African-Americans are again questioning President Obama’s approach to the question of race in America. The hot question drew air from last week’s firing of Shirley Sharrod by her employer, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Mrs. Sharrod appears to have been caught in the cross-fire of words between the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) and the al-Qaeda-esque national Tea Party movement. The venerable national civil rights organization asked the Tea Party to remove from its ranks any racist elements. The Tea Party has reacted with a less than gracious screw you by claiming that the NAACP is a racist organization itself.
To supply evidence to the Tea Party’s claim, a conservative blogger posted an edited version of a video on his site that contained a portion of a speech given by Mrs. Sharrod where she acknowledged reservations about helping out a white farmer who was facing the possibility of foreclosure. It was later demonstrated that in her full speech, Mrs. Sharrod was describing her own personal reconciliation of the racial divide. It turned out that Mrs. Sharrod went above and beyond in helping out this farmer.
The White House allegedly threw Mrs. Sharrod under the bus, placing pressure on the USDA to fire Mrs. Sharrod for her statements. The White House and USDA later issued apologies to the fired worker. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, he is not only the man in the seat at the White House, but again is in the hot seat on the race issue.
Mr. Obama can take shelter under the cover of the U.S. Constitution. He has no obligation to play race healer-in-chief. The incident, while severely unfortunate and grossly unfair, does not create an immediate attack on our general welfare, economy, or national security. Mr. Obama’s status as the first African American president drags him into the fray.
To get above the fray, he needs to stay away from making any commentaries about this incident in particular and race in general. He will only come off as culturally divisive and such a stature is not what he needs on the eve of the 2012 presidential campaign season. While such a move might further incense the race entrepreneurs who see Mr. Obama as the embodiment of the second coming (and subject matter for their books), allowing himself to delve into a public treatise on race will only make him look less presidential.