In the rush to define we divided. In his book “Why We Can’t Wait,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wonders out loud why the third American revolution — The Negro Revolution — happened in 1963. He responds to this query with a set of reasons, among these, the legally incentivised snail-pace of school integration in the South: by then, nine years after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Brown v. Board of Education, only nine percent of the schools in the South had been integrated. He goes on to raise a more poignant argument, that 1963 marked the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, which served as a reminder to the Negro population that “he (the Negro) still lived a form of slavery disguised by certain niceties of complexity.”
In the America of the post-war era, social mobility was unprecedented. Between 1945 and 1960, the median family income, adjusted for inflation, almost doubled. The size of the middle class also doubled, but the income of black households was half that of their white counterparts.Trapped between the vicious circle of poverty and the walls of segregation, the revolution was a calling. But unlike the ferocity shown by both sides during the second American revolution — The American Civil War — this revolution would have only one savage side.
This is the decade in America when, in a newly admitted state, a future president would be born, the product of a biracial marriage in a year when most of the continental United States still had anti-miscegenation laws in the books. Only six years after the Montgomery bus boycott, unbeknownst to the most prominent black leaders of the time, a mixed boy would take breath for the first time.
Fast forward forty seven years. This year, 2008, would serve as the backdrop to an event a long time coming, yet until then, even for the most optimistic, very improbable: the election of a black president of the United States. In the hype of the moment, a general consensus was growing that by the very act of electing a black president, racial relationships in the United States would be solved. Magically, automatically, a post-racial America ideal was shot up like confetti from a cannon. In the midst of hope and change, “Inebriate of air” as Emily Dickinson would write, most talking heads and opinion leaders were declaring that a post-racial society was aligning.
Time would prove them all wrong. Not only had America not become post-racial, but the very opposite — it gave stage to what now is called a racial backlash. If one closes his eyes, one can almost hear the echoed crack of a whiplash. Any act by the black president would be deemed illegal by a growing proportion of the population. How to justify such position without disclosing the racist motivation? Make up a conspiracy theory. The first affront to his legitimacy as president came before he even had secured the nomination, from supporters of his rival in the Democratic primaries. What began as a chain email among disillusioned sore losers was the seed that would give fruit to one of the most reprehensible movements in political history — birtherism.
Since the Civil Rights Movement, one political party has been using racially charged undertones to rally their supporters. This dog whistle was used for decades, hidden in presidential speeches, gubernatorial races, senatorial and congressional elections. Some whistled louder than others, but it was always intended to be a subdermal experience. The election of this black president brought up to the surface the rash of prejudice. As the outbreak of bigotry spread among the least educated, low income whites that were (along with the rest of the world) going through the worst economic crisis in almost a century, it became ever more necessary and opportunistic to find a culprit. After a decade of Muslim demonization by the same political actors, it only became logical to link this illegitimate president to the hated religion.
Now you have a recipe for a plurality white Tea Party movement, a defensive line of cowards against the Muslim illegitimate black socialist president, who was sent by the Taliban to destroy the USA from within. To impose Sharia Law, and take away guns and rights from true Americans, that is, Caucasian. This discourse amounted to nothing but a collection of fabrications, distortions and disrespect that was unprecedented in the nation that created the office of President. Never before had a president been called a liar during his State of the Union Address or been demanded to release his long form birth certificate. The black president was the other, the stranger, the different from us. He was not an American, he did not know the values that build America. He was chilled, soft-spoken, intelligent and charming, but he was black, thus there must be something wrong, something terrible hidden deep in his soul. The defensive line of cowards were out to expose it: a fool’s errand.
The justification for this abhorrent behavior by some members of the Tea Party population was the perception of being under attack. During the first year of his presidency unemployment peaked at 10% and American households lost roughly 16 trillion dollars of net worth as consequence of the Great Recession. In order to combat this dire economy, the president put in motion several policies that were highly unpopular among the general population and would take years to fully bloom — The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Auto Industry Bailout and of course, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The black president not only is forcing “me” to purchase health insurance but he wants “me” to pay the health insurance for the lazy black and brown people. The resentment only grew stronger.
Before I go I would like to add one more point, just in case some of you think that my writing is meant to confuse legitimately raised concerns with racism. The Confederate rebel flag was a dead emblem for decades after the defeat of The Confederacy, not without sporadic resurgence throughout time — in the 1940’s the Dixiecrats took on the Confederate flag as their symbol — but it was not until the fifties and sixties that it became a symbol of massive resistance to integration, and it is now a symbol of rebellion against the illegitimate presidency of a black man. During a visit to Oklahoma the rebel flag was on full display, according to an MSNBC report from July 2015: “…the demonstrators wanted to show the world that the battle flag is not a symbol of hate but one of heritage — by waving it while shouting angrily at the first black president.” Hidden in layers of inherited magniloquence, the core reaction to this symbol is a blunt reminder of the misguided and unsustainable idea of a white superiority over other races. The idea of skin color was concocted by the manipulation of empirical information. A sensorial scapegoat designed to justify the most disgraceful attitudes of human beings. It has not propelled any advancement in the human experience, but on the contrary has become the heaviest ballast to the evolution of most the basic levels of connection in human relationships.
For the first time in history not only had a president been chosen by a coalition of minorities, but he represented everything the white majority always asked for: well educated, highly successful and nonthreatening. His poetic rhetoric, and his savvy understanding of politics and political campaigning made him a formidable opponent. Not without shortcomings, his accomplishments are many and will be part of a separate writing. But if a white president would have reduced unemployment from almost ten percent down to full employment at five percent, rescued the auto industry, killed Osama Bin-Laden, refloated the housing market and increased the numbers of Americans with health insurance to a record 90% of the population, he would be viewed as one of the most successful presidents in history. The black man, however, could never escape his skin, and millions of Americans could not see past that.