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Obama, Race, and the Media

By Nicholas E. Smith  Posted by Nicholas Smith (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
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This will be the most controversial piece I’ve written, but it should not be. Lest you think that I harbor racial preferences, know that these divisions are utterly against my nature. - Nick 

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Obama, Race, and the Media 

I have a problem that has been festering ever since I’ve been politically aware. (Yes, that’s only been eight years. But that’s immaterial.) For me, it has turned from a minor annoyance to near-outrage as I’ve watched the Presidential campaign unfold.  

I keep reading articles that label Barack Obama “black,” as if he is the “black” candidate for President. The authors of these pieces, who earn paychecks for getting their facts straight, know that the Senator is both white and black. He is bi-racial. However, the media rarely points this out in their coverage, particularly when talking about his appeal to fellow white Americans.* 

Thanks to overblown coverage, we know that Obama made regrettable remarks about lingering “bitterness” in the American heartland, due to the economic dilapidation of these regions. I think people object more to his wording than the words themselves. I happen to agree with his critics to some extent. According to Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report, “For undecided voters being asked to support a 46-year-old black man with a relatively thin résumé on the national or statewide level, this kind of story does not make them comfortable.”**

Comfortable about what? My problem with this statement is not that they merely identified him is “black,” but they did so vis-à-vis “undecided voters”, or “whites.” The key to understanding these blanket statements about race is to unpack and decode them. Charlie’s overall point is clear: Barack Obama is a “different” and “under-qualified” candidate that many white people won’t easily support.

For fairness’ sake, consider the reverse of Cook’s statement. “For undecided black voters being asked to support this 46-year-old white man. . .this kind of story does not make them comfortable.” The implication is that blacks must be conditioned into voting for someone of different skin pigmentation than theirs. How likely is it that this would be said about a white candidate? Not very likely. For example, I doubt that it was written about Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), a wrongly rejected member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Cohen, a white American, represents a majority black district.

Think about it. Non-white voters have always had to support a white candidate for President of the United States. (I know, Jesse Jackson had a shot. But I’m talking about actual nominees.)  There hasn’t been talk of them being “comfortable” seeing a white take the office.

My point is that Barack Obama, a bi-racial man, deserves the same media treatment that any other “main stream” candidate would get. These coded statements reveal the range of racial feelings in America, from mistrust to downright animosity across all races.  Don’t mistake my comments for coming down on whites; these feelings exist on all sides.

I badly wish that we would overcome these historical racial divisions. It is a cancer that we have not gotten rid of in 232 years of this nation’s history. I am optimistic though, because people voted for Obama in many primaries, largely without regard to race.

Let’s continue that trend and put Charlie Cook and the media in a different frame of mind when talking about the racial appeal of candidates. What do you think?

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* I understand that Obama self identifies as African American.  The focus of this piece isn’t on his self-identification, which he obviously has a right to do, but on the fact that the media does not give a candidate, black or half black, equal due in comparison to his counterparts.

** I have previously written about Obama’s record, and it is not “thin” nationally, and certainly not at the State legislative level. For example, you can track your tax dollars at , courtesy of Barack Obama and Tom Coburn.

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Nicholas Smith is a former Commissioner for the City of Berkeley, CA. He is currently a law student in New York City, and blogs about the day's headlines at
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