The tears and cheering flags of two years ago now seem light years away. Political realities have settles and as President Obama gears up for a re-election campaign, many are reflecting on what having a Black president has meant thus far.
One such voice is Georgetown professor and author, Michael Eric Dyson. Last week during a talk in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Dyson made some murmur in their seats when he said:
“What difference does it make to have a black president? Maybe not a damn thing. Maybe it’s worse than a white president, ’cause he won’t even talk about race.”
Dyson, who campaigned for Obama says he loves and supports him, but “will not be silenced” despite what others may think of his comments. And while he may take some heat for it, Dyson makes an interesting point.
No one is asking President Obama to take time out to shoot “Black In America No. (what are we on now, 5,6?)” with Soledad O’Brien. We understand he has a country to run. Well, do we?
Despite pushing the most aggressive legislative reform of any Democratic president since the Great Depression and handling an increasingly turbulent foreign policy terrain, it seems Obama can never do enough. Many have criticized President Obama for a reluctance to speak on racial issues in general and challenges still facing the Black community.
The most notable discussion of race during this administration happened in the wake of Harvard Professor, Henry-Louis Gates arrest at his home in Cambridge in the summer of 2009. The soon dubbed, “Skipgates” incident lead the Obama administration into a series of clearly uncomfortable events, first with the White House press team doing damage control after the President said the officer involved acted “stupidly” and then with the now infamous Beer Summit where all three men met and reconciled.
While the entire episode was not ideal, a year prior during the midst of a heated campaign battle, then Senator Obama gave a speech responding to the comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Speaking on the black experience, Obama spoke on the “kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black experience in America.” It was an important speech even outside of the parameters of the election- it spoke to a central issue that has divided our country for years.
Dyson isn’t alone in missing that Obama or his boldness and willingness to speak it plain. The speech on Reverend Wright was one of the most insightful speeches on race given by any public official in the last decade. And though we understand that President Obama is President of us all, his voice, his presence and sermon-like inflections are all a constant reminder that he is one of us. But has our identification with Obama encouraged an undue sense of ownership or indebtedness?
It’s clear our President has his views on racial relations and a passion for our community. But does his lack of discussion on race while in the White House make the national conversation stagnant? Is Dyson right in saying that President’s Obama’s silence on race is worse than having a white president?