When I read the headline “Study: Black Americans Feel Less Empowered Under Obama Than They Once Did” I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the study would reveal. After blatant disrespect – including recent instances from yokels like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump – coupled with Republican obstructionism in Congress, some Blacks rightfully felt a bit discouraged about even the limits of the presidency in combating the systematic racism long plaguing the country. Such a reveal isn’t really breaking new ground, but it’s helpful to see the matter outlined in black and white.
Based on national surveys conducted between 2005-2011, the study’s findings showed that only 45 percent of Blacks said they believed the government would allow them to make a public speech, while 67 percent of Whites believed they could.
On the study overall, James L. Gibson, professor of African and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis explained: “The election of a Black American to the U.S. presidency did seem to empower African Americans, causing an increase in levels of perceived freedom. But that increase seems to have been epiphenomenal, with perceived levels of freedom after 2009 soon reverting to their prior level.”
There was one silver lining, depending on one’s perspective. Of those Blacks who felt their political empowerment waning, a significant amount of them were Blacks who described themselves as conservative or religious. Indeed, the study states “Conservative Blacks and liberal Blacks perceived equivalent levels of freedom prior to the election, but after, conservative Blacks felt markedly less free than liberal Blacks.”
My initial urge after reading that sentence was to rise up and go, “Don’t stop, pop that, pop that.”
These groups make up a large portion of the community with 56 percent of the Blacks who participated in the study identifying as “born again” while 39 percent referred to themselves as “somewhat conservative.”
Gibson attributes this partially to “ideological polarization” something he added is taking place among the White counterparts, too. But, he alleges that many conservative and religious Blacks were under the impression that he’d protect their interests once elected president. "Race produces a level of trust and confidence that one is on your side," he says.
Which means that segment of the community who tilts right of center on social issues may have been turned off by the contraception debate between the Obama administration and select religious leaders. The same can be said of Obama lending his personal support to same-sex marriage. Gibson cites these as examples of conservative and religious Blacks seeing "their efforts to participate in public life [under Obama] being thwarted over and over and over again."
How nice would it be to see select mainstream media outlets no longer putting any random person wearing a collar in front of a camera due to some presumption that he or she speaks for a large number of Black people?
I’m not entirely sure how much to place into these findings. Even if based on anecdotal evidence, despite there being Black religious leaders using their clout to push marriage equality, the loudest have been those who claimed to be “outraged,” pressuring President Obama to speak to them if not flat out declaring that they won’t be campaigning for his reelection.
If religious Blacks are feeling ambivalent about their political strengths, those kinds of clergymen aren’t doing the fold any favors.
Of course, Blacks overall are moving with the rest of the country in favoring marriage equality, so ultimately the issue will be much ado about nothing. I’m sure some will cling to their prejudices about contraception and those nagging gays who insist on having the same legal rights as everyone else in spite of the world moving forward. If they end up feeling a bit less empowered in the future, though, so what? It’s about time those types passed the mic anyway.
How nice would it be to see select mainstream media outlets no longer putting any random person wearing a collar in front of a camera due to some presumption that he or she speaks for a large number of Black people? Picture a climate where those kind of zealots no longer feel so entitled to flex whatever influence they do have in order to push their dogma onto the masses through the law.
There are plenty of remarkably brilliant and talented Blacks of faith who have and continue to bring important issues related to the community at the forefront. Still, it’d be great if some of the subpar brethren embraced they shame they’ve earned. So as disheartening as it is to read about Black people collectively feeling discouraged about their political power, when it comes to that portion of the crowd I don’t feel very inclined to say, “Don’t you give up. Keep shouting to the world that Satan invented the morning after pill to inflict people with the gay like it’s bird flu.”
No thanks. Here’s hoping the rest of us buck up, though.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work