When America’s first black president was sworn in, the rafters rang with celebration of the new “post-racial America.” Here at last was an enlightened society in which the white majority was willing to accept a member of an ethnic minority not just as one of their own but as their head of state. It was the dawning of the Age if Aquarius indeed!
Sadly, this vision did not last.
If America was post-racial in 2008, it is certainly not post-racial now.
It’s a complex change and I cannot possibly analyze it in a blog. I suggest that you read Joan Walsh’s column in Salon.com today; it answers many of the questions that have been baffling me recently. I’ll provide a link at the end of the blog.
The bottom line is that America seems more raciallydivided than I have ever known it to be. I hear Rush Limbaugh’s voice – the volume turned up as high as it can get – coming from the churchyard next door where court-assigned lawbreakers perform their hours of “community service” cultivating vegetables or doing construction work, and where homeless men pitch their tents among the oak trees. You would think these sufferers would be President Obama’s consituency; I see them as the people he fights hardest for.
But they shake their heads and mutter “Obama” in disgust when they discuss any of America’s myriad problems. They’re poor but they’re white. They’re not on his side.
The middle-class father of a neighbor hobbles over, supported by his cane, to watch the pastor’s son digging a massive detention pond as ordeed by the state’s water management authority. We’re told the project is necessary because the church paved its parking lot, even though – as their nearest neighbor – I see no possibility of flooding without it. The noisy, messy and endless project has caused a great deal of grumbling along our short, dead-end street, and everyone agrees the government is a nuisance and a burden.
Somehow, that, too, is Obama’s fault.
As he watches the tractor gnaw at the stubborn soil, my neighbor’s dad remarks that too many black faces are showing up on TV. It’s because of that black president of course.
Things have not gone well since President Obama was sworn in. And as my grandmother used to say, love flies out the window when poverty stalks in through the door.
Clearly it is not his fault. Clearly he inherited an economic disaster and has done an admirable job of rescuing the country from utter ruin.
But when a black guy’s in charge, you can be sure he is going to take the blame, however unfair that might be.
I don’t care what the pundits say, or how the politicians disguise their message, much of the criticism directed at the president in this election year is racially motivated.
It didn’t take long for the “post-racial” veneer to peel away once hard times started rubbing the white American majority the wrong way. Old prejudices have surfaced and old animosities have emerged. Beset by complicated problems and troubling demographic change, a lot of simple minded people reached for whatever comfort they could find, without regard for logic or fairness.
Whatever else may be at stake in November, this challenge will test today’s America. Will enlightenment prevail? Or will the world’s leading democracy slip back into the racist swamp of the pre-civil rights era?