For better or worse, one thing is certain: Barack Obama’s presidency forces Americans to face our own thinly camouflaged racial tensions.
Once a taboo subject, race has become a common topic in our public and private discourse. Whether it’s conservative pols using YouTube video to stoke the embers of racial division, my longtime friend and foil, libertarian commentator Paul Hue, challenging racial assumptions and stereotypes on his Facebook page, or the always insightful and provocative, anti-racism activist Tim Wise, debating with Roland Martin, Julia Reed and Don Lemon on CNN, race is now front and center on our computer screens, on talk radio shows and on our minds.
The question of Obama’s anger is especially timely to me because of a discussion I had a couple of days ago with my manager and friend, Cornelius Harris, of Alter Ego Management. He stressed the importance of guarding my own words to avoid projecting what some people may perceive as an “angry black man” persona. Cornelius emphasized that a seemingly harmless and even humorous conversation could be misinterpreted because of our society’s racial conditioning. It’s not just an issue for Obama. This is something black men face in the boardroom, at the bus stop and in the world of music.
John Blake’s article on CNN.com asks point blank: “Who would have ever expected some white Americans to demand that an African-American man show more rage?”
Obama’s presidency forces America to confront its fear of the black man, and along with the immigration debate, the so-called war on terror, and the many aspects of the economic crisis, we are openly talking about our fear of the brown man, the red man, the yellow man and even the white man. Race has become a common topic because in this multicultural society, our fear of “the other” has never been far from the surface.
On one hand, this is a good thing. These are conversations that we’ve largely avoided in the post-civil rights era. The climate of fear is high right now, so perhaps this is some sort of group therapy, where we talk about some of the fears and phobias that persist in our lives.
However, as Julia Reed points out in the CNN segment above, all this talk of race may be distracting us from the real issues at hand. (Notably, the only woman in the debate asks about the logic of even having the argument.)
How much do our racial attitudes play into our perception of public figures and the people we interact with every day in the office, on the street or over the Internet? Do these attitudes (or even the analysis of the tensions) distract us from the real problems of environmental disaster, corporate and political corruption, and economic meltdown?
And perhaps most importantly, can’t we all just get along?