The Bible is filled with characters who started out on
shaky ground – Paul, David and Solomon, among them – before being transformed
into epic figures. But it seems that Black
leaders who dare to criticize President Obama don’t get second chances. Instead,
they are the object of widespread ridicule and condemnation.
I spent some time last week with two such leaders – Cornel
West and Jesse Jackson – at the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA)
national convention in Chicago. Although their standing among African-Americans
has slipped, their analysis of where Blacks have been and need to go is as
incisive as ever. Neither Jackson nor West should be viewed in isolation.
The Black community does not want to hear anything bad about Barack Obama, even
if it’s true. If a White president had been as dismissive of African-Americans’
interests as Obama has been, Blacks would have been ready to march on the White
House. As Michael Eric Dyson says, “This president runs from race like a Black
man runs from a cop.”
Even so, Blacks treat him like royalty.
My friend Roland Martin is quick to insist that guests on
his television program refer to the man who occupies the White House as
President Obama. I refuse to play this game. Obama – yes, I said it – is a
president, not head of some monarchy. I have
called Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush by their last names. I am not going to say
President Obama every time I refer to him. Sometimes he is President Obama, sometimes he
is Obama. I refuse to treat him like King Obama.
The problem with West and Jackson is their critiques,
however valid, were wrapped in language that was offensive to many
African-Americans. To call Obama the Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs – a
term most people hadn’t heard since their last high school civics class – is
over the edge in this instance. Don’t get me wrong: there are some Black
Anglo-Saxons who deserve to be called mascots and worse – and I’ve called them
that. But Obama is not in that category.
When I gave Cornel West a chance to soften his
description of the president during a discussion I moderated at the NNPA
convention between him and Al Sharpton, he declined. He could have said, “I
stand by everything I said about the president but not how I said it.” That would have gone a long way toward refocusing
the discussion on real issues, not the Al Sharpton-Cornel West sideshow.
In Jesse Jackson’s case, he has been largely
excommunicated from the race for a comment that reeked of envy. After an
interview on Fox News in 2008, he told a fellow guest that he wanted to cut
Obama’s private parts off. He also used the N-word in a conversation that he
did not know was being picked up by the microphones.
Jackson later apologized, saying his comments were
“hurtful and wrong.” By then, however, the damage had been done. At the time,
Obama was making a credible bid to become president of the United States. And
Blacks did not want to hear anything disparaging about the man who went on to
win the nation’s highest elected office. Many, if not most, Blacks haven’t forgiven Jackson for his crude remarks.
Notwithstanding Jackson’s expressed desire to dismember
Obama or West’s deeply personal attack on the president, each made valid
critiques of President Obama. Jackson was correct to point out that sometimes
Obama speaks down to African-Americans. That is particularly true when he
lectures Blacks on moral responsibility but does not make similar speeches to
White audiences. Cornel West is correct in stating that the administration does
not pay enough attention to the needs of the poor and African-Americans.
Despite overwhelming evidence of disproportionate Black
suffering during this recession, Obama refuses to target the specific needs of
African-Americans. His response is:
“It’s a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the
United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are
all going to get out of this together.”
Yet, it was not a mistake to address the specific needs
of Wall Street. He can speak to the
specific agenda of gays and lesbians without it being considered a mistake. It
was not a mistake in Obama’s mind to speak to the specific needs of the automobile
industry. It was not a mistake to speak to the special interests of banks. But
when it comes to the needs of African-Americans, we are supposed to wait for
progress to trickle down to and upon us.
Yes, he is president of all of America. But all of America
includes Black America.
The sad reality is that most civil rights leaders have
given Obama a pass. If the unemployment rates and economic gap had widened
under a White president, Al Sharpton would have been in the streets chanting,
“No Justice, No Peace.” Instead, the ultimate outsider has become the ultimate
insider, defending the administration with the vigor of a cabinet member.
As a group, today’s collection of civil rights leaders
are ineffectual and out of touch. For example, with all of the problems facing
us, the NAACP chose to spend part of its limited national, state and local resources
to make sure Black motorcycle riders were not discriminated against on the
Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
We have far more serious issues facing Black America. And
we need the voices and analysis of all of our national leaders, even after they
have put their foot in their mouth.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge
magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media
coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also
follow him atwww.twitter.com/currygeorge
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