Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Obama Black Enough?

The Root
reports that:
Thanks to the book Game Change, which captured the behind-the-scenes drama of the 2008 presidential campaign, authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann are now as feared among those keeping political secrets as Karinne “Superhead” Steffans is feared among the rappers and athletes worried about being name-checked in her next tell-all.

The most recent revelation to leak from their latest book, Double Down, is a good reminder of why Halperin and Heilemann cause such nervousness among the political elite. According to the Daily Beast’s overview, the book claims President Obama and his advisors were irritated by what his aides dubbed the “professional left” and “professional blacks.” Not black professionals, but those who professionally highlight or exploit racial politics. The book goes on to say that the president considers New York Rep. Charles Rangel “a hack” and that the Rev. Jesse Jackson essentially had been banned from the White House. The Washington Times also reported that according to the book, Rep. John Lewis and Jim Clyburn were the only two members of the CBC whom President Obama respects, writing, “Apart from Georgia congressman John Lewis and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, Obama had nearly as much contempt for the CBC as he did for the Tea Party Caucus.”

But the most eye-opening revelation to come from this section of the book is the allegation that the president is still hung up on an allegation that has haunted him since early in his career, that he is not “black enough” and that he actually asked aides during the 2012 campaign, “Am I still not black enough?”

While these anecdotes are not exactly explosive, they are revealing. For one, the president’s tight relationship with rapper Jay Z (birth name Shawn Carter) has been puzzling for many, particularly in light of the fact that Jay Z is a former drug dealer who has proved politically embarrassing to the president.

President Obama was not raised in a predominantly African American environment. He is biracial.  His father was Kenyan and his mother was white. His African father was not involved in his life. While Obama is African American in the truest sense, he is not a descendant of enslaved African Americans. For the most part, he was raised by his white mother and his white grandparents in a predominantly white community. In the words of Senator Harry Reid, Obama did not grow up speaking the "Negro dialect". Eventually, he learned and adopted the Negro dialect as a second language to be used only when addressing large, predominantly African American crowds and groups.  Unlike Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Bobby Rush, Barack Obama is not from the Civil Rights Movement era. Obama was not an activist like Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Al Sharpton.  Such factors made and make Obama more appealing to white voters.  At the same time, such factors cause some to question his blackness.

I do not question the President's blackness.  The brother has an African/Muslim name. In America, biracial equals black. When the police stop and frisk you or shoot you down in New York, they do not see a "biracial" person.  They see a black person.  Instead of working on Wall Street, Obama worked in low income, black communities in Chicago. He went to a black liberation theology church for 20 years.  Barack Obama married First Lady Michelle Obama, who is undeniably black, and had two beautiful black daughters.

It is worth noting that the Tea Party does not question his blackness.  In case Obama ever forgets, the Tea Party is there to remind him that he is black.  They remind him with their Confederate flags, Obama witch doctor signs, Obama monkey signs and Obama Muslim/Arab terrorist signs.

Although I do not question Obama's blackness, I do question his failure to adequately address issues of race.  I do question his failure to adequately address high black unemployment and other issues.  I do question his failure to develop a stronger relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus.

When Barack Obama first rose to national prominence, I viewed his sudden ascent with great skepticism.  That skepticism was based on his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  In that speech, he said that:
Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.
Such post-racial, post-partisan rhetoric was designed to placate mainstream, white moderates. Everyone knows that there is a Black America and a White America. Those two Americas in many ways remain separate and unequal. They are unequal in every sense of the word.  Significant disparities continue to exist in education, employment, wealth, criminal justice, education and health.

Obama's speech made it abundantly clear that he is not a race man.  Unless pressed into a corner, Obama downplays the significance of race in America. He avoids discussing the issue. I completely understand why an ambitious and intelligent black politician would avoid such a volatile, divisive and explosive topic. Discussing such a topic is not smart politics when one is running for a statewide office or national office. Talking about race will only antagonize and alienate white voters.

However, the President is in his second term.  He should feel more comfortable speaking about race. He might as well be black now, real black. Although the President has made some significant public statements on race during his Presidency, he still avoids the topic. As reported in The Afro:
According to research compiled by Daniel Q. Gillion, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, President Obama has paid less attention to race – as measured by executive orders issued and references to race in public speeches – than every Democratic president since 1961.

That means he has paid less attention to race than John F. Kennedy, a liberal former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and three White Southerners who grew up under segregation – Lyndon Johnson of Texas, Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
In that context, I do not doubt the claims in Double Down. Remember when the President told the Congressional Black Caucus to "Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying." In addition, the President waited over two years before having his most recent meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. That is simply unacceptable. No politician should treat his most loyal constituency that way especially when African Americans continue to experience disproportionately  high unemployment and incarceration rates. As reported on Think Progress,
The nation’s unemployment rate is now 7.9 percent, and there is an unquestionable recovery taking place. Lost in the positive news, though, is that the unemployment rate for African-Americans rose nearly a full point to 14.3 percent, up from 13.4 percent in September.
Obviously, the President needs to spend more time meeting with the CBC than he does with Jay Z.

Although I recognize the President has implemented policies that benefit African Americans, far more work needs to be done to improve the state of Black America. We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced by the Administration's condescending rhetoric about "being the President of all of America, not just Black America."  That talking point is simply a feeble excuse and justification for indifference and inaction.  Every time the black left raises legitimate issues or questions regarding the President's policies or lack thereof, the mindless parrot that talking point. 

Obama does not tell AIPAC that he is not the President of Zionist America. He does not tell the immigrant community that he is not the President of Latino America. He does not tell that the LGBT community that he is not the President of Gay America. It is time for people to stop saying that Obama is not the President of Black America.  All of America includes Black America. 

Whether Obama likes it or not, the African American community and the CBC must keep up the pressure. Too much is at stake. Yes, Mr. President. You are black enough, but you have not done enough for black people.

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