In the coming weeks and months and, surely, the years after President Barack Obama actually leaves office, much time will be spent examining his political legacy from all angles. Already, writers like me are examining the Obama record on LGBT issues, while others concentrate on his record on the economy, foreign policy and the environment. And although there are certainly some areas worthy of critique and debate—namely his record on deportation and tackling issues that directly speak to the plight of black people living in America—some have started to critique Obama for essentially not being a racism-solving unicorn.
Late last year, Issac J. Bailey wrote an essay titled, “Why Obama Must Reach Out to Angry Whites” for Politico. In it, Bailey, who is black, argued that in the wake of the political ascension of Donald Trump, it is up to Obama to solve lingering racial divisions in America. One assumes that a laugh track played in the background the entire time Bailey was writing, but that remains unconfirmed.
That said, Bailey claimed, “There is only one person who can unite the country again, and he works in the White House. Yes, President Barack Obama—ironically, the man who is the personification of the fear Trump is exploiting—is the one in the best position to quell the anger being stirred up.”
If you remember correctly, Obama’s historic presidential campaign was marked as the launch of post-racial America. White people predominantly said this while the black people they don’t speak to regularly, or ever, rolled their eyes and went about their days. It’s clear now which party won that argument.
Still, Bailey went on to write: “What he needs to do is use the power of the office in a different way, one that matches the ruthless effectiveness of a demagogue with a private jet. Obama needs to go on a listening tour of white America—to connect, in person, with Americans he has either been unable or unwilling to reach during his seven years in office.”
Bailey proceeds to then offer his own anecdotal evidence of how this strategy works, though, spoiler alert: Bailey is not the first black president of the United States; thus, his comparison is inherently flawed.
Exactly one week later, another piece like Bailey’s surfaced. This one was titled, “Ending racism should be Obama’s life mission as he exits presidency.” Here, Leonard Greene, another black man, proceeds to make the same mistake as Bailey. Greene writes, “If Obama is really serious about attacking America’s original sin, he should immediately abandon any thoughts about creating some kind of post-presidency global foundation.”
So what should Obama do?
Greene says, “Instead, the nation’s first black president should dedicate the rest of his life to working exclusively on trying to heal the racial divide.
To quote Eeyore, “Oh bother.”
I have read more recent pieces about Obama’s role in fighting American racism. Some make the attempt at being nuanced; others make me temporarily admire the functionally illiterate. To any black writer with a keyboard and a few bills to pay, don’t be the Negro who puts the onus of stopping racism on its victims. Do not be that melanin-rich person who spreads falsehoods—particularly in mainstream outlets, of all places.
Perhaps it’s films like The Help that have convinced some that black people can magically say a few nice words and help some well-meaning white person see the error of his or her ways in 90 minutes, but that’s not how racism works in reality. President Obama cannot simply greet angry white men who harbor deep racial resentment toward him and all those who look like him and dramatically alter their state of mind with a conversation. Likewise, to ask Obama to suspend an all-encompassing global foundation to try and “bippity boppity boo” bigotry away is to wish an incurable migraine on that man for the rest of his life.
It’s one thing to argue that perhaps Obama could have said more about the racism that impacted his presidency, but Obama cannot cure racism itself. If that were the case, his administration might have gone far smoother than it actually did. If that were the case, Donald Trump would not be this election’s Republican nominee for president. These things happened because racism existed long before Obama or any other of its victims also presently living and breathing.
Victims are not responsible for the acts of their perpetrators. I imagine there will be more pieces like this surfacing in the future arguing otherwise. They’ll still be wrong, incredibly silly and totally a waste of any thinking person’s time.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.