The inauguration of President Obama on Martin Luther King Jr. day is a powerful symbol of the progress in race relations in America. Symbols, however, do not have universal meaning. Since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the nation has had to contend with two competing narratives: one, the election of the nation’s first African-American president meant America was now post-racial. The second narrative was that the election of Barack Obama meant that “America” was in peril, and that a Socialist Kenyan became president again through nefarious means. Which narrative will prevail in President Obama’s second term? It depends on how race is confronted in the president’s second term, not only by the president, but by concerned Americans.
Since the presidential election of 2008, race relations in this country have deteriorated with the rumors that the president is a crypto Muslim, a Kenyan or any of the myriad of names (Obozo, Obummer) that have been given to him by conservative talk show pundits and detractors. Consistent calls for the president’s birth certificate during his first term, and other racial epithets and slurs from many sources including Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, and Rush Limbaugh seeped into portions of the country’s psyche, angering many people of color and galvanizing disenfranchised whites into polarized political camps. These racialized slurs against the president, fueled by conservative radio, television, and print media, have turned into a cottage industry of T-shirts, buttons and posters sold online and at Tea Party and other political rallies. Those who have promoted this racism are also quick to say that they are not “racists,” further compounding the issue. (MSNBC)