My mother is a huge fan of Barack Obama. The house is decked out with portraits of the president and Michelle, including some from his inauguration, which she attended. I’ve never seen her this excited for any president, including Bill Clinton.
This type of sentiment is typical of many black Americans, who have a brimming sense of pride over the first black president. This is not so much because they agree with his policies—in fact, many black Americans, while Democrats, identify as conservative—but rather due to a sense of victory that after so many years of slavery and segregation, we’ve finally arrived at the point where the American people are willing to accept a black president.
Yet all is not well. Under President Obama, many black folks think racial division has increased, not decreased. A family friend, who is a Democrat and an Obama supporter, recently curiously remarked, “I’ll be glad when Obama is out of office.” He said this not as an affront to President Obama, but as an acknowledgement that the state of racial affairs seems to have gotten worse under him.
Many whites feel the same way, which is one reason Donald Trump is popular. His outright rejection of political correctness that many Americans are sick of seems like a step in the right direction to his supporters, who hope removing PC will allow for honest dialogue without fear of being called racist amidst an environment that has become increasingly charged and accusatory.
Why is this the case? How did we get to a spot where black and white perceptions on race are so divergent, and we are more divided than ever? It starts with how you view our country.
Either You’re an Optimist or Pessimist
My view of America is that we are a place of great promise and opportunity, where someone like me, who is the grandchild of illiterate black Southern sharecroppers, can achieve success and reach the American dream. We are a place occupied by fair-minded, hard-working people whose culture and values have built a nation that is the envy of the world. I am proud to be a part of that culture.
Our Founders, while imperfect and a product of their times, were visionary heroes who made hard choices and compromises to give us the successful system we have today. Because Americans are good, we’ve worked hard over time to right the wrongs in our society that our Founding Fathers could not eliminate in their time. In summary, we are a fundamentally decent people blessed to live in a phenomenal land with a rich heritage.
But not so for President Obama. His view of our nation seems to be very different than mine and that of many other Americans. I believe that when President Obama thinks of America, more so than a place of hope or opportunity, he thinks of a place where racist white Christian fundamentalists came here from Europe, committed genocide against Native Americans, enslaved and segregated black people, denied women, gays, and other minorities their rights, and used capitalism and a rigged legal system to oppress poor people for centuries. He also believes this is still continuing today.
Given this view of America as an evil place in need of forceful justice for her sins, the president’s overarching goal has been to eliminate what he sees as the structural, institutionalized discrimination that defines America. He has done this by taking every opportunity to see disparities between groups as evidence of discrimination, then using all available resources to fight this perceived discrimination by going to war against the Americans he believes are responsible for it, who are almost always whites, men, police, and Christians.
A small sampling of the ways he has done this are: accusing whites of “white privilege,” which means having an unfair advantage due to being white, an advantage built upon oppressing minorities; accusing the police and justice system at large of racism; blaming pay differences between men and women on discrimination; and casting Islamic radicalism as a legitimate response to discrimination (ostensibly by white Christians).
This strategy has had two effects: 1) It’s caused the alleged victims of the perceived discrimination to become more militant, hostile, and only willing to make demands and not willing to engage in dialogue due to increasing their sense of victimhood, and 2) It’s caused the alleged perpetrators of the perceived discrimination to feel unfairly blamed for problems that are not their fault, thus less willing to engage in dialogue with people who will do nothing but accuse them of wrongdoing.
In other words, both sides are moving away from each other. This means that, contrary to unifying the nation, the president’s leadership has caused division and discord.
Discrimination Is Not the Biggest Problem for Minorities
In addition to failing to unify the nation, the president’s leadership philosophy has also failed to solve the underlying problems supposedly caused by discrimination. This is due to his failure to understand two critical truths: 1) Unequal outcomes do not constitute proof of discrimination. Thus policies attempting to produce equal results between groups through eliminating discrimination will accomplish nothing when the unequal outcomes are not caused by discrimination in the first place, and 2) While actual discrimination exists, most of the ills minorities face in today’s America are not caused by discrimination, but rather by factors such as complete family breakdown engendered by the welfare state and reduced employment prospects due to globalization, illegal immigration, and automation. So again, policies to remedy discrimination will do nothing to solve problems that are not caused by discrimination in the first place.
Sure enough, this is exactly what the data shows. With the exception of the unemployment rate, black Americans are worse off in many categories under President Obama, including: labor force participation, the percentage of people below the poverty line, real median income, the number of black people on food stamps, the percentage of black people who own homes, and the black-white test score gap in education.
Thus, far from unifying the nation, and far from ending the social ills he believes are caused by discrimination, President Obama has—perhaps unwittingly—caused America to become more polarized and divided, and brought us no closer to solving the key problems stunting black achievement.