America's First Black President Seriously Damaging Race Relations

On March 18, 2008, Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Philadelphia about race relations in America.

It was hailed by many as one of the most honest discussions on this subject since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination four decades ago.

As a result, it was believed his election would dramatically improve a condition that has plagued this country since its founding.

Despite the build up, when faced with racial issues, President Obama, rather than solving anything, has actually inflamed the situation.

After five such challenges in his brief presidency -- the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. affair, revelations about comments Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made about candidate Obama, allegations of racial epithets being hurled at black congressmen on Capitol Hill, the NAACP resolution condemning the Tea Party, and the recent Shirley Sherrod controversy -- America stands more racially divided than it's likely been in decades.

This led a reader of mine to comment recently that she's never in her life seen so much talk of race. Not knowing her age, I pondered on her remark and concluded that maybe the last time I've witnessed so much discussion on this subject was after the Rodney King riots in 1992.

Eighteen years later, we all still can't get along.

But Obama was supposed to solve all this -- or so we were told.

Quite the contrary -- when some Cambridge Police officers detained Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his house last July as they responded to a breaking and entering 911 call, our first black president rushed to judgment and made matters worse.

During a press conference shortly after the event, the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet asked Obama about the incident.

Our first black president admitted that Gates was a friend of his, "So I may be a little biased here." He then said, "I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that ..."

So far, so good, but here's where it got dicey:

Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident, is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact. 

Is this how one improves race relations in our nation: by, after admitting you don't have all the facts, claiming the police "acted stupidly" and then stating that "there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately"?

What kind of a leader in the year 2009 comes to such conclusions without all the facts?

Isn't that indeed at the heart of any racism or prejudice: making an assessment about a person or an incident based on color rather than the truth? Shouldn't the President of the United States be above such a thing?

More importantly, wouldn't it have been wiser for Obama, if he really were interested in improving race relations, to caution all Americans from jumping to any conclusions until all the facts were in?

Wouldn't he then have been setting quite a fine example of how such matters would be dealt with by his administration?

Apparently not, and all the beer in Bavaria wasn't going to solve the racial angst he exacerbated through his own incompetence.

So much for improving race relations.

But that was just the beginning of Obama's hapless response to such issues, for almost six months later, on January 8 of this year, Atlantic magazine's Marc Ambinder posted the following:

"Game Change," the long-awaited and very gossipy chronicle of the 2008 campaign by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, is chock full of revelations that are bound to stir the folks who live within ten miles of the Beltway -- and perhaps even reverberate beyond Washington. [...].

Among the more fascinating items:

On page 37, a remark, said "privately" by Sen. Harry Reid, about Barack Obama's racial appeal. Though Reid would later say that he was neutral in the presidential race, the truth, the authors write, was that his
encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately.  Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Reid immediately apologized: "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words ... I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans, for my improper comments."

Another fabulous opportunity to address the nation's longstanding racial divide was before our first black president. What did he do? He punted:

"This is a good man who's always been on the right side of history," Mr. Obama told Roland Martin in an interview for TV One at the White House this afternoon, "For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me, and for people to try to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense. [...] 

"He apologized, recognizing that he didn't use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say, and he's always been on the right side of the issues," Obama said today.

The President said that Americans-- regardless of race -- are more concerned with issues like health care and jobs.

"I guarantee you the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a quote in a book a couple years ago than they are about how we are going to move the country forward," Obama said, "That's where we need to direct our attention."

In less than six months, America's first black president had two golden opportunities to change the course of history and move the nation in a positive direction pertaining to race relations. Instead, he did nothing.

In reality, he did worse than nothing, for the racism double standard was present in both of his responses to these first two challenges, especially the second one.

After all, Reid's comments were disgusting. If they had been uttered by a Republican, that person would have resigned.

Former Sen. Trent Lott said something far less offensive at a private party for the hundredth birthday of Strom Thurmond in 2002, and he was forced to step down as incoming Majority Leader.

By contrast, all Reid had to do was apologize, and his leadership position in the Senate was safely preserved with a stamp from America's first black president.

As they say, what a difference a "D" makes, and the public took notice.

But that was just the beginning of racial unrest in 2010, for two months later, when protesters marched on the Capitol to voice disapproval for health care reform legislation about to be passed, it was alleged that some black congressmen were called the N-word.

Not surprisingly, the media jumped all over these groundless assertions, and although to this day no one has proved such a thing happened, the Democrats and their press minions continually bring it up as if now an historical fact.

Did the White House investigate the matter and determine if these allegations were true?

Not at all. In fact, despite being heralded as the man who would finally end racism in our time, Obama was curiously silent on this issue.

The first black president also chose to ignore the NAACP's July resolution condemning what it claimed was racism in the Tea Party.

Fortunately, not all black liberals kept their mouths shut about this. Here's what Mary Frances Berry, a professor of American social thought and history at the University of Pennsylvania, e-mailed to Politico on July 20:

Tainting the tea party movement with the charge of racism is proving to be an effective strategy for Democrats. There is no evidence that tea party adherents are any more racist than other Republicans, and indeed many other Americans. But getting them to spend their time purging their ranks and having candidates distance themselves should help Democrats win in November. Having one's opponent rebut charges of racism is far better than discussing joblessness.

