President Obama Avoids Discussion of Race, Again

The New York Times has a very revealing story on President Obama’s trip to Brazil, and even calls out his colorblind racial framing.

The Brazilian officials frequently pointed to the similarities in the racial history and realities of the two countries, including the new Brazilian president, the first woman to hold that position, Dilma Rousseff:

The people in the United States and in Brazil, Ms. Rousseff said, had “dared to take at the highest level someone of African descent and a woman, demonstrating that the basis of democracy allows to overcome the largest barriers to build societies that will be more generous and live more in harmony.”

A former radical guerrilla fighting oppression in Brazil (and imprisoned and tortured), Rousseff later at a luncheon further spoke about how both countries

have the largest black populations outside Africa and “a long track record of the struggle of the minorities.” Lifting her glass, she said, “I propose that we should raise a toast to you and to the dream of Martin Luther King, the same dream of Brazilians and Americans, the dream of freedom, the dream of hope.”

Yet President Obama did not even once note such similarities or discuss racial breakthroughs or the persisting high levels of racial oppression in both countries, something even the usually colorblind Times reporting noted:

Mr. Obama, characteristically, did not overtly address his race, or race in general, in several joint appearances with Ms. Rousseff on Saturday.

Apparently, once again this pathbreaking US president fears talking about US racism, as he did in the Dr. Wright case, out of fear of alienating potential white voters. The power of the colorblind variant of the old white racial frame, again in 2011.


  1. Maria

    While disappointing, it certainly isn’t surprising. Obama is thinking of being around for a second term. Discussions of race are too touchy for most white folks. It will be interesting to see if he opens up about race during term two. If not, another opportunity to dismantle the centuries old white racial frame will have been lost.

  2. ralph

    It seems like Obama understands all too well well what Derrick Bell, the esteemed law professor, refers to as The Rules of Racial Standing, which says in part: “… Black people (while they may be able to get into court) are denied such standing legitimacy in the world generally when they discuss their negative experiences with racism or even when they attempt to give a positive evaluation of another black person or of his work. No matter what their experience or expertise, blacks’ statements involving race are deemed ‘special pleading’ and thus not entitled to serious consideration.”

    “Not only are blacks’ complaints discounted, but black victims of racism are less effective witnesses than are whites, who are members of the oppressor class. This phenomenon reflects a widespread assumption that blacks, unlike whites, cannot be objective on racial issues and will favor their own no matter what.”

  3. Seattle in Texas

    I like what says Ralph above and think that is a significant part of why he avoids discussions on racial issues.

    But wanted to add further that his party, the Democratic Party is racist also. For President Obama’s situation I think we must go back to the primaries where the race was very close between Clinton and Obama. While pledges were made between Clinton and Obama delegates to vote and campaign for the winner of the primaries, Clinton supporters were angry and bitter, many vowing to vote for McCain should Obama win (of course this had absolutely nothing to do with race *cough*). Apparently some Obama supporters said the same thing…. My point here is that the democratic party is racist and roughly half of the votes that got President Obama in office were not from Obama supporters and delegates, rather Clinton. What this means is that he does not even have much leverage in his own party, let alone the larger government. Not to mention the house is dominated by republicans. Yes he’s got power, but not as much as we would like to think.

    Also, during the elections it was Obama supporters trying to cool racial discussions with the public, and Clinton supporters in particular. The only time race seemed to be discussed was when Obama and his supporters were trying to correct lies and distortions. I’m going to avoid the Dr. Wright issue here, only to say that I’m not aware of any other president that had to distant himself from his own minister and faith to run for president. That says a lot and is a whole different discussion. But the whole campaign was colorblind, and necessarily so. He couldn’t have won otherwise. Had he and his supporters brought racial issues to the forefront, Clinton and Obama supporters would have separated too much and McCain/Palin would have won. This is obviously still an issue for President Obama today with regard to the democratic party and as noted above by Joe, he fears talking about race out of fear of alienating potential white voters. Though the reality is that white voters would not be alienated as they would like the public to believe or they themselves might believe, they would just vindictive and vote for the other candidate.

    So in closing here, it is in my own humble opinion, that expecting our president to address racial issues in current times might be too much to ask. I realize many would disagree. But, it’s like what an earlier commenter expressed some time back, GDAWG, who was concerned that expectations will be too high of Obama if he wins and he will be expected to fix the world and a sort of backlash will occur if he falls short. President Obama lacks the political, and even social (here in the U.S.) backbone he needs to address racial issues at virtually any level. Plus, notice he hasn’t addressed racial issues and still look at the backlash–the menacing Tea Party and still racist blows made at the President from the GOP and others. I could not imagine the backlash if he did discuss racial issues…. To me, it demonstrates either how far we have not come, or how quickly we are moving backwards as a nation.

  4. phelonn

    Although Obama is dealing with our economic mess, a hostile political climate, and Congress’s criticisms of his handling of the Libya crisis, Dilma Rousseff opened the door for Obama to comment on the racial problems that plague both countries. Perhaps he did not comment because he needed to focus on his mission and wanted to avert further criticism from his own countrymen. But who knows the real reason he did not respond to Rousseff. After all, he’s been taking a good old-fashion southern slave whipping since taking office. I do not believe Obama’s critics could ever withstand the hatred and hostility that has been unleashed upon him. They simply would not be able to handle it. This is the bottom line. No matter what Obama does or does not and what he says or says not, white racists, passive conservative Americans of color in positions of power, the Republicans, and even his own Party will always take the opposite side or viewpoint on whatever Obama’s position. I listen to the news cable networks intently, and everyone has an opinion as to what Obama should or should not do or how they would do it. He cannot win for losing. Even if Obama goes south on his critics, he would be criticized for acting “niggerish.” I don’t think Obama is weak at all. In fact, he has to be very strong to deal with the political ill-treatment and overt racism he constantly endures. His nemeses claim he is weak. Attacking black men’s manhood goes back to slavery and the Jim Crow days. It was a way of keeping black men in their “place.” If Obama and African Americans were truly weak, they would have checked out of life long ago, given the hostile racism, oppression, and unequal and unfair treatment they face on a daily basis. A recent Gallup poll ranked world leaders on the job they were doing The United States was ranked first in performance than those in other powers. In 2008, before Obama took office, the United States was ranked 6th. But would his own countrymen give him this kind of credit?

    • Seattle in Texas

      Nicely captured and with that, I think it would be just a bit difficult to raise a toast to the “progress” made…. Dr. King’s dream? His idea of a colorblind society was far from what we have now…. In all reality, what would President Obama be toasting to? The deliberate delusion embraced by many that the U.S. has reached a post-racial society, at last?

  5. Imagine

    I agree with you Phelonn. Obama will have alot of heat on him once he states his point of view whatever it may be. His true thoughts would probably be shocking, but it hurts to hear the truth. “The People” (White society) do not want to look bad behind their own president. It’s also true that what he says, others will oppose. It’s sad how this country has been dominated with white superemacy even with a Black President in office. It was best for his own protection not to address racial issues.

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