The following editorial is from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Jan. 18—This Martin Luther King Jr. Day has added significance. By the time the national holiday arrives next year, Barack Obama will have only four days left in his tenure as America’s first African American president.
There is no telling when there will be a second. Ben Carson is fading as a contender for the Republican nomination, and even if he got it, his right-wing positions would cost him many votes among African Americans, who tend to be socially conservative but vote liberal. Among Democrats, up-and-comers like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker hold the most potential.
Being the first in any endeavor can be difficult. In some respects, Obama’s experience is comparable to that of Jackie Robinson, who in integrating Major League Baseball became a lightning rod for verbal abuse by those who found it hard to accept change. Sticking with baseball, Hank Aaron became a target of bigotry in breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record.
There have been good reasons to criticize Obama’s presidency. He hasn’t always gotten it right, with foreign policy being a particular weakness as he addressed volatility traceable to his predecessor’s missteps. But the degree to which criticism of Obama strayed into personal attacks on his character, his religion, and his patriotism had a familiar tinge to it.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked hate groups since 1971, credited Obama’s election with a spike in the number of extremist so-called Patriot organizations, from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 by the time Obama was reelected in 2012. That number has since fallen to 874 as hate groups used the Internet to go underground, the SPLC found.
Social media have made it easier for critics to express their anxiety about having a black president. After Obama’s reelection, a Cold Stone Creamery worker in California was fired for calling him the N-word on Facebook and saying, “Maybe he will be assassinated this term.” Interviewed later, the woman said, “I’m not saying I’d go do that or anything like that by any means, but if it was to happen, I don’t think I’d care one bit.”
Obama opened a Twitter account last year, which gave racists another avenue to vent about having a black president. Examples of tweets sent to Obama and reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution included: “@POTUS Go [expletive] Yourself [N-word] You Ruin The Country And Sit Back In Your Chair And Laugh, Dont Worry Couple of Months You Will Be Dead :)”
Racist stereotypes have been applied to Obama where you wouldn’t expect them, including a Boston Herald cartoon that depicted a White House intruder asking him if he had tried watermelon toothpaste. The Obama daughters haven’t been spared. A Republican congressional aide who attended a White House event posted on her Facebook page that Sasha and Malia were dressed like they were looking for “a spot at a bar.”
Jackie Robinson would be proud of the thick skin Obama has exhibited, never publicly losing his cool, just as Robinson kept his emotions in check amid racist taunts. With the end of his presidency coming ever closer, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an appropriate time to reflect on how Obama’s ability to ignore brickbats and stay focused on the job before him leaves the door open for an eventual successor to his place in history.
(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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