Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Unconditional, unrequited love? | By Kevin Alexander Gray

(Note: edited version, “Obama and Black America: Who Has Whose Back?”’ published in August 2011 edition of The Progressive | updated data -WashPost/ABC News Poll: Big Drop In Black Support For President Obama )

“I’ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul.”

—Martin Luther King, “Loving Your Enemies,” November 17, 1957

I ran into Congressman Jim Clyburn at Brookland Baptist Church, here in Columbia, during the 2010 midterm election season while campaigning with South Carolina Green Party senate candidate Tom Clements. As we all exchanged pleasantries, I jokingly mentioned to Jim that I had gotten his campaign mail with the picture of him and President Barack Obama on it. He seemed genuinely pleased, so much so that he walked me over to check out the special poster he had at his campaign material table. The poster was also of Clyburn with the commander-in-chief. Clyburn appears to be making a point in the President’s ear. Obama looks and leans as though he’s listening. The U.S. flag is in the background. At the bottom of the poster read the caption: “JIM HAS THE PRESIDENT’S EAR, AND WE MUST HAVE THEIR BACKS!!!”

Clyburn didn’t really need Obama’s help in getting reelected in his safe district, which is 57 percent African American. And he’s never had any serious opposition to his seat. But it would have taken some help from Obama for him to keep his spot as the second-ranking Democrat in the House after the drubbing their party took in the midterm elections. That help was not forthcoming. When the dust settled, Clyburn wasn’t even offered the minority whip job, which went to Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Clyburn was given the new title of assistant Democratic leader. Clyburn has fewer staff than before, he is no longer involved in vote-counting, nor is he a key party messenger. Clyburn’s demotion has not sat well with the Congressional Black Caucus, which he used to chair. But it typifies Obama’s indifference to African Americans across the board.

Last December, when he was polling in the mid-nineties among blacks, during a White House press conference a black reporter asked Obama about grumblings among the black leadership. He replied: “I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African-American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do.”

Yet even as he boasted, that same month the black unemployment rose from 15.7 percent to 16 percent, almost double the Dec. 9% national rate (Aug 2011- 9.1%). Black male unemployment rose from 16.3 percent to 16.7 percent as 1.3 million black men were out of work. For black women it jumped from 12.7 percent to 13.1, or roughly 1.2 million unemployed black women. And the unemployment rate for black teens stood at a staggering 46.5 percent (by contrast, the rate for white teenagers was 23.6 percent).

When Obama entered office, the black unemployment rate was 12.6 percent. But rising unemployment still didn’t dampen black optimism going into his second year. According to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University poll conducted Jan. 27-Feb. 9 of this year, 85 percent of blacks said they were optimistic about the future course of the economy while 72 percent of white held that view. Eighty-four percent of blacks felt hopeful about their personal financial situation, compared with 73 percent of whites.

Obama and Black AmericaObama is right that the African American community gives him overwhelming support, but it’s not as overwhelming as it used to be. In the most recent polls blacks see “the economy” or unemployment as the nation’s top problem with one in seven or 2.9 million African Americans out of work — the highest number in nearly a quarter century. And some economists argue that 16%+ rate isn’t the “real” or accurate rate. They say that if one takes into account those people who want work and cannot get it and have stopped looking, those not counted such as the 900,000 incarcerated black men and women, and those recently released from the military– the “real” underemployment rate may be 25% or higher.

Back in 2008, nearly all (95 percent) black voters cast their ballot for Obama. Presently, they give him approval ratings just above 80 percent although there are polls with higher numbers.

Blacks still seem to have Obama’s back, but does he have theirs? Continue reading

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The Novocaine Effect | Obama and Black America | By Kevin Alexander Gray

“It’s like when you go to the dentist, and the man’s going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he starts pulling. So he squirts some stuff in your jaw called novocaine, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. So you sit there and ’cause you’ve got all of that novocaine in your jaw, you suffer peacefully. Blood running all down your jaw, and you don’t know what’s happening. ’Cause someone has taught you to suffer – peacefully.”

Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X), Message to the Grassroots (1964).

