Joy-Ann Reid on NBC:
President Barack Obama read to a certain portion of white America as an unending attack on white Christian identity, centrality and cultural relevance. In their minds, he was seeking to end their right to bear arms and the right of conservatives to speak freely.
For this group of Americans, Trump has been the corrective. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his brilliant Atlantic essay, “The First White President,” for Trump’s supporters, his election was itself the point. Putting a human wrecking ball against political correctness, feminism, multiculturalism and even decency was the ballgame.
Obama’s election masked this fierce racial schism for only a few short months. That ended the moment he declared, in July of his first year in the Oval Office, that a white Cambridge police officer acted “stupidly” for arresting a black college professor — and long-time Obama friend and mentor — outside his own home.
In that moment, the pleasant fiction of a “post-racial America” exploded. Police groups and Republican lawmakers pounced. Obama’s approval rating with white Americans dropped 8 points immediately, according to a Pew Research Center poll, from 53 percent to 46 percent. (Though his overall approval held steady at 54 percent.) It never recovered. Not even after a hastily staged “beer summit,” at which Vice President Joe Biden, Obama’s white working-class whisperer, played peacemaker.
Obama’s reaction to the incident dominated race-related discussions that summer, both in the mainstream media and, especially, right-wing talk radio. It joined health-care reform as a topic of intense racial polarization. And the decline in Obama’s popularity was particularly acute among working-class whites.
The evidence of our divided racial self was all over the Obama presidency from the beginning: from the shouts of “you lie” from the well of Congress as he spoke to a joint session, to the unprecedented spectacle of American conservatives rooting against their own country being awarded the Olympic Games.
Nowhere was the acidity more evident than each time the black man in the White House talked about race — whether empathizing with a dead black teenager, Trayvon Martin, or elaborating on our often cruel racial history in his eulogies for nine slain slain Emanuel AME Church parishioners in South Carolina or five slain police officers in Dallas.
What White America and Black America wanted and expected from Obama were fundamentally different and opposite things. Speaking broadly, Black America waited eagerly for him to speak to Black pain — to articulate the ongoing sorrow and impatience of black men and women amid the struggle for full humanity in a country that desired our labor but never wanted us.
White America, again broadly, wanted absolution. It wanted the man who was equal parts black and white — and whose blackness felt external to the America of slavery and Jim Crow and Red. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — to wave a wand over the country and declare its past racial sins forgiven by virtue of his election alone. That act, in the minds of many, had wiped the racial slate clean. There should be no more complaining from black folk.