On Monday the New York Times reported that the percentage of black Americans who believe race relations in America are generally good has doubled since July. This statistic forces me to ask: why are African Americans feeling so good about our country in a time of economic crisis and international conflict?
It is not just the fact of a black president. Instead, with everyone analyzing the 100-day mark of Obama’s administration, I think the answer lies in understanding this historic moment through a black cultural lens. I believe African Americans are feeling racially optimistic because they respect how our first Brother President is handling his business. Not all black people of course; there is a group clamoring for "accountability." But the polls are clear that most black people remain enthusiastic supporters of this president.
In January Obama kicked things off with the ultimate political party. African Americans stood with numb fingers and toes on the National Mall to watch a day we never thought would come. Obama had Mary J. Blige singing on the weekend, Aretha in her Sunday-going-to-meeting-hat celebrating on Tuesday morning, and Beyonce serenading on Tuesday night. It was an unrivaled R&B trifecta, challenging even the Essence festival.
But the best part of January 20th was that Barack and Michelle got out of the bulletproof, blac Cadillac and walked the streets…and no one shot at them. I know we are not allowed to say it, but one reason black people believe that race relations have improved in America is because Barack lived through the primaries, the election, the inauguration, and now through 100 days.
Not only has he survived it; this man has been busy. Obama immediately threw open the doors to the federal government creating the most transparent and internet searchable administration in our history. He quickly ordered the closure of Guantanamo. Both acts resonated with black Americans who have often been most brutally impacted by unfair criminal practices and covert, domestic, government surveillance. Obama signed the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and imposed a cap on executive pay for banks receiving TARP funds. These policies of wage fairness were immediate signals of substantive change for black Americans who continue to experience enormous income and wealth disadvantage relative to whites.
Though he didn’t say much about race himself; Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, took Black History Month as a chance to critique America as a nation of cowards on issues of race. It was a deft move of racial defiance by proxy. And when the NY Post implied Obama was a chimpanzee deserving of being shot for passage of the stimulus bill, President Obama brushed his shoulders off and kept it moving. African Americans respected the grace with which he handled these moments of national racial anxiety.
In 100 days Obama revived the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, a president whose legacy is built on black freedom. He effectively co-opted the Clintons, a task many thought was impossible. He shepherded through Congress the largest piece of legislation in American history. While he made some political mistakes and sometimes angered Progressives, he also managed to keep the banking industry from full collapse. In just over three months he restored the sciences, the arts, reproductive rights, environmental protections, and the rule of law. He began opening Cuba, dapped up Hugo Chavez, and held the first Passover in the White House. He hung out briefly in Canada, traveled to Europe, dropped by to see the troops in Iraq, and even swung south of the border for a summit. Even though he was changing the world he found time to play ball with his advisors, filled out an NCAA bracket, and had a beer at a Wizards game. This is what we call being on the grind but remembering to keep it real.
President Obama made a bit of a mess of the auto bailout and the torture memos. But just when Americans thought Obama might be weak he showed stunning strength,. First he fired the head of General Motors; something most people didn’t even know an American president could do. Then he shot three pirates and rescued a sea captain, which established serious street cred for international conflict. Those are power moves and they showed his willingness to assert his authority when required.
So tight was Barack’s game over the last three months that he has reduced the normally disciplined, spin masters of the GOP to a groping, unbalanced collection of naysayers. Desperate to counter Obama’s racial cool factor, Republicans elected Michael Steele to guide the Party. Steele proposed a hip-hop agenda for attracting new voters, but with the rap strategy failing they turned to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. His idea was to rebut President Obama by reminding America of the GOP role in Hurricane Katrina. Not a good look. When none of this worked, the Republicans turned to FOX News manufactured rage, tea bagging, and secession. These actions made them look both vaguely pornographic and surprisingly desperate. At this point, Obama has so fully neutralized Republicans that even Arlen Specter is a Democrat. Watching the bi-partisan Obama handle his opponents so effectively is as surprising and enjoyable as watching Wayne Brady turn gangster on the Dave Chappelle Show.
It wasn’t all policy and strength. To maintain and cultivate his Cliff Huxtable appeal, President Obama kept his campaign promise to his daughters and got the kids a dog.
Except for a few missteps including a terribly insensitive joke about the Special Olympics and a criminally stupid Air Force photo-op over lower Manhattan, it was a great 100 days. And did I mention, nobody shot at him? No wonder America feels like a more racially friendly place.