There’s a picture of Barack Obama next to one of Jesus in the front window of the small, black art gallery that I drive past almost every­day. And I still see someone wearing an Obama t-shirt maybe once a week, but sometimes it’s the same guy. If you’re looking, you can a find a variety of shirts in just about every corner store where I live. They’re on the wall, next to the Bob Marley, Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Al Pacino “Scarface” t-shirts. You can get an Obama hat and a presidential calendar there too. There are still a few Obama yard signs in the neighborhood, usually in a window. A few people still have an Obama bumper sticker on their cars. Not as many as some might think. Certainly not as many as the number of Confederate flags on vehicles in this part of the country.

Racial solidarity is the mood that helped get Obama into the White House. The traditional source of power and sur­vival among blacks, it is also the novo­caine of the moment, a numbing agent as people suffer through what, despite the more hopeful official forecasts, feels like a full-blown depression where I live. The pride is real, but so is the pain, and it’s coming in sharp stabs despite the shot. The novocaine is still working, just not so well, and the result is a discomfiting confusion.

In late September I spoke at a ‘‘Black Male Summit” about 80 miles north­west of Columbia in Rock Hill, South Carolina, which is famous in civil rights’ lore as the first stop in the Deep South for the Freedom Riders testing the 1960 Supreme Court decision outlawing ra­cial segregation in all interstate public facilities. Rock Hill is where Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activist John Lewis and another man stepped off the bus and were beaten by a white mob. The town is mentioned in Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” – only the “poor boy” on the Greyhound is lucky as his bus “bypassed Rock Hill” in the song. Things are still tough in the town just south of Charlotte. Since February of 2008 the number of jobs here has fallen by 15 per cent, and the average salary for people lucky enough to be employed is about $28,000. In June of this year, Yvette Williams, a 15 year-old black girl, was shot and killed by two police officers after she robbed a grocery store. The two of­ficers fired on Williams five times after she pointed a gun at them and refused to drop it, according to Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory. He said he felt the police response was justified. A witness who lives across the street from where the shooting happened, told the local paper she was in bed when she heard shots and got up, looked out her window and saw the girl fall to the ground. She said she then saw an officer shoot again.

The theme I was asked to speak on in Rock Hill was “How do we restore dignity back to black communities?” My initial response was I didn’t know we’d lost it. But I knew the idea was a nod to Obama’s tough-love trick bag. “Post-racialism” is nonsense, but as an ideological concept it’s real, with real political consequences. On the right, it is license for white blow­hards to go on any racist tirade they like so long as they don’t actually broadcast the word “nigger.” In the black communi­ty it’s alive wherever blacks argue among themselves as to whether they are indi­vidually or collectively responsible for the conditions they face, or if they’re as criminal or immoral or lazy or violent or promiscuous or stupid as racists believe them to be. Sherman Porterfield, one of the organizers of the event, was quoted in the local paper, “Obama talked about it,” this claimed loss of dignity; “he has challenged us. The question now is, are we up to the challenge? Our young peo­ple are dropping out of school in record numbers, and it’s our fault. Nobody is shooting water hoses at us anymore. But we are allowing our young brothers to shoot each other. And that is not accept­able.” Continue reading

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On the Need for Presidential Accountability | Ron Daniels

Vantage Point

Dr. Ron Daniels

Dr. Ron Daniels

Television and radio journalist Tavis Smiley took some major hits during the presidential campaign when he had the audacity to suggest that Black folks should expect then candidate Barack Obama to respond to Black issues and be held accountable in some measure to Black people in exchange for our support. The reaction was so furious that Brother Tavis resigned as a Commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show. I understand that B.E.T. Political Analyst Jeff Johnson recently provoked some controversy among Blacks when he also suggested that President Barack Obama should respond to Black issues/concerns. Maxine Waters, outspoken  Congresswoman from Los Angeles, warned the Obama administration that she was not about to sit on the sidelines and watch billions of dollars go to banks and insurance companies, the same crowd whose reckless behavior precipitated the economic collapse, while the urgent needs of Blacks in devastated urban communities are neglected. After releasing the State of Black America Report, which showed continuing disparities between Blacks and Whites in critical areas such as health, education, income and wealth, Marc Morial, President/CEO of the National Urban League challenged President Obama to prioritize Black concerns. And, from the very outset of the presidential campaign, Professor Cornell West, arguably Black America’s leading public intellectual, insisted that Blacks should offer “critical support” to Obama — working on his behalf but exercising the right to advocate for Black issues and to offer constructive criticism where necessary and appropriate.

