As the nation's first black president settles into the office, a division is deepening between two groups of African Americans: those who want to continue to praise Obama and his historic ascendancy, and those who want to examine him more critically now that the election is over. Read more...
Really? Damn! I hate when there is a battle a-brewing among my peeps and I don't know anything about it. It's a good thing that newspapers like the Washington Post have the skinny on black America, so I can keep up-to-date between SCAN meetings.
Sigh...okay...politics and cult-of-personality do seem to go together these days. (And that ain't a black thing...Sarah Palin anyone?) And, yes, black people tend to be protective of our own, like members of many marginalized groups. We know that societal biases bring lots of heat on those who are not white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied and cisgendered, so we try not to pile on and give the benefit of the doubt when we can. But we are not stupid. This notion that black people are incapable of critical thought and judging members of our race fairly is getting old...really old. And I lament that some black public faces are participating in giving this meme more cred than it deserves.
The subtext dripping from this article? See, blacks really did vote for Obama just because he was black! We know it's true, because we got three brave, black people to talk about how maligned they are for daring speak ill of the Messiah. It's just as we thought all along! As contrast to the warriors of independent black political thought, WaPo demeans Jack and Jill Politics blogger Leutisha Stills and Black Women for Obama's Patricia Wilson-Smith by crediting them as professing that Obama deserves only praise. I know both of these women spoke with more nuance than that, but the paper wasn't looking for nuance. Also, note how the paper positions the Obama administration's attempts to reach out to black people as sneaky, disengenous and self-serving:
The Obama team has further complicated the critical discussion by deftly managing relationships with the constituencies it ignited during the campaign, providing access and information and defusing complaints before they become public battles. African Americans are one of the groups to whom the team has catered.
I hate it when people stymie my criticism of them by doing what they are supposed to do!
For the record, I believe several factors play into the black community's evaluation of the first black president's performance. Among them:
African Americans are the most loyal of Democrats. One could argue that we are uncritical of the party and it might be true. But black people are no less critical of Obama than we were of, say, Bill Clinton. On the contrary, several of Barack Obama's constant critics within the black community are far harder on him, far more demanding that he embrace their agendas, than they were of past Democratic presidents and candidates.
The heat of the election brought a lot of citizens into the political arena that had not previously been engaged--young people and blacks among them. I had hoped that the high level of participation during the election would turn into continued civic involvement. For some it has. But I suspect that after their man won, a lot of people simply went back to business as usual. It is unfortunate, but all too common.
A lot of black people are mature enough to know that initiatives needn't have our name on them to be good for us. Reviewing the White House budget proposal, I see many things that should positively benefit black people and me specifically. I don't need those things to be packaged "just for you" to understand their worth.
Black bloggers like Glenn Ford of Black Agenda Report, who is quoted in the article, have long been critical of the ways Obama's middle-of-the-road approach differs from their radical, left-leaning views. That is fair. Now, I like radical, left-leaning views, but as I wrote in an analysis of Ford's "Obama Resigns from Black Nation" post, radicals don't get elected to the halls of federal American power. They just don't. That's not who we are as a country. I think an astute citizen can separate what Barack Obama can do within the system and what we need to do from the outside. Also, not every African American shares Ford's black nationalist views. That is also fair. That many black folks do not criticize when Ford thinks we should, is not evidence of black America rolling over for Obama, but evidence that we are not a monolith and may not always agree on the best path to equality.
Here's the other thing, the black community knows our self-appointed VIPs well enough to know when their criticism of Barack Obama is legitimate and when it's just plain old hatin'. And believe me, sometimes it so is just hatin' (cough...Tavis...cough).
A Pew commentary out today reports that Barack Obama has a 59 percent approval rating overall and a whopping 88 percent approval rating among Democrats. Black folks aren't the only ones who think that, despite a few missteps, our president is doing a pretty good job. But it serves the status quo much better to present Barack Obama as a black president with the blind devotion of black people too consumed with racial politics to be smart.