How much of the opposition to President Obama is driven by race? The question has dominated the news cycle. Scores of commentators have weighed in (Wire coverage here) and taken sides, with Maureen Dowd and Jimmy Carter claiming that racism is the essence of the protests and David Brooks and others insisting that the protests are "not about race" at all. The polarizing nature of the responses makes it all the more striking that many of the nation's leading black thinkers seem to agree about an issue that's split everyone else. From liberal bellwether Eugene Robinson to conservative think-tanker John McWhorter, their consensus is clear: some criticism of the president is racially motivated.
Race Plays a Factor, Eugene Robinson writes at The Washington Post. "I can say in plain language that Jimmy Carter was right in essence, but wrong in degree. It seems clear to me that some -- but not 'an overwhelming portion,' as Carter claimed -- of the 'intensely demonstrated animosity' toward Obama is indeed 'based on the fact that he is a black man.'" Robinson says Jimmy Carter did our discourse a service. "I look forward to the day when we can look past race. But before we can do so, we need to look at race and see it clearly."
This Probably is About Race. But So What? Asks John McWhorter in an interview for PBS's Newshour. A senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, McWhorter says his gut tells him race is involved, but he doesn't believe that fact is useful to the debates at hand. "My question is not whether racism is involved -- I suspect that it is -- but exactly what are we talking about and why are we elevating it as if there's something alarmist about it, when maybe it's just a rather mundane fact?"
Critics Dislike Obama's 'Ordinary Blackness' and Humanity, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes at The Atlantic. "Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance. He tells kids to study--and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness--and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date--and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them."
No Use Pretending Race Is Not an Issue, Michel Martin says at NPR's Tell Me More. Martin blasts David Brooks, asking how "any thinking person" could share his view. Martin says the debate should change. "Perhaps the time we spend pretending that race is not an issue could be better spent thinking about how to bring about a colorblind reality."
Republicans Are 'Riding the Dependable Steed of Bigotry Back to Power,' Bob Herbert argues at The New York Times. And he adds that well-intentioned Americans are letting them get away with it:
I have no patience with those who want to pretend that racism is not an out-and-out big deal in the United States, as it always has been. We may have made progress, and we may have a black president, but the scourge is still with us. And if you needed Jimmy Carter to remind you of that, then you've been wandering around with your eyes closed.
Debate Is Proof That 'America Abhors History,' Kai Wright contends at The Root. "And as a result, a statement as obvious as Carter's--that the tea-baggers hate President Barack Obama because he's black--can be passed off as controversy in 2009." Wright says that Carter identified the "stalking beast" that no one wants to talk about.