Guest Commentary: “Thoughts on Race and Obama’s Second Term”

Guest Commentator:

I don’t mind the President’s reference to the Stonewall gay bar riots that opened the door to gay activism in 1969.  10% of Americans are gay.  Add in their families and there are 60 million powerful political reasons to address discrimination against the LGBT community.   Beyond the merely political,  most gays have no more choice over their orientation than I have over my color.  And you should not be punished for what you cannot help or change. It is also appropriate that the President should offer policy solutions to help promote tolerance and equality for LGBT.

But I do mind that President Obama places the fight for equality for blacks squarely in the past – at Selma.  This year – fifty years after King implored justice to roll down like a mighty stream – the Supreme Court is poised to consider whether to breach two of the bulwarks that have held back the America’s persistent tide of racism.  The Court will take up the continued vitality of both Section V of the Voting Rights Act (which requires some states to get prior approval for voting changes) and affirmative action in higher education and contracting.  There is no indication that either Sotomayor or Kagan, the President’s first two nominees to the Court, are friendly to claims that blacks face rank discrimination in housing, education, financial services and employment.

Ben Jealous is right to call on the President to nominate an African American woman.  I would only add that it should be a liberal African American woman.  Being black is not enough.  I would rather see a white liberal female appointment that a conservative black one. After all, Clarence Thomas is black.

Not only is racism still part of our culture – it appears to be getting worse.   A recent poll by AP and Stanford University revealed that 79% of Republicans have explicit negative attitudes toward blacks.   In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. Another recent study revealed that in New York it is easier for a white male high school dropout to find employment than it is for a college-educated African American man.  Not surprisingly, the economic collapse and the election of a person of color as President has resulted in racial backlash.

The President has proposed no conversation on race.  He has not offered to mend or defend affirmative action.  Almost nothing has been done to end the failed war on drugs.  Race seems to be the only area of American life that he believes is not susceptible to improved public policy.  He once called his own grandmother a “typical white woman”.  Unfortunately, the President has shown the attitude of a “typical white man” toward the plight of African Americans.  The President is right to go on radio and encourage black fathers to be more attentive, but no amount of great parenting will erase the antagonism that some whites have toward all blacks.  While he is certainly no Clarence Thomas, neither is he a Martin Luther King.

The President says that he got a great education, in part, because of affirmative action.  Looking at what he accomplished, it would seem that he would want more affirmative action – not less.

The specter of red-state electoral systems unsupervised by the Justice Department is frightening, especially given the lengths to which extremists have proven they will go to intimidate and suppress the vote.

As Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her brilliant 2003 dissent to the Gratz opinion striking down the University of Michigan law school’s affirmative action program, to pretend that we have achieved equality for blacks is to “pretend that history never happened and that the present doesn’t exist.”