J. Pharoah Doss: Obama bum-rushed Tim Scott over racism, but what signal did that send?

During the 2000 Democratic primary, Illinois state senator Barack Obama challenged Congressman Bobby Rush. Rush was a former Black Panther who transitioned into a “racism-conscious” politician.

In the predominantly Black congressional district, Obama discovered an unwritten rule: If a Black candidate wasn’t “racism-conscious,” that candidate wasn’t qualified.

During the campaign, Obama portrayed himself as someone who could establish bridges with Whites in order to achieve legislative goals, whereas Rush was a politician from the past who believed more in protesting than passing legislation.

Rush claimed that Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Plus, Black people were not impressed by individuals with Eastern elite degrees.

Rush supporters criticized Obama for being “too white” and “too bright.”

Obama complained, “When Congressman Rush and his allies attack me for going to Harvard and teaching at the University of Chicago, they’re sending a signal to Black kids that if you’re well-educated, somehow, you’re not keeping it real.”

Obama was crushed in the election.

Then, in 2004, Obama became a national figure with a speech at the Democratic National Convention. He told the crowd that his parents believed in America. They gave him an African name because, in America, one’s ethnicity will not be a barrier to success. Even though his parents were not rich, they saw him attend the top schools. In a generous America, one did not need to be rich to reach their full potential.

Obama emphasized that his story would not be possible in any other country.

He famously stated that there is no such thing as a Black America, a White America, a Latino America, or an Asian America—there is only the United States of America.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told a Black church congregation that the civil rights generation had gotten Black America 90 percent of the way to attaining the American dream. That last ten percent of racism needed to be eliminated, but it wasn’t a preventive force like Jim Crow.

When the media accused Obama’s former pastor of making anti-American comments, Obama quickly distanced himself. Obama said that his former pastor expressed a profoundly distorted view of the country, a view that sees White racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America.

Obama carefully crafted himself as a politician who was not “racism-conscious,” and it won him the presidency.

In 2023, Black Republican Senator Tim Scott declared his candidacy for president. Scott gained national attention after delivering the Republican rebuttal to President Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress.

Scott, like Obama, stated that his family was not wealthy, but he was able to take advantage of a series of possibilities that are uniquely available in America. Scott acknowledged the discrimination he experienced throughout his life, but he believes it is wrong to point to our painful past and pretend that no progress has been made.

Then he famously said, “America is not a racist country.”

When Obama told the Black congregation during his presidential campaign that Black people are 90 percent of the way there, he implied the same thing as Scott. Except Obama was able to blame the Republican Party for the remaining 10 percent of racism.

Since Scott is a Black Republican, the unwritten rule is to accuse them of not being “racism-conscious” at all.

Recently, Obama played the role of Bobby Rush by telling the media that Republicans like Scott gloss over the effects of racism, and the only way Scott can be taken seriously is to address racial inequities. Obama reinforced comments made on The View by one of the hosts, who claimed Scott doesn’t realize he’s the exception to the rule. According to the “racism-conscious host,” the rule is that White supremacy is so embedded in the social fabric of America that its manifestations are institutional, systemic, and structural, making these forms of racism more pernicious than legalized segregation.

Scott responded to The View hosts in the same way that Obama responded to Bobby Rush’s supporters. He said that is a dangerous, offensive, and disgusting message to communicate to our youth: that the only way to achieve success is to be the exception.

Obama believed Bobby Rush’s supporters were sending the wrong message to young people by labeling him “too white” and “too bright,” but Obama’s current message is that if a Black candidate isn’t racism-conscious,” they can’t be taken seriously.

Obama’s message is just as bad as the one he complained about in the past; unfortunately, Obama’s too busy keeping it real to realize that. 



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