Don’t Be Too Black, Mr. President: The Racial Affect of President Obama’s Performance in the 2012 Presidential Debates

Editors Note: This is Dr. Darron Smith’s take on the much analyzed debate performance of President Barack Obama. Feel free to share your thoughts on it. -M.P.

What does it mean to be Black in America? Many Americans caught a glimpse of it on national television during the first of three presidential debates. The President look disinterested, annoyed, preoccupied, not on his “A” game as some analyst remarked. Other pundits suggested that POTUS appeared tired looking and too nice. Obama supporters and those tough independent voters wanted more.

Remember, it’s been four years since the man has had a debate-he’s rusty. But amidst the fight of his political career, few have considered the enormous psychological cost of being black that the President must feel each and every time he’s on the stage. President Obama is not just another president in the long history of white presidents we’ve had in this country. He’s the first black president, and with that comes additionally burdens that only blacks and other stigmatized minority groups can truly appreciate. His overall likeability ratings are indicative of his daily performance of hyper-politeness, which is what black folk must do when working in predominately white settings. It’s in black Americans’ best interest to keep white folks happy and content as to not upset the racial applecart.

It isn’t natural, by any means, to always have to pretend to be nice to white people-not because you aren’t a genuinely nice person, but because those relationships expend too much emotional energy by feeling like you’re always on stage, teaching whites, or deflecting the many dominate white racial frames they hold in their subconscious mind about African Americans and other groups of color. President Obama must maintain his discipline and his composure or risk being perceived as “too black” and angry, even when it’s well within his purview to launch a counter offensive against Mr. Romney on several key topics like the notorious 47% remark, Bain capital, and why a guy with his stock-pile of cash only pays 14% in taxes? Unlike Mitt Romney, however, President Obama must present himself (unfortunately) at times as stiff and professorial in efforts to put the white voter at ease over the presence of a black man in the White House, even though only 43% of Whites actually voted for Senator Obama in 2008. So the President has to play it cool and maintain his well-known calm demeanor. He cannot be portrayed as “too black” in the stereotypical sense like raising his voice and showing outward displays of emotion. Otherwise, his actions have the potential to associate him with dominant ideologies of black males who are seen as sub-human, violent, criminal, and “bad”-ideologies that are deeply rooted within U.S. society (and, hence, in our perceptions, attitudes, reactions, and language).


  1. I wish President Obama had been more forceful – if that means ‘too Black’, fine by me. He held his own – especially in light of the fact that came out after the debate – Romney’s cheating and blatant lies. I went into the debate knowing who I will vote for and that hasn’t changed. I want four more years!

    I can only speak for myself – and I am one of the 43% (also one of the 47%, but that’s neither here nor there), believe me when I say I am sick and tired of racial stereotyping. I know it exists and will likely continue as long as the flames are fanned. To be perfectly honest, I think Romney fits a lot of stereotypes attributed to wealthy white men – at least for me. I don’t have answers; don’t know how to overcome the issue, but I know I’m not alone in thinking it’s gone on far too long.

    By the way … I am considered that stereotypical ‘bleeding heart, commie, pinko liberal’ and proud of it,

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