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OUR FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT and A BLACK AGENDA

By, Jack L. Daniel, Distinguished Service Professor, University of Pittsburgh

(Contributor for PUM) 
 
The 2013 Presidential inauguration will provide many powerful images of President Obama.  For example, President Obama’s use of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s bibles’ to take the oath of office will plumb the deep emotions of those who lived the excruciating experiences reflected by the lyrics, “…Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;…”  As powerful as this and other of President Obama’s inaugural images might be, Blacks cannot permit these few fleeting feel good moments to substitute for the sustained focus and action needed to affect substantive changes in their lives.  
Of course, there will be considerable discussions regarding what our first “Black” President should/should not and can/cannot do regarding what might be termed a “Black agenda.”  Speaking for himself in an August 6, 2012 Black Enterprise interview, President Obama stated, “My general view has been consistent throughout, which is that I want all businesses to succeed. I want all Americans to have opportunity. I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America, but the programs that we have put in place have been directed at those folks who are least able to get financing through conventional means, who have been in the past locked out of opportunities that were available to everybody...”  
The foregoing statements were made in the spirit of “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  To be sure, President Obama’s leadership has had major positive consequences for the poor in general and Blacks in particular given his support for extending access to food stamps; protecting the Earned Income Tax Credit; implementing health care reform; extending unemployment benefits, and supporting funding for Promise Neighborhoods.  Indeed, by some estimates, his actions have done more for Blacks than any President since Lyndon Johnson.  However, the fact remains that the Black masses have long-standing leaks in their boats and new leaks are being formed daily.  Choose whatever index you wish –from unemployment, to poverty, to health disparities, to educational disparities—and one will note that, because of the race-related leaks, Blacks’ boats have not risen proportionately with all other boats and, in all too many instances, are threatening to sink!   Given that the Black unemployment rate, for example, is double that of Whites, this disparity will never be reduced if Black boats only rise at the same rate that White boats rise.  
It is true that President Obama inherited a national calamity in which boats of all kinds have had difficulty staying afloat and, in all too many instances, sinking.  However, given the magnitude of the disparate hardships faced by Blacks, the fact President Obama received approximately 95% of the Black vote, and leadership from the President of the United States is admittedly needed to address their compound-complex problems, Blacks should refuse to be “silenced” in terms of demanding a White House agenda that focuses on their circumstances.  Parenthetically, demands should also be placed on all Blacks who came to office in the name and/or with the significant support of Black people.  Once in office, they should not be permitted to only become leaders “for all the people” and not also one to be a leading proponent for a Black agenda in their respective venues.  Though our President did not campaign “in the name of Black people,” without the Black vote he would not have the opportunity to be President for all of the people!   
Notwithstanding his disposition of being the President of the United States, not the President of a particular group of constituents such as Black America, it must be noted that President Obama made the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” a priority for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered constituents.  It must be noted that President Obama made “cracking down on gun violence” a priority worthy of executive actions following the horrible circumstances of 26 Newtown citizens  -- not after thousands of Blacks died in 2012 from gun violence throughout urban America.  New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg put this in perspective when he stated recently, “As horrific as Sandy Hook has been, and all the other seemingly endless episodes of mass violence, we experience that level of carnage or worse every single day across our country,” to which it is noted here that Blacks are disproportionately represented in that carnage.  
The President of the United States, not the President of Hispanic America, has nevertheless become much more proactive regarding “immigration” reform.  The President for all of the people has been quite clear regarding the priority he places on relationships with Israel. The President of the United States, not the President of General Motors, made General Motors a multi-million dollar priority.  
Rather than continue the many machinations regarding the “Blackness” of President Obama, perhaps we should be cognizant of what factors contributed to items becoming priority matters for our President.  Perhaps those who wish more from our Black President should “take a look in the mirror” and then heed Frederick Douglass’ statement, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”  Indeed, as he presented his gun control recommendations, President Obama said several times that the success of the recommendations would depend heavily on the people demanding change.  In an August 15, 2012 New York Times Magazine article, Paul Tough quoted President Obama also as having said, “…changing the odds in our cities will require humility in what we can accomplish and patience with our progress …Most importantly, it will require the sustained commitment of the president of the United States”  (Emphasis mine).   Given the emphasis that President Obama places on the role of “we the people” and the President in affecting change, perhaps we should focus more on our roles in demanding change.
Making use of the various national, and regional Black organizations, church-based groups, professional organizations, youth groups, and grass roots organizations, Blacks must demand that leaders in all venues give sustained attention to their high priority needs such as the elimination of disparities in criminal justice, education, health, housing, employment and other quality of life indices often reflected in publications such as the National Urban League’s State of Black America.  We must truly “lift every voice” in order to be heard.  This should be the clarion call for 2013 and beyond.  Lest this occurs, my fear is that we will be left to self-defeating rhetoric regarding what the “Black” President did not do, and again answering
 
Hughes’ poetic inquiry, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
Does it dry up 
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore-- 
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over-- 
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
 
Jack L. Daniel
Distinguished Service Professor
University of Pittsburgh
January 18, 2013

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