Thursday, June 13, 2024

Don’t Expect President Obama to Talk About Race–Yet…

March 28, 2009 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( The third year Senator from Illinois pulled no punches in 2007 when he wrote that “the long march” toward justice and equality is far from over. Then Senator Barack Obama wrote the punchy words in the introduction to the National Urban League’s hard hitting annual State of Black America report. It details the social and economic woes of millions of poor blacks.

It was no accident that then Senator Obama was picked to ram home the point that discrimination and poverty are still towering problems that plague the black poor and not so poor. His past civil rights and poverty activist work in inner city Chicago neighborhoods was well-known and widely admired.

So there was more than a dose of irony mixed with a hint of disappointment when Urban League President Marc Morial minced no words and implored President Obama to talk about black issues. Morial can’t be blamed for trying to nudge the president to say and do more about black issues. They are still just as tormenting today as they were when the Illinois junior senator spoke out on them. The State of Black America report as it has done almost ritually for the past decade warns that blacks are less likely to own their own homes, die earlier, are far more likely to be jailed disproportionately and receive longer sentences, receive less or poorer quality health care and earn far less than whites. They attend failing public schools, and are more likely the victims of racially motivated hate crimes than any other group.

The economic crash has slammed blacks harder than any other group. They have higher rate of home foreclosures, the greatest loss of jobs, and there’s been even more shrinkage in funds for the worst performing and poorest schools. These are the exact things that Obama agonized over two years ago in the Urban League report. But that was two years ago and a presidential election apart from his days on the streets of Southside Chicago and his stint in the Senate.

Even without the heavy weighted preoccupation with cleaning up the Wall Street mess and jumpstarting a moribund economy, President Obama still wouldn’t likely frontally talk about race. One reason is practical, transparent, and carries far less risk than bringing in the race issue. Obama’s oft stated stance is that the gaping racial disparities that the Urban League chides him to address can best be dealt with by greater funding outlays and more proactive programs and initiatives on health care and education reform, and by the creation of thousands of new jobs, and energy and technology expansion and independence. It’s a variation on the old rising tide lifts all ships approach to solving the problems of the poor, and since the ships that are in the poorest shape of all are those of the poor and minorities, they will benefit the most by this approach. Stand alone talk about race just muddies things up.

But even if that wasn’t the case, Obama still wouldn’t likely say much about racial problems. Talk of civil rights has been a danger zone for presidential candidates and presidents for years, especially Democratic ones. That was glaringly evident during the past presidential campaign. The endless TV sound loop of Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory racial tirades in the midst of his fierce primary battle with Hillary Clinton sent momentary shell shocks through the campaign. It forced him to scramble fast and do damage control. The Wright flap guaranteed that race would not be even a vague utterance during the remainder of the campaign.

Presidential candidate Obama simply had to observe the rules of political expediency to win the White House. But President Obama also has to do the same, in fact all presidents do. The sore point issue with Obama just happens to be race. But with presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and W. Bush, it was ideology.

The three GOP presidents at times were hammered hard by hard line Christian fundamentalists and ultra conservatives to say and especially do more to gut affirmative action, abortion rights, environmental regulations, and a full court press to slash government spending and government. Whatever they did was never enough to satisfy the critics on the far right.

Clinton got pounded by liberal interest groups for not saying and doing more on affirmative action, police violence and racial profiling, gay rights, hate crimes, and the strengthening labor and environmental protections strengthen. As with the GOP presidents, whatever he did do on these issues was never enough to satisfy the left side critics.

It’s the same with Obama. The only difference is that since he’s African-American he’s expected to talk about race. There still time, lots of time, for him to kiss the racial ring. That’s inevitable. It just won’t be now.

Written By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

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