If his most zealous advocates were to be believed, Barack Obama's ascension to the White House was supposed to usher America into a “post-racial” era. It was a narrative intended to elevate Obama's prestige amongst the general public and conform to the idealized picture that Obama's followers had painted in their minds. So far, Obama's most avid supporters have only exacerbated racial tensions.
“You have what I call the 'Get the N-word out of the White House,' the Tea Party,” says Hollywood actor Sean Penn in an October 14th CNN interview. He elaborates: “At the end of the day, there's a big bubble coming out of their heads saying, 'Can we just lynch him?'”
Fellow actor Morgan Freeman had previously stated in a CNN interview that Tea Party activists' approach is “Screw the country. We're going to do whatever we can to get this black man out of here.” He argues that the rising influence of the Tea Party movement “just shows the weak, dark underside of America” and that Americans are “better than that.” Actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo's description of Tea Party activists as “redneck racists” is apparently not so unpopular in the entertainment industry, and it goes virtually unchallenged by CNN interviewer Piers Morgan who never fails to give conservatives the third-degree on gay marriage (Morgan claims that Tea Party activists are “violently opposed” to gay marriage). Are we to infer from Piers Morgan's selective indignation that it is more respectable for someone to brand millions of people as racists for opposing Barack Obama than it is for someone to not support gay marriage?
What does the Hollywood left have to say about presidential hopeful and Tea Party favorite Herman Cain or Florida congressman Allen West? What about South Carolina congressman Tim Scott? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas? Black men like Cain, West, Scott, and Thomas arguably have greater claim on black “authenticity” than Barack Obama, and they are amongst the Tea Party's most celebrated. But don't tell that to HBO's Bill Maher who notes that Clarence Thomas “does not represent 95% of black people” (a remark that earned him effusive approval from his in-studio audience).
Liberals generally demure from commenting on black conservatives because referring to someone as an “Uncle Tom” or an “Oreo” would grate against their self-portrait of tolerance and open-mindedness.
The Tea Party movement's advocacy of smaller government is essentially race neutral. Imputing racist intentions on deficit reduction, limited government, and opposition to Obama's health care reform requires some combination of over-sensitivity (perhaps paranoia?) and a lack of candor. Yet, unchallenged accusations of racism abound. The word “racist” has become the go-to-epithet for liberals to employ against conservatives, and its overuse turns simple political disagreements into a racial issue.
Suppose Hilary Clinton had won the presidency. Are we to believe that the Tea Party would never have existed? Or would they merely be redneck sexists instead of redneck racists?
Race has undoubtedly influenced the tone of political rhetoric surrounding President Obama, but it has primarily been his supporters who continue to make race an issue. The promise of a post-racial America and a post-racial president has been undermined by those who made the promise.