Barack Obama, “The Nation’s First Black President”, exists undoubtedly as one of the faces of our country’s continuous movement toward post-racism, but the questions of his impact toward our aspiring post-racial society diminishes his legacy. A common misconception claiming he’s made little progressions toward racial equality throughout his presidency leads to a sense of hopelessness and irrationalism.
Americans—minority Americans in particular, want post-racialism to be in effect immediately, therefore impatiently have overreacted through their inability to recognize that Obama’s presidency may not be the concluding factor, but it is a huge step in the right direction. “Since America’s racial disparities remain as deep-rooted after Barack Obama’s election as they were before, it was only a matter of time until the myth of postracism exploded in our collective national face” -Peniel Joseph (Hochschild, Weaver, and Bush, 139).
The problem here lies in the lack of understanding that while racial disparity obviously still exists, the more often it is brought up and the more relevant it becomes, then in due time, it will be resolved. Barack Obama’s presidency all together has made the unsolved problem of racial inequality prevalent in our society once again. Often compared to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , Obama’s inactiveness in pursuing this objective undermines the impact the he has inevitably had. In comparison to Dr. King, Obama most certainly did not take as strong of an activist approach, which disabled him from the ability to make such an immediate impact.
Obama was not able to ignite immediate successes, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but his lack of success in immediate pursuit does not discredit his impact (Shelby, 96). While comparing President Obama and Dr. King seems to make sense, a lack of relevance occurs when you compare the racial tensions that were prevalent in their societies. King virtually had an advantage in becoming the powerful political figure that he is, considering the explicitly racist society in which he prevailed. On the other hand, explicit racism was much less relevant during Obama’s Presidency.
Instead, Obama dealt with implicit forms of racism, which can be understood as conscious or unconscious negative racial biases that whites have toward minorities (Piston). Confronting implicit racism is a much more complicated task. In dealing with explicit racism, you can acknowledge someone as a racist when they act on or impose their racial prejudices, whereas you cannot acknowledge the implicitly racist as being a racist because they either do not intend to be racist or they are able to use their implicit racism to mask their prejudice.
This plays a big part in explaining why Obama was not able to implement any substantial progressions toward racial equality in twenty-first century American society, which he is often criticized for failing to do. While some would argue that Obama had little impact on the push toward post-racism by emphasizing the fact that he made no remarkable achievements, his presidency in itself, being the first black president, is remarkable enough to be considered a huge step forward in the right direction.
Obama understood that whites were tired of hearing blacks claim the role of the victim and that they were running low on sympathy and discrediting the claim of inequality that most certainly exists. He brought this logic to public attention in his speech, The Audacity of Hope, where he stated, “… white guilt has run out. White Americans now resent blacks continuing grievances and sense of victimhood. Thus, they do not support policies that grant the legitimacy of black claims of injustice” (Shelby). He avoided the race card in his elections, which is a big reason why he succeeded despite his race.
He procured people to focus on his policies and avoided bringing race to public attention which plays a large part in why he was able to get elected, but also dampened his potential impact in protesting racial inequality. Although race had little magnitude in his campaign, the fact that the United States of America was able to elect its first minority president should not be deprived of significance. A starting point is a necessity in order to progress in anything and Obama’s presidency serves as a starting point for the transition to racial equality in the realm of the political environment.
This idea is hard for some to relate though, considering Obama to be such an exceptional figure in comparison to the stereotype that whites have formed of the black man. An argument can be made that the exceptionalism Barack Obama portrays, being raised by two white grandparents in Hawaii and attending Harvard Law School, makes the expectations for any futuristic black politician so seemingly high that no black man who is unable to relate to such exceptionalism has any sort of chance of surviving in America’s white politics. This conception though, seems to ignore the optimism of the situation.
Obama’s presidency is the first major step in the right direction of dismantling racial inequality in American politics. With white people being the majority population in the United States, whiteness is an undeniable factor that plays into, not just our everyday society, but in our political system. In order to gain ground in racially liberalizing our society we must conciliate the negative biases formed of our minority groups. The 2008 election showed that progress is being made from an aspect of whites discriminating minorities because of skin color.
In 2008, Obama was able to earn the votes of 43% of white voters (Piston, 432). And while one may point out that he was still unable to receive support from the majority of whites or that there is unfortunately still a population of whites that refuse to vote for him because of his skin color, it is undeniable that 43% white support for a black candidate indicates substantial progress over the past fifty years. So no, the presidency of Barack Obama did not bring racial equality to a conclusion, but it most certainly is a milestone representing the advancements American society has made in those regards.