President Obama’s Misfires and Hollow Words on Race

On today’s Martin Luther King’s Birthday, I remember one of his more profound statements that unfortunately exhibit the actions of others today.  He stated:  “To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe.  Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough to cut off the chain of hate.”  The New York Times today published a front page article about President Obama entitled “Finding his voice on race.”  The article stated that ultimately, he led a national conversation on race ignited by spasms of violence, police shootings and protests.  The Times was right in one regard in that he led a conversation but it was not the conversation that needs to happen.   That conversation is one that has not happened since Dr. King was assassinated.  That dialogue was replaced with diversity training which we all know is an abject failure in its feeble attempts to address real race relations.

President Obama merely sparked the underlying caldera of race relations that have not been addressed since 1968.  Every misfire the President created caused more of a firestorm and backlash of resistance from all sides than improving anything in race relations.  His “beer summit” fiasco after his unintelligent comments about police acting stupidly, produced only a deeper resistance to discussing these issues.  The activist professor Gates summed up an attitude that I run into all of the time.  Gates stated:  I don’t think anybody but Barack Obama would have thought about bringing us together.”  Really?   I have found that through 16 race relations dialogues held from coast to coast this past year that a white male baby boomer like me has the moral courage to get into the arena and bring people together.  I am also a conservative.  The result?  There was a uniquely profound experience that everyone who participated and experienced, will remember for a lifetime. Most everyone want to talk but do not know where to begin.  Most also had never even talked about race relations with members of other races in their lifetimes.

President Obama’s other misfires included “But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin.  If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”  Is that all he had?  It created even more anger among police officers since he was willing to take sides before all of the evidence came out like in Ferguson.  The President sent in the vanguard of senior Justice Officials, encouraged civil rights leaders to lead protests.  Violence ensued and there was no national conversation on the horizon, only a conversation of division and hateful rhetoric and blame that exists to an even greater degree as he leaves office.

The President did say some things in his presidency which he did not practice in action.  For instance, he stated when he was a Chicago community organizer and activist, that to fight against racial profiling, not calling the police racists, but by sitting down and negotiating a new law. “So we engaged and we listed and we kept working until we built consensus.”  He has also stated as mentioned in the Times article “Listen. Engage, if the other side has a point, learn from them.  If they are wrong, rebut them. Teach them.”  Those are very good statements but again, they were not practiced during his presidency.  For that along, he was a complete disappointment for those like me, although I did not vote for him, who are working diligently to improve race relations in this country.

My goal and purpose as my book highlights throughout is to resume Dr. King’s dream and use dialogue as a means to listen to learn.  I am doing that with so many others now.  If only those who choose to divide would take notice, may be they would engage, listen, learn and share themselves.  Too many who are Progressives though, are so far to the left that there is no other cardinal direction for them.  Maybe dialogue can create what I call the “Guardians of Peers” that will so far outnumber those who want to divide that they become irrelevant.

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