During his farewell speech last week in Chicago, President Obama said that “race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.”
While Obama’s electoral victories themselves were an important chapter in the advancement of race relations in America, especially poignant during the week that we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s worth noting that the president’s assessment doesn’t match polling evidence from Gallup that shows a steep erosion of race relations in America, worse than at any point under George W. Bush, beginning with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. This erosion was felt by both black and white Americans.
Many Donald Trump voters appear to be reacting to the perceived spread of political correctness and the posturing of Black Lives Matter protesters, whose “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” meme was deeply misleading — according to President Obama’s Justice Department and even liberal columnist Jonathan Capehart. To quote Lena Epstein, a 35-year-old, Harvard-educated Jewish businesswoman who was co-chair of Trump’s Michigan campaign, Trump voters were “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Whether Epstein knew it or not, she was using a line previously made famous by African-American civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer.
Trump’s extreme rhetoric throughout his campaign — condoning violence at his rallies, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., questioning the capabilities of a Latino judge and so on — can be viewed, from his supporters’ perspective, as a mirror image of the racially tinged extremism of some Black Lives Matter activists. It was the yin to the yang of President Obama’s superficial assessment of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin that “if I had a son he would have looked like me.”
This line, and other Obama administration actions, did not tangibly advance the lives of African-Americans. In my view, it advanced divisive identity politics instead. Sadly, President Obama chose to support policies like the Dodd-Frank Act, which accelerated the demise of black-owned banks. He pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, despite the racist origins of the minimum wage, which was originally intended to disproportionately harm minority workers and disproportionately benefit wealthier, whiter workers. President Obama’s Justice Department sued to block vouchers for families desperate to escape failing public schools in Louisiana and resulted in the dashing the educational dreams of minority children.