by David A. Love–Courtesy of The Grio.com
Should we care? We need to stop arguing over President Obama’s blackness and move on to a more productive conversation.
It’s not that people on both sides of the divide aren’t making good arguments. And these days, we’ve been given a taste of the public debate in the Washington Post. In an op-ed Columbia professor Fredrick Harris points out that while candidate Obama spoke passionately about racial injustice to black audiences, President Obama has shied away from issues affecting African-Americans. Harris even blames black voters for not raising objections, and allowing Obama to get away with the race-neutral stance he and other black politicians have taken to win elections.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Capehart responds by calling the “Obama-doesn’t-care-about-black-people” crowd whiners. Relying on examples from Obama’s policy accomplishments on foreclosures, drug sentencing, HIV/AIDS and jobs, Capehart argues the president speaks to black issues — just not as loudly as his critics would like.
Both sides are right. If there are any doubts about the president’s blackness, just look at how badly his enemies on the right are behaving. Certainly, they think Obama is black enough, and a Kenyan Muslim at that. From the daily death threats and the racially-motivated political opponents, to rants from the likes of Donald Trump and others who question the president’s citizenship, the radical right wants to stop the man. An honest policy disagreement is one thing, but they just don’t like Obama because he’s black. It shows in their opposition to his policies, as Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald.
A true test of the president’s blackness is his decision to draw a line in the sand in the battle for voting rights. A number of states have enacted voter ID legislation that threatens to disenfranchise millions of voters, particularly the poor and members of minority groups. President Obama blocked voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina because they violated federal law by discriminating against blacks and Latinos.
Moreover, some Southern states, like in the days of old Jim Crow segregation, openly flaunt their disregard for the Voting Rights Act. For example, Florida Governor Rick Scott has ignored the Justice Department’s demands that he stop purging voters. This, as Alabama challenges the federal requirement that states with a history of discrimination seek approval for changes to their ballot and districting rules.
At a time when his political opponents appear ready to win an election by eliminating huge portions of the electorate, the president is taking a stand for voting rights that is central to black concerns. And he will energize the African-American base during a crucial election season.
And yet, it was too predictable that the Jackie Robinson of the American presidency would self-regulate his words and actions out of a fear of appearing too black or too angry.
The Jackie Robinson syndrome can explain the president’s confusing stance on drug policy. Obama, who as a youth experimented with marijuana, promised reforms in marijuana policy. Yet, his administration has continued senseless drug enforcement policies, which needlessly ensnare young people of color in the criminal justice system through racial profiling and stops and frisks—all for petty offenses or no crime at all.
Another example is the dud that was President Obama’s beer summit, when he brought together Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge police officer who cuffed him for entering his own house while black. The Gates arrest was a squandered opportunity for Obama to address racism in the criminal justice system. And yet, the president stepped to the plate in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing, when he offered the statement that his son would have looked like Trayvon.
All elected officials should be held accountable, and the nation’s first black president is no exception. But to focus on whether President Obama is black enough allows the black community to miss the big picture.
Perhaps one could argue that diehard Obama supporters weren’t black enough when they failed to openly demonstrate their concern over black unemployment and other forms of injustice–not to embarrass or denigrate Obama, but to provide him with the space to do the right thing by his base.
The Occupy and LGBT movements have shown the president is amenable to public pressure when strategically applied. Unfortunately, too many people among the base mistook the 2008 election for a movement. They assumed that the president would usher in a post racial America where their problems would simply vanish. But that didn’t happen.
And now, the Barack Obama who once treated his Republican adversaries with kid gloves—refusing to offend, and attempting to negotiate with people who sought nothing short of doing him in— has an economic populist message.
The new Obama is the old Obama. The president is tapping into public outrage over hard times, growing economic inequality and the predatory practices of private equity firms such as Bain Capital, including chopping up companies and firing workers for profit. Ironically, some of the key opposition to Obama’s message apparently comes from black political surrogates such as Cory Booker, Gov. Deval Patrick and Harold Ford Jr., who have defended Mitt Romney and Bain. Yet no one is questioning their blackness.
Ultimately, in this political year, the black community has no luxury to debate about whether Barack Obama is black enough, as they lose the right to vote and face an Election Day as crucial as any. So, give it up, let it go, and learn to be strategic. The man will be able to do nothing without a second term.
In the absence of a second, better and perhaps even blacker second Obama term, you get Mitt Romney. And with Mitt Romney comes a Supreme Court with three new justices in the mold of Scalia, Thomas and Alito. Now that would give black folks much to argue about.