In the Age of Obama, Black America Suffering the Most
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Third and perhaps most important, the discrepancy reflects a mixture of realism and low expectations. That black Americans are doing worse than everyone else, and that the man they elected to turn that around has not done so, does not fundamentally change their view of how American politics works; almost every other Democratic president has failed in a similar way. Conversely the fact that a black man might be elected president, that enough white people might vote for him, that nobody has shot him, really has changed their assumptions.
In the black commentariat, opinion is divided over whether African-Americans should demand a more overt commitment to racial justice from a black president or refrain from doing so because it would weaken his appeal to others. The Rev. Al Sharpton insists that calling on Obama to be a “black exponent of black views” is “just stupid,” since it will embolden conservative attacks on projects black people need. Princeton professor Cornel West insists that Obama has “a certain fear of free black men” and “feels most comfortable with upper-middle-class white and Jewish men.”
By concentrating so heavily on race, both sides detract from his responsibilities. Obama should do more for black people -- not because he is black but because black people are the citizens suffering most. Black people have every right to make demands on Obama -- not because he’s black but because they gave him a greater percentage of their votes than any other group, and he owes his presidency to them. Like any president, he should be constantly pressured to put the issue of racial injustice front and center.
The day he took office, the world may have looked at black America differently, but black America has taken some time to look at Obama differently. When he went from being an aspiration to a fact of political life, the posters that bore his likeness in socialist realist style over single-word commands like Hope, Believe and Change should have been replaced with posters bearing the single-word statement: Power. As Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Gary Younge, the Alfred Knobler Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the New York correspondent for the Guardian and the author of No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey Through the Deep South (Mississippi) and the forthcoming Stranger in a Strange Land: Travels in the Disunited States (New Press).