What the haters and the hagiographers get wrong.
By MICHAEL ERIC DYSON
JUNE 24, 2016IT was a crucial speech, high-stakes even for a man used to giving important speeches: The first black president of the United States had to acknowledge, and then bind up, the nation’s racial wounds.
A year ago, after the massacre of nine souls at prayer at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Barack Obama traveled to Charleston, S.C., to eulogize its pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.When Mr. Obama stood in the pulpit, I saw him as thrust into a peculiar position: He nobly assumed a symbolic, though not individual, guilt for the hate that had been visited on Charleston, largely because the white killer appeared to despise black progress, and there was no clearer representation of that progress than President Obama.
The president had a lot to do in that eulogy. He had to give comfort to a grieving family and congregation. He also had to make amends for seven years of public gestures of tough love toward black folks.To do that, the president brilliantly evoked grace as an antidote to hate and preached in a black style to forge healing and redemption. He ended with a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.” As the call and response of the black church came full circle, Mr. Obama was at his best when he was at his blackest.
It was a rare display of unapologetic race pride.We are now approaching the last months of the Obama era.
He will be remembered as a great, but flawed, president, and many of those flaws have to do with how he has addressed race — or avoided doing so.In his first two years in office, President Obama performed herculean deeds in rescuing the banks, restoring the economy, bailing out the automobile industry and getting his signature health care legislation passed. It was an astonishing record of success despite bitter right-wing resistance to his presidency and the alarming racist reaction to a black man being in charge.
I have twice worked hard to help get this president elected. I have known Barack Obama since the early 1990s, and for a time we belonged to the same church in Chicago. Watching him as president, I greatly admired how this highly intelligent and supremely confident figure managed the affairs of state with verve and swagger.
No matter how much I disagreed with him about policy or politics I was deeply moved by his historic achievement. Still, I am frustrated. Because the president has hit some targets in the path to racial progress, but missed a great many as well. And that is not a sentiment I or other fellow black scholars, preachers and activists are supposed to express.That’s because black America has carried on an unrepentant love affair with Mr. Obama.Everywhere we turn on social media the love of the Obamas flourishes: a viral video of a 106-year-old black woman dancing with the first couple during a Black History Month celebration in the White House;
a little black girl crying when she realizes Mr. Obama will soon no longer be president; memes and lists cataloging why Mr. Obama and his remarkable wife and daughters are the greatest black family ever.There is good reason to celebrate Mr. Obama’s importance to black America. It is hard to overstate the symbolic significance and positive effects of a black man commanding the most celebrated seat of power.
His black brain and tongue have changed America forever.But gales of black pride have swept aside awareness of his flaws, and when those flaws are conceded, gusts of black defiance play down their meaning…………………