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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: We’re having the race conversation

Littwin: We’re having the race conversation

If you believe the polls, or watch cable TV news, you may be halfway convinced that race relations in America have somehow grown worse during the tenure of the first black president.

But if that seems counterintuitive, that’s because, well, it is. It’s counterintuitive and it’s wrong.

Yes, people are marching in the streets. Yes, NBA stars are wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts. Yes, Bill O’Reilly puts the blame on Barack Obama for facilitating what he calls the racial “grievance industry.” Yes, riots broke out in Ferguson after Darren Wilson was not indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Yes, police met the demonstrators with equipment made to kill terrorists. Yes, yes, and yes.

But what we’re actually having — six years into the Obama presidency — is the conversation that Eric Holder controversially told us all those years ago we were afraid to have. Maybe we were right to have been afraid. The conversation is often ugly, but what else would you expect?

Maybe we were right to have been afraid. The conversation is often ugly, but what would you expect?

From the day Obama took office, this is what we knew about race relations in America: There’s a black man in the White House and, depending on your vantage point, he’s either too much concerned with race in America or he’s too unwilling to publicly confront the issues of race in America. In either case, he was supposed to represent a dramatic change. His election in 2008 did just that. His re-election did it again.

But if the elections were historic, history moves only so quickly. And the idea of the coming post-racial America was always naive. The grand jury decisions — the ones that could find no one responsible for the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner — just reminded us of all that unresolved history. What the killings showed, more than anything else, was how differently police operate in black communities. We knew that, of course, but now we know that. And if we were reminded of the unemployment numbers and the prison numbers, it seems not everyone wanted to be reminded.

And so you get 53 percent of Americans telling Bloomberg pollsters that race relations have gotten worse under Obama. The numbers, for once, were similar for those black and white, whereas almost every other question on race shows a wide racial divide.

Of course it’s all divisive. But, despite everything, the conversation — OK, the argument — has to be a good thing. There’s movement. Some would even say there’s a movement.

In the sixth year of a presidency, the talk becomes of legacy. Part of Obama’s will be the deepening of the already-deep political divide. The rise of the Tea Party moved Republicans further to the right. And Republicans routinely claimed that Obama, when he wasn’t hiding his birth certificate, was simultaneously pulling Democrats radically to the left. (He actually wasn’t, but for the sake of the argument, it doesn’t matter; it only matters that some people think so.)

But I don’t think that racism, as some argue, is at the root of this divide. I tend to think it’s more about the use of race as a way to exploit the divide that began with Clinton and moved onto Bush and then onto Obama, in much the way that we have moved from talk radio to cable TV news and to the Internet. With the next president, we will inevitably move onto a different dividing point.

What was different was that when Obama became president, suddenly everything was game. And so Rush Limbaugh could get away with playing “Barack the Magic Negro” on his show and Glenn Beck could get away with calling Obama a “racist” on his show and Newt Gingrich could get away with saying you can understand Obama “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.”

Finally, a GOP congressional staffer went too far and ripped the Obama daughters for being teenagers, saying they looked as if they were dressed for a night at a bar. She resigned or, more likely, was resigned. Young black females, as Eugene Robinson pointed out, should get to be young black females. We have seen too vividly what can happen to young black males, and how they can turn into a “demon” in a cop’s eyes and wind up dead. Or they can look like a hoodied thug and wind up dead.

Obama has always been uneasy publicly discussing race. He remembers what happened with Henry Louis Gates and the beer summit and what happened when he said he could have had a son who looked like Trayvon Martin. He understands all too painfully how the divide works. He knows, too, that as the first black president, there is only so much he has to say.

When Obama finally went on BET to say that racism is “deeply rooted” in America, he also said, “As painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what is happening now to what was happening 50 years ago,” he said. “And if you talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, they’ll tell you that things are better —- not good, in some cases, but better.”

Yes. And no.

As Obama almost said, they’re better and they’re not nearly good enough. And when Denver high school students are peacefully marching in protest of that very point, it’s hard to see how anyone could miss the fact that they are marching forward.

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About the Author

Mike Littwin

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
mlittwin@coloradoindependent.com | Twitter @mike_littwin

4 Comments

  1. Don Lopez on said:

    “But I don’t think that racism, as some argue, is at the root of this divide. I tend to think it’s more about the use of race as a way to exploit the divide….”

    After experiencing an all too brief epiphany Mr. Littwin quickly slips back into hack-mode by citing only right-wing examples (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich) of what he considers exploiting the race divide, which strongly—and wrongly–suggests that race exploitation is strictly a conservative thing.

    Candor no longer appears to be part of Mr. Littwin’s writing repertoire. It’s been supplanted by a far less professional default position that avoids, deflects or ignores things he can’t spin to support his political views (see below). I’d like to say he’s better than that but I no longer feel that to be true.

    He won’t discuss, for example, Rep. Maxine Waters’ outrageous race exploiting allegation that her political problems stem from a racially biased congressional ethics investigation. He will, of course, discuss at length the observations of a GOP congressional staffer but not a Congressional representative.

    And he absolutely won’t discuss any of the race exploitation methods used by Democrats during last month’s mid-term elections.

    This from the New York Times:

    “In the final days before the election, Democrats in the closest Senate races across the South are turning to racially charged messages — invoking Trayvon Martin’s death, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Jim Crow-era segregation — to jolt African-Americans into voting and stop a Republican takeover in Washington.

    In addition, at a black church in Fayetteville, leaflets with a grainy image of a lynching have appeared, warning voters that if Ms. Hagan loses, President Obama will be impeached.

    Similar messages are reaching black voters in Arkansas, where Senator Mark Pryor, a second-term Democrat, is up for re-election, and Georgia, where the retirement of Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican, has given Democrats a shot at the seat.

    In Arkansas, voters are opening mailboxes to find leaflets with images of the Ferguson protests and the words: “Enough! Republicans are targeting our kids, silencing our voices and even trying to impeach our president.” The group distributing them is Color of Change, a grass-roots civil rights organization.

    And this from NBCnews.com

    Looking to fire up voters in North Carolina, William Barber, the president of the state’s NAACP, said at a rally earlier this month that Republican-imposed measures like voter ID laws were akin to “wading through the blood of the martyrs.” In a video message for the Landrieu campaign, Louisiana state representative Ted James, who is black, refers to the need to re-elect the Democratic senator “to protect our president.”

    A mailer from the Georgia Democratic Party that was sent to some black voters urges them to vote to “prevent another Ferguson.”

    You won’t find any mention of these Democrat race exploiting schemes in Mr. Littwin’s columns because he, like Attorney General Holder, wants the discussion of race to be very, very limited.

    Merry Christmas!

    “After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem – health care reform, Only a third of the uninsured are even registered to vote, about 5% of the electorate (benefits from the entitlement). To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense.” – Senator Schumer (D-NY) Head of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Wounded Warrior Project
    Memorial Day – May 25, 2015
    .

  2. ryecatcher on said:

    Mr Lopez does it again. Another foggy slog of mostly quotes from other sources to back his spin.

    Mr Lopez appears to lack the cognitive skills to write his own thoughts and relies on extensive quotes to validate his noise making. (He could use a lesson in writing from the master himself, Mike Littwin)

    I though Mr Lopez was better than that. Unfortunately he’s nothing more than another boring apologist for bat s**t ideology.

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