Analysis: Race Issues Beset Obama’s “Post-Racial” Presidency

Patricia Zengerle, Reuters, July 21, 2010

Many supporters of Barack Obama hoped his election as America’s first black president might herald an era of post-racial politics, but race has been an issue his administration just can’t seem to avoid.

Division and tension between black and white Americans has cropped up repeatedly over Obama’s 18 months in office, hurting his popularity and distracting from his political agenda.

The issue surfaced this week when the Agriculture Department pushed a black official to resign after allegations she discriminated against a white farmer, only to apologize a day later for acting too quickly and without the facts.

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Last July–in the heat of the White House fight for its healthcare overhaul–when Obama was subjected to scathing criticism for saying police had “acted stupidly” when they arrested Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates, who is black, on charges he was breaking into his own home.

More recently, the Justice Department dismissed voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party, prompting criticism from conservative groups who said the black president was unwilling to prosecute fellow blacks for civil rights violations.

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CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS

It has been more than 40 years since landmark U.S. civil rights laws banned discrimination against blacks. But race in America remains a forceful, divisive factor in areas from jobs to educational opportunity to banking and home ownership.

Blacks account for 13 percent of the U.S. population and on average earn less and are more likely to be unemployed than other racial groups. They are also more likely to be arrested and are given harsher sentences.

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Both the right and left accuse each other of injecting race into the political discourse. Experts say that’s inevitable given Obama’s position as the first non-white U.S. president. {snip}

This week, Shirley Sherrod, a black official at the Agriculture Department, said her bosses pushed her to quit after conservative media repeatedly broadcast a tape that seemed to show her saying she had discriminated against a white farmer because of his race.

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