Paul R. Lehman, A lesson from biases in Obama’s election

December 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, Ethnicity in America, Race in America | 1 Comment
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A little over two years ago, many Americans, especially those on the political right, were filled with anger and madness over the election of Barack Obama. Many Americans believed that never in their lifetime would America have an African American president. The anger came from what they considered a surprise attack from the political left; the madness came from the fact that the attack was successful. They were faced with the question of what to do next. We have discussed many time the lack of value placed by European Americans in African Americans going back to the time of slavery. Some of the fears were bases on the false stereotyped beliefs about African Americans held by many European Americans. For example, will Obama seek revenge for the injustices committed by the European Americans in the past against the African Americans? Will Obama have the leadership qualities necessary to run the government? Will Obama be the president of all the people, left, right, and middle? These questions were generated from the stereotypical beliefs of the African American’s lack of intelligence and general incompetence.

Americans have known for over two hundred years that African Americans, as well as other ethnic Americans, have not been treated fairly in employment, education, and housing. With that information in mind, hearing that Obama, an African American was elected President, fear was created in the mind of many that he would somehow seek revenge. They were under the belief that Obama would seek to turn the tables on society in favor of the African Americans. In the past, African Americans did not have the power and influence to make any kind of major social change. So, in an effort to try and head him off at the pass, Obama critics created a campaign to demonize, discredit, and destroy him. They did this in a variety of ways, but mainly through the media, calling him names, creating pictures of him as Hitler, as clowns, as stereotypical negative caricatures. They challenged his religious beliefs and even referred to him as the antichrist. In essence, they tried to portray his as a devil.

Americans are generally not well informed about cultural ethnicity; they believe and hold on to whatever they were led to believe in their homes and communities. Unfortunately, much of what they received are stereotypes that picture African Americans as lazy, ignorant, stupid, immoral, and a host of other negative features. These stereotypes came to the surface when Obama became President. The critics began to label him by challenging his education and experiences. They paid no attention to his accomplishments, only those things they thought would somehow discredit him. Even today many people question Obama citizenship, refusing to accept the evidence that confirm his identity as American. One would not think that a person’s ethnicity could cause such a campaign of hatred and anger; but it did.

Probably the most challenging element in Obama’s presidency came in the form of the Republican attitudes of no compromise and no second term for him. However, to Obama’s credit, he demonstrated to his naysayers as well as to the world that he was more than capable to govern, negotiate and take a leadership position in conducting the people’s business. If the people who had misgivings about Obama’s so-called defects take a moment and look at what he has accomplished in two short years, they would realize that he has done more in two years than any of the presidents in the last fifty years. He has also done more for the middleclass, working class, and poor Americans than any President in the last several decades.

Many critics have tried lately to predict what Obama would, should, or could do in confronting some of the challenges he has had to face. When he does not fit into the box created for him, the critics complain that he is doing too little or too much or that he is leaning too far left or right. Regardless of what he does, his critics are never satisfied. What these critics fail to realize is that Obama will never fit into their box because he will not conform to their expectations. They have no idea for what it is like being an African American president. They have no base of reference from which to measure him except the example of past presidents. They, however, provide little information outside of political protocol from which to make comparisons. All human are unique, and Obama, because he is in an African American and in a unique historical position will defy comparisons to other presidents.

So might offer the argument that Obama should be judged by the same measuring stick that all presidents are judged. If Obama’s life experiences were comparable to those of the European American presidents then that might be a good idea, but we know that is not the case. Throughout his campaign Obama tried to avoid bring in his ethnicity as an element for political consideration. His naysayers did the job for him. In a speech to the nation, he made a special effort to underscore the fact that his ethnicity should not be a factor in his campaign. Little good that did for his critics; they continued to try and discredit and destroy him politically.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Obama’s policies, likes or dislikes him personally, when one measures his accomplishments in his short term in office with the expectation of his failure, one cannot argue with his success against tremendous obstacles. We all can learn a lesson from what we as a people are experiencing with Obama as President. The lesson that should underscore Obama’s presidency, keeping in mind the fact that he is an African American, is that the sense of value and judgment placed on his ethnicity and color is misleading. The adage that says we should never judge a book by its cover can certainly apply here. Prejudice and bigotry more often than not creates distortions and a lack of clarity. Ethnicity and color is never a substitute for competency and character.

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  1. In 2008 I think most Americans were surprised but proud that this country could elect to its most powerful office a person of color. What a tremendous milestone. But the response to his leadership has been disappointing yet very predictable. For this President to be elected was unimaginable. For him to succeed would be unthinkable. So the same bigoted forces that have titled the scales of freedom and prosperity for so long in one direction will stop at nothing to maintain their leverage…even if it means putting American at risk.


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