Lehrer: The Obama era’s reflection on race

Case Western Reserve United

Let it be clear: racism and its tragic consequences remain pervasive throughout the United States. However, there are legitimate grounds for rejoice as President Barack Obama begins his last year in the Oval Office.

Obama is the first black and biracial president in American history. In my last article, I stuck to the policy aspects of Obama’s legacy. I am glad I refrained from mentioning anything concerning Obama’s race, because that would have been truly unnecessary and borderline offensive for many. After its publication, however, I realized that Obama’s race is not something to gloss over. Because of this, I am taking the risk of discussing this in hope to continue to dialogue on campus on issues pertaining to race throughout campus and our communities, so as to facilitate mutual respect and understanding. I have decided that the issues surrounding race are far too important to push aside, as many of my fellow activists on campus do as well. As a white male who grew up in a wealthy county with little diversity in New Jersey—who indeed experienced the principles of white privilege—I do not wish this piece to be controversial or confrontational. Rather, I hope to take an optimistic tone of how far our nation has come since we were founded.

Since Obama has had the spotlight directed on him, he has faced scrutiny on his racial identity. Some members of the African-American community have accused Obama of being “not black enough” or of “acting white.” Many pundits since he ascended to the presidency in 2008 regarded Obama as someone who was hesitant to talk about race in a direct manner. However, since the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the horrid stream of police brutality cases that have afflicted the African-American community have emerged into our national landscape, commentators (as well as myself) believe that Obama is finally poised and ready to have a meaningful—and vitally important—discussion with Americans on the issues surrounding racial injustice. And, I am sure our actions, as well as Obama’s, will speak louder than words.

Regrettably, our country has undoubtedly a very far way to go. Scholars and analysts alike have linked the deep partisan polarization that has resulted since the start of Obama’s tenure in 2009 to entrenched, covert racism. The Tea Party frenzy in 2010 and the surge of radical right-wing extremist crime is not something to turn a blind eye to. Indeed, some dispute Obama’s United States citizenship status to this very day; many claim he is un-American.

If anything, though, Obama’s campaign promise in 2008 to be an agent of hope and change has, holistically, boded to be true. Yes, the process is and will continue to be slow, long, strenuous and incremental. But any movement is, whether it be for women’s rights, civil rights or the fight toward LGBT equal treatment and non-discrimination. I’d like to note that all three of the aforementioned are social issues where progress has occurred, but still needs to be made.

Obama has been the face of the United States for nearly a decade at this point. We certainly do live in a time much different than the 19th and 20th centuries. No longer are African-Americans deprived any level of legal recognition and subjected to despicable treatment as slaves. No longer are African-Americans required to sit at the back of the bus, or use segregated public facilities. No longer can African-Americans be denied their inalienable right to vote in elections.

Yes, there is still plenty of de facto racial segregation and systematic racism today that endures. We need to keep up the “good fight.” But we are a nation that has experienced something profound and noteworthy as well. I believe that while we definitely have much work to do, Obama deserves praise at the least.

Thank you, Mr. President, for leading us further in a direction toward unity, love and respect.

And with that, let us continue to work together to ensure we and the future American generations experience the full notion of the American Dream. Let us be a Case Western Reserve that is united. Happy holidays.

Josh Lehrer is a fourth year student who will be graduating this Spring. He is thankful that his undergraduate years at CWRU have led him to find his voice—far from the high school student who actually feared engaging in meaningful discussion on topics that deserve due diligence.