African Americans For Obama: Is An Appeal To Race A Celebration or An Abdication of The Civil Rights Movement?

President Barack Obama this month launched “African Americans For Obama.” This video shows Obama with an articulate and moving message tied to African American month, but is it the right message? There is no question this is a direct appeal to race as a unifying theme with supporters — a move that would be denounced if tried by his white opponents. In the video, Obama states “I don’t think there’s a better time than Black History Month” for this effort, but some view this as the worst time for an open injection of race as a motivating factor in politics. I am frankly divided on the issue because I can see the justified pride of this community in President Obama. However, I remain uneasy over a direct appeal from the President on race — just as I have criticized past appeal to sectarian religious groups by presidential candidates.

It has long been a touchstone of American politics that appeals to race are dangerous and divisive. That certainly does not mean that race is not a factor in politics. However, the common open references to race that marred prior elections in the sixties and even the seventies were considered things of the past. If African Americans are united by their racial bond with Obama, does that mean that other candidates can appeal openly to white communities? Clearly other communities organize around their common identities from Cubans to Koreans to Italians. However, organizing solely on the basis for skin color should raise some legitimate concerns and objections, in my view. Indeed, we have strongly condemned past candidates who made even veiled references to race.

One answer could be that blacks have a shared history of oppression that whites lack. This history gives them a special bond not found in other communities. I do believe that argument has merit. Yet, this is a significant change in the long-standing aversion to open appeal to race as a unifying theme.

It is an interesting issue that is worthy of debate among people of good faith. It is not just limited to politics (though that tends to be the most unnerving). There is a growing movement toward incorporating race and gender distinctions in public policies. I have previously written about how we have reinforced segregation principles in our schools and prisons (here and here and here).  I do see the distinction drawn by those who see a clear distinction for African Americans and I find aspects of that argument quite compelling.  However, in the long struggle to remove race from politics, this troubles some of us.

On the social level, there is also a growing trend toward voluntary segregation. There is an array of race-based dating sites, the most prominent being BlackPeopleMeet which advertises widely. Once again, the question is the likely response to a dating date for white people. Unlike religious dating sites which deal with communities with established religious practices and limitations in dating, a race-based dating site offers a form of voluntary segregation.

It creates an interesting contrast in how our laws treat real and virtual meeting spaces. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination or segregation in places of public accommodation. Thus, a public restaurant cannot adopt the exclusionary practices as the place “where Black people eat” or “where White people eat.” Yet, presumably these sites are restricted to members of particular races. These are perfectly legal as associations, of course.

I also realize that associations have long been defined on exclusionary groups from Italian-Americans to Irish-Americans to share cultural norms and practices. Moreover, I do not question the right of people to choose racially exclusive associations — as much as I abhor them. I understand that people feel that they need the shared experiences and culture in such sites. I support the right to have such sites and association regardless of my dislike for racial exclusionary practices. However, I believe this trend — particularly in politics — undermines rather than advances the cause of men like Martin Luther King and the successes highlighted during Black History month. To that end, I think that the President is being a bit irresponsible in organizing part of his campaign along racial lines. I have leveled similar criticism on this blog and in columns over candidates making sectarian appeals to their own faith groups. A reference to a candidate’s own faith can have the same divisive (if unintended) impact on our political discussion.

More than anyone else, a president should be a unifying figure in our country. I did not vote for Obama because he was black and I do not believe that people should support or oppose him on that basis now. What is fascinating is that Obama doesn’t even need to organize along race. He has always received overwhelming support in the black community. Yet, his campaign has decided to take this step despite the inevitable criticism for “playing the race card.” While race will continue to play a role for many citizens in their voting, the President should stick to “Americans For Obama” rather than organize citizens according to their race in my view.

What do you think?

200 thoughts on “African Americans For Obama: Is An Appeal To Race A Celebration or An Abdication of The Civil Rights Movement?”

  1. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and
    I am waiting for your further write ups thank you once again.

  2. Look black americans are not stupid. they are americans. we must stand together against Obama because we are not dealing with a normal democrat. This president isn’t a man that was raised with american values and blacks know of these values, freedom. Obama was raised outside american and you must research him and not just vote for him only by the color of his skin. This is america and our values are based on the constitution. Obama doesn’t agree with the constitution. He has said that many times on Tv. See the movie 2016 to get the full explanation of his ideology. This is so important and being black means freedom for all colors. Just because his skin is black doesn’t mean his intentions are honorable.

  3. Mike S.
    You give him better than he deserves; but he of course is only a useful tool to illustrate your thesis. And it’s well worth the effort. Beautiful vision.
    Did we ever have it? Washington was afraid of French Terror style revolutions, which Jefferson was said to have admired, I understand—–and as some point out, the FF were all men of standing financially. Just commenting.

  4. Regarding a covert, domestic program, there’s a lot for Obama and the DOJ to hide.

    “1917 is also the year when U.S. Sen. Hiram Johnson famously said, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

    Wikileaks vs. Stratfor: Pursue The Truth, Not Its Messenger

    Posted on Mar 1, 2012

    By Amy Goodman


    Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president of intelligence, and a former head of counterintelligence at the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic corps, wrote in an email, “Not for Pub—We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.” Burton and others at Stratfor showed intense interest in WikiLeaks starting in 2010, showing intense dislike for Assange personally. Burton wrote: “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.” Another Stratfor employee wanted Assange waterboarded.

    Michael Ratner, legal adviser to Assange and WikiLeaks, told me, “The Obama administration has gone after six people under the Espionage Act. That’s more cases than happened since the Espionage Act was actually begun in 1917. … What this is about is the United States wanting to suppress the truth.”

