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Monday, May 6, 2013

Obama And Satisfying The Demands Of Black Americans

Gary Younge writing in The Guardian (5.6.13) has suggested that President Obama has not done enough for black Americans who by most standards lack far behind the social and economic status of whites. However, in his article Younge chooses to focus first on Kevin Johnson, a prominent pastor and graduate of Morehouse College where Obama was speaking, who demanded to know why the President, the overwhelming electoral choice of black America had been so remiss in addressing their needs.

Younge cites this abandonment by repeating Johnson’s charge that Obama has lagged far behind in his political appointments. "Obama has not moved African-American leadership forward but backwards," Johnson wrote. "We are not in the driver's seat – or even in the car … Why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us?"

This is exactly the wrong approach, and it is an expression of the culture of entitlement that still plagues the black community.  Identity politics have always had a corrosive effect, just as affirmative action has.  Since Bill Clinton’s famous desire to make his cabinet “look like America”, every President has been put on alert that race and ethnicity are political commodities that must be put on display to show cultural sensitivity and a respect for ‘diversity’. Such obvious political pandering to identity interest groups does the country no good whatsoever and perpetuates the myth that race, ethnicity, and gender in and of themselves are important.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  A Supreme Court that is truly diverse would reflect a far greater range of political philosophy and literate thought than at present.  A cabinet similarly chosen on the basis of professional excellence, intellectual prowess, and proven experience would be far better than one in which members are chosen for their political affiliation and their race.

Younge does raise the more important issues of black underperformance in all areas of American economic and social life and suggests that “the quest for greater black representation has been almost completely divorced from improving the material conditions of black people as a whole”.  However he is still in favor of promoting black representation and continuing to look at African Americans as a class deserving of special attention.  Both approaches are wrong.  As above, the deliberate attempt to put more black faces in court and cabinet photographs is as bad as the cynical moves of businesses after the race riots of the 60s. Banks in Newark hired token blacks, asked nothing of them except to wear a suit and sit at big desks near front window and smile. 

Worse is the continued categorization of Americans by ethnic and racial characteristics.  The job of the President and the Congress is to raise all boats regardless of the cut of their jib. Focus should be on poverty, not black poverty; poor schools, not just majority black schools.

No one can deny that race has played a significant role in creating the socio-economic divide that persists in America. The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and white racism cannot be ignored as factors contributing to the dysfunction and anti-social behavior found in most inner cities.  However, an acknowledgement of this pernicious history does not require addressing the problem in racial ways. There are more than enough laws, rules, and federal regulations that forbid and punish racial prejudice in hiring, academic appointments, and social dynamics. The notion of racial equality has finally been ingrained in most Americans; and that what is perceived as racism is only an understandable social opprobrium.

Despite the fact that African Americans have been given all the legal protection and promotion that any citizen could want; and despite the fact that billions have been spent on social programs to focus especially on black poverty and performance, the gaps between blacks and whites are as significant as they ever were.  Whites are prejudiced against those whose anti-social behavior (crime, incarceration, drugs, violence, dysfunctional families) has marginalized them  They are seen as threats not because of their race but because of their behavior.  It is no accident that white America has embraced Obama because he indeed acted white – i.e. he espoused the majority norms of academic excellence, achievement, personal responsibility, family, and moral rectitude.

In short, the majority community has done more than enough to assist the black population in America.  Although inspiration may have come from the black community, all the rules, regulations, and civil protections are the products of white legislators; and most social programs are the brainchildren of white liberals.  What the white community in its frustration is now waiting for is a black leadership which ceases to frame social and economic development in terms of race and entitlement but of civic responsibility, moral probity, and traditional values.

Identity politics within the white community continue to stigmatize those whom that community intends to favor.  Race-based attitudes within the black community tend to perpetuate entitlement, dependence, and lassitude.

Such race-blind attitudes, whether in high-level hiring or community-level action, are far truer to the foundational principle of our Republic – equal opportunity – than any shortsighted attempts to classify, herd, and then forget those on the margins.

Younge concludes by saying quite rightly:

It isn't that black Americans are entitled to special consideration because the president is black. Quite the opposite. They should demand of him what they would and have done of any president – greater equality and social justice.

These words, however, are loaded.  ‘Greater equality and social justice’ suggest that the black community still is not satisfied with their status as Americans and want something more from Obama.  In other words to them it doesn’t matter what color a President may be, they still want more from him.  This is a bit disingenuous given all that Younge has written in the article.

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