This may come as a shock to anyone who expected Barack Obama to deliver reparations, 40 acres and a mule and a new flat-screen television to Black folks, but he’s not Black America’s president and never wanted to be.
“I want all Americans to have opportunity,” he told Black Enterprise Magazine. “I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America.” When asked about criticism that he hasn’t done enough to help minority-owned businesses, he said, “The programs that we have put in place have been directed at those folks who are least able to get financing through conventional means, who have been in the past locked out of opportunities that were available to everybody.”
Obama, the first African American president, has been under pressure from some black activists to ease severe problems in the African American community such as unemployment, which is about 14 percent, far higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent. Another problem that African Americans want Obama to address is the high rate of incarceration for black men.
But he has consistently resisted calls for any type of “black agenda.” In the Black Enterprise interview, published in the magazine’s current issue, he added: “I’ll put my track record up against anybody in terms of us putting in place broad-based programs that ultimately had a huge benefit for African American businesses.”
Obama has taken considerable heat for his refusal to advance a “Black agenda” which has turned former supporters such as Cornel West into bitter enemies. West calls the president a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs,” and then twists the knife even deeper saying “I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men” and “He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want.”
Obama has always straddled the line of rising above his Blackness and being anchored by it. Even Obama supporters have occasionally stuck him in a Magic Negro box. Who can forget Joe Biden’s brain fart when he thought he was paying Obama a compliment, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
In the process of making a million dollar contribution to a pro-Obama PAC, actor Morgan Freeman couldn’t resist qualifying how “Black” the president is. The man who has played both the president and God pointed out that Barack is not America’s first Black president. America is still waiting for its first Black president.
“They just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was White – very White American, Kansas, middle America,” Freeman said. “There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America’s first Black president hasn’t arisen yet. He’s not America’s first Black president – he’s America’s first mixed-race president.”
Obama is probably glad to receive Freeman’s money. The unwanted history lesson and the actor’s musings on racial purity? Not so much. This is the permanent dilemma of Barack Hussein Obama: too Black for some and not Black enough for others.
I agree with Dr. West when he says Obama has been too cautious. Too conciliatory. Too willing to give breaks to Wall Street instead of Main Street. The president been terribly served by his economic team of advisers, especially Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, his lousiest Cabinet pick and Larry Summers, West’s old nemesis from Harvard whose primary interest was protecting big banks, not the little guys screwed over by them. There are problems specific and targeting Blacks that necessitate specific and targeted remedies.
But West is an ideologue and socialist who may had hopes he would be included in Obama’s Black brain trust along with Henry Louis Gates, Christopher Edley and Charles Ogletree. It didn’t happen and West, a relentless publicity hound and self-promoter who is more likely to be in the studio cutting rap albums and appearing in crappy Matrix sequels than he is shaping impressionable young minds in a lecture hall.
I respect Dr. West and he’s not entirely wrong how President Obama has fallen short of realizing the hopes Black Americans placed in him, but does he have no understanding the political realities of Washington and the limitations of the presidential power?
There was never any chance the Republicans (and more than a few Democrats) would ever sign on to a targeted program specifically benefiting African-Americans. The Republicans called healthcare reform a socialist plot. You’d have to be nuts to expect these obstructionists to give a thumb’s up to massive new spending targeted toward 36 million African-Americans. How does a moderate Democrat in Alabama go home to their district and sell that to their constituents as anything but another big government giveaway to Blacks? Nuts or Cornel West, not that there’s all that much difference it seems anymore.
America has elected more than a few White Presidents of White America, but it’s not about to elect a Black President of Black America. It’s too absurd to even consider except for the hopelessly naïve and delusional.
The ideologically pure dream have the luxury of dreaming of utopias. Realists have to do the heavy lifting of complicated reality. Whatever else that can said about Obama it has to be said he lives in the real world where if you’re not the president for as many as possible, you won’t be president for any of them long.
- Pres. Obama is The President of Black America As Well (atlantablackstar.com)
- Morgan Freeman: Obama’s not our first black president (marquee.blogs.cnn.com)
- President Obama Says He’s Not The President Of “Black America” (bossip.com)