“I’m not the president of black America.”
President Obama in a 2012 interview with Black Enterprise magazine
But, what if he was? . . .
Sisters and brothers, you probably heard me tell Congress last week that the state of the union is stronger. But the state you’re in, not so much.
Therefore, I have decided to break my silence on race-specific issues, steel myself against the backlash from right-wing demagogues and pledge to redouble my efforts to deal with the travesty unfolding before our eyes.
Today, one in every 15 black men is incarcerated — that’s a 500 percent increase since 1986. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there have been more than 250,000 black-on-black homicides since 1976. Our “school to prison pipeline” is so huge that it would make the Keystone XL pipeline look like a soda straw.
It’s surreal: Big Oil getting its black gold out of the ground while we bury ours.
Throughout the South, where the majority of African Americans live — including our nation’s capital — the high school dropout rate among our poorest students approaches 60 percent. That represents a landslide. Not like a lopsided outcome in a political contest but more like what happens in Third World countries when a mountainside gives way and whole villages are buried.
Our village — the one it takes to raise a child — is being lost beneath the rubble of ignorance and poverty, and we’ve got to dig out.
Back in January 2008, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, I said that it would take a unified coalition to bring down “the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way” of justice and equality. I have been trying to forge such a coalition ever since. But as this second term begins, it occurs to me that I may have left out the very core around which the coalition would be built: black people.
Here I am calling all immigrants, calling all gays, calling “60 Minutes” and all independents (read: white people) and I won’t even say the word b-l-a-c-k in public.
In my address to Congress last week, I said, “Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.” And, “we know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace.”
At the very least, I could have declared that the staggering 13.8 percent black unemployment rate and horrific 27.6 percent poverty rate are not only unacceptable, but also un-American.
Especially after hyping that American Jobs Act as a game-changer and then not having the legislative muscle to push it through Congress. And just think: I haven’t even met with the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus since 2011 — and then only to scold it during a speech at the CBC Foundation dinner in Washington.
So, as of this moment, I pledge to stop taking you for granted. Your undying, 95 percent loyalty is worth more than a public wink and smile. I vow to work harder on not only on fixing the climate in the sky, but also the climate down on Earth, in our black schools and neighborhoods.
As I told a group of ministers in 2007 at Hampton University in Virginia, “we have an empathy deficit,” not just a fiscal deficit, “when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame — schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.”
There’s more. And I’ve said this to the National Urban League: Part of the reason Chinese kids are doing so much better in math and science than many of our black kids is because they’re hitting the books while ours are busy watching “Real Housewives.”
You shouldn’t need a presidential fatherhood initiative for the solution to that problem — but I’ve got one just in case.
Let me be frank. Less than two months into this new term and I’m already having trouble getting a secretary of defense confirmed — and a Republican one at that. Two years from now, I’ll be a lame duck for sure. So I’m asking you to think long term.
Go into the White House Web site and find “The President’s Agenda and the African American Community.” You’ll see that the work has begun. But many of those initiatives are in their infancy, and if we don’t protect them and grow them, that nest of right-wing fanatics will swoop in like latter-day pharaohs and kill them all. Get involved. Take advantage of every opportunity available. Then help create more opportunities for others.
This is your president speaking. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/milloy.