How do you judge whether race factors into a political controversy?

Highly placed political figures are arguing over whether President Obama gets less respect and more criticism because of his race. Opponents of his health reform plan say that Democrats are using accusations of racism to deflect disagreements over policy. How do you judge whether race factors into a political controversy?

I think that I can feel it in my gut, but only after the question has been raised. In President Obama’s case however I think it is more of a credibility issue. If the republicans can discredit Obama then they have a better chance of derailing the democrats agenda. -Gregory Kishel, Chisholm, MN

In my university logic class we learned that the form of the argument was the important feature as to the validity of the argument. If you didn’t know who said something (no identifying demographic information – such as race or political affiliation), how would you evaluate the argument? Race is an artificial construct without biological basis but it’s effects are real. Of course, you have to try to eliminate your own racial demographic influence if you are going to evaluate an argument justly. Too many Whites think that only those who are non-White are influenced by racial factors. Being White is a racial factor also. -Gary Kwong, Falcon Heights, MN

In the 1960s, when I was growing up in SC, race was a subject of open discussion in politics. With the best of wills and intentions, we have driven it underground, where it still roils, grows and disturbs the political landscape. Because of my history, my antennae are always up for hidden racial meanings in political arguments, and they are rampant today. When reckless, dishonest and outright ridiculous charges are thrown about, race is very likely to be driving the passions of those making such charges. Straw issues may carry the day more effectively and achieve the same result as if race were still a legitimate criterion for judgment. -Karen Seay, Edina, MN

When arguments no longer apply or make sense. The “birthers” are a perfect example. In the face of mounds of irrefutable evidence that Barrack Obama was born in Hawaii they ignore the facts, are irrational. Their refusal to deal in facts betrays ulterior motives. The health care issue is extremely complicated and I don’t think most of us can wrap our brains around the intricacies of it enough to know who’s making the most sense and who isn’t. That said, when someone shouts, “You lie!” at the President, it is at best disrespectful and I personally am inclined to see it as racist. -Katie McGuire, Hebron, KY

Race factors into all political controversies, So I judge is it is racial simply by finding out if it is a political controversy. -Alan Ditmore, Leicester, NC

I don’t think in 2009 you can make a judgment about race in a political controversy. I am a child of the eighties who never knew segregation or racism. (I know that I have been accused of both by blacks.) The only racism I have experienced has been affirmative action. I was raised in a small, rural community where there was no discrimination against a strong back and hard work. It seems like today the polarization that is going on is not about race but about who works to pay for the “benefits” that congress would pass for “society’s well being.” My argument is against entitlement, not the color of a man’s skin. -Sonya St. Jacques, Richmond, VA

Share your reply in the comments: How do you judge whether race factors into a political controversy?

  • The intense emotional distress we often see over Obama’s fairly centrist policies calls out for explanation. When people stubbornly deny all reason and evidence (about his birth, for example) and when they’re seem overcome with a blind panic over something as ordinary as a president speaking to school children, it can’t be explained away as a mere policy disagreement. I ask you – if not his race, what’s different about Obama? It certainly isn’t his policies.

  • Steven

    Much of the opposition to Obama is clearly irrational. Whether the irrationality stems from racism (conscious or not) is impossible to tell for certtain. The fact is, members of the opposition are treating it as a win/lose fight, rather than a sincere effort to promote good public policy. They seem to see him as evil and thus justify their underhanded tactics.

    If your opinion is legitimate, you shouldn’t have to lie or manufacture controversies to promote your point of view. Reason should be sufficient. The fact that Obama’s opposition resort to such tactics clearly demonstrates that they don’t have enough legitimate arguments to support their position.

    Consider this: If you listen to folks on the center-left, you’ll hear lots of disappointment over how far Obama has gone to compromise with the far right, and yet the folks on the right continue to try to paint him as a “socialist.”

    Not that the left wing is any better, of course. GWB had some terrible policies (earning a D-minus in my gradebook), but the left still twisted the truth so as to make him out as worse than he really was.

  • James

    It doesn’t seem to matter that BHO is not a natural born Citizens of the United States,,, why should it matter what skin color he is?

    Get over the political leveraged race card and get to work. DON’T TREAD ON ME.

  • Sarah S

    I am white and until I took African-American Studies courses in college, I didn’t truly understand how racism functions in our world today. However, it is underlying in all of our policies and practices, and minorities face great challenges daily. That rumors still persist about the President’s citizenship and religious beliefs proves racism is part of the extreme backlach against him. The Right may have realized its opportunity to build upon this emotion and take down the head of the Democratic Party.

