It’s been demonstrated in many American political contexts that the theory of shared racial experience creates a stronger sense of expectation, and results when Blacks finally see “one of their own” in a powerful political position. But does that mean we should expect public, consistent and persistent attention to issues primarily affecting the Black community? Many scholars and pundits have argued just that – implying that the president does not deserve the 95% of the Black vote he is likely to receive on Tuesday.
It is true that President Obama’s first term record has resulted in many concerns from the Black community regarding his attentiveness to our concerns. As colleague Frederick C. Harris aptly pointed out in a New York Times editorial last week, the Black community has experienced some of the worst lows in American recorded history over the past four years: “…28 percent of African-Americans, and 37 percent of Black children, are poor (compared with 10 percent of Whites and 13 percent of White children); 13 percent of Blacks are unemployed – compared with 7 percent of Whites,” (and sadly the list goes on).
Yet they often fail to acknowledge that much of that plight is the result of conservative social policies of post-1960s Democratic and Republican administrations and that it could not have been completely reversed during President Obama’s brief time in office. Additionally, without offering solutions to the balancing act played by one who is both a Black president and the president of the United States, scholars and pundits fall short when they deemphasize the significance of the president’s rhetoric on race.
President Obama has arguably talked more of race than many other presidents in recent history. For example, at the bill signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, the president said: “. . . It’s the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn – women of color even less.”
He replied to a question addressing the health care reform impact on minority communities at a White House Forum on Health Reform by saying, “that’s pretty indisputable that even when you account for incomes and levels of insurance, that you’re still seeing problems in the African American community . . . in terms of quality of care and outcomes. And part of what we should be doing is to think about, based on this evidence and this data, are there ways that we can close those gaps.
At a July 22, 2009 news conference, the president said: “There is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s a just a fact.” A few days later during a Department of Education speech, the president said: “African Americans, Latino students are lagging behind White classmates in one subject after another – an achievement gap that, by one estimate, *costs us,* hundreds of billions of dollars in wages.”
While addressing the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) Annual Phoenix Award Dinner event in September of that same year, the president said: More than one in seven African Americans are out of work – the highest in nearly a quarter century. More than two out of 10 African Americans – and 3 out of 10 Black children – are living in poverty. So this economic crisis has made problems in the communities of color much worse . . . That’s not just a loss for the African American community or the Hispanic community. That’s a loss for all Americans”
At a January 2010 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembrance event, the president said: “Unemployment is at its highest in more than a quarter of a century. Nowhere is it higher than the African American community. Poverty is on the rise . . . Let us broaden our coalition, building a confederation . . . of all Americans who are hurting today.”
The attention to race with President Obama in the White House has been alive and well, though it may differ in comparison to Black public policy efforts of occupants of the White House during the previous 40 years. It’s no longer laced in the grandiose struggle for universal freedom for Blacks, nor is it steeped in the traditional Black Baptist and AME church doctrines, either (which should make sense, since President Obama does not hail from that tradition or experience.)
I get that Black Americans, like many others, are upset with the president’s record on representing their interests. However, there should be a distinction made between his record of accomplishment concerning Black interest issues and the president’s active pursuit of/effort attempting to make significant progress.
Once one takes an honest look at the president’s capabilities and how they may be hindered by Republican opposition, a fair analysis should reveal that President Obama has done more for Black Americans arguably more than any other president in direct terms in this country’s history.
He has a record of policy and programmatic development that substantively benefits Blacks, including the Office of Urban Affairs, the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 which funded and finally provided statutory authorities for the settlement agreement reached in the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by African American farmers more than a decade prior and the Fair Sentencing Act that same year, which reduced the disparity in the amounts of powder cocaine and crack cocaine required to trigger certain penalties in the federal system, including the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences.
Race matters to President Obama and has been mentioned by him in many venues. Various racial groups directly and indirectly benefit from many of his policies. He has been both a ‘man of the people’ and a man for his people for the past four years. Today, he deserves your support because he has earned it.