Few Americans truly understand the racial schism separating white and black citizens. The visible success of Black Americans in business, sports, entertainment and politics makes it seem like there is more societal change than there really is, hiding the still powerful and enduring realities of systemic racism.
One could say, racism in America has become hypernormalized. That is, with the indisputable improvement in race relations, racism is neither easily discernable nor interpretable at the level of historic meaning. It is plausibly deniable and simply woven into the fabric of American life.
In 2008, Barack Obama swept to victory as America’s first Black president. This reduced perception of racism as it suggested we were headed toward being a post-racial society. In reality, Obama’s election entrenched racial resentment, as it overturned the country’s implicit racial hierarchy. White support for Congressional Democrats collapsed to its lowest level in the history of House exit polling.
At rallies for the Tea Party, people held signs saying things like “Obama Plans White Slavery.” Steve King, an Iowa congressman, complained that Obama “favors the black person.” Rush Limbaugh, bard of white decline, called Obama’s presidency a time when “the white kids now get beat up, with the black kids cheering.” Glenn Beck called the president’s health-care plan “reparations.”
When, in July 2009, President Obama criticized the arrest of eminent Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. while he was trying to get into his own house, saying the officer had “acted stupidly,” a third of whites said the mild remark made them feel less favorably toward the president, and nearly two-thirds claimed that Obama had “acted stupidly” by commenting.
Former president Jimmy Carter remarked, “An overwhelming portion of the animosity toward President Obama is due to the fact that he is a black man. That racism inclination still exists.” The furor gr...