I'll never forget the New York Times headline the morning after Barack Obama was elected: "Obama Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls." I still get chills reading that -- it was, undoubtedly, one of the most significant headlines in American history. As just a 14-year-old when Mr. Obama was elected, I certainly believed we could finally turn the page to a new, less ugly chapter in American history.
Perhaps no individual in history put the issue of race into better terms than Mr. Obama. In one famous speech, "A More Perfect Union," he shined light on the striking reality that, despite all that may divide us, we really are no different when it comes to the things that matter. "For the African-American community," he said, the path to a more perfect union "means binding our particular grievances -- for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs -- to the larger aspirations of all Americans."
Just a few years later, President Obama's opponents have swept that tremendously valuable notion aside. We finally have a moment in our history that could unite us, but for some reason, some still seek to divide us.
It began early on, when the president stood before Congress in defense of his health care bill, only to have the words "you lie" shouted at him by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). Then, another Congressman, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), said of the First Lady: "She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself."
The list goes on and on from there: there were abundant cries that President Obama was a Muslim, a claim never substantiated by any means; there was Mitt Romney's son saying that his dad will release his tax returns when "Obama releases his grades and birth certificate and sort of a long list of things"; and, most recently, there was Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) stating that President Obama "should ask for some tuition dollars back from Columbia" because they didn't teach him geography.
Every insult on this list has one thing in common: It has nothing to do with any of Mr. Obama's policies. They are, plain and simple, rude, disrespectful, and disparaging remarks. I cannot recall anyone ever speaking of President Bush this way, or any president for that matter. Sure, there were those who disagreed, but since when was this level of disrespect acceptable, especially when directed towards our president?
No one dares to speak about it, but the reality is that there is a racist undertone to the attacks directed at President Obama. Mary Curtis at the Washington Post asks, in regards to the comment about Michelle Obama, "Can you imagine how the incident would play out if an African-American congressman made a crude remark about First Lady Laura Bush's body?"
There will always be those who hide behind the thin veneer of politics, who will cite this crucial time in our history that sometimes makes attacks more personal, yet undeniably acceptable. But reasonable Americans should have no problem recognizing that this unprecedented wave of abusive remarks derives not from disagreement, but from utter disrespect.