Is Obama’s Silence on Race Golden?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Gary Kamiya, at Salon, thinks so and I agree. Obama has said virtually nothing about race in his first 100 days and I, for one, am glad he both chose not to and wasn’t forced to by events. The simple existence of that magical family in the White House, with all our sappiness about Michelle’s clothes and the new puppy, has given us all a chance to exhale. It’s given us all a chance to be hopeful that we really are on the path, however potholed, to color blindness.

New poll data show that:

“two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good, and the percentage of blacks who say so has doubled since last July… .”

Big, big improvement. Follow up interviews make it plain that Obama is the reason Americans have gone all kumbayah. But Kamiya gets it right when he muses that:

…it also seems to me that a big part of the reason that Americans are feeling better about race is because of how Obama has handled the subject — or rather, not handled it. Obama has assiduously avoided the subject of race. His silence has allowed his actions and character to take center stage, rather than the color of his skin. We are a country used to talking endlessly about race but not doing anything about it. Obama is doing exactly the opposite. He is not talking about race, but that very fact, combined with his high popularity, has advanced racial harmony more than any utterance could do. His silence sends exactly the right message, the message preached by Jesus, Martin Luther King and every other apostle of human equality: The accidents of race, ethnicity gender and class do not define us.

It’s maddening that minorities are still forced to go on reassuring whites that, once in power, we don’t immediately don dashikis and commence to getting even. It’s also necessary. No doubt Obama will smack headfirst into race before much longer. Here’s hoping his instincts remain as finely honed when he does.

(And when he is ready ‘to go there,’ I vote for this symbolic act.)

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest