Why Obama Will Never Call Out Racism

Barack Obama (Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images)
Barack Obama (Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images)

In a piece for Time, Touré explains why he believes the president will never really tackle race head-on.


Barack Obama is not a black leader. He’s a leader who’s black. This is not an insignificant distinction. In order to become President, he had to promise to be President for all the people and not be someone who would be a special friend to the black community, and he has lived up to that pledge. Black America has enjoyed the spiritual boost and pride injection that’s come from seeing the brother break the highest glass ceiling and strut through the White House lawn and parade his beautiful family before the world. But when Obama turns to governing, it’s a different story.

When he spoke of Trayvon Martin, Obama did so in a humane and paternal way, though he was careful not to bias the ongoing Department of Justice investigation. But more crucially, he was careful not to racialize the situation, which has become a racialized time bomb. Obama leavened his comments by using a rhetorical device he often employs, which is to universalize the situation. He said, “I think about my own kids,” which personalized the moment but risked coming close to pointing out the racial aspect, so he immediately followed that phrase with a universalizing statement: “Every parent in America should be able to understand why it’s absolutely imperative to investigate every aspect of this.” A moment later he repeated that pattern: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon, and all of us Americans are gonna take this with the seriousness it deserves.” This rhetorical gesture signals to black Americans that he’s not avoiding race — he references it in coded ways — but avoiding making white Americans feel guilty about racism. He gives everyone a way to feel that these issues are their purview while downplaying the pernicious impact of racism on the moment.

Read Touré's entire piece at Time.

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