It is often said when it comes to being President of the United States that there will always be someone who disagrees with what you said or what you’ve done. Criticizing the President is something that is almost natural to American politics, whether it comes from the left or the right. Like most presidents before him, Barack Obama is all too familiar with the criticism that comes with holding the most powerful position in the world. However, there have been recent remarks that differ from those before him.
For the first time there is an African-American President instead of a white one. Suddenly, the Commander in Chief is someone who is not only affected by racial issues, but has to confront them in way that is sensitive to all sides of the American public.
President Bush’s most defining moment when it came to race was his administration’s response to Katrina. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, killing over 1,800 people, and displacing over tens of thousands of others. One of the most notorious events that happened during efforts to assist New Orleans was Kanye West’s comment, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” His comments before his infamous remark gave insight into how the media was treating African Americans who were stranded in New Orleans compared to their white peers, describing them as “thugs” or “looting grocery stores” when pictured holding food and supplies.
The media also showed images of many low income African Americans that were left in New Orleans, and to many other African Americans, this was not only a sign of neglect, but of the racial bias that could occur even during a natural disaster. The delayed response from the government, and the lack of effectiveness the Bush administration, as well as other government administrations, seemed to show that they could care less about blacks, even during a crisis.
Bush would later write that Katrina and the events surrounding it, including West’s comment, would be “one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.” Although former President Bush would employ people of color in his administration, and even issued a new policy that attempted to stop racial profiling, Katrina remains his most defining moment when it comes to racial issues in the United States and a main reason that black Americans would continue to distance themselves from the Republican Party.
Former President Bill Clinton has been referred to as America’s “First Black President”, and while his administration did often work towards achieving equality among Blacks and minorities, there were still some racially charged points in his term that stood out from the rest. Clinton’s 1994 crime bill is criticized as being the bedrock for mass incarceration today, and has even affected Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.
During the creation of the 1994 crime bill, the Congressional Black Caucus attempted to curb the amounts of individuals sentenced to death by using statistics to show racial bias, but the White House and the Congressional Black Caucus could not come to an agreement, ultimately leaving the provision out of the bill. Clinton has had to recently defend his bill and his wife (who supported the bill as well), telling protesters that, “Gang leaders got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out in the street to murder other African-American children…Maybe you thought they were good citizens; she didn’t.”
Perhaps the defining moment of racial issues in Obama’s presidential term is right now, especially dealing with the aftermath of the Dallas shootings. During the memorial service for the five officers that were killed, Obama not only mentioned the importance of the police but also mentioned the importance of those in the African-American community that are disproportionately killed compared to their white counterparts. Doing this is important, and bold. His comments about the invalidation of black experiences drew a hailstorm of comments from those on the right, proclaiming that he was forgetting that the five officers killed in Dallas were killed because they were white.
Criticizing the president is normal. It’s part of the job. But the criticism that Obama receives when it comes to race seems to come from a side that points this commentary as dividing the American public into Black and White groups. According to a study issued by the Pew Research Center, 63% of white Republicans believe that Obama has made race relations worse. Compare this with the 51% of blacks who believe that Obama has made progress dealing with race relations and an interesting division appears.
Why is it that when Obama begins to discuss race, it’s seen as a negative? As the first African American President, it’s important to discuss these issues, especially when they are occurring at a large rate and gathering national attention. What is Obama supposed to do, not say anything? For the first time, the President of the United States is garnering negative reviews of race relations not from minority groups, but from the majority group, which happens to be white.
This is telling about not only how race is viewed in America, but also about how to go discussing it. Many conservatives began to blame Obama for the incidents that occurred in Dallas, noting that because he has shown support for Black Lives Matter, he has therefore instigated the anti-cop/anti-white rhetoric. It’s hard to believe that Obama would support the killing of officers, but if that’s the conclusion that people come to, it becomes more telling about how they view race than anything else.
International Business Times: http://www.ibtimes.com/protesters-crash-bill-clinton-speech-philly-former-president-goes-race-2350215
The Los Angeles Times:
The New Yorker:
The New York Times: