White House Dragged Back Into Racial Fray by famm786

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This week's controversy over Shirley Sherrod was a reminder that race is still a volatile subject in America. Sherrod was fired from the Agriculture Department after an Internet video falsely suggested she had shown racial prejudice against a white farmer. She's been asked to return, but ever since the incident, the Obama administration has been facing questions about its response to this and other issues when race is a factor.

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									   White House Dragged Back Into Racial Fray

This week's controversy over Shirley Sherrod was a
reminder that race is still a volatile subject in America.
Sherrod was fired from the Agriculture Department
after an Internet video falsely suggested she had
shown racial prejudice against a white farmer. She's
been asked to return, but ever since the incident, the
Obama administration has been facing questions
about its response to this and other issues when race
is a factor.

The Obama presidential campaign tried hard to avoid
a focus on race, but sermons by the candidate's
pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pushed the issue to the
fore. "Not 'God bless America' — God damn
America," Wright said in another video that rocketed
around the Web.

"I suppose the politically safe thing to do would be to
move on from this episode and just hope that it fades
into the woodwork," candidate Obama said at the
time.

Instead, he delivered a high-profile speech in
Philadelphia in March 2008, saying, "Race is an issue
that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right
now." The U.S. has been stuck in a racial stalemate
for years, he added.
"Talk show hosts and conservative commentators
built entire careers making bogus claims of racism
while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial
injustice and inequality as mere political correctness
or reverse racism," he said.

That speech helped make candidate Obama into
President Obama. But a month after he took office,
another frank discussion of race was received very
differently. This time, the speaker was the nation's
first black attorney general, Eric Holder, at a Justice
Department Black History Month event.

"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an
ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always
been and — I believe continue to be in too many
ways — essentially a nation of cowards," he said.

The White House was furious that with one artless
phrase, Holder turned everyone's attention back to
issues of race and away from the president's agenda.

Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy, who is
writing a book about race and the Obama presidency,
says any time race becomes the issue, Obama
stands to lose.

"He doesn't want a lot of explicit race talk, because
when there's race talk, people get anxious," Kennedy
says. "When people get anxious, there's more
conflict. And he is on the electoral losing end of that
arrangement."

The White House got a powerful reminder of this a
year ago when the president said police acted
"stupidly" in arresting Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black
Harvard professor, outside his Cambridge, Mass.,
home.

When a reporter asked Obama about it, a presidential
news conference that had been about health care
veered off into talk of race.

And this week, again, an incident spawned a national
furor because race was involved.

Though the president signed two major bills into law
— financial regulation and unemployment insurance
— the Sherrod controversy dominated the news.

"I don't think the president was under any illusion that
— and I think has said as much — that his election
alone would change long-held views," presidential
spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The Congressional Black Caucus put out a formal call
this week for a national dialogue on race. President
Clinton also tried to start such a dialogue once,
without much success. Minyon Moore, political
director in the Clinton White House, said she doesn't
blame Obama for taking a different approach.
"Maybe his challenge is not to talk about it as much
as it is to do something about it," she says. "And
maybe the time that he has spent trying to get a
health care bill passed, the time that he has spent
trying to get finance reform, the time that he has spent
trying to build an education system that will
incorporate all of God's children, maybe that is the
way he is speaking to closing the racial gaps."

And maybe Moore will be right about deeds mattering
most in the long run. But for now, incidents like this
week's will continue to remind the president how race
is an issue the nation can not ignore.

								
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