Racial Progress and Obama’s Reelection

As I see it, Obama’s reelection is overall likely to cause more harm than good. But there is one important positive aspect that deserves special mention. Obama’s reelection victory cements the idea that having an African-American president is normal. For a nation with a long history of racial oppression – one where most blacks didn’t even have the right to vote just fifty years ago – that’s an important sign of progress.

Obama’s 2008 victory was, of course, an even more important breakthrough on this front, as I, among many others, emphasized on the night he won. But that win could have been written off as a historical fluke, caused in large part by public revulsion at the financial crisis and the many failings of George W. Bush and the GOP. His reelection this year can’t be dismissed in that way. The Republicans had a real chance to win this year, and Mitt Romney, for all his flaws, was not as fatally compromised by Bush’s legacy as McCain in 2008.

The next time we elect a black president – and I am sure there will be a next time – it will be seen as business as usual. Similarly, few people are exercised about Catholics in high political office anymore or about the fact that there are numerous Jews in Congress and on the Supreme Court. It would be naive to assume that Obama’s political success signals the complete disappearance of racism or anything close to it, any more than we have completely eliminated anti-Semitism. But it’s certainly a sign that racism has greatly declined, and that African-Americans are more fully accepted in mainstream American society than ever before.

Does this sign of progress outweigh all the bad things that Obama has done in office, and may well do in the next four years? I think not. But it should be celebrated even so.