“There was an expectation, particularly among African Americans, that the first African-American president would at least be vocal about feeling their pain,” Blow said last week on MSNBC’s Hardball. “I think that has not been the case. The president has given a couple of speeches and he has been very heavy on the stick and not very heavy with the carrot… Just in the inability for him to commiserate with that group of people, people feel a bit deflated… He said he’s not going to focus separately on African-American issues at all. That let a lot of people down.” - Charles Blow
As we begin the second half of President Obama’s first term I think it is important for black Americans to access what having the first black President has meant in terms of their overall well-being. As someone who has stated and understands that President Obama is not the President of black America but of all America I understand the limits of his influence. My concern though is that with the rising tide of the teabaggers and the constant push back provided by Limbaugh and Beck saying the President is racist against white people this President will actually do less for black Americans than a liberal white President would do. Why? Because a white President would not have to defend his support for black issues as some sort of undercover reparations or be afraid to discuss black issues in public.
It’s funny but having the first black President has been a dual edged sword. On the one hand we have been given the boost to our pride of finally achieving the highest office in the land and that black folks have all the skills necessary to overcome centuries of racism and on the other hand we have a President who can barely use the word black in public for fear of agitating the racist who will be agitated no matter what he says. The thing about those who accuse this President or any successful black man of being racist is that no matter what these men do it will be twisted to fit the real racists scenario. It is similar to what I hear all the time when I discuss publicly the subject of how blacks are undermining their own success through black on black violence, absentee fathers, and the lack of education being a priority in our community. There are those that say that the racists will use this as fuel for their already racists views.
But think about that for a minute. These folks are going to misconstrue any information they find to fit their narrative and by us being afraid to discuss these issues it only hurts our credibility not theirs. So by this President not being willing to stand up publicly and do what other white Presidents have been willing to do (namely discuss the disproportionate effect this economy has had on black folks and seek specific remedies) it sort of makes having a black President a liability, not an asset. This is not to say that the President should specifically seek to develop policies that only benefit blacks, but I think it is important for him to at least acknowledge that there are unique differences and issues that affect black communities and black people.
For me one of the biggest criticisms I hear concerning this President by black people is his inability to articulate or even acknowledge these differences. This may be due in large part to the style of this President who is seen as more detached and rational than empathetic and perceptive. When Bill Clinton said, “I feel your pain.” He touched a nerve in the American psyche that could not be reached with cold impersonal data or a logical recitation of the facts. There are times in this country and in a way I suppose every nation that the people want to believe that their leaders understand their personal daily struggles and their uncertainties. I believe that this President has the capacity to do it, but does not have the personality type to do it. I believe that if he tried it would come off as feigned and counterfeit. Somehow this President has to reach out to black folks and let them know that his being the first black President has some real benefit in their daily lives besides this sense of pride. Pride is important and God knows we need all of the positive male role models we can get, but pride only goes so far, it doesn't pay bills or hire people.
At some point we need answers to a criminal justice system that is marginalizing our communities by strapping our young men with felonies in many cases before they are even eligible to vote and sentencing them to a life of poverty. We need answers to an inner city education system that has been allowed to become more impoverished and darker because we have allowed suburban districts to opt out as our cities expanded. We need answers to a shrinking manufacturing base that once created a pathway out of poverty for those who were either unable or unwilling to go to college. We need answers to the redevelopment of our urban neighborhoods that will not just plaster over the decay and condemn these neighborhoods to stay what they are but create new and vibrant neighborhoods that people will want to live in.
The problems we face are huge and no one is expecting this or any President to be able to overcome decades of neglect with some magic wand. However, sometimes it is important to just get an acknowledgment that you are not being taken for granted and someone can identify with your struggles. There is no benefit to having someone in office that looks like you if they are going to ignore you. I understand that this President has given a great deal of access to black folks in the media and has hired a number of blacks to high level positions, but the truth be told I haven’t heard this President use the word black in public since his campaign speech on race. It would be a shame if our first black President were not allowed to speak to the very people who understand him the most for fear of alienating the people who understands him the least.
But unlike previous presidents, Obama doesn’t need to win over the CBC in order to pick up support in the black community. Polls show that 96 percent of black voters view him favorably — a number the CBC members probably can’t match themselves...“I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African-American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do,” said Obama. - Politico
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