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...[E]ven though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: - 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'. -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The owners of this country know the truth: It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. -- George Carlin
Ta-Nehisi Coates's trenchant article, Fear Of A Black President, in this month's Atlantic Magazine, is a pointed critique of President Obama's leadership on matters of race. It was--by his own admission--written in anger. The inciting incident for Coates's ire is the president's remarks on the February shooting death of Miami teenager Trayvon Martin. Mr. Obama set off a firestorm of right-wing criticism by saying that "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Coates takes the president to the woodshed for saying it: "The moment Obama spoke, the case of Trayvon Martin passed out of its national-mourning phase and lapsed into something darker and more familiar—racialized political fodder. The illusion of consensus crumbled."

Mr. Coates then invokes what my mother used to call "old and new" to buttress his case: Shirley Sherrod... The 2008 Election... Drug policy... Booker T. Washington... Torture... Drone strikes on American citizens abroad... Reverend Jeremiah Wright... Spudd Webb? Barack Obama is hit with the rhetorical kitchen sink for opening his mouth about the Trayvon Martin case and lancing a boil that drenched us in racialist pus.

Even as I agreed with each argument, I still felt at odds with what he was saying. "...The irony of Barack Obama is this: he has become the most successful black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being “clean” --as Joe Biden once labeled him—and yet his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches," Coates said.

That is not an irony; that is a paradox. Coates mentions the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his own home--an event that thrust President Obama into a miasma of white outrage for saying that the Cambridge, MA police acted "stupidly" in detaining Gates. Never mind that the president is a lawyer, and carefully phrased his response. The issue for the right was not what the president said; the issue for the right was and is that a Black Man is president. Any black person in a position of authority traverses the same loaded territory: not only are there still white people who reject the idea that a person of color could/would pass judgment on their actions; (spoiler) there are black people who feel the same way. President Obama's blackness does not "irradiate everything he touches."

Racism does.

The president's remarks on the Trayvon Martin tragedy were heartfelt, to-the-point, and utterly uncontroversial. As a father, I felt kinship with the president when he said that a son of his would look like Trayvon. That kinship transcends race because a majority of Americans felt it as well. Unlike Mr. Coates, I saw and heard an outpouring of concern from a broad cross-section of Americans who saw injustice and spoke out about it. In the press, and particularly on the internet, millions of parents of all races echoed President Obama once they heard the facts of the Martin case.  Hearing people say "Trayvon Martin could be my child" has a special resonance and symmetry for someone like me who remembers being shown pictures of Emmett Till's lifeless body as a prelude to a family trip down South. The hatred that Ta-Nehisi Coates decries is an echo of the America that is dying away rather than a harbinger of the America that is becoming.

And therein lies my basic disagreement with Coates: Fear Of A Black President is a reaction to the death throes of that old America--a reaction that ignores the quickening of a better, more compassionate nation.

Mr. Coates says:

In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed. This need to talk in dulcet tones, to never be angry regardless of the offense, bespeaks a strange and compromised integration indeed, revealing a country so infantile that it can countenance white acceptance of blacks only when they meet an Al Roker standard.
A more "stereotypical" Barack Obama would play directly into Republican rhetoric about race by embodying the "Angry" "Incompetent" "Thieving" Black Man invented by the Right.  It is much easier to caricature someone who is a caricature. Imagine where we'd be politically had President Obama followed the advice of Coates, and many others, who urged him to abandon his strategy of bi-partisanship. Obama now has the high ground in taking the obstructionist House Of Representatives to task. Even I could write that speech:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know what more I can say. I don't know what more I can do. I've offered them everything they wanted and more. I cut taxes. But, I didn't cut them enough. I offered cuts in Medicare and Social Security, but they wouldn't budge on revenues. I reached across the aisle on legislation time-after-time in the last four years, and have been told "no" each and every time. I offered to meet them halfway but they've refused to meet at all.

Now, I've taken a lot of flak from a lot of folks on my side of the ball because of my good-faith efforts on behalf of bi-partisanship. You've heard them. You can't help hearing them.  I sure did. And they've convinced me. They're right. But the other side can't say I didn't listen. The other side can't say that I didn't try. Now, we do it my way.

A president who sought confrontation for the sake of appearing genuine to his base couldn't say that.

An important thing to understand about the president is that he is the definition of "African-American." His childhood in Hawaii has made him American, but it has left him without the amount of racial and emotional baggage that black Americans descended from slaves carry. Expecting him to act like a "typical" black person is unrealistic. Barry Obama of Punahou High took his ribbing just like the Japanese and Korean and Portugese and kama'aina kids in Hawaii did, but that is nothing like growing up black in the Deep South or even growing up black in a family from The South.

