I attended the inauguration of Barack Obama with two million other people who created the largest crowd in the history of Washington, D.C. Although I grew up in the nation's capital, I had never before attended an inauguration. None had previously beckoned. But this time I felt compelled to be present. (...)
At the inauguration, I luxuriated in the knowledge that, at long last, a Negro would join, and thereby irrevocably change, that exclusive club of American Presidents which was initially dominated by slaveholders. Nine of the first fifteen Presidents owned Negro slaves, including George Washington who referred to them as a troublesome species of property. When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated in 1801, one of seven Americans was enslaved, nearly two hundred by the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
At the inauguration I enjoyed the thought that Barack Obama would occupy the same post as Warren G. Harding, who, bowing to segregation, had insisted upon the fundamental, eternal, and inescapable difference between whites and blacks; the same post Calvin Coolidge won after being nominated at a political convention at which a chicken-wire screen separated white and black delegates to the 1924 Republican convention; the same post as the legendary Franklin Delano Roosevelt whose administration barred Negro reporters from his press conferences for most of his tenure as the Chief Executive; the same post as that occupied by Richard Milhous Nixon who casually and repeatedly referred to blacks as jigs and niggers. I derived pleasure from recalling that while the eminent writer Toni Morrison had described Bill Clinton metaphorically as America's first black president, now, in January 2009, metaphor was giving way to reality. (...)
Many observers spoke of Obama's inauguration as a monument marking a fundamental discontinuity in American life: BO - Before Obama - the United States was mired in distraction about all things racial, but AO - After Obama - a miraculous cleansing occurred. Race no longer mattered. The election of a black man signalled the coming of a post-racial society. This triumphalist reading of the election was posited by the conservative Wall Street Journal when it claimed, the day after Obama's victory, that perhaps we can put to rest the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement in this splendid country. (...)
Racial discrimination - disfavoring an individual or group because of perceived racial affiliation - is a stigmatized behavior: it is generally viewed as morally wrong. That was not always so. Until the 1960s, many Americans were altogether willing to say openly that they believed that whites are morally and intellectually superior to blacks and that it was perfectly appropriate to discriminate against blacks on a racial basis in competitions for employment, housing, education, and other endeavors. One of the great achievements of the Civil Rights Revolution (helped to no small degree by universal disgust with the racist outrages of Nazism) was the delegitimation of anti-black prejudice. The struggles advanced by figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall and Bayard Rustin placed a moral cloud over racial discrimination. They made racial bigotry not only unfashionable but contemptible. They made it an object of scorn and a target for ostracism. A result is that the prevalence of racial discrimination has been diminished. It has by no means been eradicated; racial discrimination is still very much present in American life. But when people consciously engage in racial discrimination, they typically deny that they are and often take care to hide their real motivations. (...)
During the campaign for the presidency, Obama was harshly chastized by influential arbiters of public opinion when he jokingly remarked that his rival's camp would try to dissuade voters from supporting him because, among other things, he did not "look like" previous presidents. More recently, right-wing journalists such as Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck have accused Obama of "hating" whites and engaging in reverse discrimination. These accusations have no plausible foundation. But they generate publicity that fuels racial anxiety and create opportunities for mis-statements or over-reactions by Obama and his defenders which, in turn, create additional publicity, further exacerbating racial tensions. Even though the enemies of Obama make no persuasive argument to back up their assertions that he "hates" white people, the naked assertion itself is injurious to the President. It forces the public to think anew about his race. It literally "blackens" him.
Words from the text
felt compelled to
|Elements showing that racial discrimination used to be favorably considered||Words and phrases showing that racial discrimination is now badly considered |
slaveholding US presidents