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Return on Investment

May 13, 2013

A recent Census report states that blacks voted at a higher rate than whites in the 2012 election, which is a first.

We are not a monolithic group, but our voting preferences seem to be pretty uniform – we supported President Obama with 93% of our vote in 2012. That’s actually a slight drop-off from the 96% of the black vote the President received in 2008.

CNN Exit Polls 2012

As CNN’s chart shows, no group supported President Obama like black voters. But what are we getting in return for our vote? What are we getting in return for knocking on doors, registering voters, and getting souls to the polls? Is having a black First Family the prize itself? Or are there are actually issues that we want to President to address?

The same year that President Obama was re-elected, the black unemployment rate was almost double that of whites (13.8 vs. 7.2). The year before, the black unemployment was exactly double that of whites (15.8 vs. 7.9).  Yet for all of the talk of a jobs bill, absent is the mention of the incredible disparity in black and white employment.

Beyond employment, what are the issues for which the black community ought to be demanding President Obama’s attention?

Well, it seems that’s a taboo question to ask. Just having a black president is such a source of pride for so many black folk, that to make any further demands is asking too much. “He’s not the president of black America” is what some people say. True. But did we say that about President Bush or even President Clinton? No.

The Atlantic has a great article about President Obama and his attention to black Americans – or lack thereof. The article highlights the tension between just being happy to have a black president, and the desire for the President of the United States to actually do something about the persistent racial inequality in this country. Last year, Paul Tough wrote an article in the New York Times about the president’s absence on urban poverty, which is inextricably tied to race in the U.S.

President Obama has shown a great reluctance to address race. But if the first black president is unable or unwilling to address the issues of the black community, then what is the point of having a black president in the first place? We could’ve had Hillary Clinton for all that. Are we supposed to be happy and delude ourselves with notions of a post-racial society while glaring racial disparities in employment, income, wealth, education, justice, etc. continue? Having a black president has to mean more than a picture to look at with pride at the barbershop or the church or the local store. I don’t know how many portraits I’ve seen of President Obama in Harlem establishments, usually right next to a portrait of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Given that Rev. Dr. King was VERY vocal about racial and economic justice, the juxtaposition is quite ironic. Having  a black president that cannot address either race or poverty (and certainly not their intersection) in any meaningful way can hardly be considered a victory of the Civil Rights Movement.

There is a popular phrase in politics – “a rising tide lifts all boats.” President Obama has said this, as has presidents before him. The problem with the relying on a rising tide is it keeps everyone where they are in relation to each other. A rising tide doesn’t address structural inequality and certainly doesn’t do anything about structural racism (*gasp* did I just say “racism”?!).

Some will argue that President Obama’s accomplishments to date benefit black Americans and the rest of the country as a whole. Others may say that the President does have an agenda that will benefit the black community, it just isn’t labeled a black agenda. I think that both of these arguments confuse having a politically liberal agenda with having a black agenda, but they aren’t the same thing. There are some conservative policies and philosophies that might serve our interests better.

Black voters need to think long and hard about the next election. President Obama won’t be on the ballot, but it’s highly likely that our incredible support of the Democratic Party will continue. Before we go into the voting booth let’s ask ourselves: what are we getting in return?


From → Commentary

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