Racism, Reporting and 100 Days

This week marked President Obama’s first 100 days in office (Creative Commons License photo credit: Alexander van Dijk).  Lots of reporters took the opportunity of this somewhat artificial marker to evaluate Obama’s achievements and popularity.  The reporting on his first 100 days was also the occasion for some racism in journalism that it’s important to call out.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing at The Atlantic, is right when he says that he finds Byron York’s (Washington Examiner) “incredibly racist.”  Here’s the relevant passage:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Coates writes about his hesitancy to call out York for the racism in this passage because of what he calls “political correctness run amok” in which identifying racism is seen as more egregious than the racism itself.     Coates is more eloquent:

We live in a country that may well be offended by racism, but it’s equally offended that anyone might actually charge as much.

For evidence, he cites some of the recent examples of overt racist expressions by James Watson, Geraldine Ferraro, Michael Richards, “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, which were then all followed by plaintive wails of racial innocence and crys of “offense” by these white folks at being labeled racist.

And, in a support show of support for Coates’ assessment, Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress, says:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an important post here that I think could probably use an “amen” from a white person. It’s absurd how totally disproportionate the volume of public concern is about black people “playing the race card” or about “political correctness” stifling someone or other to the volume of public concern about actual racism.

I can add another hardy “amen” to the white people that agree with Coates.   Of course, I agree with Yglesias that actual racism is a much bigger problem than the putative threat of “playing the race card,” and I commend him for saying so publicly.

Clearly, this is not a widely held opinion among the (supposedly liberal) readers at Think Progress.   Have a look at the comments (120 and growing rapidly last I checked) over there; most are from white people who do not agree with Yglesias.

Update @ 12:05pmET: Coates punches out another post about this ongoing controversy, “Byron York is Not a Racist.”


  1. “his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.”

    Like African Americans don’t matter in the calculation of what’s politically “popular?” Don’t we vote?

  2. This is a really important way to frame the debate whites are always trying to start by “playing the too-PC card.” It is, as Coates titles the post, calling spades: many of us have always known that accusing people of color or white anti-racists of being too sensitive is a way for whites to deflect accusations of racism, but Coates is especially right to say, Why are we so much more worried about offending people by calling out racism rather than really listening to and reflecting on what people of color are saying about the way they are treated in society?

    Maybe the way this post frames the debate wasn’t a new revelation for most readers, but I appreciated it.

  3. In the new piece, Coates writes about having “spent so much time yesterday talking about people who play the ‘not a racist’ card.”

    I think that’s a good, particular method for calling out and characterizing white racism. Since the idea of “playing the race card” is so common, pointing out that white people do it, and that they play many such kinds of race cards, should be more common too. Imagine if most white people could be made to understand that they tend to play race cards. And then to understand the variety of those cards.

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