All of these outstanding leaders are on the right track, striving to educate Black people about the principled process by which electoral political engagement should function. I have devoted much of my life working to have our people internalize the idea that vision, principles, values, systems and process must be an indispensable dimension of Black empowerment as we engage in the electoral political arena. As Ossie Davis aptly put it, our electoral political pursuits should not simply revolve around the man (or woman) but the “plan.” Like other groups functioning within the electoral political arena, Africans in America must come to the table with a  plan/agenda rather than being captivated by the man/woman no matter how dynamic or charismatic he/she may be.

Politics is the process through which a group, community or nation establishes its goals and objectives for survival and development. Every group should have a process for establishing/setting its agenda of interests, issues and aspirations. Then the group must work/struggle/fight/engage to acquire and maintain the power to implement its agenda. This necessarily requires communicating the agenda upfront to candidates at all levels and of whatever race, ethnicity or gender as a pre-condition for our votes/support. The next step is to demand that the agenda be acted on to ensure that there is a meaningful relationship between ballots cast for a candidate and the delivery of goods, services and opportunities for our people. To act in any other manner is to fundamentally misunderstand how electoral politics works. It is to set oneself up for huge disappointment when our issues are ignored and/or there is no substantial change in the conditions in our communities.

It is necessary, imperative that we hold elected officials accountable, including the President of the United States. And, this should have very little to do with skin color. It should have everything to do with the vision, substance and content of the political ideas and policies of a candidate in relationship to our political agenda.  To recite former Congressman Bill Clay’s adaptation of Churchill’s dictum of politics, Black people should have “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just a permanent interest.”

In the era of the 60s, as the civil rights revolt transitioned into the Black power movement, there was an assumption that electing Black people to political office would lead to an improvement in the quality of life in our communities – a rather naïve belief that simply replacing White faces with Black faces in old places would translate into social justice and social change. Many Black elected officials accepted their mission as leaders charged with compelling the system to produce change to the maximum degree possible for Black people, other people of color, poor and working people. Unfortunately, there were also Blacks who aspired to hold office to engage in deal cutting and self-aggrandizing politics; others simply lacked the political consciousness to effectively utilize public office as a vehicle for Black empowerment. Flush with the euphoria/pride of having Blacks in office in substantial numbers for the first time since Reconstruction, there was a tendency to “trust” elected officials to do the right thing. Blacks have often been content to elect people to office without structures and processes to hold them accountable. This has led to disillusionment, frustration, apathy and alienation among voters when elections seemingly failed to produce meaningful results/change.

The lesson to be learned from these experiences is that “change you can believe in” is change you must hold elected officials accountable for based on a public policy agenda. Otherwise the investment in a candidate could well prove fruitless. This is precisely why the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) is gearing up to hold a National Town Hall Meeting April 24th in Washington, DC on the eve of President Obama’s first 100 days to assess progress on critical issues of concern to Black America (www.reportcardonobama.com). Moreover, IBW will announce the formation of the Shirley Chisholm Presidential Accountability Commission, Co-Chaired by Dr. Ronald Walters and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, to issue a Report Card on President Obama every six months. The purpose for these exercises is not to “hate” on President Obama, whom many of us believe will be one of the greatest Presidents in the history of this country, but to temper the euphoria and optimism with the somber reality that it’s not just the man or woman but the plan, the agenda that matters in electoral politics. We must hold elected officials accountable at all levels, and that includes our President.

Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. He is the host of An Hour with Professor Ron Daniels, Monday-Friday mornings on WWRL Radio 1600 AM in New York and Night Talk, Wednesday evenings on WBAI 99.5 FM, Pacifica New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. He can be reached via email at info@ibw21.org.


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KRS-One on Obama

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Kevin Gray on Barack Obama

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