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Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Has President Obama Earned The Black Vote?

In this 24-hour news cycle, ostensibly we should be inundated with more news, information and substantive analysis, which would provide a solid foundation to measure the performance of politicians.

Instead, we seem to get bogged down in soundbite minutia, to the point we miss the obvious.

For example, when President Obama spoke about immigration reform while in Cartagena, Colombia last month, the rest of us were still too busy cackling over the absurdity of the Secret Service prostitution scandal. The real news was that President Obama promised immigration reform in the first year of his second term.

Yes, he’s running for re-election and is seeking to shore up his Latino support, but seemingly, the tired meme of President Obama not being the president of “just” (insert group) but of “all Americans” was nowhere to be found in an editorial sense.

But that’s ok, President Obama did sing for us. That should count for something.  Sales of Let’s Stay Together jumped 490%.  Al Green should definitely be voting for President Obama.

Even more recently, Vice-President Joe Biden offered personal and sincere sentiments, supporting the legalization of gay marriage. Predictably, the nation then turned to look at President Obama to see if he would either embrace, distance or dance around his Vice-President’s stance.

Wednesday, the president indicated officially that he backs gay marriage.

The LGBTQ community and also African Americans in support of gay marriage have not made any distinction that President Obama isn’t “just” the president of the LGBTQ community. This is not to cast aspersion on any community but let’s be honest about the shifting rationale as to what is fair in terms of criticism of President Obama and fair relative to African-American expectations.

In 2011, President Obama endured considerable criticism from high-profile members of the African-American community for allegedly not doing enough to address issues of specific relevance.

Depending on how cynical one wishes to be, President Obama wasn’t the president of just General Motors but of all Americans when he bailed out the automotive industry. The president spoke at the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department Legislative Conference a few weeks ago again pledging to work on the behalf of unions.

Again pledging…

I’m still waiting on someone to say that President Obama isn’t the president of just the unions, but of all Americans. I shudder to think what would be said if President Obama pledged to work on behalf of African Americans or promised to work on African-American specific issues during the first year of his second term.

Don’t say “but that’s different.” It’s not different at all. It’s exactly the same, just with a different set of expectations for African Americans.

Our votes are just as valuable and count just the same. Our campaign contributions go into the same pot.

President Obama has endured multiple tar baby references from elected Republican officials and presidential hopefuls. Senator and former GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn and one-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan all found a way to creatively use “tar baby” and “Barack Obama” in the same sentence. I can’t seem to find any tar baby references in connection with other presidents, much less three times in reference to just one. Oh…a “coincidence” to be sure. But the moment President Obama cares to comment on the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates or the death of Trayvon Martin, he supposedly is using race to “divide” America?

Really?

The inconvenient truth about being the first Black president is the Black part. It seems America wants all of the credit for electing a man of color to the Oval Office but wants no part of the reality that race still matters in America. Electing a Black man president renders race moot no more than electing a woman would render gender moot. If you don’t believe me, please see Pakistan, Argentina, Liberia and Great Britain as examples.

You can’t have it both ways, America.

You can’t elect an African American and also refuse him the right to remember he’s African American. In the same way, if Mitt Romney were elected, we should not expect him to forget he’s Mormon or for Barney Frank to reject he’s gay while in office.

Such truths highlight the difference between Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and why history reveres the former and is largely indifferent to the latter.

Nobody expected Sarah Palin to present herself in a genderless fashion or deny addressing issues of greatest importance to women. I remember too many “lipstick on a pig,” “hockey mom” and “Mama grizzly” references for anyone to argue otherwise. Nevertheless, Palin was running to become VP of all Americans, not just women as it were.

Or put another way…

To suggest that incidents such as Republican operative Rusty DePass referring to Michelle Obama as a gorilla don’t indict the idea of a post-racial America is a joke. To argue there is no racial connection between Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s birther crusade and the preceding illegal immigration one in Arizona is another unfunny joke.

African Americans have a duty and a right to be vocal in regards to its community’s needs. There is no other single constituency who will vote for Barack Obama in November to the tune of 90 percent. Not the LGBTQ community, not Latinos, not unions and arguably not even registered Democrats as a whole… and he’s promised the world to all of the aforementioned.

We, as African Americans, should be sober in our assessment of whether President Obama has met our community’s expectations. If the Latino community can predicate their support of Barack Obama around the community-specific issues of the DREAM Act and immigration reform, then we in the African-American community should not settle for platitudes of rising tides lifting all boats in relation to Black unemployment…which is double the national rate.

As long as the LGBTQ community can frame their support of Barack Obama around such community-specific issues as DADT and gay marriage legislation; it is more than reasonable for us in the African-American community to apply pressure on the issues of inner city crime and public education.

The reality is that crime, education and unemployment are all inextricably linked. Another reality is that from a community perspective, Mitt Romney is not in any way a better alternative in addressing these issues. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us as African-Americans to make sure that President Obama earns our votes and is consistently reminded that being the first African-American president only means something as long as he is unafraid to acknowledge it through governance.

- Morris W. O’Kelly

Read the rest of this story on the Huffington Post

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