Understanding the Complexities of Race and Politics:
Did the Tenure of an African-American President Hurt Race Relations In America?
We have arrived! In 2008, my grandmother was ecstatic to be a part of history. An African-American man not only ran for, but was honored as the head of the state in a country where all 43 men before him were white. I was excited too and filled with hope that this place I called home had shifted its political ideology and had embraced a race that it often forgot or neglected to include. Here before us was an educated African-American man with an educated African-American wife. This was a minority moment in history that indicated that we must have arrived. That the Black struggle had ended. That America had finally embraced its most denounced citizens as equals.
As I write this article eight years later as an African-American woman, it is no surprise that race relations in this country are at its worse since the early 1960s. I often wonder if the role strain of being a Black president often illuminated a sense of racial battle fatigue within the corridors of the White House. The mere fact that the First Lady was compared to pictures of an ape showed that race relations were moving in a backwards spiral. The idea that the face of America was a Black man was no more of an illusion than President Kennedy signing the Civil Rights Act without the political pressure of international allies.
As I think back on the anger of George W. Bush’s presidency and an America that decided that the slogan “Change We Can Believe In” was appropriate, I think of the hope of a true America that came along with this Black face. African Americans and other minorities were given the illusion that our great grandfather’s America was done away with. That our journey towards a unified country had begun.
Eight years later, the massive influx of racial tension and unrest has reminded us that a Black president was another political ploy to show that America is inclusive and diverse only in theory. The fact that America voted for a Black man as the leader of a free world indicated that we had done our part on acceptance and inclusion. With riots and protests that burn down hope, the mistrust of minorities and the police, and the constant conflict of Whites and people of color remind us that change is not always comfortable or good. Many Americans believed that electing a Black president would solve historical issues of racism and oppression. But they were blindsided by those who now believe that America needs to be made great again. The illusion of change has reminded us of how this country has remained the same just below the surface. Which begs the question did electing a Black president hurt race relations in this country?
Food for thought.