Barack Obama doesn’t care about black people…

David Swerdlick, writing in The Root, says “there’s no shortage of folks who say that President Barack Obama — our first black president — hasn’t done enough for African Americans”. And he believes that’s exactly the way it should be. This was in response to Frederick Harris’ lamentations in The Washington Post on how he is still waiting for the first black President.

Outside the spire of political opinion commentary does this have any basis or warrant a closer look? Is it fair to claim that Barack Obama has ignored African Americans?

New published research explores race politics in America in more detail, and explores to what degree Obama’s election has signaled the end of racism in US politics. A number of experts in the field of critical race theory attempt to answer this question in a special issue of Qualitative Sociology: The Obamas and the New Politics of Race. With the 2012 US presidential election campaign in full swing, the meaning and significance of Barack Obama and his presidency are once again in the spotlight. Although, political commentators will tell you that much of the debate is likely to be consumed by healthcare.

Through the lens of Barack Obama’s presidency, what we see is something political commentators are missing. In an article entitled “Just another American story? The first Black First Family” Patricia Hill Collins shows – by highlighting their own ‘family stories’ during the 2008 campaign and in the post-election years – how the Obamas have been able to reintroduce race, gender, labour and equality into public policy discussions in a time when such debates are often deemed risky.

Michael Jeffries explores Obama himself as a figure of multi- and perhaps post-racialness in a paper entitled “Mutts like me: multiracial students’ perceptions of Barack Obama.” Exploring how other multiracial US citizens understand Obama’s racial identity, race and ‘race relations.’ In his interviews with multiracial students, Jefferies finds that respondents reject the concept of ‘post-racial idealism’ and do not view Obama’s election as signaling an end to racism. Instead, Obama is viewed predominantly as black rather than multiracial, even though his multiracial origins are acknowledged. Suggesting that racial schemas birthed by nineteenth century racial science continue to have a powerful effect in shaping popular perceptions of race today.

The election of Barack Obama – and his bid for re-election in November 2012 – allow us to consider how race and race relations have, or have not, changed — both in and outside of the electoral sphere.

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