The haunting specter of racial politics

Earlier this month, our nation observed the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although I was not alive in the 1950s when he gave his now famous I have a dream speech, my upbringing was a product of the meaning and vision of the speech. I am an Army brat and grew up in military towns and bases across the United States and Europe. All through my childhood until my father retired in 1988, I went to school with fellow Army brats (and children of civilian Department of Defense employees) of all races, religions, and whatever other category one could use to identify various differences in people.  As a result of military dependent life, I had friends of every sort of background and many of them could have cared less about race; white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, or German national made no difference as our friendships were based on a set of shared values and interests. We learned the importance of looking beyond race and into the personality of those we came across.  When I see people, I truly do not attribute anything about them on their race but base my opinions on their actions, their ideas and their life philosophies.  As a college instructor, I continue to seek to understand who the student is but not on their appearance.

I do honestly believe that many of the Americans that oppose the agenda of the Obama administration truly oppose the policies based on political ideology rather than the race of the president.  With past administrations, black Americans have held key executive department positions, such as Secretary of State, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Surgeon General, Secretary of Defense, and a host of minor executive positions with little critique from Republicans or Democrats who were in the opposition party or without much commentary by the American mainstream media. Unfortunately, that would not be the case when it has come to judicial nominees or members of Congress; the nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court during the Reagan years.  Thomas, a black conservative, found himself at the mercy of the “tolerant” American Left and the leadership of the black political establishment during the years of the Reagan administration.  A skilled and hard-working jurist, Thomas would be called a host of derogatory names and even was subjected to claims that the only reason he had succeeded was because of Affirmative Action.

Unfortunately, the critique of black American leaders in American politics would not stop with Justice Clarence Thomas.  It would reach new levels during the G.H.W. Bush administration as General Colin Powell was named as the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position that not only did he possess the qualifications for, but superbly handled the challenges presented to him. During the G. W. Bush administration, a new round of racial politics was unleashed by the tolerant Left with a host of insults directed towards Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her predecessor, Colin Powell. Again, the “tolerant” American Left questioned everything from the qualifications of these two people to even calling them “token” offerings by a racist and unpopular administration. Ignoring  two historical events – America’s first black Secretary of State and America’s first black female Secretary of State, the American mainstream media continued to portray Republicans as a party of racists bent on putting hard-working black Americans back on the plantation.  The ugly specter of racial politics was again winding up, but this time for the ultimate appearance in a presidential campaign.

The question must be asked – how has this new escalation of racial politics affecting the nation?  The answer is pretty clear in how Mr. Obama has fared in the American mainstream media. There has been no real critique of his agenda or his policies.  Legitimate criticism by even members of his own party results in a campaign of personal attacks to discredit those that dare to step out of line with the rest of the party.  Legitimate criticisms by members of the Republican Party or those identifying as Independents are discredited by any means necessary – including the use of racial politics – to silence it.  Sadly enough the picture emerges of a presidency even more secretive than the Nixon administration. I do not believe that the damage to race relations in our nations is permanent; Americans are more resilient than that.  The real damage has been caused by the hyper-partisan use of race as a political club to destroy opposition rather than presenting ideas and explaining policies to the public.  Will Americans ever be presented with campaigns and debates on real political issues that impact the lives of all Americans or will racial politics become the new normal for the nation?

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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