How exactly does one criticize the president without being accused of racism? I’ve written a few columns making it clear President Barack Obama needs to do more on violence against women and children, in response to which someone always manages to accuse me of being racist.
How exactly does one criticize the president without being accused of racism?
I’ve written a few columns making it clear President Barack Obama needs to do more on violence against women and children, in response to which someone always manages to accuse me of being racist.
“Leave the poor guy alone,” they say. “He’s the first black president.”
I can’t understand the source of this sentiment. Why should anyone leave the president alone? He’s the most powerful agent of government in the world – with a responsibility to the people.
Leaving him “alone” would mean abandoning precisely the kind of democracy Obama spoke passionately about during the election – one where the people participate actively, in a quest for representation and accountability from those in power.
I’m considering writing a column condemning ACORN for its willingness to raise money by pimping children – an issue that relates deeply to the pro bono legal work I’ve been doing for more than 15 years. But I can already see the bloggers and e-mailers calling me racist because many of the people in charge at ACORN are black.
It’s not hard to understand where these feelings come from. The nuts holding signs at certain rallies that mock Obama’s race and depict him as a monkey are lunatic racists. But claiming the racists are relevant simply because they showed up with stupid signs is like saying citizens of Siberia should have a vote on health care. They may have something to say – but who cares.
When O.J. Simpson was on trial, some said it didn’t matter if he was guilty because “systemic racism” was enough to justify even an unjust acquittal. Taken to its logical extreme, O.J. could have brought a machine gun to downtown Los Angeles and executed dozens of people in broad daylight – on videotape – and nothing could have been done about it.
Enough about systemic racism.
That it exists is not in dispute.
That it has anything to do with the substantive debate over health care is preposterous. The fierce and relentless battle over this issue has been partisan, rancorous and emotional for decades – long before the face heading up one side of the debate was brown.
If it’s not acceptable to criticize the president’s health care plan because he’s black – then a black man should not be president.
To President Obama’s credit, he is not indulging the argument that critics of his health care ideas are racist. But it’s not a mystery that politicians use shills to build distance between them and the strategists who spin for them. Nor is it shocking to imagine that someone working for Obama figured it might be a good idea to toss out the accusation of racism as a way of silencing certain critics – whether or not the charge was relevant.
Here’s the problem, though, for Obama and for race relations:
Racism is too serious a social ill to have it played like a chit in a game of partisan poker over a piece of legislation. As a black man who claims to care about eradicating racist hatred, Obama should know that the harm to race relations from the gratuitous exploitation of racism is not worth the few votes he might gain from the silencing effect of such a vile tactic.
We learned this very painful lesson during the O.J. Simpson trial. No single man’s freedom is worth the gratuitous exacerbation of racism for an entire nation.
Put another way – there will never be racial harmony in this country so long as the evil of racism retains value in political gamesmanship.
A black man at the helm of a nation historically poisoned by the ugliness of racist hatred has a special opportunity to use his position to restrain the tactical misuse of racism – to ensure not only that the important debate over health care be determined by robust, intellectual debate on the merits, but also that the power of social prejudice be devalued for all purposes.
The president has demonstrated well his oratory skills and ability to persuade.
Now let’s see whether he can actually lead.
Patriot Ledger contributor Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast .