Successful African-Americans — whether they are sports stars, entertainers or politicians — are often accorded a more tortured significance. In addition to being held up as proof that racism has been extinguished, they are often employed as weapons in the age-old campaign to discredit, and even demean, the disadvantaged. ...
Mr. Obama has refused to play this role, even though people have tried to thrust it upon him. ...
He underscored this point again this week when he commented on the arrest in Cambridge, Mass., of the Harvard African-American scholar (and my longtime friend) Henry Louis Gates Jr. and about the tendency of police officers to target blacks and Hispanics for traffic stops.
These remarks could change how the news media sees the president’s views on race. Up to now, he has been consistently and wrongly portrayed as a stern black exceptionalist who takes Negroes to task for not meeting his standard.
He is not happy with this characterization. That was clear in a recent Oval Office interview with the columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post. Mr. Obama complained about the press coverage of his speeches and seemed especially miffed about the portrayal of the one he delivered before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People this month.
He suggested that the news media had overemphasized his remarks about “personal responsibility” — a venerable theme in the African-American church — while disregarding “the whole other half of the speech,” which included a classic exercise in civil-rights oratory.
The president described disproportionate rates of unemployment, imprisonment and lack of health insurance in minority communities as barriers of the moment. He contrasted them with the clubs and police dogs that black marchers faced in the 1960s and said that solving present-day problems would require comparable determination.
And “make no mistake,” he continued, “the pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender.”
This was no exceptionalist rant. Speaking to Mr. Robinson, the president used the first-person plural revealingly when he said: “I do think it is important for the African-American community, in its diversity, to stay true to one core aspect of the African-American experience, which is we know what it’s like to be on the outside," said the President of the United States from behind his desk in the Oval Office.
Oh, wait, I added that part after the close quotes. Never mind.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama tended to avoid direct engagement with racial issues until circumstances (a tempest over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright) made further evasion impossible.
He reached a similar moment when he was asked to comment on Mr. Gates’s arrest at a White House news conference on Wednesday.
In a remark that became instantly famous, he responded that the police acted “stupidly” in arresting Mr. Gates when no crime had been committed and the professor was standing in his own home. Mr. Obama further noted that disproportionate attention from the police was an unwelcome fact of black life in America.People who have heretofore viewed Mr. Obama as a “postracial” abstraction were no doubt surprised by these remarks. This could be because they were hearing him fully for the first time.
Dear National Media Personalities: Do you know what would be a convenient way for you to finally hear Obama fully for the first time? Read my book, America's Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama's "Story of Race and Inheritance," in which I explain in straightforward prose that you can understand what Obama is saying in his autobiography.