This is a classic comedy bit with a modern twist.
Racial inequality has plagued our nation so long that even in today’s relatively enlightened culture we find various forms of prejudice and discrimination. In a predominantly white nation, the darker ones skin tone, the more likely you are to suffer from racial inequality. This separation creates less opportunity for social advancements such as political influence, hence the reason organizations such as the ACLU and NAACP exist. As the leader of an uniquely diverse nation, the president of the United States must face a diverse range of sociopolitical issues. Our current president is no exception. President Bush has had a less-than-stellar relationship with one racially-motivated group, and that is the NAACP. Critics have claimed that the president effectively ignores that organization while supporters point to the disagreements he and the organization’s leadership have apparently had. In this instance, racial inequality has pit the president of the United States against the very people he was elected to represent.
Prejudice and discrimination are two of the most disruptive aspects of modern human society. It instills a system of fear that scares people enough that they are angered enough to discriminate against people based on the most arbitrary of reasons. This fear causes people in all cultures to act surprisingly inappropriate. A visible disagreement between a white man in power and a black organization under his jurisdiction is a political neon sign, one that screams of discord. These two entities represent people of different colors, and that is essentially the only thing that sets them apart. So why is it, then, that the most prominent organization for the support of African Americans would continue to duel politically with one of the most powerful white men in the nation? It is more than a schism between a man and a few leaders of an organization because both represent a much larger group of citizens, whether those citizens realize they are being represented or not.
When President Bush ran for office the first time, he received 9% of the black vote, gaining two percentage points in the next election (7). “Blacks still overwhelmingly identify as Democrats politically, and during the Bush years there has been no apparent change in party support for this group” (3). President Bush is the first president to not address the NAACP since the 1930’s, and has declined to do so the past five consecutive years (1). The President spoke recently at the Black Expo’s Corporate Luncheon in Indianapolis instead of the NAACP convention in Milwaukee (4). The Internal Revenue Service launched and investigation into the NAACP’s tax-exempt status in response to criticism of President Bush by the group’s chairman (2).
The NAACP is concerned with the apparent lack of concern that the president has shown for their organization. He contends that there have been scheduling conflicts that have kept him from attending, but some claim that his actions are in response to what he saw as unfair criticism during the 2000 campaign (1). Whatever the reason for the clash, the important issue is that this appears at first glance to be an issue of racial inequality. Considering their representative status in the community, the appearance of racial tension is enough to equate to racial tension. This seemingly minor spat between relative strangers can have serious implications through our society. It does not escape the attention of the populace that the man in power is white and the organization he is dealing with is black.
The President has made little or no statements directly regarding the fact that he has not attended any NAACP conventions, but has noted that their relationship is “basically nonexistent.” White House spokesman Scott McClellan has defended Bush’s decision, citing that the “current leadership of the NAACP has certainly made some rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years” (6).
To say that reaction to the President on this issue has been critical would be an understatement. Though it is the voice of a minority, and their voices are not many, they are undoubtedly vocal. As Dan Carpenter of the Indianapolis Star said about Bush’s appearance at the Indiana Black Expo (where he went in lieu of attending the NAACP convention), “The persistence of racism, the swelling ranks of the working poor, the federal retreat from urban problems, the scandal of health care, the waste of this war that the terrorists wanted — everything he didn’t want to discuss was shouted from a sidewalk he never stepped on” (5). The criticisms are not just limited to President Bush, however. As the following quote highlights, this issue is not about one man as much as two perceived races of people: “At its heart, the Southern strategy remains the same, a cynical and remarkably successful divide-and-conquer strategy that nurtures the bigotry of whites and is utterly contemptuous of blacks.” (2). Both sides of the discussion defend themselves, but those who are critical of Bush’s handling of the NAACP are compelled to speak loudly.
A highly visible conflict between whites and blacks may have been the norm for decades, but increasingly it is seen as a novelty. The fact that this one involves an already controversial president only emphasizes the scope of the problem. Regardless of whether or not Mr. Bush has any true animosity towards the NAACP or discriminates against them is practically irrelevant. The already existing racial tension is only heightened by this public display of racial tension. Instead of seeing our president working to bridge the gap between people of a particularly sensitive background, we see the classic struggle between The Man and the those under The Man. This has the potential effect of undoing significant progress that we have made since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.
Since the subject at hand involves the president and the Republicans so much, it is not surprising to find a very partisan split on the issue. While one site noted that President Bush was the first president to visit the relatively-obscure Indianapolis Black Expo (4), others could not help but point out that he was the first president since Warren Harding to fail to visit the nationally-recognized NAACP (1). Typically, the more conservative sites were, the more sympathetic they were to President Bush, and the more liberal they were, they more critical they were of him. This is not as surprising as it should be, unfortunately.
The underlying problems of prejudice are unlikely to be avoided, as they are deeply rooted in our species. But clear and present issues of discrimination can be dealt with openly and honestly. It is probably impossible that these two groups, President Bush and the NAACP, can completely erase their animosity towards one another. Whatever external forces are perpetuating this ordeal will exist no matter what is said or done. The discrimination, on the other hand, is something that can and should be resolved in a timely fashion. It could only positively serve our society to have major representatives of historically-conflicting groups at least come together for the purpose of resolving a relatively petty issue.
List of Works Consulted
1. USA Today. GOP: ‘We were wrong’ to play racial politics. – www.usatoday.com
2. The New York Times. An Empty Apology. – www.nytimes.com
3. The Gallup Organization. Black Support for Bush, GOP Remains Low. – www.gallup.com
4. The Cincinnati Enquirer. Bush touts education gains at Ind. Black Expo. – news.enquirer.com
5. Indianapolis Star. Brother man in the heartland. – www.indystar.com
6. CNN. Bush courts black voters at business expo. – www.cnn.com
7. FOX News. Bush, GOP Woo Black Voters. – www.foxnews.com
© 1999-2022 Eric P. Metze