A Black Person Can Become President, but Can’t Criticize Whites

U.S. president Barack Obama has apologized over the ripples caused by his indiscreet

remark, and has invited the white police officer and black professor, who had a conflict over law enforcement, to a have a beer together. More clearly than ever, this case shows us that the shadow of American racism has not vanished: a black person can become president, but may not call whites racist or even imply it. The African-American president must pretend that the after-effects of segregation and slavery have completely disappeared, with his election proving this point.

What did Obama say that was wrong? White police officer Crowley went so far as to arrest the famous African-American professor Gates in his own home after he had produced Harvard faculty ID. Saying there wasn’t any racism involved – meaning not believing blacks – it is surely a difficult argument to win. Even if racism is put aside, Obama was not crossing the line to call this law-enforcement action “stupid.” If the same thing happened in Taiwan, everyone would be cursing the police officer as soon as it was exposed by the media.

But why does a high and dignified president, in addition to apologizing for harsh words regarding to inappropriate law enforcement, have to invite the two for a reconciliatory beer? Because of the police’s reaction! The first reaction occurred when Crowley arrested Gates after being truthfully accused of a “racist investigation,” and then came the reaction to Obama’s “stupid” remark, because the president’s truthful words seemed to imply that the police officer really was conducting a racist investigation.

But the reaction of the police officer in and of itself is not a serious matter. After all, to the world’s most powerful leader, the protests of a local police station is but a small case. So Obama’s haste to invite the two for a reconciliatory beer was actually done in order to avoid offending the many whites who are unwilling to admit that racism isn’t over.

Since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and state and city governments followed suit with similar anti-racist legislation, outright racism has seemed to disappear gradually. However, the second round of war is still going strong. Although outright racism is clearly outlawed and seldom observed, the whites’ notions of self-superiority and bias toward minorities sometimes transforms into more complicated, underhanded forms. This prejudice and enmity isn’t necessarily controllable by anti-racist legislation. For example, schools may not adopt racial segregation, but many whites with notions of self-designated superiority are unwilling to live in the same community as minorities, and thus move away. Therefore, communities exhibit de facto racial segregation. And because public schools are divided according to residential areas, the result is the widespread return of the segregation of yesteryear!

Even stranger, many white conservatives, and even a portion of liberals, have launched a counter-attack: accusing all those who claim that racism still exists of being racist themselves. Held by a majority of conservatives, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that racial equality means being “color-blind”; therefore, any measures giving special support to minorities in order to erase the traces of racism may very likely be ruled unconstitutional and unlawful. Even if colleges and universities are reluctantly allowed to adopt affirmative action, giving limited priority selection to minority students, this can’t be done in the name of “making amends for past racism”; it can only be done towards the goal of “furthering campus diversification.”

Obama has continuously labored to remain low key on the race issue in order to avoid upsetting the fragile nerves of white people. But he surely understands that the U.S. is not as “color blind” as conservatives believe. At a previous speech at the NAACP, aside from expressing to blacks that “there is no excuse for failure,” he made further emphasis: “Make no mistake, the pain of racism in the U.S. can certainly still be felt,” and listed the difficult circumstances faced by minorities in various aspects [of life] in detail. He understands this, but cannot directly tell this to whites; even letting a metaphor slip is impermissible! The black president can teach other blacks to “be self-responsible,” but cannot admonish whites in a similar tone.

The election of a black person as president is surely a great step forward. But in order to deal with whites, each step forward as a voice for fellow African-Americans must be taken as if treading on thin ice. Perhaps the minority president is destined to accept such a test.

United Daily News/Liao Yuanhao/Assistant Law Professor at National Chengchi

University (Xindian, Taipei County)

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1 Comment

  1. It’s undeniable that President Obama is in both a historic and difficult position as the first minority president of the United States, but is it fair to say that “he’s pretending that the after-effects of segregation and slavery are over?” I don’t think so at all. From my limited exposure and understanding of the facts, I personally have been very impressed with his first few months in office and his ability to address the issues of racism in the U.S. in a progressive attitude, saying things like “what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart” and so on. The author of this editorial is correct in pointing out that Obama faces a great challenge as the U.S.’s first minority president, and that he must approach issues with great sensitivity in order to avoid setting off whites’s nerves, but he has never struck me as pretending – in fact the opposite, I have often been struck by the strength and candor of his words.

    On a side note:

    It also annoys me the way in which people (and the media) fasten onto one word – in this case “stupid” – and then act as if President Obama is some kind of a name-caller. If one observes the context in which he used this word,

    (view it here at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-e549qdS8Y)

    he prefaced it with all kinds of caveats such as “I don’t yet know all the facts of this case” and so forth, and I would like to see more people, rather than hanging onto every single word he says in order to entrap or accuse President Obama, simply appreciate the fact that we have now have a president who obviously makes a great effort to choose his words wisely. (as can be apparent from viewing the speech, rather than simply accepting at face value the media’s charge that President Obama called something “stupid”.)

    —my two-cents worth—-

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