Friday, February 26, 2010

Is President Obama underserving Black America?

Some of Black America's most prominent citizens are debating whether or not the country's first black president has abandoned black people.  Does President Obama need to have a Black Agenda? And if he does, should he 'ballyhoo' that agenda?

On the campaign trail, Candidate Barack Obama repeatedly vowed to be a president to all citizens, hoping to squelch concerns that he would open the White House offices and coffers to black people.  Even then, Obama was jumping through, or ducking under, hoops that had not been part of the course for previous presidential candidates and presidents.

The Obama administration has hung its hat on big social issues that, if successful, will be beneficial to Americans of all hues.  Universal healthcare, creating jobs, and improving the economy are clearly not racial issues.  There is no denying however, that black and brown people's most significant challenges are based on those issues.  Addressing health and jobs will undoubtedly improve minorities' quality of life.  While it is true that minorities are often left behind in the wake of policies and recoveries, much of the responsibility of on-the-ground initiatives that most affect people's everyday lives rests with local representatives and agencies - not with the president.

Beyond those general issues, should the president and his administration be concerned with matters of concern to only Black Americans?  I have to admit I do not know what those issues might be, but I believe strongly that all our interests are intertwined.  It may be fair to assert that white administrators and presidents past did not act in the best interest of all people - their perspective being narrowed by their race and resulting privilege.  A black president must, by virtue of his own wider perspective, be able to serve everyone. 

Whether we accept that there is a legitimate Black Agenda that requires the president's attention or not, the fact is a black president who touts one makes himself a political martyr.  With the challenges of the past year, I would hope that black opinion-makers do not add to the clamor of dissent fueled solely by race, but rather stand strongly in support of those policy changes that promise to make life better for all Americans.

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