I hope that the second term of Barack Obama ushers in a new maturity, skepticism and astuteness among more people in the African-American community when assessing his policies. History has been made once. History has been made twice. The day that many in my generation thought we would never live to see arrived. The inspiration for our children’s generation is real. This accomplishment comes as a result in part of the generations-long commitment and sacrifice of activists who worked to see not merely a black president but a nation where political and economic equality was real.
Barack Obama said it best when he declared, “I was not elected president of black America. I am president of all America.” So it’s time for the unquestioning hallelujah chorus to wind down.
Too often the black community exempts Obama from criticism because:
1. He’s a “brother”.
2. The obstructionist Republicans are already piling it on him, and it would be “disloyal” to echo their sentiments.
3. It’s “wrong” to say anything bad about a man constantly facing resurgent and ugly displays of racism.
The thinking goes that in a ferociously hostile political environment we have to let Obama know we’ve got his back. I thought getting 98 percent of our vote in 2008 (and 93 percent in 2012) told him that. It’s time to wise up, to grow up. All the presidents who made the greatest strides in social justice did so in response to often withering and persistent criticism.
I’d like to see many more of us in the black community assume that Barack Obama can not only withstand criticism from us but that he can grow from what constructive criticism of his policies has to teach him about leadership. I’d like to see astute, impassioned critics like Tavis Smiley, Cornel West and others brought in from the intellectual Siberia where they have been cast by Obama’s most passionate supporters. I’d like to hear more voices in the African-American community asking why this president appointed a nominee for Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, who appears to be on close examination of his background, just another member of the Wall Street old boys club that helped create the great recession. I’d like to hear more of us ask if the Black community can get a little of the love shown to the Hispanic and LGBT communities with legislation that openly targets our interests.
I voted for Barack Obama. Twice. And twice I voted for him not so he could be a symbol but so that he could be my president. My vote gives me the right to ask tough questions. My vote is in some ways more important than the race we share. Barack Obama has survived Fox News, ruthless take- no- prisoners Republican politics and a weak economy. He can survive some questioning from the community that is his most loyal constituency. I, for one, am a proud member of that constituency and when required I am a member of the loyal opposition that all leaders forced into greatness require. In his first term for many race-pride, famished black Americans, Obama was a kind of messiah. So this Inauguration Day, let’s remember to understand that he is a politician, who if challenged enough by those who root for his success, could become a real leader.
Marita Golden is a novelist and essayist and cultural activist. She teaches in the MA Creative Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. She can be contacted at www.maritagolden.com.
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