Reactions to Obama and African-Americans

Several people recently hopped the White House fence and were caught with weapons. Many treat Obama as if he can’t do anything right. Some insist they want him to lead while making it impossible to do that. From the beginning of Obama’s presidency, Republicans in Congress focused on bringing Obama down by blocking everything he did regardless of the merits. That’s unique in our recent history. He’s even been criticized for taking a vacation – though Obama has spent far less time on vacation than his predecessors – plural – and was obviously doing the job of governing even while taking some time with his family. What’s going on?

Minorities have long understood that to get any credit they have to be much better than anyone else – if in fact their success isn’t used against them. That was long true for Jews although it appears to have dissipated. It is now clearly true for African-Americans. If they are not absolutely outstanding people will assume that they are affirmative action babies. I knew and expected Obama would face that problem. I also knew that Obama was and is outstanding. One doesn’t accomplish what he did even as far back as law school by inadequacy.

Dodger Captain Peewee Reese told a group at the 92nd St. Y years ago that what bugged some of their teammates was not just that Jackie Robinson was Black but that he was well-educated – a four letter man at UCLA – while many of them were lucky if they had a high school education. Don’t stick your head above the crowd. That leveling attitude hits everyone in America but it hits Blacks many times harder. So now we have an African-American President who is better educated – and probably smarter – than most of us. Apparently this African-American President is supposed to keep his head down like a good old respectful Black man and lead at the same time. We have a problem, folks, and the problem is that we are allowing people, partisans, commentators to put him in an impossible position.

I’m not bothered about how smart other people are, Black or White, men or women. I can still make a contribution and do my best. Thank heaven that Obama is smart and well-educated.

I’d beware of people who think he can’t do anything right, who insist that whatever he proposes must be wrong – it’s a clear indication of their own blinders. We, the American people collectively have to get over and outgrow that. As individuals we need to help that happen.

Most of us respect lots of folk we disagree with – Republicans and Democrats – we understand there are reasons for their conclusions and they do lots of things well. But God forbid we show that kind of intelligent response to Obama.

I realize that many people don’t think anyone discriminates any more. Some have Black colleagues or classmates and they chat together. Plus the President is Black. But of course people don’t know what happens when they aren’t around, when African-Americans are dealing with other people. It doesn’t take a majority to cause a big problem. What happened in Ferguson, Missouri, is not unique. Some people’s prejudices are malevalent, some are merely unconscious biases. But they can be very damaging, even lethal. We are not over racism in this country.

We, the American people, elected a very decent man. Now we collectively have a problem, to give him the respect he deserves, to give ourselves the benefit of the politics we deserve. We need to give Obama a Congress of people who have outgrown that pettiness and will give this president appropriate support, a Congress President Obama can work with.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, October 21, 2014.

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