I lived in Hawaii for nine years. Hawaiian culture explains a lot about who and what President Obama is. The "typical" American Black is an invention of slave owners to justify stealing blacks from West Africa.  Those kidnapped Africans were strong, used to heat and humidity, and resistant to the virulent strains of malaria brought to the Americas by Europeans (malaria killed as much as 40% of European colonists who ventured below the Mason-Dixon Line). Slaves were the interchangeable working parts of a nation that they built and sustained (AKA "niggers"). They--along with Native Americans, women, and anyone who wasn't a white, propertied male--were written out of the nation's founding documents and deprived of the "blessings of liberty" because they weren't considered people.

If Mr. Coates wants irony, I have one: it is ironic that the GOP -- the party that did the most to remedy slavery in America -- is dying because it made compact with the confederacy that it vanquished. The devil's bargain the Republicans made with white supremacy has poisoned the party. Romney & Ryan promise to restore an America that never existed. The GOP version of the American Dream--rich white guys win--is collapsing.

The Republican platform--touted by them as the "most conservative in modern history"--represents a last-ditch effort to arrest that collapse. Romney and Ryan now have the task of convincing minorities, women, immigrants, the LGBT community, the poor, and the middle class that throwing their own rights and interests under the bus is the smart, correct, patriotic thing to do. That's why they need the image of an incompetent Barack Obama--someone in over his head who can't get anything done; someone who has made the disaster they caused worse.

"Obama As Thief" plays into that stereotype. "Obama steals $700 billion from the Medicare Trust Fund to pay for ObamaCare." Lies about waivers granted by the Obama Administration to states for their welfare-to-work programs are being used by the Romney Campaign to imply that hard-earned taxpayer money is being stolen and shunted to lazy, good-for-nothing blacks by "their" president. The problem for Republicans isn't just the lies themselves; the problem is that it's getting harder and harder for the Republicans to find voters gullible enough to fall for them.

Evolution is especially cruel when it happens to people who don't believe in it.

People and attitudes have evolved. Welfare queens are a ridiculous stereotype that was invalid even before Bill Clinton "reformed" the family assistance program. Women consider their right to choose a settled question. The fact that we're talking about rape rather than the economy and jobs on the eve of their convention is evidence that the clue train has not pulled in for the Republican Party. Romney's refusal to release recent tax returns in the face of charges that he has paid close to nothing begs for a privacy that he refuses to accord to women. A generational sea-change has made marriage equality a given everywhere but in the Party of Lincoln. Deniers of climate change are silent on the question of drought in the nation's breadbasket or the cook-off of Greenland's ice cap or open water in the Arctic. Science and technology have given us a sense of our place in the universe even as Republicans demand that we turn our backs on that knowledge in favor of religious dogma and corporate bullshit.

Barack Obama is by no means a perfect president. He has relied on the "old hands" in Washington for counsel rather than bringing in new blood. He has not brought Wall Street or the previous administration to account for their misdeeds. The administration's performance in the case of Shirley Sherrod is an embarrassment. I'm disturbed that the president signed a defense authorization bill containing the indefinite detention provision (a signing statement isn't worth the paper it's written on). But Barack Obama has succeeded at the one thing the right could least afford: he has been presidential. There is an overwhelming reservoir of goodwill for him and for his family. He has brought dignity, resolve, and good judgment to the office. This is especially true in the Trayvon Martin case.

I applaud Ta-Nehisi Coates for addressing the subject of race in an open, honest, intelligent way. America will never become that better, more compassionate nation if we don't discuss the issue. Fear Of A Black President is a heartfelt, but flawed attempt at doing just that.

Mon Aug 27, 2012 at  7:24 AM PT: This could be the last time: From New York Magazine -- A Republican strategist said something interesting and revealing on Friday, though it largely escaped attention in the howling gusts of punditry over Mitt Romney’s birth certificate crack and a potential convention-altering hurricane. The subject was a Ron Brownstein story outlining the demographic hit rates each party requires to win in November. To squeak out a majority, Mitt Romney probably needs to win at least 61 percent of the white vote — a figure exceeding what George H.W. Bush commanded over Michael Dukakis in 1988. The Republican strategist told Brownstein, “This is the last time anyone will try to do this” — “this” being a near total reliance on white votes to win a presidential election.