    1917 is also the year when U.S. Sen. Hiram Johnson famously said, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” The White House is holding a gala dinner this week, honoring Iraq War veterans. Bradley Manning is an Iraq War vet who won’t be there. He is being court-martialed, facing life in prison or possibly death, for allegedly releasing thousands of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks revealing the casualties of war. President Barack Obama would better serve the country by also honoring Assange and Manning.

    We should pursue the truth, not its messengers. (end of excerpt)

  5. “That includes you; you allegedly jaded dingbat.”


    I’ve never been called a “dingbat” in my life and the term returns me to the “All in the Family” era. I’ve re-read everything on this thread including everything I have written. I think what I’ve written expresses my thoughts clearly, except in one respect which you seem to have caught. Replace the terms “jaded” ad “cynical” with “skeptical” and “distrustful” and my meanings become more precise. Jaded and cynical connote emotional states, while skeptical and distrustful connote intellectual states. The latter was what I really should have conveyed. I am neither wearied, nor exhausted by American politics. I just believe that what we see in public discourse does not reflect what is really going on. I believe there is a battle between those who consider themselves elite and therefore fit to rule and those who actually believe that the country should be run by some form of democratic system. To this point I think the elite have run the game, with only crumbs occasionally thrown to the rest of us.

    I believe that the system is manipulated through both violence and “dog and pony” shows. The only saving grace for the vast majority of us is that what I see as an oligarchy is divided among themselves via egotism, greed and differing opinions as to how well to treat the masses. To overcome this and return to the aspirations of the Declaration and the Constitution requires a broad based coalition among the mass of people. I think it is possible to develop that but it takes time. Until then, I believe that it is important to ensure that things don’t get worse for the majority of people. Therefore, I am willing to support Obama in this election, because I believe that any opponent will actually make things worse.

    This is as AY states my vote for the lesser of two evils. I think that Obama has not understood the game, is too closely tied to those who have hurt the country, has not provided leadership in ending the abuses/crime of G.W. Bush, and is in fact a member of the elite. However, he has taken certain positions that I think are vital and represents a less repressive alternative. He is what in my youth I would have called a moderate Republican. I strongly disliked Bill Clinton, not for the sex, but for the cowardice he displayed in such instances as welfare reform, which given my years of work in that system, was a cruel hoax. I think that Obama has been a better President for the people, but falls far short of my beliefs and standards. Nevertheless, as I’ve stated many times and above I can see people who can not vote for him as a matter of integrity and if you look at the record I’ve never tried to argue them out of their position, merely stated my own. I am and have always been an idealist, but from my perspective I believe idealism must be tempered with realism as to what can be realistically accomplished at a given time.

  6. “Obama cracks down on whistleblowers more than any other administration”:

  7. Speaking of blacks and politics. here’s a poem in an email from the signature shown.

    “If the staff’s list represents the screenplay for the year that we had, then I think that Maya Angelou’s beautiful poem “Still I Rise” was the score. Here is an excerpt:

    “You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may trod me in the very dirt
    But still, like dust, I’ll rise. . . .

    Did you want to see me broken?
    Bowed head and lowered eyes?
    Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
    Weakened by my soulful cries.

    Does my haughtiness offend you?
    Don’t you take it awful hard
    ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
    Diggin’ in my own back yard.

    You may shoot me with your words,
    You may cut me with your eyes,
    You may kill me with your hatefulness,
    But still, like air, I’ll rise. . . .

    Out of the huts of history’s shame
    I rise
    Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
    I rise
    I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
    I rise
    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.”

    Alan Grayson”

  8. Clarification: I was thanking Gene H. for giving measure to Lotta’s intelligence, NOT expressing Lotta’s dominating him,,,,,,or whatever this confusing allusion appeared to say. Gene H. seems quite indomitable. to me, and obviously contains no little measure of intelligence himself.
    Will now get off my professorial piedestat, and strain to talk normal again.

  9. Lotta
    May I from my porridge bowl warmly endorse the previous hales of merit.
    Indeed your measure of intelligence may dominate the whole middlewest.

    And Gene H. for the measure.

    Saying that we have many closet conservatives here and they drive away democrats is news to a newbie as I am. You don’t suppose they use the same tactics in society, ie drives opponents from the fruits of their labor:
    advancement, education, control of their minds and bodies, etc.

    But it is possible to oppose them. Like challenging them to come public.

    As to voting hinders, here’s:

    “Last fall, the Brennan Center released a comprehensive study detailing the wave of restrictive laws that could make it harder for up to 5 million Americans to vote. As we approach the 2012 elections, the Brennan Center will continue to track these laws — on our website and in your inbox.

    Today, we bring you our first newsletter tracking voting developments. If you would like to receive these updates going forward, please sign up here. Join us as we fight to protect the right to vote for millions of Americans.”

  10. Gene, thank goodness that the Missouri primary counts for nothing in apportioning delegates. 🙂

    Hi Ms Blouise, Thanks, I’m still lurking and reading the blawg in the middle of the night. Great threads 🙂

  11. LK,

    Given that Santorum won Missouri and the outstandingly high quality of your last two comments, I am starting to suspect that you are the rightful holder of 9/10ths of the common sense to be found in that picturesque state.

  12. Thanks SWM, I just don’t see the issue as a relevant negative regarding the President. Politics is a blood-sport and I think the Dems are late to the game as it is. Maddow had an excellent blueprint of the rightward tilt of the country’s politics tonight. The Democrats have been asleep at the wheel for a couple of decades and some serious push-back is long overdue. Building a strong, unified coalition among the groups being disenfranchised would be a good start.

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