Photo credit: Pete Souza
By Dr. Boyce Watkins, The Washington Informer
Prepping for another run for the White House, President Barack Obama recently launched an "African Americans for Obama" campaign to target Black voters.
"I don't think there's a better time than African American History month to consider the tremendous progress we've made through the sacrifices of so many, or a better time to recommit to the challenges we face right now," said Obama in a video to his supporters.
It is expected that the Democrats would work to shore up their Black base right before the president's bid for re-election. The dampened enthusiasm among Black voters who are facing 15.8 percent unemployment and rapidly declining wealth levels is also expected. The Black unemployment number is more than double that of White Americans, which stands at 7.5 percent. Throughout the Obama presidency, White unemployment has improved, while Black unemployment has gotten markedly worse.
Ironically, the "African Americans for Obama" Web site says that the president has been fighting "to restore economic security that has been eroding for American families for a decade."
President Obama won 96 percent of the Black vote in 2008. His approval rating today stands at 91 percent. The Black community continues to be the strongest and most loyal base of the Obama Administration.
Political commentator Yvette Carnell has something to say about the issue:
"I have no problem with Obama targeting African American voters. None. He needs us and he knows it," said Carnell. "What I do have a problem with, however, is how most of the targeting begins during campaign season and ends on election day. We're more than just a voting bloc. We're real citizens with real needs, needs which I hope the president begins to acknowledge and address."
Columbia University Professor Christopher Emdin doesn't agree with Carnell's assessment.
"I do not believe the 'frustration and dampened enthusiasm' cited within Af-American communities is as pervasive as we are led to believe. With that being said, these facts do not negate the fact that these communities are dealing with serious issues related to education and poverty," said Dr. Emdin. "I do not believe that Obama's campaigning in Af-American communities is reflective of some ulterior agenda to 'use them when he needs them.' It very well may be an effort to make a shift to explicitly focus on the needs of this community."
The pending re-election of Barack Obama has put Black voters in a quandary. While many would agree that conditions have worsened for the Black community under Obama, the Republican Party provides no reasonable alternatives. In many cases, Black people have become the political orphans of America:
You can either live with the parents who abuse you or live with the child molester down the street. While one fate is clearly worse than the other, there is no end to the pain in sight.
It is actually logical for the Obama administration to keep Black voters on the back-burner. When a group gives you 91 percent approval and asks for nothing in return, there is almost no political incentive to do anything for them. This calculation likely played a role in the statement that the "rising tide will lift all boats" made three years ago, when the president was asked about inequality in wealth and unemployment. The "lift all boats" policy was a clear and miserable failure, for most economic experts can tell you that racial inequality is not going to fix itself without targeted economic policy.
Right now, in the Black community, there are at least two types of people: those who are suffering and those who are not. The suffering group consists of the poor, unemployed, and those who live under the thumb of the criminal justice system. The rest of us have jobs, food to eat and are not impacted directly by mass incarceration. If you're in the second group, it's difficult to find fault with the Obama administration, for a Black president grants the symbolic comfort that comes along with the "Mama I Made It" syndrome that justifies the trade-offs many of us make for the sake of economic and social progress in a White supremacist society. Being the first Black president is the granddaddy of all "proud mama" moments, so there are millions willing to forgive nearly any shortcoming of the Obama White House to maintain access to the throne.
For those who care about the poor, there is almost no redemption when the president barely mentions poverty in his speeches. For the unemployed, it's hard to imagine how your life will get better by supporting an administration that helped white folks find jobs while letting the Black numbers reach levels approaching those of the Great Depression. For those suffering with the effects of mass incarceration, it's hard to get excited about a president who has not directly confronted the debilitating effects of the drug war, which has destroyed millions of families and an entire generation of children. All of these issues indicate a state of emergency in the Black community; but thus far, we've only given White Americans the right to express dissatisfaction with their condition.
The implicit African American slogan for the Democratic Party is: "You should just stop complaining, because the Republicans are even worse than we are." The threat of political punishment is clearly enough to secure the Black vote without doing a thing. But at the same time, the Black political orphans of America do have a choice. WEB Dubois, when faced with few quality political options 50 years ago, simply said that he refused to vote at all. Rather than behaving like a teenage girl who shares her body with the first man who buys her a cheeseburger, Dubois advocated for the idea that we save our votes for politicians who have truly worked to earn them.
After a mass holdout from conscientious Black voters, perhaps the Democrats will then strive to honestly earn the Black vote instead of simply telling us that they are not as horrible as the Republicans. It should not be taboo to request that Black voters have enough self-respect to demand that all politicians give priority to the issues that lead to our suffering. There are no victims, just volunteers, and we don't have to be political orphans forever.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University.