The N Word

This morning, a column in the New York Times by Ta-Nehisi Coates, sparked a conversation in a Facebook group of which I am a part. Coates writes:

I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.”

I agree. I pointed out in the thread, and many of my co-conspirators in this group agreed with me, that

It has been obvious to me for a long time that the reason that facts don't matter to the right wing - that proving where President Obama was born doesn't make the issue go away, that showing economic statistics that prove he's not a socialist does nothing to the claim that he is, that reciting chapter and verse of his middle-of-the-road-American bonafides allays none of the fears that he is out to get your guns or shut down your churches or take away your freedoms - that the reason none of these arguments have mollified anyone on that side of the aisle is because every single one of them, false as it might unmistakeably be proven to be, is actually code for the one thing he unmistakeably *is* - black!

One participant replied this way:

I think the opposition may have tried to take him down last term based on his policies. Likewise in the election. But this term, all they've got is "We don't like him b/c he's black." And so they'll use the filibuster, the sequester, Scalia, and pretty much any tool (I mean that in every possible rendition of that word) possible to Stop the Black Man.

.To which I responded:

I'm not so certain it was [ever about] his policies at all. Here's the thing - I suspect that, had we elected a Republican president in the economic straits in which we found ourselves that such a president would have had little trouble evoking the spirit of Eisenhower (the Eisenhower of the Interstate System) to pass a Rebuild America stimulus package that would have contained repair monies and high speed rail. We would not, of course, have had the ACA, but we might have had jobs. Because the Democrats would have supported such a stimulus. As it is, we have a Republican leadership whose stated goal is to "make him fail." "Fail" was once articulated as "one-term," but when that didn't work out so well, "fail" became the next best thing. And it doesn't matter who goes down with it. Because the inevitable failure of the country will become the failure of the Obama presidency.

I wrote a short piece in this space last week which referenced the same phenomonon. Check out #5. Here's the thing. I think President Obama knows it too. I think he may be quite aware that the very fact of his election may have made impossible the road we need to build to any kind of viable future - education, infrastructure, investment. That the very thing that he hoped to prove by his election - not that the American people had moved beyond racism, but that they were ready to make that move, that his presidency would indeed signal the transformation of the American people, that it would be the redemptive moment for which our history has waited ever since its inception - may prove to be a chimera.

The fact of the matter is that, as evidenced by this recent poll, we are, if anything, more openly racist than before. And the sad legacy of the Obama presidency could very likely be that it forced us to stop kidding ourselves. That for now and at least the foreseeable future, the word by which too many Americans, in certain key constituencies and elsewhere, reference our President is the N word.