For All Points-Of-The-View.
by Adib Rashad ~
The American president by way of verbal and legislative support can
in fact create a salubrious or deleterious atmosphere for race
relations. The history of American race relations has proved that the
president can indeed play a pivotal part in establishing racial policies
that can effect the climate for racial tolerance or intolerance.
Furthermore, the racial attitude of Caucasians towards African Americans
is usually predicated on individual, collective and presidential
It is the duty of the president to use his moral prestige (If he has
any) as well as actual powers to defend the constitution and to execute
the laws in letter and in spirit.
George Sinkler in his book "The Racial Attitudes of American
Presidents" points out that the national government, via the president,
has a constitutional responsibility to protect the states from domestic
violence. There is evidence that in matters not involving race, the
presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes through Theodore Roosevelt used
troops effectively and successfully to quell civil unrest. However,
they did this with great reservation and with the exception of Grover
Cleveland, not without a request from the governors of the states
After reconstruction, it was highly unlikely that a southern governor
would make such a request in matters of race. It is possible to reason
from the experience of the presidents with labor troubles and other
crucial matters that under any circumstances the chief executives were
reluctant to call out troops against the people. In matters of race,
they were doubly hesitant. Harold J. Lasky stated in his book "The
Presidency: An Interpretation" that statesmanship in this nation
consists not only in representing the special interests of the leader's
own section but in finding a formula that will bring the different
regions together in a common policy.
Lasky's points are valid relative to interpreting racial matters of
the presidents and their inaction with regard to the constitution.
The hesitation, the caution, and the ambivalence manifested by the
presidents of various periods, and their political colleagues in matters
of race becomes intelligible to a great degree when viewed in the
context of sectional politics. The basis of the race issue as it
related(s) to African Americans was and is political. Therefore,
Sinkler's work is not only significant and important from a historical
standpoint, but it also serves as an analytical guide for understanding
The two aforementioned works, in addition to a book titled "Nixon's
Piano: Presidents and Racial Politics From Washington to Clinton," by
Kenneth O'Reilly, serve as a contemporary research tools for better
comprehending American racial politics and racial foreign policy issues.
For example, studies have shown that racism since the election of
Ronald Reagan has reemerged, and this is attributed to racial
indifference--some would say outright disregard for African
Americans--of the Reagan administration.
Reagan's blatant disregard for African rights in Apartheid South
Africa, his attack on affirmative action, his assault on the credibility
of African American leadership by ignoring and denying these leaders and
their organizational experiences access to the White House. As a
result, the legitimate concerns of their constituency was denied a
Furthermore, it was/is stated by some Black Civil Rights organizations
that the Reagan administration rolled backed civil rights gains of Black
people from then to now.
The record of presidential attitudes toward African Americans is
uniformly dreary to say the least. From Washington to Slick
Willie--Bill Clinton (Black America's Darling), not a single man has
assumed the nation's highest office with an uncompromised commitment to
equal rights and opportunities for Black Americans. George Washington
"saw slavery as a moral abomination and a looming political horror," but
kept his own counsel on the subject because, in his own words, "It
behooves me to prevent the emancipation" of his own slaves.
Two centuries later Bill (Slick Willie) Clinton, won a close election
in which he played racial tunes on his saxophone by attacking Sister
Souljah in order to establish his tough-boy image with white voters.
Between these two men, the record of presidential evasion,
opportunism, cowardice and cynicism on the issue of race is unbroken.
Kenneth O'Reilly looks at two somewhat exceptions; Abraham Lincoln
and Lyndon Johnson. However, even in their cases the record is still
tarnished. Lincoln came slowly and reluctantly to his repudiation of
slavery, and that was based on political expediency. He also favored
and acted upon transporting Blacks out of the United States.
Lyndon Johnson ended his administration bitterly angry at Black
leaders who, he believed, had betrayed him by growing outrageously
militant in their demands for full equality.
Colonization was a solution favored by most 19th century presidents,
as stated above, Lincoln carried it out, presumably on the grounds that
out of sight, out of mind. Moreover, Professor Lerone Bennett Jr. in
his provocative book titled "Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White
Dream,"demonstrates with more than ample evidence just how racist
Lincoln really was. Five of the first seven presidents owned slaves.
Andrew Jackson was the southwest's largest slave holder, and yet while
protesting that "I could not bear the idea of inhumanity to my poor
Negroes," always sought the return of his runaway slaves by advertising
in the press and concocted stories if discipline crippled or killed a
Racism into the beginning of the 20th century was such that President
Theodore Roosevelt summarily dismissed all the members of three
companies of the Black 25th U. S. Infantry after they allegedly rioted
in Brownsville, Texas. This presidential action disqualified them from
military or civil service forever, even though evidence against them was
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore's cousin, did some worthwhile things
for Blacks after he won the presidential ticket through theft of the
socialist agenda. He appointed some Blacks to government positions, he
granted aid to the dispossessed, and other symbolic gestures of
goodwill, but overall he followed the counsel of Louis Howe, who said
emphatically "to favor our southern brethren and not our anxious colored
The harsh reality is that American presidents have been more inclined
to exploit racial divisions for political gain than to use the office to
point the nation toward reconciliation. Undoubtedly, presidents tend to
see race and everything else in terms of the next election. Be it the
slave question, lynching, segregation, school integration, law and
order, capital punishment, drug enforcement, racial profiling, Sister
Souljah, Willie Horton, or Black vote manipulation, the fact remains
that the office of the American president is rooted in white
supremacy--hence American presidents are far removed from moral
Adib Rashad (RashadM@aol.com) is an education consultant, education
program director, author, and historian. He has lived and taught in
West Africa and South East Asia.
This article was previously published by theMarcusGarveyBBS (an entity of TheBlackList)
and TheBlackList at http://lists.topica.com/lists/TheBlackList/read