Obama’s Progress on Racial Harmony

In November of 2008 – when Barack Obama was elected president – 70% of Americans believed that race relations would soon improve.[1] Now, as Obama nears the end of his two terms in office, it is a good time to look back at his legacy.

The Past & The Present

Let’s look at another statistic: in 2009, 65% of whites and 59% of blacks believed that ‘race relations in the U.S. are generally good.’ Six years later, only 37% of whites and 28% of blacks believed the same thing.[2]

Why? We can point to many examples of racially-motivated crimes. Of course, the fresh horror of police officers shot in Dallas is on all our minds. Some of us may remember another horrific scene, when Dylann Roof walked into an African-American church in Charleston and killed 9 worshippers. Both of these incidents are startling and obviously evil.

But racial tension is also focused on another touchpoint: the death of African Americans. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and most recently Alton Sterling and Philando Castille have all ignited controversy in America.

We know that mass murder and execution-style killings are clearly wrong, but this second group is less clear. Police officers have their version of events; witnesses have their version of events. Justifications are made, and it is not always clear which version of events is correct.

Regardless of what you think, one thing is clear: racial tension has come to the forefront of attention in America. Any previous progress seems to be erased.

Obama and Racial Harmony

All of the shootings and deaths that I mentioned happened during Obama’s presidency. They could just as easily have happened during Romney’s presidency, or McCain’s presidency. We cannot say that Obama caused these shootings. But we can say that Obama’s response has been influential in creating trust or tension after each incident.

Unfortunately, Obama’s reaction has generally created more tension, not more trust. Why is this?

Obama has not worked to heal the divide of race, but to accentuate it. He has politicized race.

Obama wanted to create racial harmony. So he constantly speaks about it. And this, by a strange paradox, has only aggravated the problem. It seems counter-intuitive, but the best way for Obama to heal racial tension is to stop focusing on it.

Obama needs to realize: he leads a divided nation. As Commander in Chief, Obama needs to act as a statesman, not a politician. A politician is interested only in passing legislation, and supporting one faction. A statesman is interested in leading everyone, and unifying a nation.

As a leader, Obama ought to show empathy for both sides in a controversy. Especially when the facts are unclear, he needs to wait before appearing to support one side over the other.

Every leader knows that turmoil is the perfect opportunity to take action. Turmoil makes people think; it changes the situation. Turmoil provides a platform for ideas to be discussed and put into the open. The turmoil caused by racial tension does exactly that – it provides a platform for ideas.

Unfortunately, Obama has not used the turmoil of racial tension to create unity or bring two sides together. He has consistently used the turmoil to highlight the injustices given to the African-American community. This may not wrong – but it is not a wise decision for the leader of a divided country. It emphasizes differences rather than similarities.

I am hardly saying that Obama should deny the differences that exist between different people groups in America. What I am saying is that he should not focus on those differences. We are all Americans, and all life matters. If Obama touted these truths every time innocent people were killed, I believe that Americans would be far more unified than ever.


If Obama would focus on true and unifying sentiments, he could still encourage justice for African Americans. By pointing out that all lives matter, he could respond to every instance of unjust death. He could urge calm when the facts are not clear by reminding us that we are all Americans, and all deserve to be treated with justice.

It is not wrong to acknowledge racial tension, but focusing on it will never bring unity to this nation.

Note: I use the terms ‘racial’ and ‘race’ hesitantly. Paul said that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” The concept of race blurs the foundational unity of all humankind, and is based on evolutionary ideas. However, I do not know of any more descriptive or commonly understood word to use in place of ‘race.’[3]

Credit for featured image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Lives_Matter_protest_against_St._Paul_police_brutality_(21552673186).jpg

[1] http://www.gallup.com/poll/124181/u.s.-waiting-race-relations-improve-obama.aspx

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/08/04/are-race-relations-really-worse-under-president-obama/

[3] https://answersingenesis.org/racism/are-there-really-different-races/