In his eight years in office, President Barack Obama has helped race relations in America.
As Obama nears the end of his presidency, many critics have taken a harsh look at his years in the Oval Office. In the wake of the July shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers, many of these criticisms have centered on Obama’s efforts to improve race relations.
Real Clear Politics reports that political commentator Brit Hume accused Obama of viewing every racial dispute “through the eyes of an aggrieved black activist rather than of a president,” implying the president plays the empathy card to elicit emotional responses from the American public rather than addressing the issues with real solutions.
Writer Myron Magnet has gone so far as to label Obama the “worst president in U.S. history,” saying race relations currently parallel racism of the 1960s. He blames Obama for the 50-year setback.
Critics like Magnet and Hume have cited a recent Gallup poll that compares the percentage of Americans in 2014 and 2016 who worry “a great deal” about race relations. In 2014, 17 percent of Americans expressed worry. That has more than doubled in the last two years, as 35 percent of responders reported worrying about race relations in 2016.
This poll does not signify a worsening of race relations due to Obama’s presidency. Rather, it presents factual evidence that Obama has helped race relations.
How? He has started the conversation.
Every time Obama passionately addresses a police shooting, inequality driven by racial prejudices, and the potential return of a "House Divided" in America, he opens the conversation for discussion about race relations.
The Gallup poll reveals a drastic increase in worry because Americans now know that they need to care about these issues. President Obama can take credit for this awareness.
The president has made a path for future leaders to follow when dealing with race relations. In her speech at the site of Lincoln’s own "House Divided" speech, presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton stated that Americans need to address the issue of racism with “conversation,” a strategy offered time and time again by Obama as well as the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is not to say that Obama has not made any policy changes that have improved the lives of black, Hispanic, white or any other group of people.
The Affordable Care Act helped millions of uninsured Americans get free or more affordable health insurance. Obamacare Facts reports that Medicaid expanded to assist 15.9 million people living below the poverty line. Non-whites, according to the U.S. Census, make up more than three quarters of this population.
We cannot forget one of the most obvious yet important things that Obama has done for race relations: he is the first black president of the United States. Achieving that title took effort and a call for improved relations even before he took office.
In a commencement speech at Howard University, Obama told 2016 graduates that the status of race relations has improved in recent years, but added, “I tell you this not to lull you into complacency, but to spur you into action because there's still so much work to do.”
As Obama prepares to leave the White House, the legacy he leaves behind will include these plans.
Someone had to open the door for real and honest conversation about the unfortunate existence of racial tensions in America.