Talking openly about Obama and race

Talking openly about Obama and race

In September, 2009, just eight months into Barack Obama’s first term, when it was still possible for unsentimental observers to perceive the Tea Party’s riotous fulminations as a passing blip, Jimmy Carter remarked that opposition to the President’s agenda was driven, largely, by one thing: race. “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American,” Carter said. He went on:

I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans. And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.

Carter, then eighty-four years old, well into the say-anything years of public life, and still mildly tainted, even among some Democrats, as a negative ideal of the Chief Executive, was quickly criticized for the remarks. Even Obama took pains to distance himself from Carter’s words. Yet, as a white Southerner (he became governor of Georgia at a time when it had barely moved past legalized segregation), a Democrat, and a former President, there was perhaps no one better suited than Carter to recognize the racial trip wires that lay in wait for the first black Commander-in-Chief.

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