Whites like to think so, but black Americans know better. Still, give Obama credit for making progress.
A year ago, many Americans, mostly white ones, congratulated themselves on having moved beyond the nation’s “original sin” of slavery into a “postracial America.”
Amid the fervor over the nation’s first black president, few beyond the black media bothered to ask black Americans if they also felt the country had entered a new era.
Most of us recall that Barack Obama beat John McCain handily. Few recall that he (like most recent Democratic presidential candidates) would have lost big-time if only white votes counted. A black friend who didn’t want to be named cynically told me that “white folks” only voted for Mr. Obama because they “decided things were so bad they would vote for the other guy even if he was black.”
Today the racial divide in Obama’s support is still stark, mirroring his voting support: 90 percent of blacks approve of his performance, while just 42 percent of whites do, according to Gallup.
The brief honeymoon for “postracial America” evaporated last July in the altercation between black scholar Henry Louis Gates and white police officer James Crowley. When Obama weighed in on the incident at a press conference – saying the Cambridge police “acted stupidly” by arresting Gates – he picked a scab off our national scar.
For African-Americans, “Gatesgate” was a reminder of two realities: the past and present harassment of black men by white police officers, and the centrality of incarceration to black life in America. Too many whites interpreted it as another uppity black man sassing a white policeman, threatening law and order and white comfort levels.