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Obama’s agenda serves blacks and whites

After President Obama gave a stem-winder of a speech that drew a standing ovation from most of the crowd attending a Congressional Black Caucus gala last month, his most vociferous black critics among the liberal elite should have been temporarily quieted. But they were not. They distorted his remarks as an excuse to keep up their volley of disrespect, disparagement and blame.

So be it. There are few better ways to remain relevant on the public stage than to be among the well-known black activists who bitterly criticize the nation’s first black president.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that some of the criticism that emanates from familiar quarters — Tavis Smiley, Cornel West — has its foundation in a genuine disappointment that Obama hasn’t done more to usher in an age of equal opportunity for the nation’s black citizens, who have been pummeled by the economic downturn. Let’s take at face value the idea that Obama ought to have a “black agenda” that attempts to erase the economic barriers that pose a particular problem for black Americans.

What would such an agenda look like? Is it possible for Obama to eliminate the remaining vestiges of systemic racism? Can he solve the decades-old problems that have resulted in a black unemployment rate that is twice as high as the national average?

Those questions deserve more serious analysis than the superficial resentments that come from Obama’s most persistent black critics. The rhetoric in his speeches — whether pointed or professorial, condescending or comforting — is unlikely to do much to prod a business owner to hire an unemployed black man without a high school diploma.

A wrenching economic downturn has brought into stark relief the financial realities of many black households: Prosperity is tenuous, security is elusive and footholds on the economic ladder are slippery. Of course, millions of working-class whites would no doubt argue that their economic fortunes have been similarly tenuous.

That’s why it makes perfect sense for Obama to concentrate on broad policies that create jobs across-the-board. Inevitably, black unemployment will drop when companies start signing up workers again. Obama’s speech to the CBC emphasized his jobs bill, which he hopes will spur hiring.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., and chairman of the CBC, says the group deserves some of the credit for putting the issue of “unemployment on the front burner in the American dialogue” when much of political Washington was consumed by the debt debate. “Many of the proposals in the jobs bill are things we have been pushing,” he said. (Cleaver, by the way, has sometimes clashed with the president over policy, but says he was “not offended” by the speech.)

So is Obama right to assume that a rising tide lifts all boats? The Clinton-era economy brought a level of unprecedented prosperity to black households, as it ushered in good fortune for all.

Still, it’s true that a rowboat will be more vulnerable to swells and wakes than a yacht. Black Americans struggle with disadvantages that are peculiar to our history in this country. And most of those are beyond a president’s ability to fix, even a black president. They include the lingering vestiges of institutional racism, as well as the more persistent — and more pernicious — implicit biases. Those are the subconscious prejudices that make it more difficult for a young Harvard grad named DeShawn to get a corporate job than for a young Harvard grad named John.

Furthermore, the nation’s first black president is constrained in discussing those lingering biases because he has to prove to skeptical whites that he isn’t consumed by racial issues or attempting to pass special favors to black constituents. Even in the absence of evidence, some white voters insist that Obama has done more for black Americans than for whites — testimony to the tribal instincts that refuse to die.

“I understand why he would hesitate to do a lot of talking about (racial issues),” said Cleaver, who was the first black mayor of Kansas City, Mo., which has a predominantly white population. “I know you have to sometimes walk between raindrops.”

Even so, both Cleaver and Obama are potent reminders of the racial progress that has been possible over a few short decades. Obama can’t wave a magic wand and eliminate job barriers or racial prejudices, but his presence in the Oval Office is still a powerful symbol of the possibilities.

Email Cynthia Tucker at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

Comments

waltspecht 3 years, 2 months ago

Racial Prejudice, or just poor parenting? The work ethic of the last and the current generation has a lot to do with who is unemployed, and who isn't. Schooling, by that I mean actual accumulated knowledge, has a lot to do with it. No desire to do manual labor when you get equivilant or superior pay by working the system. Training in how to work the system, instead of training for a marketable skill is also at fault. Then there is the apparent fear of getting one's hands dirty. Everyone can't be a Boss. Respect is earned, it's not freely given. Too many young people have a problem differentiating between a work assignment and someone Dissin them. Sorry, but the junior employee usually gets to work their way up from the bottom.

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TrixibelleBento 3 years, 2 months ago

I'm sorry, but I still believe that everyone has the same ability to work hard and prosper. With the economy right now, it's hard for EVERYONE to prosper. I'm a woman that has a pretty good job, but my retirement fund lost 14% last quarter. We're all struggling. I think we've all heard about how blacks have struggled in the past with slavery and civil rights, but there's no more slavery and we have a black president now. It CAN happen, but you can't call yourselves disadvantaged just because you don't get a $40K management job straight out of college. My first job out of college I made mid-20's with a Master's degree! It was a start though and I had to pay my dues.

I'm still from the camp that chooses persons based on their abilities rather than their skin color, gender, name, etc. If you are the most qualified, no matter who you are, then I will hire you. However, I will not hire you if you're expecting a handout or just a check for showing up. I reward those who work hard and accomplish the mission for my company. If you can't even get a high school diploma and blame everyone else for your lot in life, then you will not be hired.

Unfortunately, I think that Obama was hired by a lot of blacks so that their agenda would get more attention. Anyone remember those sickening YouTube videos where people applauded Obama's election because now they wouldn't have to pay their mortgage and would get a free ride? Obama was elected to help Americans, not just African-Americans. The sooner that they identify with being Americans first and African-Americans second, then we might get somewhere. I don't label myself as a Japanese-American. I'm American FIRST.

I didn't vote for Obama and don't really like most of the policies that he supports; however, I respect the office of the President and what he's up against. He's hired to support the AMERICAN agenda, not the agenda of a particular race.

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gotanyfacts 3 years, 2 months ago

Cynthia Tucker is always an interesting read. There is always something to chuckle about, until you realize she is trying to be serious.

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