It's official. We have a black president. We all knew it would happen sooner or later. Honestly I expected Collin Powell to be the first because the Republicans tried to get him to run for so long I figured he would eventually run and probably win. But he didn't, so the historic decision went to Barack Obama. It took a couple hundred years, but we have a minority president. All across the country celebrities and the media are jumping for joy about how far we've come (and we have) that we are able to elect a black man named Barack to the highest office in the world. But as much joy as there has been in the media, I have to disagree. We haven't come nearly as far as we think we have, and honestly, Obama's election has actually demonstrated how racist we all really are. The very nature of racism is the idea that one sees someone else, not as a person, but as a person of a particular race.
First, you had the campaign issues. Things that wouldn't have been a problem for a white candidate were a huge deal for Obama. Case in point, his middle name (Hussein), his former pastor's anti-American remarks, the birth certificate, etc. My personal favorite was the accusation of his being Islamic, as though there is something inherently sinister about someone being anything other than a Christian in a country whose Constitution clearly prohibits an established religion. But the Constitution be damned because, apparently, Muslims aren't good enough to hold public office. This was all done to paint a picture of Obama as an America-hating terrorist. Granted, smear campaigns are a routine thing for candidates, but really. A man who has been serving in the Senate is secretly a terrorist plotting to take over our country. If he were white these rumors and fabrications would have been laughed at, but because he is a minority they weren't seen for the ridiculous propaganda they were. These are also the same people who still refer to him as "Mr. Obama" rather than "President Obama." What really amazes me is when I'm watching the news and I see news anchors who repeatedly call him "Mr. Obama." How someone in such a public and influential position can keep their job is beyond me while making such a show of gross disrespect as refusing to call the President the President.
Then there was the color-coded results from the election itself. Take Ohio for example. Ohio usually votes Republican but this time Obama won in Ohio. In Ohio, McCain won every single county but three, all metropolitan counties. The racial breakdown was even more telling. 53% of white voters voted for McCain (a lot of whom had never voted before) and 97% of black voters voted for Obama (a lot of whom had never voted before). That's quite a coincidence.
Howard Stern actually did a survey to see if there was something to the theory that black people were only voting for Obama because he's black. He went to Compton to ask black people who were voting who they were voting for and why. Everyone he asked said they were voting for Obama. When asked, they said they agreed with him on the political issues, but couldn't name any of the issues. When they couldn't name any of the issues he would give them some "help" by prompting them on a couple of the issues and asking which of Obama's stances they agreed with more. The catch was, every single time he did it, they switched the candidates' stances. For example, the question would be "Are you more in favor of Obama's determination to keep the troops in Iraq or more in favor of his pro-life stance?" Every time, without fail, the person interviewed just went with it because it was clear they didn't have a clue what Obama thought about anything. The worst part was that each person was asked "If Obama is elected, do you think Sarah Palin will make a good vice-president?" and each person said that yes, Sarah Palin would make a good vice-president with Obama. As funny as that may be, the reality of the situation is that these are all people who honestly voted for a man not knowing the first thing about him other than the color of his skin. And these are the people that helped him win the election. Don't get me wrong, I know for a fact there were plenty of white people who voted for McCain for no other reason than to vote against the black guy. You just know that West Virginia had to open extra polling centers for all the backwoods hillbillies who hopped on their donkeys to vote to keep the coloreds out of Washington. But the fact is, regardless of who the votes went for, there were millions of votes cast not for a candidate, but for a skin color.
As excited as people are about Obama getting elected, it's really a shame, because his legacy was set before he ever took office. He is the Black president. He could either reduce our unemploymeny rate to 0 or single-handedly cause World War III and it doesn't matter. The fact is, that's all he is to people. Whether people view it as a positive or a negative that's all people know. He's black, he's a Democrat, and he isn't George Bush. Most Americans (even ones who voted for him) couldn't fill a Post-It note with what they know about him outside those three things. Most of his campaign was spent talking about flowery, intangible ideals such as hope, prosperity, unity, and a better tomorrow. Yeah that's great, but it's so vague. It doesn't mean anything. So everyone is so excited about him, when, in all honestly, they don't know anything about him.
So much of the popular conversation about Obama has been based around his race, one way or another. It's been very difficult to hear an entire conversation about him for the last year without his race coming up at least once. There's the white racists pissed off that we're letting a colored man in the White House. There's the black racists gloating about how "it's about time we got a brutha in the White House." There's the media and the self-righteous back-patters who are oh-so-proud about how we're such good people that we can elect a black man to office. And there's the political jokesters and satirists who are afraid to make their normal humorous commentary because they don't want to be seen as a racist.
But the fact is, all these groups have something in common. They see Barack Obama right now not as the President, but as the Black president. They see him as a black man, rather than as a man. We just celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King who said his deam was for his children to be judged "Not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Everyone talked about how it seemed to mean more this year, because Obama's presidency represents the last professional color barrier to fall, but the fact is, Obama isn't yet seen for the things he has done and will do. He is seen for his race and the historicity of his election. Maybe it's just going to take some getting used to, and four years from now it will be different. I hope so. Because right now we aren't nearly as colorblind a nation as we fancy ourselves as long as the only thing we know and talk about when it comes to our President is the color of his skin.
What I would love to see as an American is for the color commentary to give way to political commentary. Yes, his election was historic. We know that and we've celebrated that. But now it's time to move on and judge him as a president based on what he accomplishes with the time he has, rather than relegating him to a historical footnote as "the first black president." And he has given us some good signs of things to come in his first two days in office. His first day he made a very bold move by putting a cap on White House salaries, citing the struggling economy and that the money could be better spent helping to create more jobs for people making no money, rather than padding salaries of people who make six figures a year. To go into a new job the first day and tell all your new coworkers that you're capping their salaries isn't an easy thing to do and my hat is off to him for that. The second day he signed an executive order to close the federal prison at Guantanamo Bay, long criticized for shady tactics, as well as to tighten down illegal or unethical treatment of suspected terrorists and other political prisoners, such as the use of torture or holding prisoners without filing charges. Another very respectable, very tough decision to make that should have already been done that he wasted no time in doing. So instead of talking about "Oh my God, a black president," why don't we talk about "Oh my God, a tough president?" Because the fact is, we will never be as colorblind as a nation as we would like to think we are until we stop thinking of Barack Obama as the Black president, and start thinking of him as the President.