississippi was still Third World. Before gaming interests (looking to skim the rural poor’s meal money) turned it into a faux wonderland of smoke-filled casinos and four-lane highways lined with “Welcome To Tunica” billboards hiding the cotton fields from view.
On that trip, we attended the Delta Blues Festival, where the crowd was integrated to a stunning extent. At least to someone from up North, someone with preconceived notions of the land that spawned the White Citizens’ Council.
There were two different groups of revelers set up in front of us: to the left, a gang of white frat boys in button-down Oxford cloth shirts. They had several Styrofoam coolers of beer. To the right, a group of African-Americans, who from their interaction appeared to be extended family. A couple of them were defensive-line huge.
There was no interaction between the two groups. Until one of those hefty black fellows tripped, stepping on one of the frat boys’ coolers. It broke, spilling beer and ice, and maybe a sandwich or two.
A memorable sociological study ensued.
The frat boys immediately started “motherfucking” and “youniggering” the guy who broke the cooler. The interlude wore on, the vitriol morphed more virulent. Spittle spewing from his lips, the collegian, bellowing invective, was nose to nose with that big guy who could have snapped the party boy in half. Except he did nothing.
It was clear the white boy could say anything and no harm would come his way. He knew the black fellow wouldn’t lay a finger on him. The steam eventually dissipated, the dispute dissolved. Neither group moved. There was no further interaction.
The white kids were born with DNA allowing them to believe such venomous spewing was a birthright. The African-Americans understood this was as it always had been in their part of the world, and there was nothing they could do.
It’s the same trick bag in which Barack Obama has found himself since he developed political aspirations. Especially since he aspired to become the first black POTUS. The absurd birther movement. The trend to disenfranchise minority voters. The disrespect directed at Obama while in office. A South Carolina representative screaming the president is a liar, interrupting a speech to Congress. These are nothing more than manifestations of racial intolerance.
As a black man, there are things Obama simply cannot do. He must always be grateful that America gave him this opportunity to lead … as long as he doesn’t overstep his bounds. He can’t get too uppity or mean. He must be measured, conscious of the racial manifestations that have plagued this country since we started importing Africans as chattel.
President Obama, it appears, understands this.
Handed the keys to the vehicle of state, Obama was given a Herculean task: Four-wheel the country from an economic abyss caused by the previous administration’s warmongering and trickle-down tax posture.
But no president of any color could have driven out of this trench in four years, certainly not with the guys he has riding shotgun pushing on the brakes.
Both friends and foes have held the president to a higher standard than his predecessors, displaying an alarming lack of deference.
We gave you the keys to the car, negro, now get us where we’re going. And hurry. I’ve got to believe he’s muttering to himself, “Yes, Miss Daisy.”
Obama’s manner may have evolved naturally, unconsciously.
He might have instinctually developed his personality, making him a palatable politico. He heard this wise advice of Dr. King: “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”
Some of those developed traits have worked against him. He’s a conciliator at a time when contention reigns. The color of his skin has prevented him from standing stronger, lashing out at detractors when appropriate.
If Obama is re-elected, I believe we’ll see a stronger man who will stand up to detractors. Of course, the opposition will become more obstinate. But thanks to Obama’s new stance, it will be more obvious who really desires to derail the path to prosperity.
I hope Obama wins, allowing him the opportunity to prove real leadership.
To underscore that the enmity directed toward him due to the color of his skin is abhorrent, in contradiction to the tenets of our republic to which we give lip service.
I have a dream. A dream that America shall prove to the world and ourselves that we judge our brothers and sisters not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
We owe it to ourselves.
We owe it to our president.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misidentified the home state of the congressman who interrupted President Obama's speech. LEO regrets the error.