Racism Directed at the Oval Office

American history is replete with acrimony born of political opposition and its emotional heat. Racism has been a weapon, but never such a searing whip of bias and disrespect.

Now deep in the seventh year of the Obama presidency, Michelle Obama is reflecting on her family’s experiences as the first black family to inhabit the White House as First Family. It is instructional for all of us who mostly focus on the racism witnessed across our land – of late, young unarmed black men being shot dead — perhaps not focusing on the continual racist treatment of the first family.

At the historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama, uncharacteristically specific in describing racism against her and her family, Michelle Obama gave the commencement address this year, providing inspiration to its graduates and at the same time referenced the challenges African-Americans face in meeting their objectives, however lofty.

“The road ahead is not easy, especially for folks like you and me,” Michelle said to the graduates. Generally mentioning what most of us recognize as racist code phrases, she said, cable news called her, “Obama’s baby mama,” or said she “exhibited uppity-ism,” or was Barack’s “crony of color.”

She said she had been mistaken for “the help” at formal events. She related experiences that all most likely had as black Americans: “clerks keeping a close eye on you at department stores and the nagging worries of being pulled over for absolutely no reason while driving.”

“We have had our share of bumps,” Michelle said. Perhaps she was referring to the fist bump she shared with her husband soon after he won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. Even as Obama seemed the likely Democratic nominee, conservatives were laboring to demean him with racial epithets and innuendos. The fist bump at the convention cemented the fear image they were promoting of Barrack Hussein Obama being a secret Muslim born in Kenya, and a stereotypical angry black man.

The New Yorker magazine cover on July 21, 2008, displayed Obama in a turban and robes fist-bumping his Afro’d wife, who was dressed in military fatigues and sported a machine gun with an ammo belt. The New Yorker editor David Remnick called the cover “satire” targeting not Obama, but the total “absurdity” of the conservative smear coverage.

Accordingly, it’s been a hard eight years in the limelight for the Obamas. Black stereotypes have been stretched to the limits by conservative forces – politicians and media – whether it’s political opponents — actually the whole of the GOP, the Koch brothers, or Fox News and allies.

But racism from mass media sources must be covert. That is why the Tea Party, for example, was started by front groups with ties to big tobacco and the billionaire Koch brothers. The Tea Party can be used to represent interests of the rich while besmirching with racist taints and taunts.

The Tea Party demonstrations came in Obama’s first term, mostly from older white people who seemed to have their anger and angst directed against Obama. In effect, Obama was a black surrogate for all ills, not having an obvious target in Wall Street bankers. Racism was also a Koch-brother stand-in plan to muddy Obama’s health care initiative effort. Placards and signs quite often recorded the most gross, the most hateful racism, seemingly out of the post-civil-war South.

Conservatives have shown little respect for Obama as president, taking pot shots at him each day sometimes in racist terms. Bill O’Reilly interviewed him for 15 minutes, interrupting him some 48 times, treating him with the same disdain as any progressive guest. A House Republican, Joe Wilson, interrupted President Obama’s health care speech before Congress with “You lie!” This has never been done against a white president.

Speaker of the House, John Boehner repeatedly refused invitations to discuss important policy with Obama. Boehner undermined Obama by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress against Obama’s Iran Nuclear policy. A new Senator, Tom Cotton, sent a note with 47 GOP signatures to Iranian leaders insulting Obama and undermining delicate negotiations. These things were never done to white presidents by either party.

No doubt, such rancor has been display before in political fights, but never has such a unified effort been propagated using racism as a weapon against a family occupying the highest office of the land.

We are talking about whole media networks like Fox News, about half of state GOP leaders, most national Republican leaders, conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers and their political front groups, and lobbyists of the corporate rich.

You have a deadly denial of health care coming from some 25 Republican governors like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, all refusing to provide literally free health care coverage (“Obamacare”) to the poor in their states. One can only guess it’s from a hateful spite directed at Obama and Democrats.

Yes, in spite of the certainty that conservatives will play the “mad, radical black woman” race card – which they did, Michelle Obama communicated her frustration with graduates of Tuskegee University in Alabama, but with the resolve that “succumbing to feelings of despair and anger only means in the end that we lose.”

How long could we hold in such hurt and frustration? Hopefully, like Michelle Obama, we would use it as a source of inspiration and resolve to share with others.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.