For Obama, A Painting Says It All

August 24, 2011  |  

By J. Smith

While much of America can admit – publicly or not – to the racism that has beleaguered President Obama’s first term in the White House, the actual target himself has kept mostly mum on race. He’s even gone so far as to defend some of the fringe political groups who have displayed blatant ire over his presidency and turned the nation on its head because of it. “Despite signs that at least some tea party events last fall were racially tinged, Obama has repeatedly told interviewers that he doubts race plays any significant role in the angry reactions of some Americans,” Politico reports. But, the paper continues, Obama’s sending his signals of solidarity with the black community through subtle gestures that have little to do with actually policy and more to do with vanity. For example, a Normal Rockwell painting.

“President Barack Obama has taken a decidedly low-key approach to racial issues since he became America’s first black president two years ago. But in a hallway outside the Oval office he has placed a head-turning painting depicting one of the ugliest racial episodes in U.S. history,” Politico reports. “Norman Rockwell’s ‘The Problem We All Live With,’ installed in the White House last month, shows U.S. marshals escorting Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old African American girl, into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as court-ordered integration met with an angry and defiant response from the white community.”

This is the way Obama plays it, at least according to the article, when it comes to navigating race in the wake of his historic election – opting for private statements over public embraces of his ethnic background. The painting, which prominently displays graffiti of the word “N-Word”, was hung last month and was followed by a visit from Bridges. “Obama has never mentioned it in a speech or public event,” Politico says.

Other subtle references to his blackness, Politico points out, are the Black History Month events sponsored by his administration, “but the civil rights page of the White House website makes little mention of racial discrimination. When eight surviving members of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike came to Washington in April, Obama received them privately in the Map Room,” Politico reports. “A still photo of the meeting with Obama was posted on the White House blog.” Other slight nods to black culture include the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Oval office, a pamphlet from the 1963 March on Washington and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Wow.

So, if white people can easily tell that the black community has been an afterthought for the president – even if it is for the sake of re-election – then it goes without saying that blacks are well aware of how much we have been taken for granted politically. But this Sunday, he will speak at the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and we will all forgive and collectively swoon over our first black president. No subtly in our solidarity.

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