Just read an article in the June 1 edition of the Washington Post Opinions by Frederick Harris, a professor of political science and director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. The title of the essay is “Still waiting for our first black president.” In order to be sure I approached it with an open mind, I read it twice. After the second reading, I was sure it was a crock (in my humble opinion). But not wanting to be a bomb thrower, I mustered up the gumption to read it a third time. Just to be sure.
Now, I’m sure.
When are our academicians going to stop seeing black folks as a special-interest group? The key problems affecting African Americans are the same problems affecting everybody else: economic and social class-ism. African Americans are citizens, fully and completely. Anything any president does on a national level to address economic and social injustice should be done to benefit us and everybody else.
There are white folks living in abject poverty in Appalachia, and it would be great if someone were paying attention to their plight. Imagine what the reaction among blacks would have been if George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, or any other president, had announced that the economic situation of white Appalachian folks was so much worse than everyone else’s and the government was going to do something to help them — just them.
No, President Obama hasn’t let down black folks. All politics is local.
Black folks have been let down by their pastors, elected officials, and other recognized leaders who have had nothing to say about the economic discrimination happening right in black communities. These leaders have had nothing to say to the African-American drug dealers who run amok in African-American neighborhoods. They have nothing to say to their neighbors when resources intended for local services ended up lining their own pockets.
Religious leaders don’t hold vigils until after the blood is in the street. They won’t stand up and say, “Let’s run out the drug dealers. Let’s have a prayer vigil every night on this corner until they are gone. Let’s tell the police who the dealers are, who is sporting guns, and who is breaking into folks’ homes.”
No, the churches won’t do this. Instead, they busy themselves raising money to build bigger barns, I mean churches, or whatever they call them these days. ”Oh, bless me Lord, bless ME, Lord.” That’s all I ever hear.
Why point the finger at Obama when Black elected officials keep on dropping the ball right in their front yards? When it comes time to get elected, they are all over the community. But when it comes time to get into the community, to bring together the community to start affecting change, they are silent and invisible. Local policy makers continue giving us the same sorry excuses for their failures. In the school system, they point the finger at the easy target: teachers. But it can’t possibly be just the teachers. No, it’s a fact that there are leadership deficiencies at the top tiers of our local governments. We can look at the District of Columbia, Newark, Baltimore, Atlanta and Prince George’s County, Maryland, just to name few.
Perhaps, like Harris, local black leaders are looking to Obama to fix their communities’ problems. I sure hope not. If Mr. Obama doesn’t win in November (although, he most likely will), then there goes that plan. If Mr. Obama does win in November, there will be only four years left to get anything done for black America, if we rely on Harris’ logic. After those four years are up, it will be back to business as usual — unless our local leaders are counting on America electing a black man or woman president in 2016. If we don’t elect a black president in 2012 or 2016, then the best-laid plan of these mice and men — the hold-somebody-else-responsible plan — will have gone astray. And we will be screwed.
Then who would be our Moses? I can just hear the the crying, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. “Lawdy, lawdy, who gon’ save us now?”
Harris writes, “The key question is not why Obama, as a black man, isn’t doing more for the black community. Rather, what is he doing for the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party, a constituency that just happens to be black, and just happens to be in need of policies that are universal as well as targeted to address long-standing inequalities?”
I want to know what President Obama being a black man has to do with doing the right thing for all Americans. I expected every president I ever voted for to do the right thing for all Americans. Segregationists in the south were a loyal constituency. If we follow Harris’ logic, doing what the loyal constituency wanted as opposed to doing the right thing would have resulted in Black folks being disenfranchised even longer than we were.
Black Americans, as well as all Americans, are in this economic and inequality mess because few want to acknowledge the real issue. The issue is class. Pure and simple. While the oligarchs steal the cake and run off, the rest of us fight over the crumbs.
The Godfather of Soul said, “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door, and I’ll get it myself.” A couple of generations later, Tupac said, ”If you won’t open the door, that’s okay. We’ll just take it off the hinges … but we comin’ in.”
You want to get serious about addressing social and economic issues in the black community? Deal with the locals. Create change on that level. Hold those on the local front lines responsible. Put their feet to the fire. Success on that level will rise to the national level. If it can’t or won’t get done locally, it won’t get done nationally.
I’m not waiting for a black president. We have one. I’m waiting for some local leadership with backbone, integrity, and guts — in our churches, in our city halls, and in our local governments.