Fear of a Black President

Hard as it may be to believe, not everyone is completely overjoyed at America’s recent choice of president. In fact, some folks seem downright shook, so to speak. Check out some of the recent headlines and quotes from the lunatic fringe:

Georgia congressman warns of Obama dictatorship

“I think there are going to be outbreaks from blacks,” she added. “From where I’m from, this is going to give them the right to be more aggressive.”

The night we waved goodbye to America… our last best hope on Earth

“Obama is an approaching catastrophe. This marks the end of white man’s civilisation.”

The last two bits come from the UK and Poland, respectively, but they are merely the European equivalents of a long-standing American Southern trend in white racial thought exemplified by the first two quotes —fear of black success. This is a rhetoric seldom seen in today’s mainstream politics and pop culture; far more common are the well-worn stereotypes of blacks as brutish, slow-witted, hyper-rhythmic, and lascivious. But during the hundred years spanning the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, sentiments such as the following were commonplace throughout the South:

Reading and writing still bear watching. When a negro learns to articulate correctly and say ‘they’ instead of ‘dey’ and ‘that’ instead of ‘dat’ we are prepared to expect the worst.

If the negro is fit to make laws for the control of our conduct and property he is certainly fit to eat with us at our tables, to sleep in our beds, to be invited into our parlors, and to do all acts and things which a white man may do.

But our blood boils when the educated Negro asserts himself politically. We regard each assertion as an unfriendly encroachment upon our native superior rights, and a dare-devil menace to our control of the affairs of the state (fn1).

As these throwback quotes from various genteel white Southerners show, the specter of black equality/supremacy has long haunted the Southern psyche. It perhaps goes without saying that rationales like these formed the bedrock of the explicit justifications for Jim Crow and anti-black vigilante “justice.” It is a sign of the considerable progress we have made as a nation that most Americans regard the more recent quotes above as the irrational ravings of irremediable racists. They appear even more ludicrous in light of the observation that, in the words of the first old racist above, “the worst” has already come to pass. The political-legal scaffolding his arguments were devised to defend were dismantled over 40 years ago. We now hold distinguished positions in every occupational field, people around the world are inspired by our music and our culture, and the majority of Americans have accepted us as high-ranking representatives of the US government for years now. The quasi-instinctual fear of black leadership now desperately clutched only by a panicked, vocal few has been rendered almost completely vestigial—the purpose it once served is long dead. Very few if any of its adherents likely have any idea where it comes from or what exactly it is they’re really afraid of.

Make no mistake, we have not yet killed racism. And even if we had, remedying the sins of racists past would keep our people busy long beyond your and my lifetimes. Nevertheless, it is difficult to dispute that our nation has just passed a great milestone, on par with the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown v. Board of Education, and the passage of the Civil- and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively. And while the powers that be often claim credit for those decisions, our people laid the groundwork, through the abolition movement, Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll studies, and the civil rights movement. As then, so now: we continue to repudiate everyone quoted above by defying the undisciplined savagery of which we were accused and instead fulfilling our role as one of the great civilizing forces in Western society.

fn1. These three quotes were drawn from Litwack, L. F. (1998). The White Man’s Fear of the Educated Negro: How the Negro Was Fitted for His Natural and Logical Calling. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 20, 100-108. Unfortunately, the text provides no exact dates for them.

11 Comments to ‘Fear of a Black President’:

  1. Demitrius on 11 Nov 2008 at 7:10 pm: 1


  2. Selam on 12 Nov 2008 at 11:01 am: 2

    What a fantastic writing. You are a wonderful writer. I enjoy reading your articles. (Will you allow us to publish your writing on our upcoming pan-african print magazine?)

    I wonder the reported high sales of Guns have to do with what you are discussing in your writing. I hope not.

    Keep it up.

  3. Deen on 12 Nov 2008 at 2:06 pm: 3


    Thanks for the compliment. I try to keep the material I publish on Blackademics exclusive to the site, mainly because it’s difficult for me to fully ascertain the editorial standards and practices of publications I’m not already familiar with. But please feel free to provide the web address to this piece or link to it from your web site.

  4. Pierce on 12 Nov 2008 at 4:07 pm: 4

    this is a residue of the same political discontent that white southerners expressed during “reconstruction” – after several Black officials started to take office. the difference is, those racists were so organized that they were actually able to stage a coup in places like Wilmington in 1898. i’m just glad that now these psychos only have a place on the outskirts of society, instead of at the forefront (or if they are at the forefront, they’re smart enough to keep their mouths shut).

  5. Karsten on 14 Nov 2008 at 11:12 am: 5

    came across your blog because another one referenced your james moody piece (stellar work), it’s an inspiring collective you’ve got going here, and i thank you for it.

    one of the commentors referenced the gun-buying binges the day after the election. i did a fair bit of volunteering for the obama campaign, mostly calls to states that were up in the air. (i live in NYC, there were all of about a dozen people here who needed a political talking-to.)

    (re)learned a couple things – where there is a lack of knowledge, soundbites are king. i talked to a Midwesterner who said ‘I heard that if Obama wins, he’ll send in the National Guard to take away our guns, even the ones we have permits for. so i can’t vote for him. Plus, Palin says he’s a Commie.’ That ‘Obama’s a Muslim’ conversation? Had that at least a half-dozen times – even after McCain spoke out fumblingly against that.

