When the country elected Barack Obama president in 2008, those of us who disagreed with many of his policy ideas were nonetheless consoled by the fact that his victory illustrated that America had moved well beyond institutional racism. Certainly the fact that Obama had succeeded in both a hard-fought Democratic primary and a general election meant that the country was ready to move past the intense focus on race in our national politics. Boy, were we wrong! Rather than seeing his own victory as a significant advance in American social life, Obama and those he appointed to his administration vigorously put forward the idea that America remains a deeply racist country, and they have redefined racism in the broadest terms possible. It’s not a coincidence, then, that more than seven years into the administration of the nation’s first black president, Americans are more deeply divided on race then they have been in decades. Their own president has fostered the divide.

Several Obama administration initiatives have distorted the national conversation on race. In 2010, for instance, the administration’s education and justice departments launched investigations against school districts around the country for disciplining black students more often, proportionately, than students of other races. A Department of Education study observed that black students were three and a half times more likely to be disciplined. The study alleged that, “everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity.” In making its charges, the department ignored compelling data showing that black students were more likely to misbehave in and around school—including crime statistics revealing that blacks were 25 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested at schools for serious offenses like battery.

Similarly, the administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, through a policy known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, now is essentially charging wealthier suburban communities like those in Westchester County, New York, with housing discrimination if their populations are not diverse enough for the administration’s taste. Under the new rules, the federal government no longer must prove that these communities are actively engaging in racial discrimination in order to compel them to cast aside local zoning rules and build housing that would attract low-income residents. The mere fact that a town’s population is not diverse suffices for the Obama administration to demand that the community make efforts to transform itself. “HUD’s power grab is based on the mistaken belief that zoning and discrimination are the same,” Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino wrote in 2013. What’s particularly ironic about this implication of racism in Westchester’s case is that the county voted by nearly a two-to-one margin for Obama in 2012.

The president himself has sadly made significant contributions to the notion that America remains deeply racist with his consistent attacks on the police, even in cases where officers’ actions against black perpetrators have subsequently been demonstrated to have been justified. “Too many young men of color,” the president said in November of 2014, “feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities.” Later, he added that, “Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up. . . . These are real issues.” But the president has launched the charges while ignoring significant facts. As Heather Mac Donald has observed, more than 6,000 blacks die of homicides yearly, the overwhelming majority of which are committed by other blacks in minority neighborhoods. The police are more likely to patrol these neighborhoods because that’s where the crime is. And as the Dallas killings sadly illustrate, cops are far more likely to die at the hands of black perpetrators than black men are to be killed by cops. About 40 percent of all cop killings, in fact, are committed by black males. Data also reveal no significant racial component to police shootings. Black officers are far more likely to fire their guns at black citizens than are white officers.

The Obama administration’s tendency to see discrimination in so many crevices and corners of American life has created a new standard for what constitutes racism, as demonstrated by Minnesota governor Mark Dayton’s remarks in the wake of the tragic shooting of a black man, Philando Castile, by police in suburban Minneapolis last week. Implying that race played a role in the killing of Castile, who was legally licensed to carry a firearm, Dayton said that he doubted the shooting would have occurred if Castile had been white. But while the horrific video, taken by Castile’s girlfriend in the immediate aftermath of his shooting, shows that the officer was highly agitated, and the woman claims that the cop overreacted in firing on Castile, there is nothing in the video that is overly racist, and there is no reason to conclude that the outcome would have been different if Castile had been of another race. In America today, however, when a black man is killed by an officer of another color, that fact alone is prima facie evidence for some people that the killing was racially motivated.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the president and his administration is that in the last four years alone, the percentage of Americans who believe racism is on the rise has nearly doubled. That sharp increase has come even amid little evidence that verified incidents of racism are on the rise. Indeed, efforts by the media to document a significant increase in police shootings of minorities have yielded little. New York City data, for instance, show that the number of times that police discharge their weapons every year has been declining for decades. And a close analysis of a Washington Post database on current shootings by police across America, which describes them in detail, reveals that many were justified.

It’s difficult now to ignore the role that President Obama has played in our growing racial divisions. Elected on themes of hope and renewal, his very ascendancy a powerful statement about the country’s racial journey, he chose to use the White House as a vehicle to introduce a new era of racial grievance into our national discourse. Unfortunately, he succeeded in this effort—and failed America.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next