Daily Video

September 17, 2009

What’s Racism Got To Do With It?

Despite White House attempts to quell accusations of racism, the question of whether President Obama’s skin color has played into criticism of his political decisions came to a head this week when former President Jimmy Carter charged the president’s foes of racial prejudice.

“I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply,” former President Carter said.

At townhall meetings across America this summer, some opponents of the president’s health care plan used race-based critique on their signs and in their protests.

Cable news host Glenn Beck stepped into the fray on his show saying, “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don’t know what it is.”

In this video, NewsHour correspondent Gwen Ifill talks to columists and academics about questions of racism towards the president in today’s political climate.

Quotes

“An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply.” – Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States

“I mean, the first reaction I get to any criticism of Barack Obama in the printed word is, “Well, you’re a racist.” Well, no, I just disagree with him on health care. That somehow you’re a racist if you believe that, or if you oppose the president, you’re this or that. I just think that we ought to open up and understand that we do have a democracy, people are entitled to their point of view, and you ought to have a respectful hearing of all points of view.” – Roger Hedgecock, nationally syndicated talk show host

“There’s no question that people have principled disagreement with the president. There’s also no question that, if one has principled disagreement with a person of color and you choose not to express it simply because that person is black or Latino or Asian, then that is actually more racist than going ahead and expressing your disagreement.” – Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University

Warm Up Questions

1. What is race?

2. What constitutes racism?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that some of the criticisms against President Obama have racial undertones? Why or why not? Use examples.

2. Think of other times when racial issues have made the news in conjunction with President Obama’s election campaign and then presidents (think Pastor Jeremiah Wright or Henry Louis Gates Jr.) How did the president respond during those controversies?

3. Does President Obama have to speak differently on issues of race than a white president would? In your opinion should the president be making race a topic of discussion or should he try to play down the issue?

4. Read a transcript of Barack Obama’s speech on race during the 2008 campaign: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88478467

What do you think about the speech? Can you pull out some of the issues he raises during that speech and connect them to the question of whether some opponents of health care reform are being racist?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

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