One of the most interesting aspects of the reaction to President Obama’s comments regarding the arrest of Professor Gates is the focus on his race. While clearly prompted by personal experiences, is it not also possible that Obama was simply voicing an opinion, not an opinion from a black President? The New York Times article (see below) opens with the statement, “Americans got a rare glimpse Wednesday night of what is means to have a black president in the Oval Office.” Without discounting the role of biography in shaping viewpoints and interests as Judge Sotomayor has highlighted, is it the case that every time a president comments on society it is due to race, gender, or sexuality?
Susan Silbey’s work on the ways in which legality is strengthened through its daily denial, acceptance, and invocation sheds new insight into the durability of racial discrimination. In the very reactions to Obama’s comments about the incident, we are reminded that racial profiling and race as a determining factor transcends those whom it targets. The contradictory remarks about black presidents and competing debates about the ideological/political position from which Obama spoke work to fortify and sustain the political, social, and economic institutions that structure and are structured by race. The very fact that Obama’s skin color automatically led to his particular opinion says more about the existence of racialized social infrastructures than it says about Obama or the Gates incident.