Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
The Other Afrik - United States - Panafrica - Politics - Racism
Some see Obama blotting-out Blacks
Should the first black President of the United States publicly push a “Black Agenda” specifically addressing issues historically sought by the community whose 96% voting support helped propel that official into the White House?
This question recently triggered a verbal spat between popular media personality Tavis Smiley and respected civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton.
Smiley slashed black leaders for giving Obama “a pass” while Sharpton snapped that realities of racism dictate a politically nuanced approach.
Overshadowing spats about Obama embracing a “Black Agenda” is the more substantive issue of how do blacks hold a President – who happens to be black – accountable for addressing long festering issues impacting their community?
“Our black leadership boat is in uncharted waters,” scholar and media commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote recently reacting to the Smiley-Sharpton spat.
Obama is immensely popular among African-Americans with many feeling it’s unfair to criticize him for not quickly addressing deprivations from decades of institutional racism.
However criticism grows even among some Obama backers about his White House perpetuating presidential practices placing low priority on efforts raised historically by blacks to reverse race-based disparities like inequities in education and employment.
Obama’s 2010 State of the Union speech emphasizing initiatives for middle-class Americans, women and gays in the military provoked disdain in A. Bruce Crawley, founder of Philadelphia’s African-American Chamber of Commerce despite Obama referencing increased civil rights law enforcement.
“Why couldn’t he say a single word that would be specifically supportive of African-American concerns?” stated Crawley critical of Obama’s inattention to “the vast landscape of economic disparity in this country…”
Although Obama, his supporters and even detractors, accurately note that the U.S. President represents the entire nation, not just one segment mounting evidence indicates that key Obama Administration initiatives are by-passing blacks.
A February 2010 analysis of Obama’s vaulted $787-billion Stimulus by the Kirwan Institute For The Study Of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University found “mixed results.”
The Kirwan analysis credited Obama’s Stimulus for funding cash-strapped state governments that staunched drastic cuts in services “for marginalized populations.”
Yet Kirwan’s analysis scored Stimulus-sparked employment gains as “not reaching workers of color” and the paltry amount of Stimulus spanned contracts to minority and female owned businesses – 5% of the $45-billion awarded.
The race-based inequities examined in the Kirwan analysis and other studies echo deprivations in education, economic opportunity, housing and health care listed in a little known petition some African-Americans sent to the United Nations in 1951.
That data-rich petition asserted that U.S. government practices, including sanctioning racist violence, violated the UN’s “Convention on the Prevention of Genocide.”
Since Obama’s historic January 2009 inauguration he’s pushed infrastructure upgrades to create jobs despite ‘public works’ jobs historically by-passing blacks due to crass discrimination within construction trade unions.
Activists say a better strategy for quickly attacking chronic unemployment in inner-city and rural areas is public service jobs, like eliminating blight. But Obama does not embrace this strategy that succeeded in the late-60s and during the 1930s Depression.
Chronic unemployment is evident in a section of impoverished North Central Philadelphia where the Census Bureau category of “Not in Labor Force” exceeds those working and unemployed. The chronic “Not in Labor Force” contains 2,018 people vs. 1,426 employed persons according to 2000 Census data.
Additionally, Pennsylvania state law lists that section (Census track 152) as “medically deprived” due to the inadequate availability of medical care.
Black medical experts recently examined limitations on eliminating race-based health care disparities within Obama’s premier health care reform initiative during a Town Meeting in Baltimore.
During her remarks at that meeting Maryland State legislative House of Delegates member Shirley Nathan-Pulliam provided historical perspectives on health care disparities stating, “In 1894 [black leaders] spoke about health deficiencies among freed slaves. Over one hundred years later we’re still talking about the same thing.”
Race-based health disparities cost the U.S. economy $229.4-billion from 2003-to-2006 stated “The Economic Burden of Health Inequalities in the United States” a study released last fall by the Washington, DC based Joint Center For Political and Economic Studies.
While Obama repeatedly says he cannot inject ethnicity into decision making, political scientist Dr. Ron Walters says his review of Obama Executive Orders shows actions on behalf of racial groups other than blacks.
Walters cited Obama Executive Orders specifically addressing issues for Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Walters, quoted in a January BlackPressUSA news service article, said Obama cannot have it “both ways” raising color-blindness to rebuff blacks while addressing needs of other racial groups.
Obama’s stimulus pumped billions into buttressing big banks but achieved “too little” for homeowners facing foreclosure and other economic-meltdown related maladies caused largely by greed-driven banks studies including the Kirwan analysis note.
“If the federal government can target Wall Street and failing banks, there is nothing wrong with targeting people who are more deserving of a helping hand,” stated award-winning journalist George E. Curry, assailing Obama’s embrace of former President “Ronald Reagan’s failed trickle-down economic theory.”
America’s racism-laden landscape leaves Obama in an unenviable position.
Actions perceived as specifically benefitting blacks would aggravate many whites already wary of Obama stripping their societal advantages while inaction alienates non-whites constantly chaffing at America’s inequitable status quo.
When a policeman arrested a renowned black Harvard University professor last summer for essentially talking-back to him, Obama correctly called that abuse of authority “stupid.” But shrill criticism of Obama’s assessment caused him to backpedal, inviting the policeman and professor to the White House for what was dubbed “The Beer Summit.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. blasted the nightmare of police brutality against blacks in his seminal 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. That 1951 genocide petition called “the policeman’s bullet” the new form of lynching – racist mob murders terrorizing America for over a century that the federal government refused to combat.
“It’s sad that for the first time in over 40-years black leaders have not presented political demands to the U.S. President,” stated historian Dr. Todd Burroughs.
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