Civil Rights

Expecting Too Much

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The Obama-friendly conservative Dan Riehl writes:

electing the first black president would ultimately do more to pry away black and other minority voters from a decadent American liberalism, than would anything else….One could no longer make the argument that America is racist, or unfair. Not when a black man has risen to the highest office in the land.

I've heard this argument from many people—sometimes even from libertarians, who you wouldn't expect to be so government-centric. While I'm not sure what it means to say that America (all of it? some of it?) "is" racist, the presence of a black man in the Oval Office would hardly mean that no American blacks face institutional barriers, any more than the presence of black officers on a police force means that blacks don't face racially driven police harrassment. Yes, a President Obama would be a symbol of progress in race relations. But it is an open question whether he would reverse the policies that helped produce the racial isolation of working-class blacks, the disproportionate number of blacks in prison, or the sorry state of the urban schools that so many blacks attend. It is even conceivable—not necessarily likely, but conceivable—that Obama, like many black mayors, would actually make life worse for African Americans.

For the record, I think Obama is the most palatable (or the least unpalatable) of the four frontrunners, mostly because of his stance on Iraq. I do not believe his election would usher in a new age where racism and unfairness have been banished, and where whites can confidently pat themselves on the back without worrying that some black man will interrupt with a complaint.