Is Obama worth celebrating?

Ian Taylor Jr., assistant admissions counselor, University of Minnesota

 

Black History Month ended a few weeks ago. For me, Black History Month is a time to meditate not only on the past but also on the current condition of the people of the African diaspora in the U.S.

In 2008, various media outlets were challenging the “blackness” of then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama, wondering if a biracial man, who was then thought to have no ancestors who were slaves, could authentically represent black Americans.

Today, the question is the same, but the issue is different. The entire nation has elected a physically black president, but to what degree are his policies affecting black Americans directly and how does he stand for black Americans in a cultural sense?

Key legislation that can be attributed to the Obama administration directly supporting the black community are the expansion of aid to historically black colleges and universities, the passing of the Affordable Health Care Act and other legislation that follows the philosophy of a rising tide lifting all boats in regard to advocating for black issues.

While I applaud these effort, as a citizen and supporter of Obama, I demand more. This policy philosophy of a “rising tide lifting all boats” is dangerous because it has the potential to ignore unique issues that specific groups in this country face and adopts a mirrored premise to the already failed philosophy of trickle-down economic policies of President Ronald Reagan. The idea is that these overarching benefits will drop through to blacks as it attacks the issues of poverty head on. There needs to be more specificity.

My demands don’t seem to be outside the practicum of the Obama administration. Obama makes a point to clearly and personally stand against the oppression of homosexuals by verbally supporting same-sex marriage on television and urging the Supreme Court to deem same-sex marriage constitutional in an upfront manner. In fact, Obama has even stated his suggestions for immigration reform, sending recommendations to Congress for his support of devising paths to citizenship for current undocumented students.

But what is his opinion on the civil rights laws the Supreme Court is reviewing, like Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act or affirmative
action?

In stark contrast, Obama has been ambiguous if even vocal on black issues and has displayed dubious relations to the black community, even on Capitol Hill with the Congressional Black Caucus. When Trayvon Martin was killed, the president’s only response was that “If [he] had a son, he would have looked like [Martin].” The Obama administration has not even clearly addressed the crisis of mass incarceration, the effects of which disproportionately harm black Americans, Latino Americans and American youth. The Department of Justice, headed by first black Attorney General Eric Holder needs to take a firmer stance on ensuring the systems of justice are just themselves. When the Congressional Black Caucus sent 60 recommendations to Obama for new cabinet members, the president did not choose a single one.

The celebration of a black president is worthless if he does less for black people than previous white presidents did or if he does not feel comfortable enough to express issues important to the black community. I love you, brother; I just want some of that love back.