Profiling the President

Anti-Obama taunts in Arizona show that when Obama addresses race head-on, it confirms the fears of many.

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But for many whites it confirmed their worst fears about Obama. The contemporary belief that to even broach the topic of race makes one a racist considers Obama's comments about Trayvon to be divisive and inflammatory. Colorblind racism finds comfort in a dream world of racial denial, while offering no solutions for the real-world racial disparities that surround us.

The president's upcoming March on Washington anniversary speech offers the unique opportunity to candidly acknowledge the nation's racial divisions while offering policy recommendations that could promote dialogue, understanding and healing. Some have defended the president's reluctance to speak openly about race in America as the sage choice of a politician. Yet since race continues to touch every aspect of American life, ignoring its presence is both politically and morally irresponsible.

Once again, Arizona has been the site for teaching tough lessons about race and democracy. In this case the state has forcefully reminded Obama and the rest of the nation that ignoring race in America is a difficult task and sometimes, especially for the president of the United States, virtually impossible to do.

Peniel E. Joseph is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and a professor of history at Tufts University. Follow him on Twitter. The center will convene a National Dialogue on Race Day on Sept. 12, 2013, and  invites all to join in the conversation. Follow the center on Twitter.


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