  • Giles B

    Actually you can tell when there is clear racial content. When it becomes personal and illogical.

    For instance when people perversely claim that Pres. Obama is not a US citizen, or worry about his religion (Islam!?), or believe he attended an Indonesian Madrassa and it matters, etc., etc.

    Their speech betrays their fear which betrays their racism.

    Statistically, by all research, racism on all sides is still widespread in the US. To think it isn’t part of the political conversation is naive.

  • I judge whether racial factors are a part of the political discussion when an opponent uses racial stero-types against the other person in ‘making their point’ about the issue under debate, when there is deliberate lying about what the other person has said or represents in order to frighten or incite ignorant people to act out , and when deliberate personal disrespect for the other person is demonstrated in a forum where such behavior is unheard of. Historically, wealthy whites in America have used poor, ignorant, socially insecure whites to oppress racial minorities where profit for the wealthy was at stake. This is what is happening now with Pres. Obama and the health care reform issue. Nothing has changed. Those who claim that this is not racism are racists themselves.

  • Theresia Crisler

    When an argument becomes couched in the irrational based upon racial stero-types, and the position of the oppponent is distorted and lied about, and when deliberate personal disrespect is shown in a forum where such behavior has never been shown and is against the rules of the forum, you know racism is responsible for it. Historically, in America wealthy whites have used poor, ignorant, socially insecure whites to oppress racial minorites where profits were at stake. This is what we are now experiencing in the health care reform debate. Racism is a powerful force, and no one uses it better than big business.

  • Dave

    Who cares if the attacks on Obama are racist or not? Hatred is bad no matter what form it takes. The fact is that there’s some kind of animosity behind the attacks, and a cool-headed look at the facts reveals them to be the lies they are. The attacks are illegitimate and harmful to the political process. Those who harbor such hatred, regardless of its source, need to examine their own conscienses. But if we demonize those who hold such opinions, rather than merely refuting the opinions themselves, then we become as bad as they are.

  • Sanna Towns

    When the Confederate/Jim Crow symbols and actions of racist America become part of the daily discourse and are not challenged by the powers-that- be that is when race factors into a political controversy. Here are just a few examples of the symbols of racism: the black President is equated with a chimpanzee (remember the NY Post cartoon?) (historically blacks have often been demeaned by being equated with monkeys); Birthers and Congresspeople continuously question the President’s citizenship, the equivalent of “Go back to Africa, black folks; you don’t belong here;” the “You lie” by a Confederate hold-over is the insult that many adult blacks remember, and it always ended in “boy” or “girl”; rallies (such as last weekend in Minneapolis) with gun-tooting “patriots” parading openly as the black President is speaking, memories of KKKmen parading down the streets of Philadelphia, MS and Memphis, TN; a 400% increase in death threats against our black President (need I say more?); a poll of New Jersey conservatives revealing that one-third believe that the President is or might be the anti-Christ is equivalent to “blackness” in America having always been equated to evil, doom, darkness, and even Satanic images (check out U.S. literature, films, popular culture); Pawlenty joining the chorus of conservatives in portraying paranoia about the President wanting to speak to school children about taking responsibility for their education is the equivalent of white parents in the south and northern cities (remember Boston and the Twin Cities?) wanting to keep those black kids away from our white children; Republican “leaders” Beck and Limbaugh demeanng the President, one saying he has a “deep-seated hatred of whites” (I guess this includes the President’s mama and grandparents), and the other saying the President’s health reform plan is reparations for African Americans. These latter present-day symbols bring to mind so many memories of the past: the “real leadership” quietly standing in the background and not saying “enough is enough.” How well those of us who grew up in the south remember the absence of moral leadership. Instead, let’s rile the masses. Or do we forget Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” in his bid to defeat true welfare reform while riling his masses — remember Reagan’s “southern strategy? As I said, the past is with us in the present.

  • Bill

    Easy: One big indicator is if they say “It’s my heritage” when referring to the confederate flag. Seriously, what they are doing is picking a particular point in their heritage that suits their beliefs–unless you are Native American, your heritage actually came from Europe…so why not fly the flag of England?

    After living in Georgia for 4 years and dealing with the kids who picked up on their parents ideology (they flew the confederate flag), who in turn told my family and I to “go back where you came from”, I think these adults need to grow up and set better examples for their children. Kids learn to hate from their parents.

