No more lectures
What President Obama can do for Black America
When I was at Lafayette Park (across from the White House) recently checking the logistics/arrangements for Institute of the Black World’s June 17 Day of Direct Action to pressure President Barack Obama to end the “War on Drugs” and invest in inner-city Black communities, I confess to having been filled with pride thinking about the reality of a Black family occupying the White House.
But I had to quickly remind myself that electoral politics is about who gets what, how much and when. At least that’s what our beloved Dr. Ronald Walters spent much of his life striving to teach us.
It doesn’t matter the color, race, ethnicity or even political persuasion of the resident in the White House, presidents should respond to the crises of people/groups because they are part of the body politic of this nation. If a constituency/group is a key part of the president’s political support base, there is an even more compelling reason to attend to their needs.
Unfortunately, as it relates to Blacks, these basic expectations of electoral politics seem not to apply. For decades, presidents have failed to respond to the crises in Black America in proportion to our needs or political support — particularly the Democratic Party.
Thus far, this is certainly the case with Obama. Despite the “State of Emergency” in America’s “dark ghettos,” he refuses to directly respond to the urgent needs of Blacks who marched on ballot boxes in record numbers to ensure his election and re-election.
Instead of policies and programs specifically designed/targeted to ameliorating and ultimately transforming the conditions in distressed urban communities, Black America is treated to symbolism, access and lectures about personal responsibility. Many Blacks seem to be content with Obama’s approach, choosing to give him a pass because he is a “brother.”
On the other hand, there are growing numbers of Blacks who are getting tired, frustrated and angry at the President’s reluctance to openly address a moral and political crisis in terms of depression levels of joblessness, gun violence, fratricide and mass incarceration in inner-city Black communities.
No doubt deep down this President may want to identify with the needs of Black people, but apparently he is afraid of a “white backlash” if he shows his true colors. So, we get symbolism — the President and first lady delivering commencement addresses at historically Black colleges or visiting inner-city schools.
Certainly there is no harm in symbolism except when it’s a substitute for the kind of substantive policies that would alleviate the pain and suffering of people. The same applies for “access” to the White House.
I have never witnessed Blacks having so much access to the White House via conference calls, Black talk radio interviews, briefings and celebratory gatherings/parties.
And, of course, the Congressional Black Caucus, National Urban League, NAACP and National Action Network have been favored with appearances at their conventions by the President. The problem is that he seldom, if ever, speaks directly to the most urgent concerns of Black America at these gatherings.
Can you imagine Obama speaking to a Latino convention and not addressing the issue of immigration policy reform or talking to a lesbian and gay organization without discussing marriage equality and LBGT rights? He wouldn’t dare insult these groups by not directly addressing their priority agendas.
Finally, and perhaps the most egregious act of all is Obama’s persistent lecturing to Black audiences about personal responsibility. The most recent instance was his pep talk to the highly accomplished graduates of Morehouse College — who hardly needed a lecture on altering their behavior to be more responsible.
Obama has also used Father’s Day to become “daddy-in-chief,” exhorting us to just behave better and more responsibly.
There is nothing inherently wrong with encouraging people to do better, but it would have much more credibility and impact if the lecture was accompanied by a call to invest in revitalizing communities.
Instead of another demeaning Father’s Day lecture, Obama should declare joblessness in the inner cities a national crisis and propose a massive jobs/economic investment program with priority on training and hiring those formerly incarcerated.
Virtually every civil rights leader from Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network, to Marc Morial, National Urban League, to Melanie Campbell, National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, to Benjamin Jealous, NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, agree that something similar to a targeted jobs/economic program is a top priority to revitalize distressed Black communities.
I think they would also agree that what Black America does not need is another lecture!
Dr. Ron Daniels is president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org