The Washington Post

Critiquing Obama not as a black president, but as president of all America

President Obama (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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

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