THE BLOG
12/23/2014 10:28 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Don't Blame Obama If Race Relations Are Worse During His Presidency

President Barack Obama said Friday that conditions for black Americans have improved since he became president nearly six years ago. But as he said, blacks still lag behind whites.

"The gap in income between black and white America persists," he said during a press conference. "This is a legacy of a troubled racial past. Jim Crow. This is not an excuse for black America, but it's a fact."

Obama is right.

This progress has come amidst a perception that race relations have grown worse.

A recent Bloomberg Politics poll said 53 percent of respondents say that race relations have worsened since Obama became president. Thirty-six percent said race relations have not changed and nine percent said they have improved.

The poll's results have been shaped in part by conservative talk radio hosts and Fox News commentators, such as Bill O'Reilly, who this week blamed Obama for making race relations worse.

In reality, race relations haven't worsened under Obama. It perhaps only seems that way to some people. Obama's skin color has forced them to confront racism -- America's original sin, which was delivered with the slave ships in the 17th century.

During the first several decades of the United States, enslaved blacks who insisted on their freedom were whipped or murdered. The United States eventually fought a civil war over slavery. The Union's triumph raised hopes of racial equality.

But those hopes were dashed in a rampage of Ku Klux Klan violence, but also in an insidious compromise between the North and the South whereby they reconciled their differences by excluding blacks.

America saw the emergence of Jim Crow laws that segregated the races -- and such laws were brutally enforced.

Blacks fought in World War I and when they returned home, they demanded equality. Whites responded with violence. During the year after the end of the war, dozens of blacks were lynched -- many of them wearing their Army uniforms.

The same thing happened after World War II. Black soldiers fought in a war to end racism, and then returned to find a country as racist as the one they had left. Once again, a number of black soldiers were murdered in their uniforms so other blacks would know their place.

During the 1960s, race relations worsened as blacks sought an end to racial discrimination. Civil rights activists were beaten in Selma, Alabama. When hundreds of black children marched for equality in Birmingham, Alabama, police used high-pressure hoses and attack dogs on them. Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated.

The Republican Party responded to the racial unrest with its Southern Strategy, using racism to recruit Southern conservative voters from the Democratic Party.

Where were the complaints of worsening race relations when the George H.W. Bush campaign used racist televising ads - the Willie Horton spots - during the 1988 Presidential campaign? Or when thousands of black voters had their ballots invalidated in Duval County in Florida when George W. Bush barely won Florida and the presidency in 2000.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported a spike in the number of hate groups after Obama was elected president in 2008. Since then, Republican legislators have increased efforts to restrict blacks from voting. In 2013, conservative Supreme Court justices chipped away at the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas said that Obama "has done more to stir up racial tension and violence" than any president since the 1960s.

If race relations are indeed worse since Obama became president, don't blame him.