[VIDEO] Addressing Obama’s Racial Coding

By Tammy Johnson Feb 25, 2009

Like millions of Americans, I watched President Obama deliver his speech before Congress and the US Supreme Court. As I sat in my accountant’s office, doing my taxes, I wondered what his vision of America really meant for me, and the millions who really needed his help. I appreciated the sense of hope and the vision of prosperity that he offered. But I have a great deal of concern about who will benefit from his reforms. For instance, of the 3.5 million jobs created by his stimulus package, how many will be created in communities of color? Will the Black men in New York City, who have experienced double-digit unemployment throughout the Bush administration, receive any of these jobs? I don’t hear a plan for them. Then there was his repeated use of the phrase working families, a phrase that the mainstream media and politicians use as racial coding for white middle-class voters. There are a lot of us who don’t fit that definition, but still deserve the respect and attention of our President. He need not fall into the race-baiting of previous administrations, like the Reagan-era Welfare Queen. I’d like to think that President Obama is better and smarter than that. Such shorthand will only play into the hands of his opposition and potentially divide the constituency that elected him. And then he said something really pricked my ears. “In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle class in history.” I hope that the President also remembers the racial reality of that era as well. He should remember how the Federal Housing Association downgraded the creditworthiness of mixed race neighborhoods and required mortgage underwriters to include racially restrictive covenants. So as President Obama restructures our economy, he’d do well to remember this history, and not repeat it. Ironically, what came to mind as I finished my tax forms last night was Jesse Jackson’s old line, “Keep hope alive!” If President Obama makes good on a vision that embraces racial justice for us all, I’m willing to hang on just a bit longer.