appealing, nonetheless ignores the historical and social realities of American racism.... (p. 583)
Specifically in his "race speech," when Obama equated black and white frustrations, he effectively likened apples to apple pickers. African Americans who are struggling are not frustrated because they haphazardly fell on hard times. The.se individuals are oftentimes frustrated because many white Americans have ben- efited from their misfortune. A white American who loses a job today is not equally frustrated as the African American who has been discriminated against for years and was never able to work a job commensurate with her skills and education simply because ofthe color of her skin. An immigrant who is disappointed by the lack of opportunities is not on equal footing with an African American who is not considered equal even though his stolen, traded, and purchased ancestors made this country prosperous.
Obama also equated the black and while "middle class squeeze" experience, but the facts belied his op- timism. According to the most recent calculation, the median household income for blacks is $33,916 whereas the median income for whites is $52,115 (Orozco & Tomarelli, 2009, p.26). United for a Fair Economy reports that '"existing trends would not equalize black and white median household wealth for more than half a millennium'" (as cited in Roediger, 2008b, p. 2). De- spite lalk of economic parity. Palillo (20(K)) describes the white and black middle class as two separate and unequal entities.
Despite his tendency to gloss the differences in black and white lived experiences, Obama was not ignorant of the historical discrimination against African Americans. He conceded:
Legalized discrimination, where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or the fire department meant thai black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. (Obama, 2(X)8b, p. 5)
Unfortunately, Obama's description of discrimina- tory effects in his "race speech" paralleled Frank and McPhail's (2(X)5) prior observation of his DNC speech: that is, Obama's rhetoric "failled] to address in substan- tive [italics added] terms the material realities of African American trauma" (p. 587). Some of those substantive distinctions included the facts that "African Americans
remain twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated (Wilson, 2009, p. 15). Wilson (2009) continues, stating that "an economic downturn only amplifies the existing gaps between black and white America" (p. 15). Nearly twice as many African Americans lack health insurance compared to whites (Orozco & Tomarelli, 2009, p. 31 ). Smith (2009) reports: "Over fifty years after Brown v. Board of Edu- cation, nearly half of our nation's African-American students, nearly 40 percent of Latino students and 11 percent of white students attend high schools in which graduation is not the norm" (pp. 45—46). Additionally, Obama (2008b) limned injustice to "the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African Americans of his generation grew up...in the late '50s and early '60s, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted" (p. 5). In his attempt to envision a better future, Obama strategi- cally regulated the non-specific racial disparities he did mention to a distant past.
Obama (2008b) further misrepresented black and white frustrations by reifying racial stereotypes. He sanitized the conditions in which many blacks live by characterizing the problems as "injustice and inequal- ity" instead of oppression, exploitation, and degrada- tion. Furthermore. Obama perpetuated a bias when he depicted blacks as charismatic, emotional, bawdy, bitter, biased, and angry. Whites were not characterized in similarly unflattering terms. They merely "have... resentments" (Obama, 2008b, p. 6). Since Obama was advocating for equality, both blacks and whites should "have resentments." but instead he depicted blacks as stereolypically angry, emotional, and bitter, Obama also seemed comfortable perpetuating the stereotype of black "economic dependency and laziness" as often portrayed in the welfare recipient (Mendelberg, 2001, p. 29). When explaining to his listeners how Trinity United Church of Christ "embodied the black community in its entirety," Obama (2()()8b) listed the "welfare mom" along side "the doctor" and the "former gang banger" (p. 3). Hardly a passing mention, Obama (2008b) went on to cite "welfare and affirmative action" as sources of white anger (p. 5), "welfare policies" as a problem for black families (p. 4), and the myth about "blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work" as potentially infecting the mindset of a white woman (p. 7). Rac- ist depictions of black welfare recipients bave been perpetuated in this country from the individual to the halls of congress as warrants for welfare reform (Col- lins, 2000; Gring-Pemble, 2001,2003). Obama's use of
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2009