Originally posted to MacDaffy on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 11:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community and Barriers and Bridges.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great diary! And an important topic. (10+ / 0-)

    I read the Coates article (thanks to you) and found it very interesting and moving. I feel that Coates' perspective on the shooting of Trayvon Martin is that Obama's comments triggered an outrageous backlash, based on the underlying fear of a black president, and Coates' criticism is of that response, not Obama's comments. He uses that to illustrate the challenge for Obama, as a black president who has to carefully avoid confrontation on racial issues.

    The general message is that this approach is problematic, and doesn't align with Obama's personal ideology - he's chosen a strategy that compromises his true voice, in response to racist fears that still strongly influence America.

  •  Nice Diary. I Haven't Finished Coates' Article Yet (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erratic, leonard145b, gulfgal98

    but I certainly hope your prediction is true.

    Evolution is especially cruel when it happens to people who don't believe in it.
    Sad to say, but the rabid racist Cons deserve some cruelty.  Maybe then they'll realize what compassion really is.
  •  Take a look at Judges chapter 16 (5+ / 0-)

    A dying Samson used all of his remaining might to lean on the pillars holding up the temple, causing the temple to crash down killing all who were in it, including himself.  There are many on the right, I am afraid, who would like to emulate Samson.

    There were tons of diaries in 2009 celebrating the imminent death of the Republican Party, but, like Mark Twain, the reports of the Party's death were greatly exaggerated.  Who controls the House?  This election is no shoo in.

    A wounded animal is the most dangerous animal of all.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 11:47:55 AM PDT

  •  If True - How To Explain The Teabagger Takeover (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    majcmb1, erratic, willard landreth, a2nite
    Part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites.
    McCain/Palin got the majority of white votes in 2008 and Willard probably will too. Perhaps its just the opposite, the election of President Obama has made White Supremacists, more active...
    •  among reasonable, non-foamy-mouthed (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leonard145b, majcmb1, erratic, a2nite, SoCalSal

      whites.....

      Not all of us need any soothing about this.

      The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

      by xxdr zombiexx on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 11:54:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well There's Some Evidence Romney's Underperform- (5+ / 0-)

      ing among whites despite the haters' relentless campaign.
      http://firstread.nbcnews.com/...

      Our new poll also might explain why the Romney campaign has been airing all of those TV ads on welfare (which the AP today says are “distorting the facts”) or why Paul Ryan was invoking “clinging to my guns and my religion” yesterday while campaigning in Pennsylvania. The reason: Romney is underperforming with white voters. According to the survey, Romney leads Obama among this demographic group by 13 points (53%-40%), but that isn’t much different than McCain’s 12-point edge in 2008 per the exit polls (55%-43%) -- and McCain decisively lost the election. Also in the poll, Romney leads Obama among white men by 19 points (not much different than McCain’s 16 points) and among white women by eight points (McCain’s advantage was seven). If Romney is going to win in November, he needs to EXPAND those margins.
    •  I think the main message is that (6+ / 0-)

      while Obama has triggered a racist response, he has been very effective at minimizing/avoiding race-based conflict during his presidency. The article mainly avoids addressing the republican/democrat divide - the demographics of that divide definitely play a part. The Tea Party's success is very likely influenced by race-based resentment, but that's not the only factor in play.

  •  1994 Public Enemy video - (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leonard145b, bythesea, a2nite

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 11:50:35 AM PDT

  •  What a great diary! (5+ / 0-)

    Your writing is first class.  If I was not already following you, I would be doing so after reading this diary.  This subject needs to be discussed openly because I fear that we have not come close to achieving a post racial society. I do pray that the President will be remembered for how much he has done to heal the racial gulf that still exists in this country.

    This sentence and the paragraph that follows it are such great examples of your writing and why I "follow" your diaries.  

    Evolution is especially cruel when it happens to people who don't believe in it.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 12:09:51 PM PDT

  •  Also be sure to check out (4+ / 0-)

    the panel discussion over this article that took place shortly after, with Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, J-Smooth, and W. Kamau Bell.  It gives Coates space to clarify some things and take criticism on others, and it's very worth watching.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 12:19:02 PM PDT

  •  Thanks MacDaffy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mygreekamphora

    I posted a short diary highlighting this essay the other day, but yours does far more justice to it than mine.  It is my hope that Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay will garner the attention it deserves; as I said in my dairy I would be fine with it being a prerequisite for voting to prove that you have read it.