As Matthew Sheffield wrote Thursday concerning Berry's caustic comments:

Ever since the NAACP began stepping up its attacks on the limited government movement through charges of racism against the Tea Parties, it's become rather apparent that there was a concerted effort behind this rhetoric.

Indeed. Maybe that explains Obama's silence on the first two racial controversies of 2010: It's a political strategy in an important election year designed to prevent the Republicans from taking back Congress in November.

As midterm elections are often about turnout, the key right now for Democrats is to construct a way to energize those who helped Obama get elected in the first place.

The solution: Play the race card. Nothing fires up liberals more than racism. You can almost hear the campaign speeches:

You might still be unemployed, and this administration may not have brought about all the Hope and Change they campaigned on, but Republicans are all racists.

This includes many of their elected officials, their surrogates at Fox News, the radio personalities they love like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and, of course, those awful Teabaggers.

As you know, the NAACP just put that scarlet letter on THEIR backs!!!

So if you want to keep these racists from taking back Congress, you had better get your butt out to vote in November. 

With the strategy in place, all Obama would need to do is keep quiet.

Unfortunately, a videotape of a black USDA official saying some racist things at an NAACP gathering in March was published shortly after the civil rights group's Tea Party resolution.

With his administration smack-dab in the middle of the controversy, the first black president had to comment, and chose Thursday's National Urban League Centennial Conference to do so:

Now, last week, I had the chance to talk to Shirley Sherrod -- an exemplary woman whose experiences mark both the challenges we have faced and the progress that we've made. She deserves better than what happened last week when a bogus controversy based on selective and deceiving excerpts of a speech led her -- led to her forced resignation.

Now, many are to blame for the reaction and overreaction that followed these comments -- including my own administration. And what I said to Shirley was that the full story she was trying to tell -- a story about overcoming our own biases and recognizing ourselves in folks who, on the surface, seem different -- is exactly the kind of story we need to hear in America. It's exactly what we need to hear because we've all got our biases. And rather than jump to conclusions and point fingers, and play some of the games that are played on cable TV, we should all look inward and try to examine what's in our own hearts.

We should all make more of an effort to discuss with one another, in a truthful and mature and responsible way, the divides that still exist -- the discrimination that's still out there, the prejudices that still hold us back -- a discussion that needs to take place not on cable TV, not just through a bunch of academic symposia or fancy commissions or panels, not through political posturing, but around kitchen tables, and water coolers, and church basements, and in our schools, and with our kids all across the country.

That's it? Your administration fired a woman a few hours after seeing an excerpted videotape of her speaking at an NAACP banquet, and that's all you have to say?

Amazing. Another missed opportunity, although with this one, Obama could have easily changed the race discussion in this nation in a fashion unlike what anyone has accomplished since King was assassinated.

For an administration with a Chief of Staff famously known for saying you should never let a good crisis go to waste, these guys astonishingly blew their greatest chance to not only save the Democrats in November, but also revive the Obama presidency, putting it on a trajectory for legendary status.

How might this have been accomplished?

Rather simply, really.

First, as soon as the videos were published at Andrew Breitbart's, Sherrod should have been summoned to the White House to meet with the president and advised to not speak to any press members until after that meeting.

A full video of her speech should have been obtained for Obama's review, and leaders of the NAACP who were present at Sherrod's address in March should have been contacted for their opinions concerning what happened at the event.

The head of the NAACP should also have been contacted to alert him as to what the administration was doing concerning this matter, and asked not to issue a comment or statement until the White House had decided what it was going to do.

If that had occurred, Sherrod wouldn't have been fired, and a lit cigarette butt tossed out of a car on an interstate would have been swiftly extinguished before turning into an acres-destroying wildfire.

With the matter internally resolved, Obama should have gone on national television Wednesday offering the following to the citizenry:

My fellow Americans, when I spoke to you as a presidential candidate back in March of 2008, I promised that if elected, I would help to solve the racial divide that has existed in this nation since its founding.

Unfortunately, I have failed, and failed miserably. In fact, my actions over the past eighteen months have actually worsened race relations in this country rather than improved them, and for that I am deeply ashamed as well as sorry.

Politics is an ugly business, and politicians have been using race in this country as a wedge to help them at the polls for decades. I myself employed such a strategy to become state senator in Illinois, and did so in my 2004 campaign for United States Senate, as well as in 2008 to win the White House.

Like so many before me, I thought the end justified the means.

However, recent events have brought me to realize that I've been wrong, and that by continuing with this strategy, I've not only let down those of you who voted for me, but I've also let down my wife, my daughters, and myself.

What brought me to this conclusion is that a marvelous lady was almost destroyed by racial politics on Monday, and I realized that I was partially to blame for her being a target. By now, you've probably all seen the excerpted video of USDA official Shirley Sherrod speaking in front of an NAACP banquet last March. The contents of that video were shocking and disgraceful.

