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. The Republicans in a dozen states are doing, and have done, whatever they can to change the state election laws to disenfranchise black and brown people, the poor, handicapped, students and elderly. To the tune of possibly 5,000,000 voters this year. Appeals to race, region, religion and class have been in play by the Republicans/conservatives since the last presidential election: birthers, tenthers etc,

    Why would any candidate grounded in reality, specifically Obama, NOT work to rally and reinvigorate what is left of those disenfranchised groups? Making a simple appeal on the basis of race should be his, or any candidate in the same political environment, should be only the starting point. Same with taking superpac money, to not do so is to voluntarily handicap oneself.

    Debating the honor-quotient of appeals to race is kinda’ superfluous IMO, that horse left the barn in 2008.

  2. Obama won in 2008 without the white male vote. If he wins in 2012 it will be without the white male vote. nuf said.

  3. Bob, Esq.

    Are you suggesting that some just like to be spoon fed what to think? I think that there are lots of democrats and Republicans that get into the us versus them….the good vs evil twist that they no longer have the capability to decipher what is real….as you suggest, they are lying to themselves…..and because they do it….it’s easier to get others to do their bidding for them…because their truth is exactly that….their truth….. For some voting for Obama is the lesser of the two evils…. I just wish we had one decent one electable….that is my truth….I think mike s. Has said he’d hold his nose and vote for Obama…. Mike if I am incorrect please tell me…. Thank you….

  4. And please don’t mention Emily’s list or Planned Parenthood……. not important as those issues might encourage even more women to support democrats.

  5. Most of the democrats like slarti, buckeye and a multitude of others have been driven away. We are left with a variety of closeted republicans that don’t believe that women’s healthcare or other rights even merit discussion.

  6. Mike,

    Let’s review what I said:

    I think your analysis gives short schrift to those who value integrity in thought and action. These would be the same people who felt personally harmed when they realized they were being manipulated to lie to themselves and others by president Clinton during the Lewinski scandal.

    People who dislike Obama because he is bereft of integrity would not vote against him to preserve their ‘selve esteem’; rather they would do it to preserve their sense of self and sanity.

    “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”
    ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky


    Did I accuse you of anything Mike?


    What am I saying? Did I take exception with one of the comments you made to Jill; the one about ‘self esteem’?

    Am I or am I not talking about the distinction of preserving one’s sense of self and sanity by not getting lazy and lying to one’s self?

    In your reply you repeatedly admit that you’ve become ‘jaded’ and I say you’re lying; evidenced by the amount of thought you put into your post.

    Your posts on the one hand convey a campaign for the jaded; making excuses for being tired of caring about noticing a lack of integrity any more and a campaign on the other hand to bring notice to the amount of struggle you go through BECAUSE you’re not jaded and are not immune to the lack of integrity you see.

    So Mike, I’ll say it again: “I think your analysis gives short schrift to those who value integrity in thought and action.”

    That includes you; you allegedly jaded dingbat.

    Believe it or not Mike, there are lots of other posters here who are not only jaded but mere suckups for the democratic party and don’t bother to struggle with theses issues for the mere sake of being cognizantly lazy.

    Accordingly, it would be greatly appreciated if you didn’t encourage them.

  7. PS On surnames.
    The site made clear that jewish like other peoples did not have surnames until they were forced on them. The askenazys got germanic and the portuguese catholic names.. Many on moving to Israel hebrewized them or began adopting modern names with other reference points. The germanic ones could be related to occupation and the portuguese to catholic concepts such as holy spirit (in portuguese language).

    In Sweden we have the traditional (even in judendom and arabdom) naming with son of xxxxxxx or here daughter of yyyyyy. They got to be so many with similar surnames that it became a problem. How it was solved through “soldier” names is another story. And modern made up names are common too.

  8. Being at times unconsolable/uncontrollable, I push my point too far. Witness: Herewith, en fotknölshög visning av kunskap.

