Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Why Didn’t Obama Mention Our Issues?

Why Didn’t Obama Mention Our Issues?
Written by Bruce Crawley
The Philadelphia Tribune
Monday, 01 February 2010

For a while, I was just disappointed with Barack Obama’s glaring disinterest in addressing the longstanding social and economic disparities between Blacks and whites in this country.

But since his first State of the Union address on Wednesday, I’ve moved beyond disappointment and I'm now verging on total despair.
Maybe I expected too much from him. Maybe he really is the “president of all the people” and perhaps he doesn’t really have time in his busy schedule to be bothered with Black issues. I’m sure he's got a very important job.

After all, how would it look?

So what if African Americans gave him, without much direct outreach at all from his campaign, 96 percent of our vote? The fact is that neither Barack Obama, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel or, even the ever-loyal and obedient Donna Brazile ever made a direct commitment that there would be a significant improvement for Black people if Barack Obama were to be elected. We just sort of, somehow, came to that conclusion on our own — and we voted accordingly.

The truth is that the "first Black president" never really, directly, specifically promised to do anything at all for Black voters — and so far, he’s kept his word.

If you were confused about the president’s "post-Scott Brown" shift to a more conservative political agenda and his move further away apparently, from African-American issues, you really should have listened carefully to his rather-longish State of the Union address.

First of all, in what turned out to be the longest of the 412 speeches the president has given this year, he failed somehow to mention the words, “Black,” “African American” or even “Negro,” which his Census Bureau says is an appropriate description of us again — whether we like it or not.

I couldn’t help thinking that you wouldn’t even have to be the "first Black president” to recognize that African-American communities are still a part of the nation as a whole, and they still deserve, no matter what conservative pundits say, full and equal access to the country's economic opportunities.

In that regard, there are quite a few other initiatives that the "first Black president" should have announced that evening, if he was concerned at all about “doing the right thing.”

For example, while he certainly made it his business to insert the phrase “middle class” into his remarks and to give it a high priority, there was no commensurate mention of low-to-moderate- income people, who constitute a significant percentage of the country’s population.

In “Obama world,” it seems, if you fall below the middle-class income floor of $55,000 per year, you also apparently fall off the president’s radar and are no longer deserving of the government's attention.

Perhaps the president doesn’t really know that 86 percent of the households in this country that are defined as "middle class" because they earn more than $55,331 annually were headed by a person of European descent and that, conversely, only 7.4 percent of such households are headed by an African American.

Maybe he doesn’t realize that when he talks about focusing his attention on issues that are important to the "middle class," he’s effectively excluding 92 percent of Black people from his focus.

But then again, maybe he does understand that ... completely.

I’m really confused about how the president could look out at the vast landscape of economic disparities in this country and only single out during his speech the need to ensure that "women get equal pay for an equal day's work.”

Granted, a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center points out that non-Hispanic white women earn just 73 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

A bigger issue, it would seem — if the president were interested in being fair about this issue at all — is the fact that the average Black household earns about 58 cents for every dollar earned by a white household in America, and that’s down from 63 cents, over a recent 30-year period.

I would think that even the most hard-hearted right-wing conservatives would be moved positively by an announcement by the president that he is now interested in eliminating the Black-white poverty gap of 26 percent to 9 percent; or the Black-child-to-white-child poverty gap of 36 percent to 11 percent, or the Black-senior-citizen-to-white-senior-citizen poverty gap of 22 percent to 7 percent.

But, hey, how would it look if the president made a specific mention of Black economic disparities? What would that do to his approval ratings? First things first, I guess. What do we want … blood?

Let me further remind the president and his advisors that even though white females do earn just 73 cents for every dollar earned by a white male, Black females earn substantially less than that, at 61 cents.

But here's something else for the administration to consider: In order to even have your level of income compared at all, you need to have a job in the first place. As dire as things have gotten for white females, as of December 2009, the unemployment rate for women stood at 8.2 percent, as compared to 16.2 percent for Blacks overall, and 18.2 percent for Black males.

Didn’t the president think that was deserving of a mention while he gave his State of the Union speech? Isn’t that a part of the State of the Union in 2010? But, then again, how would that have looked?

Even further, a 2005 report from the American Sociological Association (ASA), “Race, Ethnicity, and the American Labor Market,” disclosed that while 40 percent of white females in the labor market do not have jobs, that figure is closer to 50 percent for Black males, and that African-American women are twice as likely as white women to be unemployed.


The report further stated: “The roughly 2-to-1 ratio in unemployment rates between African Americans and whites (for both men and women) has been constant throughout economic expansions and recessions despite a shrinking gap in educational differences between the two groups.”

I don’t want to go out on a limb or anything, but it seems to me that it would have been a good thing for the president to have read that section of the ASA report before he began saying that the best thing he could do for the Black economy is to improve the overall economy.

This report clearly indicates that there is absolutely no evidence for the president’s position and that there is a strong need to have a specific focus on Black economic under-representation, if we have any hope of repairing the overall economy.

In my opinion, the president could have demonstrated real leadership and an informed problem-solving style by announcing an initiative to address that issue, but then again, maybe he just didn’t want to be seen as doing anything that would "favor" Black citizens.

"Favoring" the overwhelmingly white middle class? Fine. "Favoring” white females? That’s perfectly acceptable. "Favoring" gays and their issues with the military? It’s timely and appropriate, according to his speech. How about immigration reform? Long overdue, he would want you to believe.

Seriously, if the president of the United States can say all of that, and if he had 70 minutes in which to say it, why couldn’t he have said a single word that would be specifically supportive of substantive African-American concerns?

Would just that statement have been enough to ruin his State of the Union report?

Would just that expression of concern about the plight of the country's 40 million Black residents have been enough to destroy his entire political career?

Would it have looked so bad?

You tell me.

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