    Also, single-issue voters (regardless of whether it’s guns, abortion, religion, race…) – talked to a woman in Pennsylvania who’d been a Hillary supporter. Said she considered herself a feminist, pro-choice, was a life-long Democratic voter etc. She was debating voting for McCain because ‘he’s got a woman on the ticket.’ Astounding, innit?

    As for the Paul Broun quote and the others you cite, yep, that’s the fringe frothing at the mouth. Stupid, hateful bile – it’s so dumb, it’s cartoonish. Think about this, though – it’s easy to forget that Joe Biden – yeah, our new VP – is the guy who came up with “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”. In January, of this year. Meant maliciously? i truly doubt it. but it comes from a space that clearly isn’t as clean and unbiased of a slate as Biden would wish it to be. Not sure what that is – the ‘soft’ racism of low expectations, maybe? Either way, he wouldn’t be alone.

    racism will never cease. what we can hope for and push for is that people are recognized and judged, poorly or well, for their accomplishments and on their merits …and that the playing field upon which those accomplishments are based is a fair and just one. Things are still far from perfect, but Obama is now POTUS#44 – which is a special, monumental thing and needs to be praised and celebrated as such.

    ok, taken up way too much of your time as is, was just inspired to write, is all.

    Much respect, take care,

  6. Kwame Zulu Shabazz on 16 Nov 2008 at 2:23 am: 6

    i don’t really see what all the fuss is about (actually, i some ideas, see below)…

    BO was not elevated by black folks. his campaign was run by white male insiders and backed by millions in corporate dollars. he will be obligated to and constrained by the same white corporate POWER as any other candidate. we need to go back to the american civil war to grasp what is really going down. the north and south did not throw down over the morality of slavery or universal brotherhood. nope, that brutal conflict was fought over divergent strategies for continued white economic supremacy. the white ruling elite find themselves at a similar crossroads today. the winning side correctly saw the (racial demographic) writing on the wall. they propped up a brilliant, articulate black candidate and conjured up some “post-race” mumbo jumbo to advance their (white elite) interests whilst making us progressives feel good and teary eyed about a black candidate. i am not hatin’–BO is obviously an extraordinarily gifted politician and i think he may really mean well. (hell, i am just happy to see black folks happy.) and we (black folks) will get a few concessions along the way (e.g. possibly a liberal supreme court nominee), but the basic formula, white male oligarchical rule, will not change much until we are mobilized on the ground to advance our own progressive cause. kzs

  7. Pierce Freelon on 16 Nov 2008 at 2:46 am: 7

    “white male oligarchical rule, will not change much until we are mobilized on the ground to advance our own progressive cause”


    But while the White power structure might have been fighting over economic strategy during the Civil War, it was the resolve and resilience of the enslaved themselves, that guaranteed freedom. Black people didn’t wait for the morality of slavery to catch up with white society – we mobilized and struggled and fought for freedom from the beginning. Likewise, I don’t want to take BO’s success away from the grassroots organizing of the people who put in generations of blood, sweat and tears to put him in power. I think now is the perfect time to take advantage of the mobilized masses that OB has procured and direct our collective energy into progressive causes – just like the LGBT community has done over the past several weeks. They didn’t let the euphoria overwhelm them – they hit the streets THE NEXT DAY, to demand equal rights, regarding Prop 8 (an issue that the Black community has been surprisingly conservative about). We need to follow their lead and do the same.

  8. Deen on 18 Nov 2008 at 5:52 pm: 8

    #6 is a classic exemplar of what one of my favorite professors calls the “constitutionally disappointed” faction of the left. No matter what happens, somehow power always wins. If you try hard enough, you could interpret every political victory black Americans have ever achieved as secret triumphs for the all-powerful white power structure. But what’s the point? What are the criteria for a “true” victory vs. a fake one, which some apparently consider the election of the first black president to be?

    This is not the attitude of a positive, self-determined people. We need to focus on what we can do to achieve and move forward rather than waiting around for white America to repay their considerable debts to us. Complaining about power is like complaining about death or taxes—yeah, they all suck, but they’re not going anywhere, so we’d best focus on what we can do rather than dreaming about some fantasy world where they don’t exist.

  9. Simple Meditation on 22 Nov 2008 at 12:56 am: 9

    Excellent content and style…keep up the good work!

  10. Sundiata Salaam on 22 Nov 2008 at 10:35 pm: 10

    Deen, Whereas I agree with you in the necessity of being positive and self-determined, I deflinitely believe there is room for both; your point of view and for the “contitutionally disappointed.” If we do not have a healthy balance of both it is possible that we could become unaware of the problems that may continue to face us, or we become to destitute for a possibility of change and extend nothing but negative energy.

  11. Ishmael on 25 Nov 2008 at 4:05 pm: 11

    Whites are not afraid of a Black President as they supported him during the primaries and the election. What whites are afraid of is black violence. On Oct 15 in Lathrup Village near Detroit a 21 year old pregnant white woman was shot in the head and killed while she was sitting in her car. The police think it was a robbery attempt. Last Friday a 15 year old black high school student from a Detroit suburb was arrested for the crime and then charged as the trigger man. Some of his black posse are also sought. http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081125/METRO/811250370/1409/METRO
    This is whites are afraid of.

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Published on November 11, 2008 at 2:27 pm. 11 Comments.
Filed under news/politics,racial rhetoric,racism.