Obama Not a Stereotypical Black Leader

Despite being the nation’s first African American president, Obama says he doesn’t think about his race.

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Barack Obama is proving that he’s not a stereotypical black leader, despite being the nation’s first African-American president. He’s not caught up in affirmative action, hasn’t created tons of race commissions, and goes out of his way to avoid black-white politics. And when asked directly by our White House correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh if he’s even conscious of his race when making major decisions, Obama says, “You just don’t think about it; you really don’t. You’ve got too many other things to worry about.”

In Family of Freedom: Presidents and African Americans in the White House, Walsh’s latest book on the presidency, he finds that the age of Obama is cooling—without fanfare—racial politics in the nation. Just listen to how Republicans view Obama. Former President George H.W. Bush says, “It would be nice to think that the election of our first African American president would mean the end of racial issues forever. Certainly, President Obama’s election was a major step forward. I hope we get there someday.” Or Michael Steele, the black former Republican Party chairman: “People always saw him as a black president and they still do. But not in the context in which people have traditionally approached that with respect to a candidate—‘Oh, he’s the black candidate.’ It is as matter-of-fact as anything else about the president that we know. And so that’s a good place for America to be.”

Of course, Obama says that every president should “feel an obligation” to deal with the nation’s ugly race record and that he arrived with a personal background that is “unlike any previous president’s.” But his solutions aren’t directed only at blacks. “I think for most Americans equality means that you treat everybody the same. There’s a notion, I think shared by a lot of African Americans, that would say that having been denied opportunities in the past some special steps need to be taken. You know, that’s the argument around affirmative action obviously and a number of other controversies,” he says in the book. “The reason I don’t feel torn in two directions on this debate is because I actually believe that right now the same things that would most help African Americans are the same things that would help the society at large.”

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