Throughout the past year, I have heard over and over again that President Obama hasn’t done enough for the Black community. And with double-digit unemployment—higher now than under George W. Bush’s second term— and greater economic stagnation, especially in America’s big cities, it is obvious why some folks would feel that way. Let’s be real, President Obama hasn’t been as vocal as many of us would like about many of the issues being facing our community, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t used his office to advance our race.
Our community’s problems are deeply rooted in centuries of pain and oppression. To believe that one individual can erase that pain and lead us to some promised land, is shortsighted, misguided and a pipe dream.
But before assessing the President’s utility to the Black community in 2015, let take a moment to understand the symbolism of the Obama Presidency—now getting ready to enter its final calendar year. When President Barack Obama took office on that cold day in January, millions of American gathered on the Washington Mall or around their TV to see history. As the President put his hand on the Lincoln Bible—a Bible bound during an era of Black enslavement—he actualized the dreams of thousands whose blood was shed in the fight for freedom, and he broke the marble ceiling that has held our community back since reconstruction.
Not that symbolism can suffice for political action, but Obama’s presidency has changed the trajectory for young Black men and women for decades to come. That symbolism also has had an extremely adverse effect. Obama’s presidency has ushered in an era that has included the creation of the Tea Party, extreme Congressional gridlock, austerity budgets, and downright hatred of the President and what he represents. Recent Gallup polls suggest that since Obama has taken office, race relations have been trending downwards in the United States. These ills have plagued Obama and have made it impossible for him push forward and achieve many of the goals lined out to improve the socio-economic outcomes for our community.
In all fairness to the President, when it comes to fighting for our issues—increasing wages, criminal justice reform, economic development in inner cities, and more accountable local policing—he has been with us lockstep. You might not have heard about it on your evening news or on cable TV; it might not have been part of an important policy address or even part of the State of the Union, but he has been there.
For example, right before the holiday, with little coverage from the press, President Obama ended a rough year in the nation’s capital by commuting the sentences of 95 federal prisoners and granting two pardons, building on his push to fix our nation’s criminal justice system that has broken far too many Black families.
But even with that success and many others, there is more the President can do to change the prevailing narrative that he isn’t doing enough for the Black community. For one, he can speak out more strongly about Chicago’s mismanagement of the Laquan McDonald case, specifically about his former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanuel.
Moreover, the President could also listen to the cries of working families and halt the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A trade deal that is currently pending in Congress, that if passed would gut our community of the few jobs we have left, and would have disastrous consequences for the working class and American manufacturing. If folks thought NAFTA—the 1994 international free-trade agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States that destroyed manufacturing as we know it in America—was bad, we haven’t seen anything yet. The passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would open up our manufacturing sector to free and open competition with Asia, which would destroy many of the gains that have been made in the manufacturing sector since the Great Recession of 2008.
2015 was a mixed year for President Obama. Did he have some success? Of course, he did. Did he do enough for the Black community? That question is up for debate. But like it or not, the President still deserves our respect, support, and continued pressure.
In 2016, we as a community should work together to hand this President a unified Black agenda, so he can spend his last year working collectively with us to strengthen our community. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also urge us to ensure that all 16 potential Presidential candidates know that our communities matters, our lives matter, and most importantly, our votes count and will determine the outcome of this election.