  • Al

    I’m not sure that you could definitely say that some recent attacks on Obama have been racially motivated. Many seem to me to be an extension of a political strategy of telling lies frequently and with conviction so that people believe them to be true. That strategy began a decade ago, long before an Obama presidency was even a thought.

  • Kathleen A. Garry

    Presidents always generate criticism but most of the criticism in past years has had an attempt at humor–the shrub [President Bush], Bubba, President Clinton, etc. The remarks aimed at President Obama have most recently seem aimed at portraying the President as “arrogant”,” taking over”;essentially fear based rhetoric which reminds me of racist terms used against minorities.

    I’d like to be wrong.

  • Marie

    I really do not think comments are racially biased. There’s a saying, “turn-about’s-fair-play”, now that the shoes on the other foot, they now know what Republican’s have been feeling from the left for a very long time. I like what someone who posted already stated, it’s fear-based rhetoric. They guy’s everywhere! Yeah, I’m glad he’s got energy, and I do have to admit there are a few things I like about some policy ideas, but what I don’t like has absolutely nothing to do with race–at all.

  • Lizzie

    Of course those who disagree with the President’s policies and ideas will also deny that race has anything to do with their opinions! I do think race plays a factor in almost all elements of our society – which is disappointing – including beliefs/opinions related to our current President. Racism is so embedded in daily life that it is unrecognizable to most people, especially if you’ve never studied such topics. I truly believe that some of the most (blatantly) racist people are completely unaware of how racist they actually sound! Instead of putting so much energy into denying the role of race, perhaps more people should spend time learning about the deep roots of of racism and its current implications. It’s easy to say, “Of course I’m not racist!”, but much more difficult to take time to learn and self-reflect.

  • Michael Zabel

    To those who have unsheathed their swords of racism, in lieu of substantive and factual evidence, in defense of President Obama’s policies and agendas, I have provided some evidence to the contrary.

    Oprah’s audience is predominantly female, white, and over the age of 55. Nationally 7.4 million people watch Oprah daily – From NBC/NJ’s Aswini Anburajan in an article entitled Breaking Down Oprah’s Numbers, Posted: Friday, December 07, 2007 10:49 AM by Mark Murray

    In sports dominated by black athletes, and where whites comprise a vast majority of the viewing audience: “Blacks made up 12.8 percent of the audience for pro football last year compared to 9.2 percent for basketball.” -Kevin Canfield, Who watches NFL, by the #s, September 13, 2002© 2002 Media Life

    The general demographics for the PGA: Upper income, 35+ white male. Tiger Woods dominates this sport.

    The Cosby Show received relatively large ratings shares during its airing during the 1980’s, and the prime-time television viewer was largely (70% +) white.

    In the 2008 election, Barack Obama could not have won without substantial support from white voters. According to election results from, of the percentage of total voters, 74% were white and 13% were black.

    Michael Steele, a black American, is currently the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    Dr. Walter Williams of George Mason University receives many kudos from listeners when he is a guest host of the Rush Limbaugh radio program.

    Even Mr. Obama has spoken against the notion of racism as the cause for contention.

    While not oblivious to, and, in fact, disturbed by, the very small segment of the population who hold on to white supremacy, confederate, or even neo-Nazi views, I hold that this nation has moved past the racial divide.

    I challenge those who have exhausted all but derogatory slander, to put forth actual evidence to support their claims of racism.

  • Steve

    Assuming for the moment that none of Obama’s critics are motivated by racism…. That doesn’t make it okay to distort the truth, impugn his integrity, and manufacture controversies over non-existent issues. Whether racism is behind it or not, such behavior is harmful to civil discourse. And it sets a bad example for our kids, too.

    That said, those who dismiss the critics as “just a bunch of racists” are making the same mistake as those who dismiss Obama as a “closet socialist.”

  • Skin color as a motivating factor for criticism of President Obama is an offense to his race. The truth coming out of our President being nothing more than a genetic clone of George Walker Bush is painful and disappointing; especially to voters whose tears splattered their ballots.

    One begins to wonder about the integrity of political leadership when premeditated promise-breaking becomes a laudable human character quality in those elite circles.

    The belief that the President needs to endear himself to banks has gradually permeated itself to conscionable acceptance. The simple truth of people over government, and government over business is inverted to corporate calling the shots. The only color question here is green.