The Lopsided Love Affair Between President Obama and the Black Community

As we gear up for the 2012 Presidential election, it’s interesting to see how the White House works to explain the fact that it’s been MIA for the black community.  The last three years have been a relative wasteland of political and economic progress for African Americans, and even the most ardent Obama supporters are growing tired.  They want to defend him at any cost, but he’s made it remarkably difficult.

Policies and action that have come forth to help the gay community, women, immigrants and other groups have flown over the head of black America, like Jay-Z performing in a city where black people can’t afford to buy tickets.  But similar to the Jay-Z concert, some of us love Obama anyway, standing outside the arena hoping to catch a glimpse of our hero as he gets inside his limousine.

When Cornel West lashes out at Obama, the president’s supporters get angry at West, mostly out of habit.  They go after West with principled ferocity, calling him nasty names and attempting to undermine his relevance as a scholar.  By asking the president to do something for black America, Cornel has committed the mortal sin of bothering President Obama while he has more important things to do, like taking care of white people.  Some get angry at West because they believe that he is wrong.  But with each passing day, Obama supporters are getting angry at Cornel West because deep down, they know he might be right.

Many former Obama enthusiasts are disappointed in Barack  for giving them no ammunition to use for the battle.  They grow weary of grabbing onto any morsel of hope that allows them to win heated debates on Facebook, email or around the water cooler.  For some, defending President Obama is like demanding a better grade for your child when you know that your baby has been lazy in class.  A picture on the cover of Essence Magazine doesn’t have the power that it once had when African Americans are losing their jobs, their homes and their freedom at a record pace.

The Obama enthusiast is virtually dead.   The number of black people running around with Obama t-shirts, putting signs in their front yard, and putting his picture on the wall next to Martin Luther King and Jesus has plummeted.  Obama is not the iconic figure that he once was, no longer a rock star.  Far fewer African Americans are begging the Obama campaign to let them join the team and we’re all too broke to give money.  People like Obama, they respect him, and they are damn sure that he’s better than the Republicans.  That’s about all they can say at this point.

The beautiful thing about Barack Obama in 2008 is that he was the Tiger Woods of politics:  The light-skinned, highly-educated, post-racial Caublinasian who made a very boring activity really cool and interesting.   But similar to Tiger, the expectations were high for President Obama:  He carried the hopes and dreams of an oppressed people, and he also endured mountains of resistance from angry white men who were resistant to change.

Unlike Tiger, Obama was not skilled enough, nor strong enough to meet the high expectations in front of him.  To  whom much is given, much is expected.  So, as Obama proudly accepted the crown placed on his head by the African American community, he seemed to forget that (as Spiderman’s uncle said) “with great power comes great responsibility.”  The Obama Administration graciously allowed black people to believe that he was their political messiah, but accepted none of the obligations that come with receiving an unprecedented amount of African American support.

I say this to those who love President Obama:  Let him defend himself.  Don’t fight battles for someone who isn’t ready to fight battles for you.  Let the White House produce data to show that Cornel West is wrong and that their policies have benefited black Americans as much as everyone else.  Don’t try to see him as the man that you want him to be, see him as the man that he actually is.   From where I’m standing, the love affair between President Obama and the black community has been as lopsided as the one between Celie and Mr. Albert in The Color Purple – it should never have been so lopsided in the first place.

– By Boyce Watkins

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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