  •  Obama is already post racial (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus

    He shares a trait with me and many more people in this country share. He is BIRACIAL!!!! What part of some supposedly racially distinct group is he supposed to represent? IMHO his public responses tend to sound like what someone without a dog in a fight(or more accurately both dogs) says, which is something that will not sound right to someone squarely sitting on one side of a self erected fence. Obama IS speaking from the post racial POV. But he realizes he is speaking to a nation of people who love them some fence and hate to be reminded of the fenceless reality we live in. We are a nation of people who dont do nuance like neutral points of view on race even when we say that is our ideal.

  •  Your excellent diary and (0+ / 0-)

    the Atlantic article were both well-written and thought-provoking reads.

    There is a lot to ponder and I don't mean to take away from the deep significance of much of what was discussed.

    But I am angry with President Obama that he didn't do more for Shirley Sherrod. Especially once I see it from the 'beer summit' perspective.

    "I think of the right-wing Republicans as jihadists; they’re as crazy as those people. They want to destroy the country that we want to save." Paul Auster

    by zesty grapher on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 05:14:53 PM PDT

  •  I don't understand your reading of this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, SoCalSal

    essay.  I had the exact opposite reaction (I read it twice).  I felt that Ta-Hehisi Coates' article was very sympathetic to the President and rather than criticize, it gave a very deep explanation of the limitations of the changes that the 1st Black President could make on our society.  I didn't feel that he criticized the President AT ALL for speaking out about Trayvon but rather pointed out how the simple and very restrained and skillful commentary about the Martin killing served to turn on the national switch of "Obama Derangement Syndrome."  When I read your diary, I wasn't sure that we had read the same article.

    •  Thank you for your comment... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Egalitare, SoCalSal, CrissieP

      Your view is the reason I quoted the passages that convinced me that Coates was asking the president to "black it up" a little more.

      He says "part of Obama’s genius is a remarkable ability to soothe race consciousness among whites. Any black person who’s worked in the professional world is well acquainted with this trick. But never has it been practiced at such a high level, and never have its limits been so obviously exposed."

      I don't think President Obama is trying to "sooth race consciousness." I think he's trying to be a good president. When Coates says "never have its limits been so obviously exposed," I think that he is criticizing President Obama for being so racially accommodating that the effort diminishes his presidency.

      Obama is being criticized for sucking at a game that I don't think he's playing. I like your view that Coates is explaining the limitations under which the president works. I just think that he's a little more dissatisfied than you do.

      George W. Bush: Worst President In United States History

      by MacDaffy on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 07:23:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thanks for your response - just goes to show how (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SoCalSal

        differently people can interpret the same information.  Did you see Coates on Up With Chris this weekend?  If you did, I'm guessing that we both came away with our original impressions confirmed.  Go figure...

  •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 05:35:12 PM PDT

  •  Also found that essay fascinating (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SoCalSal

    That essay and yours are both marvelous. I've been chewing on it a lot and thinking about some of the things Coats said.    The quote I was most struck with was:

    “An equality that requires blacks to be twice as good is not equality—it’s a double standard.”

    I think that double-standard, unacknowledged by so many, does great damage.

  •  Very well written post, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Egalitare

    and I enjoyed reading it. I do agree with some other comments, that Coates' anger was directed at the response to President Obama's remarks on the Martin killing, not to his heartfelt remarks.

    Any time any president makes a definitive statement, the opposition party takes the opportunity to oppose the statement. For Obama we know that is magnified, no matter the topic, because republicans, partisans, and the racists amongst us immediately begin their howls. Therein we find the constraints on Obama's statements on race: damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't by those who are disappointed that he doesn't speak or do more about race. I understood that to be Coates' underlying point, including the frustration on Coates' part. I thought that Coates really brought that point home in the final paragraph of his article, describing Sherrod's hesitation to grant the interview with Coates because she "didn't want to do anything to hurt the president."

    Maybe it's up to the rest of us to have the discussion. Coates' masterful article helps.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Harris Perry, W. Kamau Bell, and Jay Smooth were on Up With Chris Hayes yesterday, discussing Coates' article. If you haven't yet viewed it, the full segment can be seen on Wonkblog, in a post that Ezra Klein titled,  "One of the Best Things I've ever seen on cable news.

    Sorry, I'm having trouble with the MSNBC video hence the link to Klein's page. Besides, I agree with Klein: one of the best things I've ever seen on cable news.

    The sh*t those people [republicans] say just makes me weep for humanity! - Woody Harrelson

    by SoCalSal on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 07:00:59 PM PDT

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