Does the Presidential election reveal the truth about racism in America?
When Barack Obama became the United States’ 44th president in November 2008, sweeping into office with 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173, a whirlwind of hope spiraled across America and beyond – hope that the United States had finally broke free from its obsession with race.
However, it didn’t take long for those jubilant scenes of optimism as America embraced its first black president, to wane.
Not long after he came into office, President Obama’s ‘colour’ started to surface as a satirical issue among many Obama challengers, with the likes of the American radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh playing the tune ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ on his show, but replacing the words with ‘Barack the Magic Negro’.
While the initial hope and optimism that the election of America’s first black president would appease race relations in the U.S., figures are showing that the situation has actually worsened in recent years.
According to the Rasmussen survey, just 36 percent of voters in the U.S. now believe that relations between black and white has improved, which compares significantly to 2009 when 62 percent of voters were of the opinion that the race barrier that has scourged America for centuries was getting better. (1)
The rise in confidence about race relations improving in the U.S. have have sunk, alongside with the Obama administration’s popularity. Some of the Democrat’s most unpopular reforms, such as his healthcare plan, have been criticized using racist undertones, with even former president Jimmy Carter suggesting that opposition to the government’s healthcare overhaul was motivated by racism.
The State of Racism in America
Talking to the Daily Mail, one Washington senior analyst spoke of how once the euphoria of the Obama election had ended and Americans began to realise Obama wasn’t going to be the ‘answer to their dreams’, old prejudices began to resurface.
“It’s not that the country hasn’t made great strides in race relations because it has. It is just that peoples’ more benevolent natures don’t always come out when they are scared about what the future holds.” (3)
As an incumbent, President Obama is running for a second and final term for the United States presidential election 2012, but political rhetoric aimed at the President by Republican opposition has been harsh and at times, often personally attacking Obama because of his American-African heritage.
One example of racist rhetoric being rife in this year’s presidential election campaign are the t-shirts being sold in a tattoo shop in Nampa, Idaho.
One blatantly racist t-shirt has the words “Don’t Re-Nig In 2012” accompanied by the images of two nooses, with the ‘N’ being emphasized with a circle. Not only does the t-shirt insinuate what is possibly the most offensive racial term in the English language, but it is coupled with an insinuation made by the nooses that the President is committing treason, and the penalty for treason in the U.S. is death. The imagery of a noose is not lost by those in the U.S. where memories of the 1960’s racial lynchings are still fresh.
The sale of such racist t-shirts have naturally sparked widespread condemnation and disgust, with many residents of Namba saying they are ashamed that such bigoted political paraphernalia is being sold in their doorstep.
“Why would you put that on a shirt”, asked Ariel Joseph, and outraged resident of Nampa. “It’s offensive to everybody and not just our President.” (4)
Although the same KIVI-TV report admitted that the store had ‘gone through a lot’ of the t-shirts in terms of sales.
Internet Rife With Anti-Obama Racism
Aside from t-shirts, stickers emblazoned with the same “Don’t Re-Nig In 2012” words have been in circulation during the run-up to this year’s presidency election, and are being sold on various right-wing Internet sites.
One such site is Stickatude.com, which has been selling the “N” word stickers for $3 each. Talking to Forbes, Stickatude.com’s owner Paula Smith insists that the “N” word is not a racist attack on Obama.
“According to the dictionary [the N word] does not mean black. It means a low down, lazy, sorry, low down person. That’s what the N word means,” Ms Smith told Forbes when pressed about her stickers’ racist connotations. (4)
Blundering her way deeper into a hole, Ms Smith then tried to defend herself by ignorantly adding to Forbes, “And besides, Obama is not even black. He’s got a mixture of race. It’s his choice what nationality he is.”
Whilst ‘nit-picking’ over the actual academic definition of such a long-standing, historically racial word – which incidentally is defined as an offensive word referring to “a black person” by Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary – is somewhat childish. However, the most worrying aspect of the racial epithet attacking Barack Obama is that the sticker, according to Think Progress.org, is Stickeratude.com’s top selling item.
Racism in the American Media
Further proof that Obama’s presidency is revealing that racism is still very much alive and well in America can be seen in the political bias of the media, particularly on the Internet, some of which can be clearly identified as Republican propaganda. A recent example of this was in January of this year when a racist image of Michelle Obama appeared on the right-wing blog the ‘Gateway Pundit’.
The post was made by Jim Hoft, a Gateway blogger, which showed a caricature of the First Lady based on a Versailles painting, as a pompous queen choosing her next lavish vacation.
The L.A. Times was later also criticized when Christopher Knight, a columnist for the L.A. Time’s “Culture Monster” column, referred to Michelle Obama looking like an “uppity Negro” in the caricature.
John Nolt at Big Journalism condemned the L.A. Times remarks, stating:
“Who other than someone with their own disturbing prejudices would look at that obvious piece of political satire hitting the First Lady for her excessive and lavish vacationing and think ‘uppity Negro’?” (5)
Racist jibes targeted at the President are not exclusive of Republican opposition as, according to the Florida Citizen, even Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate, who has earned mutual respect from both parties, raised a few eyebrows recently when it was revealed that he had privately stated that he believed President Obama was suited to a presidential run because he is a “light skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect”. (8)
According to Jimmy Carter:
“An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man: that he is African-American.” (9)
It is a sad but true fact that President Barack Obama has received 400% more death threats than any other president. (7)
Whilst Carter’s remarks on racism may not have done Obama any favours as he attempts to move beyond the issue of race, if a government is a reflection of its citizens, then the American government has a lot of work to do, because most rational and unbiased observers can see that racism in America is very much alive and well.