After watching the video Not Disappointed by President Obama by Jake Lamar, I was motivated to write some of what has been long-developing in my mind. Despite some policies and actions that I have not agreed with, I still support President Obama. Lamar, who I have been a fan of for many years, succinctly drives home my feeling about Obama, and gives voice to much of what I think and feel. But at the same time, Lamar has not addressed one of the key issues surrounding Obama’s presidency that to me is obvious, but not exactly something people want to tackle. Some might argue that it is a topic best left for historians to address, though I would disagree. History is riddled with inaccuracies, and is often written purely to make the reader feel good. I, however, am not interested in making anyone feel good. Instead, I would much rather talk about what so many of us are thinking about, and perhaps discussing in small conversations amongst our close friends, but not coming out and actually saying.
Being the “first black” anything in America is not exactly easy. Whether it is the first black family to move into an all-white neighborhood, the first black player in a professional sports league, or the first black President of the United States, the challenge of being the historically “first black” fill-in-the-blank can bring with it unparalleled levels of scrutiny and criticism. And it also brings unparalleled amounts of racism because, let’s face it, America is an extremely racist nation that has never fully grappled with the all-consuming and pervasive ideology of racial superiority/inferiority that is the foundation on which this country has been built.
As we swiftly approach the 2012 presidential election, and enter into what is sure to be his grueling reelection campaign for President Obama, I find myself in a state of deep reflection. I want to see Obama reelected, if for no other reason than the fact I see nothing good coming from a Republican president at this time (nor at any time in the foreseeable future). At the same time, I feel a certain amount of dread over what Obama will face in a second term.
Make no mistake about it, the opposition that has plagued Obama, and much of the criticism of him and his policies, has far less to do with politics than it does race. Yes, if Obama were a white man he’d still be facing the disdain and ire of the GOP and the Tea Party, but it is not the same. There is an underlying level of racism found within the opposition and criticism of President Obama that some white people see and acknowledge, and that most black people comprehend on a level that is hard-wired into our existence. Some black folks, like Herman Cain, may not get it, but most of us comprehend it the way we comprehend a noticeable shift in the weather, or the setting of the sun. It is difficult to exist in America as a black person and not understand and comprehend the subtle and insidious nature of racism in a way that is not unlike that of comprehending the clouds blocking out the sun just before the rain starts to fall.
Racism in America is very much like the weather. It exists in patterns. It varies from region to region. It surrounds us all the time. And it can affect all of us, though not all of us in the same way. There are measures you can take to battle the weather, or more accurately adapt to it, but wherever you go, there is weather that you must contend with in one capacity or another. The same is true with racism, especially for black folks. We can adapt to it in certain ways, but no matter what, everyday we feel the effects of the racial climate in this country. And some, like Obama, and the others who have been the “first blacks” in some capacity or another, are especially ravaged by the torrential downpour, the freezing winds, the scorching heat, and the completely inescapable deluge of racism that swoops in like a force of nature and destroys much of what is in its path.
I have never been a “first black,” but I have been an “only black,” and that in and of itself is difficult enough to endure. The “only black” is the person who exists as the sole person of color in a given setting—the only black person in a classroom, or at the work place, or at a party. And as such, the “only black” can often be subjected to extreme patterns of both subtle and obvious racism in ways similar to those experienced by “first blacks.” And as is the case with firsts and onlys, sometimes we must endure the racism and fight through it, without pointing it out because by pointing it out we give it an added strength. For some it is difficult to comprehend this dilemma, and rightfully so, as it is complex and difficult to understand. But the reality is that if you are a “first black” or an “only black” – in much the same way if you are the “first” or “only” anything—you must prove yourself capable on your own merits. And to call out racism is to call out for some sort of “special consideration,” which is to admit weakness.
Now don’t get me wrong, because I know that this paradigm is flawed, if for no other reason than the fact that the pervasive racist and sexist ideologies of this country creates new and more difficult barriers to overcome. But to point these out plays into the most insidious tactic of the oppressor which is this: the oppressors of our society cultivate the ideological belief of the inferiority of non-whites and women, and then enforce these beliefs of weakness and incompetence through a system that is more difficult for so-called minorities to navigate. If you are black, or a woman, or some other minority, caught in the systemic ideology that adheres to a belief in white male superiority, and you point out the oppressive nature of this system, you run the risk of being perceived as weak and inferior. This is why women and minorities can often be heard saying that they must work twice as hard as white men to prove themselves—it’s because the system is set up to favor white men.
One of my greatest hopes is that after Obama’s time in office is over, he will some day write a book, in which he calls a cracker a cracker, and shares what I’m sure are some very interesting insights regarding the racism he has faced every day he has served as president. Chances are good he won’t really do it, because in all honesty, America is not ready to hear the truth about itself. But that won’t stop me from breaking it down from time to time.
All of this is my way of saying that President Obama is dealing with things no other president has had to deal with. And I believe Obama is smart enough to know that calling out the racism he is dealing with would merely put him in the position of being perceived as weak and making excuses, because that is how racism works. It is very similar to what Jackie Robinson went through went he became the first black player in Major League Baseball. He had to tough it out. He had to put up with the racism and prove himself to be a great ball player who took all that was dished out to him with dignity and grace. And believe me when I say that it ain’t easy. Anyone who finds themselves in the position of being a “first” must withstand a special kind of heat—their feet held to a different kind of fire—because America likes its Negroes well-done.