Wake Up, People! How to Get Past African-American Pessimism in the Age of Obama
Continued from previous page
Afro-pessimism is bad enough when it’s just about lack of positive action. But it plays out in our young people in the worst aspects of popular and hip-hop culture, where a black kid is called “acting white” for speaking in non-accented Standard English, and God forbid, excelling in school. Add those incendiary ingredients to the American-as-apple-pie love for violence and you have a recipe for reverse-revolution; where black prison culture is celebrated and rewarded by the larger white community and by the media’s insatiable appetite for black life on the mean streets.
The good news is that Afro-pessimism is a cultural response, and though it is shaped by socio-economic forces, it is reversible through the same kind of positive, cultural engineering that all humans are capable of. For starters, Afro-pessimists should consider our political history – as black people, and as Americans. Remember that most of our victories don’t happen overnight. Second, we need to carefully scrutinize the president’s policies and the strategies that underpin them. As the Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote in the New York Times:
“Mr. Obama’s writings, politics and personal relations suggest ... that he prefers a three-pronged strategy. First, he is committed to the universalist position that the best way to help the black and Latino poor is to help all disadvantaged people, Appalachian whites included. The outrage of black over-incarceration will be remedied by quietly reforming the justice system … Second, Mr. Obama appears convinced that residential segregation lies at the heart of both black problems and cultural racism. He is a committed integrationist and seems to favor policies intended to move people out of the inner cities. Third, he clearly considers education to be the major solution and has tried to lavishly finance our schools, despite the fiscal crisis. More broadly, he will quietly promote policies that celebrate the common culture of America, emphasizing the extraordinary role of blacks and other minorities in this continuing creation.”
Here are two examples that support Patterson’s analysis: 1) the president’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit in 2010, which benefited about 2.2 million African American families and nearly half of all African American children, while extending unemployment insurance to benefit over a million African Americans; and 2) the African-American Education Initiative, an executive order created to improve the “… educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages; and help ensure that African Americans receive a complete and competitive education that prepares them for college, a satisfying career, and productive citizenship.”
Examining evidence of Obama’s positive effect on the black community can help lift the veil of Afro-pessimism, and allow us to view his reelection in a more realistic and positive light. Remember, we are witnessing an event that was unimaginable less than 10 years ago. If a black, mixed-race brother raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, with a Muslim-sounding name a few years after 9/11 can win the presidency twice – especially after four years of vicious racist attacks – then simply put, all is possible.
We no longer have the option of rising to our lowest expectations.