Category Archives: Race

Ta-Nehisi on the Obama Presidency

Check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest article in The Atlantic, “Fear of a Black President.”  Here’s how the summary reads: “As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s original sin, slavery. But as our first black president, he has avoided mention of race almost entirely. In having to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” Obama reveals the false promise and double standard of integration.”

Some excerpts:

The irony of President Barack Obama is best captured in his comments on the death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing fray. Obama has pitched his presidency as a monument to moderation. He peppers his speeches with nods to ideas originally held by conservatives. He routinely cites Ronald Reagan. He effusively praises the enduring wisdom of the American people, and believes that the height of insight lies in the town square. Despite his sloganeering for change and progress, Obama is a conservative revolutionary, and nowhere is his conservative character revealed more than in the very sphere where he holds singular gravity—race.


“The thing is, a black man can’t be president in America, given the racial aversion and history that’s still out there,” Cornell Belcher, a pollster for Obama, told the journalist Gwen Ifill after the 2008 election. “However, an extraordinary, gifted, and talented young man who happens to be black can be president.”

Belcher’s formulation grants the power of anti-black racism, and proposes to defeat it by not acknowledging it. His is the perfect statement of the Obama era, a time marked by a revolution that must never announce itself, by a democracy that must never acknowledge the weight of race, even while being shaped by it. Barack Obama governs a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as its president.


The political consequences of race extend beyond the domestic. I am, like many liberals, horrified by Obama’s embrace of a secretive drone policy, and particularly the killing of American citizens without any restraints. A president aware of black America’s tenuous hold on citizenship, of how the government has at times secretly conspired against its advancement—a black president with a broad sense of the world—should know better. Except a black president with Obama’s past is the perfect target for right-wing attacks depicting him as weak on terrorism. The president’s inability to speak candidly on race cannot be bracketed off from his inability to speak candidly on every­thing. Race is not simply a portion of the Obama story. It is the lens through which many Americans view all his politics.

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On “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America”

I just read Kiese Laymon’s essay on growing up black in central Mississippi.  It opens with this:

I’ve had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies — once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the leftovers of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I’ve helped many folks say yes to life but I’ve definitely aided in few folks dying slowly in America, all without the aid of a gun.

Check it out.  Really, really check it out.  If only for this reason:

This isn’t an essay or simply a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at remembering the contours of slow death and life in America for one black American teenager under Central Mississippi skies. I wish I could get my Yoda on right now and surmise all this shit into a clean sociopolitical pull-quote that shows supreme knowledge and absolute emotional transformation, but I don’t want to lie.

I want to say and mean that remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really ask nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again.

And if you want a little more, here are Ta-Nehisi’s comments, which are excellent, as usual.

Well, they ALMOST got it right: United States v. Arizona & S.B. 1070

The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Arizona was heralded by many liberals as a complete victory for the Obama Administration. With 3 of 4 provisions of S.B. 1070 deemed unconstitutional and the final section open to “as applied” challenges, many see the measure as on “life support.”

The real loser here, then, was the law. Here’s why:

The Supreme Court almost got it right in United States v. Arizona yesterday. That might sound like high praise for the institution that decided, and yesterday reaffirmed, Citizens United; concededly, they could have done substantially worse than their 5-3 decision finding 3 of the 4 challenged provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 preempted by federal law. While the decision is undoubtedly a substantial win for the President, liberal circles have begun their celebration a bit too early. The decision not to strike Section 2B is a telling repudiation of the President’s power to regulate immigration policy, even when operating with delegated powers. It’s also a study in how the Court allows its decisions to dictate how they read the law.

The fact that the Court, as presently constituted, upheld a piece of controversial conservative legislation comes as no surprise. What truly boggles the mind, however, is the way the Court came to its decision. Section IV(D) of the opinion, finding federal law didn’t preempt 2B, must have been written and reasoned in total isolation from the rest of the decision. Emphasis on must. It’s the only way to explain this decision.

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Race and Democracy

Ta-Nehisi today.  Hard to excerpt, but outstanding, so let this entice you:

I don’t know how it all connects. Maybe it doesn’t. But I keep seeing this recurrence–most spectacularly in the Civil War–wherein great fights over our democracy, are so often close to fights over whiteness and blackness.

Dept. of Ignoring the Fine Print, Romney ed.

Mitt Romney’s immigration plan actually includes a pathway to citizenship [TPM]:

DREAM Act supporters reject Romney’s plan, even though it would provide a path to citizenship for children now living virtually their entire lives underground in America. Romney is going further than some of his own advisers when he provides at least some path for undocumented youth to become citizens.

You’d think that would be something the hard right would throw a tantrum about. But no, it seems they think his immigration stance should be discussed in quiet rooms [The Hill]:

Republican hardliners in both chambers are holding their tongues over Mitt Romney’s plan to grant qualified illegal immigrants legal status and even U.S. citizenship.

Similar proposals in the past have led to charges from these conservatives that the beneficiaries would be rewarded with “amnesty” after entering the country illegally. They’ve called instead for tougher enforcement and the deportation of all illegal immigrants.

Yet 24 hours after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, outlined a broad proposal extending permanent residency to some illegal immigrants — and creating a pathway to citizenship for others — those same Republicans have been uncharacteristically silent on the idea.

Racism and the President, again

Ta-Nehisi Coates, after commenting on some bigoted remarks by National Review writer David Yerushalmi and right-wing Arizona radio host Barbara Espinosa, adds this:

As a footnote, I need to say that it has been pointed out that cataloging racism is a sight below the standards of this blog. I sort of agree. But over the course of the Obama presidency I have become convinced that no single force exerts a greater pull on his presidency than white racism. Not white resentment. Not white populism. White racism. I don’t know how else to explain a health care denounced as reparations, the rather continuous disrespect, the sense that he is a Kenyan illegitimate or all of the attendant theories. I do not know how else to explain a state like West Virginia, arguably the most racist in the country, where delegates are now refusing to endorse the president.

There will be more on this in the coming months. I don’t want to scoop myself. But my point is I can only stop talking about racism, when it ceases to be a significant force in our politics. When the mere act of being white gives Obama’s opponent “a home-state advantage nationally,” I can’t stop. It would be deeply wrong to stop.

Racism and the President

Via Eric Rauchway:

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has a fascinating bit of research into the effect of racism on the vote for Barack Obama:

… many Americans use Google to find racially charged material. I performed the somewhat unpleasant task of ranking states and media markets in the United States based on the proportion of their Google searches that included the word “nigger(s).” This word was included in roughly the same number of Google searches as terms like “Lakers,” “Daily Show,” “migraine” and “economist.”

A huge proportion of the searches I looked at were for jokes about African-Americans. (I did not include searches that included the word “nigga” because these searches were mostly for rap lyrics.) I used data from 2004 to 2007 because I wanted a measure not directly influenced by feelings toward Mr. Obama. From 2008 onward, “Obama” is a prevalent term in racially charged searches.

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.

The conclusions for 2012 are not cheering.

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