However, I've now watched her entire speech, as well as spoken to others that were in the room when she gave that address. I've met with Mrs. Sherrod, as well as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and we've concluded that she did absolutely nothing wrong. She has my full faith and confidence, and will continue to act in her current capacity.

But there's a much larger issue. A conservative publisher used this video as a way of exposing what he believes is racism within the NAACP. This was a response to the NAACP's recent resolution condemning what it believes is racism within the organization known as the Tea Party.

This tit for tat has got to stop.

We Americans will never end racism if we all cry "racist" at everyone who disagrees with us. It is not racist to have differing political views. It is not racist to disagree with the president, or to organize protests against his policies.

That's what it means to be American.

I never in a million years would have imagined that the election of America's first black president would widen racial divisions in our country, but that's where we are.

With this in mind, I have looked into the matter concerning black congressmen allegedly having been called racial epithets on Capitol Hill in March. My administration has found absolutely no evidence of such, and I therefore implore those making these claims inside both government and the media to stop doing so.

Furthermore, I ask the NAACP to reconsider its resolution concerning the Tea Party while asking the handful of Tea Party members who have expressed racist sentiments at its gatherings to cease and desist.

I also ask members of my party to stop accusing Republicans of being racially motivated in their votes and speeches. Again, it is not racist to disagree with me or my policies.

I have scheduled a meeting Friday with the House and Senate leadership -- Democrats and Republicans -- to work on a bipartisan plan to end racial politics in this nation. It is clear to me now that America emulates Washington, and as long as members of Congress are using race for political gain, so too will our citizens.

We in the nation's capital need to finally lead by example on this issue, for until we do, racism will continue to strangle Main Street just as it does the halls of Congress. This is why I have also scheduled a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Mr. Ben Jealous, the President of the NAACP, has agreed to be in attendance as well.

My goal at this gathering is to figure out a way for the black leadership in this country to once and for all convince African-Americans that their white brothers and sisters are not responsible for how black people were treated here in the past. Until the hatred that many African-Americans feel and exhibit towards whites is completely eliminated, we will never solve racism in this nation.

After all, almost 47 years ago, when I was only two years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a day when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I'm afraid America still hasn't achieved this, and politicians like myself are partly to blame.

I have sat back and watched -- as well as played -- the racial politics game for far too long. If my two daughters are ever going to live in that marvelous nation King dreamed of, I'm going to have to bring about the real change I campaigned for many months ago.

It is my solemn hope that Democrats and Republicans alike will help me make this dream come true for all of us.

Good night, and God Bless America.

With these words or something similar, America's first black president could have finally taken racism by the scruff of the neck, shaken it to its very core, and energized an entire population to stop living in the past.

As a fifty-year-old who watched the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy, and was alive for the passage of major civil rights legislation in the '60s, I am truly disgusted that my children are witnessing nearly the same racism that I grew up with.

That we're almost 42 years since King was assassinated and still struggling with this issue should be offensive to all Americans, irrespective of their color or political beliefs.

In fact, regardless of my many ideological differences with presidential candidate Barack Obama, I still felt pride on Election Day 2008 that my country had finally put a black man in the White House.

That said, despite not having voted for him, I believe he has let me down just as much as he let down the millions who foolishly bought into his now clearly empty promises of Hope and Change, for he has most certainly set our nation backwards on issues of race.

Lest readers conclude that only conservatives are feeling this way, here’s what ABC’s Barbara Walters asked Obama on Thursday’s “The View”:

BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": Your mother was white. 


WALTERS: Would it be helpful or why don't you say I am not a black president, I am biracial? 
Here was Obama’s telling response:

OBAMA: You know, when I was young and going through the identity crises that any teenager goes through, I wrote a whole book about this…Part of what I realized was that if the -- if the world saw me as African-American then that wasn't something that I needed to run away from. That's something that I could go ahead and embrace. 
Indeed. But he’s no longer a teenager going through identity crises. He’s now the President of the United States, and it would be in everyone’s best interest if he embraced being just an American.

Furthering this point, another liberal press member – CNN’s Larry King - seemed bother by Obama’s response to Walters’ question.

After playing that “View” clip on “Larry King Live” Thursday evening, the host asked his guest Laura Ingraham, “Why is racism still a question in this country?”

Ingraham marvelously replied, “I think, sadly, a lot of people are disappointed that -- they thought they had a post-racial president in President Obama, and because of [the Cambridge Police incident], and maybe some of the things that have happened with the immigration debate, they think he might be the most racial president.”

She later continued, “The number one thing, I think, as Americans is we really want to get beyond the hyphenated America. I do. I'm half Polish, and then Irish, English. We want to get beyond that.”

Honest answer, wouldn’t you say?

Ironically, on February 18, 2009, America's first black Attorney General, Eric Holder, said the United States was a nation of cowards when it comes to discussions of race and racism.

At the time, we didn't know Holder was really pointing his finger at the man that had just four weeks prior been inaugurated as our first black president.

Now we do.

Noel Sheppard is associate editor of the Media Research Center's He welcomes feedback at