by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World – Scholarship in Action
Politico recently quoted an Obama insider who had some interesting things to say about the criticism the president has been receiving from prominent African Americans. “The whole thing is bull——. … We have met with [black leaders] more than any other group, and we are increasing our outreach,” the insider said.
The remarks are interesting and show a natural frustration to the rising tide (remember those words?) of well-known African Americans who no longer fear the stigma of using their Democratic voice to speak up on the challenges being faced by the African American community.
“Our people are hurting,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.). “Unemployment is unconscionable,” she added. “We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why this trip that he is on in the United States now, that he’s not in any black communities.”
Waters then pushed the issue further by daring a representative from the Obama Administration to actually say the word “black” at an event in Miami. The staffer eventually said the word, but only reluctantly.
“We want him to know that from this day forward … we’ve had it,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said about President Obama. “We want him to come out on our side and advocate, not to watch and wait.”
Yes, President Obama is having a “Beyonce moment.” In one of her most famous songs, Beyonce forces her boyfriend to use her name in conversation, proudly professing his love for her, rather than sneaking around and having sex with her when no one else is around. Rather than simply allowing herself to be used as a tool to fulfill his needs, she demanded that he acknowledge her needs as well.
Black America’s political relationship with the Obama Administration is the subject of that Beyonce song. The intense racial dichotomy of America is one in which almost no candidate can openly and prominently express love for or affiliation with the black community without experiencing a significant political backlash. Bill Clinton got away with it, sort of, but President Obama was able to get where he is today by convincing white America that he is “not really one of those people.” They considered him to be the exception to the rule, as Vice President Joe Biden once openly applauded President Obama for being “clean” and “articulate,” which Biden had apparently never seen from any other black political candidate. Also, conservatives and independents love a black person willing to chastise black Americans with those “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” speeches, which lets elected officials off the hook for racially-discriminatory policies.
Things have changed for the president, at least in black America. There is no number of appearances on the Tom Joyner or Steve Harvey Morning Shows that will clean up what has happened in black America due to the unemployment crisis. The community has been economically hammered by a force no less violent than the hurricane and earthquakes that kept us from celebrating Martin Luther King’s memorial this week. In spite of the massive support the president will receive from black Americans in the next election, the votes of 2012 will come with a sigh instead of a smile.
It is the loss of hope for real change that serves as the greatest danger to Obama’s black support. By convincing black Americans to let go of their expectation of political marginalization, Barack Obama was like the man who teaches an abused woman that it’s OK to love again. But similar to the scorned lover in the Beyonce song, the president’s inability to say our name has served as the greatest crutch to his administration’s credibility within the African American community. Black people don’t expect much; they have excused the administration for nearly every misstep, consistently arguing that Obama is “everyone’s president,” and not just their own. But what started off as tremendous political flexibility turned into serious neglect – in fact, I can’t recall the president speaking publicly on any black issue in the last two years. The black community needed to know that the Obama Administration has been with us throughout the struggles we’ve experienced during this recession, and by refusing to acknowledge the community’s pain, the administration has failed the loyalty test.
Can the president recapture the support he had during the love affair of 2008? Probably not. Only politicians with a clean slate can produce such naïve optimism from the American public. At this point, the president can only redeem himself with real jobs in black America, and that is only going to come through targeted economic policy. But with the Obama Administration’s history of choosing economic advisors who favor Wall Street and corporate America over the rest of us, we’ll likely be standing in line behind the white folks again.
Black Americans are looking for real results, not just song and dance. So, the president may not want to put all of his stock in Tom Joyner.