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The Corporate Media Is Shamelessly Pretending Racism Died When Obama Got Elected

The elite white press corps has a myopic understanding of how racial inequality works. Their coverage has been squirm-inducing so far.

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You can see the message on brick wall murals in inner cities: Yes we can. You can hear it in the music of Black Eyed Peas’ frontman will.i.am: Yes we can.
You can imagine hearing it pass the lips of thousands of black mothers, perhaps after awakening their sons early to complete homework before they head off to school, just as President-elect Barack Obama’s mother did: Yes you can.

Black mothers encouraging their children? Just imagine!

The idea that, in the Age of Obama, a little early morning encouragement is all that separates black Americans from socio-economic success was abetted even by less unctuous reporting; in the midst of a fairly thoughtful, 8,000-word piece (New York Times, 8/10/08) on complexities in black political leadership, for instance, one is jarred to read that, now that “legal barriers no longer exist,” the “inequities in the society are subtler—inferior schools, an absence of employers, a dearth of affordable housing—and the remedies more elusive.”

If discriminatory treatment in education, employment and housing are deemed “subtle,” little wonder that calls for institutional change are heard as strident and outmoded.

Some journalists’ desire to “not see” racism as an obstacle led them to downplay the historical significance of Obama’s election. Finding “all the hoopla” unseemly, press critic Howard Kurtz scoffed ( Washington Post , 1/20/09), “It is hard to envision this level of intensity if John McCain were taking the oath of office.”

It is indeed unlikely that McCain would have been heralded as the first black president in United States history; that’s true. Nor would he have been greeted with the overwhelming relief of those who wanted above all to see the back of a Republican White House that has brought endless war and economic havoc.

There are probably a number of multi-layered reasons many people—including, yes, some in the media—greeted the Obama victory with some measure of satisfaction. But when rich white pundits start suggesting that “there’s a lot of advantages to being black. Black is in” ( Larry King , 1/21/09), all you can do is laugh.

As the Obama presidency moves forward, we should expect continued awkwardness: chin-stroking on how his “loping stride” and “fondness for pickup basketball” make for “a new White House iconography” ( Washington Post , 1/19/09), and contentless verbiage a la Joe Klein (Time, 2/2/09): “He came to us as the ultimate outsider in a nation of outsiders—the son of an African visitor and a white woman from Kansas—and he has turned us inside out.”

Also unlikely to abate is elite media’s recourse to a litmus, usefully vague and changeable, as to whether Obama is performing like the approved sort of black politician, who is, in Howard Fineman’s words ( Newsweek, 1/24/09), “shaped but not limited by [his] heritage.”

That line between being “shaped” and being “limited,” of course, will continue to be defined, and vigorously policed, by the elite white press corps.

 
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