“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”—President Barack Obama
The election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States brought about questions and discussions of race in the American political and social forefront in many novel ways. The United States was seen to have entered a post-racial era. What makes this even more interesting is that President Obama himself has been known time and time again to de-emphasize America’s divisive history of race and to encourage unity based far beyond it.
It was during his address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that the then Senator Obama delivered his emotional speech, an excerpt of which is quoted above. Once again in 2008 during the Democratic primaries, Obama delivered his landmark speech on politics and race.
In this speech, called “A More Perfect Union”, Obama asked Americans to “move past the racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years” and asserted his firm conviction in God and the American people to work “together so we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds.” The President was far from being naive or unrealistic. Racial issues were evidently not going to be won and overcome with such ease but his real focus was in leading Americans to place greater significance on what unites rather than divides them. The word that perhaps most comes to mind in describing the image that the President wants to project is “inclusive”.
It would therefore not be too far from the truth to state that the United States has become more and more race neutral, rejecting more and more the blatant practices of discrimination based on race that have been such a significant part of its history.
This in no way insinuates that this utopic colour-blindedness has become a given in contemporary American society. President Obama himself was subjected to massive scrutiny and criticism particularly by the Republican Party based on a widespread, false accusation that he was ineligible to hold the office of President because he was born outside the United States (in fact, he was born in he state of Hawaii, which the Republicans have perhaps yet to learn is a US state!)
Perhaps the most potent unfairness and double standard was felt when Mitt Romney very candidly stated that no one had ever asked to see his birth certificate.
Another negative misconception related to President Obama is the view that he is not Christian as he claims to be but that he is Muslim has also sparked controversy and debate. The reason for this is that he may be a radical Muslim who bears hatred towards Christianity and the United States. Needless to say, these paranoid and baseless claims have no support constitutionally but they do however help to
demonstrate that in spite of all the President’s efforts to unite the nation beyond race and religion, there will always be those who will attempt to hopefully unsuccessfully undermine such noble efforts based on ignorance.
There is no doubt that race, religion and national identity have been significant issues throughout American history. On the one hand, the nation has experienced a painful history of slavery. On the other hand, the United States has proudly developed into a nation which thrives on the principles of the melting pot, of hard work and achievement regardless of one’s race or religion. President Obama
himself is a perfect example of this American uniqueness.
President Obama is perhaps the first African American politician to not emphasise his race nor to overtly promote any race related issues for one side or another. While this balancing act to perfection on his
part no doubt angers his opponents and critics, it is a new form of diplomacy which hopefully will set a precedence for the future towards a post-racial society and governance.
Going further than issues of race and religion, in his inaugural speech after being re-elected for the second term, President Obama spoke about a United States that should be inclusive of and
unprejudiced against homosexuals and women. This may well have been a first for a Presidential inaugural address.
In this address, the President stated:
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Not just political rhetoric when it comes to President Obama.