    “Kohen/Cohen: Meaning “priest” in Hebrew, this Jewish surname indicates that one’s ancestors served as priests in the Temple during Biblical times. Levy: Indicating that one’s lineage stems from the Biblical tribe of Levi, the custodians of the ancient Temple and its holy vessels. Yisrael (Israel): A reference to the greater assembly of the Jewish people.”
    The Google custom search offered brought up Mike S. as number 3 on the list, and the only repeater on the first page. No geneological/historical/religious references given.
    The Christian Zionist Movement and Jewish Confusion …
    Sep 17, 2011 … Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger. Most people who …. 6 Mike Spindell 1, September 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm. “What do you think of ……/the-christian-zionist-movement-and-jewish-confusion/

    Now isn’t the web a wonder?

    PS Wonder what we would find under………..?

  9. share
    Ryan J. Reilly February 29, 2012, 12:17 PM 4235 177

    The Obama administration issued procedures late Tuesday on their interpretation of the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which required some terrorism suspects to be held in military custody. In short, the guidelines make it nearly impossible for a terrorism suspect to end up in the hands of the military.

    Under broadly written categorical waivers carved out by the Obama administration, the military custody requirement will be waived if the suspect’s home country objected to military custody; if the individual is a lawful permanent resident arrested in the country or for conduct conducted in the country; when a suspect is originally charged with something other than a terrorism offense; when a person is originally arrested by state or local law enforcement; when a transfer to military custody “could interfere with efforts to secure an individual’s cooperation or confession”; or when transferring an individual might interfere with joint trials with other defendants.

    President Obama also said that the Attorney General, working with other national security officials, has the ability to issue additional waivers for “categories of conduct, or for categories of individuals, or on an individual case-by-case basis, when doing so is in the interest of national security.”

    Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institute wrote that Obama’s procedures had “read this law virtually out of existence.”

  10. In line with the title of the post, it’s worth looking at what Dr. King and others actually said. Here’s one thing he wrote in Why We Can’t Wait:

    “The Negro wanted to feel pride in his race? With tokenism, the solution was simple. If all 20 million Negros would keep looking at Ralph Bunche, the one man in so exalted a post would generate such a volume of pride that it could be cut into portions and served to everyone. A judge here and a judge there; an executive behind a polished desk… all these were tokens used to obscure the persisting reality of segregation and discrimination.”

    The question is, I think, if Pres. Obama has continued American policies that most hurt African-Americans or done nothing to end them, is a vote based exclusively on race an abdication of the principles of the civil rights movement?

  11. Not angry at all or defensive.

    Was hoping someone would fall into the Cohen trap, or recognize it for what it was. Can you imagine a jew accepting Cohen from Ellis island name list? Neither can I.
    I assume there are other “reserved” names; perhaps Levi, etc.
    Thanks Mike S for the details. I’ve always admitted my knowledge is broad but only reaches over your toenails. Waves yes, but drowning, no.

    The “beyond the Pale” is explained well in Wikipedia, and the search was motivated by references to certain Jews who got to live in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

    Nuf said. And how kindly you handle the ignorant. Being one,,this is appreciated.

  12. Mike, as I have said before, two centuries ago, spelling was hardly an exact science. My wife’s surname was a common Irish name with an English spelling. However, whenever I wanted to mess with somebody, such as a census taker, I would use the ancient pronunciation of the name in Irish Gaelic. There are sounds in it that are not even found in English speaking. Watching the reaction is entertaining, to say the least. As a matter of fact, her first name was Gaelic as well. I will have to tell you about it sometime.

  13. “All I can say is OMG”


    Check out the rest of Russ Baker’s website and then read his excellent book on the history of the Bush Family “Family of Secrets” and you really will get your mind blown. You might understand further where a generally optimistic and idealistic man like me might feel cynical about politics and history.

  14. Mike S.,

    All I can say is OMG… I had never heard of that link before….. OMG…..

    1. The name Cohen has significance in Judaism. They are said to be the descendants of Aaron, Moses brother, who was the first high priest of the Jews. Today they have a ritual significance in some services, particularly during the High Holy Days.

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