Guess what, everyone. Barack Obama is black.
I know. Hold onto your hats. That may come as a shocker.
The success he has enjoyed so far during this electoral season is unprecedented for any national candidate of color. America could be on the verge of electing a black man for the first time in the 220 or so years that we’ve been electing presidents.
Most Americans have no problem grasping this and seeing it for what it is – the overthrow of yet another barrier that has kept a large percentage of the country’s population from enjoying an opportunity that has been available to others.
The media, on the other hand, has had a more difficult time coming to terms with this since, well, they find it necessary to talk about it. A lot.
On the NewsHour a while back, a panel of experts discussed how the media has handled talking about race during this election and found the media’s performance a little lacking:
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Keith Woods, I would like to start with you. It’s a big subject, but to start with a simple overview question — how have the media covered race in this campaign?KEITH WOODS, dean of faculty, The Poynter Institute: Well, I think, first of all, you would have to say not very well, if you consider covering race to be going deep on a subject.
We have done a pretty good job, I guess, of covering racial controversy — that is, covering the breaking stories as they have emerged. But what’s gone on in America around race relations, what happens across the back fences and in the dining rooms of Americans, we pretty much have left that alone.
On the subject of how the media has been talking about Obama and Clinton, Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson hits the nail on the head when she explains, in very simple terms:
But there also is a problem underlying the media commentary and the reporters’ use of telegraphy when they say that Senator Clinton is running to be the first woman president; Senator Obama is running to be the first African-American president. They’re not running to be the first woman or first African-American president. They’re running to be president. They would be the first woman president. They would be the first African-American president. He would be the first African-American president.
The press also tends to focus a lot on the demographic trends revealed by exit polls but the spend an inordinate amount of time telling us how whites voted versus how blacks voted without even attempting to explain why they voted the way they did. Going back to what Woods said in the quote above, the media has left alone anything that is actually being talked about “across the back fences and in the dining rooms.”
One of the most commonly used phrases this election season has been “this election will give us a chance to have a national conversation about race.” Unfortunately, aside from Obama’s speech at the National Constitution Center back in March, that conversation hasn’t started.