Thursday, January 28, 2010

What If Obama Gave A State Of The Black Union Address?

 What If Obama Gave A State Of The Black Union Address?

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

8:36 AM on 01/27/2010

Tonight President Obama will and should address his first State of the Union speech to all Americans, regardless of race. But, it would be intriguing and edifying to imagine what a speech specifically addressed to African-Americans might sound like, especially since blacks are arguably bearing the worst brunt of our ongoing economic downturn. The text below is the speech I believe many of Obama's black supporters wish he would give.

My fellow African-Americans: I address you as both the President of the United States, and as black leader with a serious commitment to the advancement of the African-American community. Given that roughly one-quarter of my political support in the 2008 election came from African-Americans, I owe it to my community to specifically address the concerns of people of color. No longer will you give me a dollar's worth of loyalty in exchange for a nickel's worth of attention. Your issues are now on the table.

This was a difficult year for all of us. Black unemployment has regularly exceeded 15 percent, and black male unemployment is now over 50 percent in urban areas, such as New York City. When America was hit with an economic storm, black America was pummeled by a financial tsunami.

Large urban centers like Detroit have become virtual wastelands, due to the massive loss of manufacturing jobs. The automobile industry has been decimated, and in spite of my efforts to save these manufacturers, black Americans have still seen an unprecedented level of economic hardship. The Great Black Depression has been painful for us all.

In response to this highly unique set of economic circumstances, I am announcing a special task force that will analyze the employment gap for African-Americans. I will give this task force as much power as the ones designed to save the automobile and banking industries. We will analyze the devastating impact of bank foreclosures, which have hit the African-American community at a rate which dramatically exceeds that of the rest of America. We will even study the wealth gap, which has long been a damning reminder of America's history of slavery. We will finally make concrete progress on finding ways to fulfill Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of producing true economic equality throughout our great nation.

We've all shed tears for those who've lost their loved ones in the recent Haitian earthquakes. We are also well-aware that Haiti was an economic hell-on-earth long before the quakes rattled its shores. Sadly enough, much of this devastation has been at the hands of imbalanced and fundamentally biased policies of the United States government.

Well, the United States is going to be as much a promoter of Haitian progress today as it was a deterrent of Haitian progress in the past. We will focus our energies on long-term economic prosperity, and not just additional charity for the Haitian people. As a result, I am ordering a thorough review of all economic and immigration policies relating to the country of Haiti. We will open the doors to additional trade, and create economic prosperity where there was none. We will make investments in Haitian infrastructure, provide funding for education and rebuild Port-au-Prince in a manner that allows the nation to fulfill and expand its productive capacity. When Haiti rises from the ashes, it will emerge stronger and more independent than ever before.

Some of my critics have inaccurately claimed that when faced with racial controversy, I've run away from these issues and refused to address them. They've said that I am simply a black face being placed on leadership that doesn't care about the black community. But as the husband of a beautiful black woman and the father of two outstanding African-American children, I can assure you that this is not the case.

In order to make this point clearer than ever, the White House will sponsor a series of dialogues on race, set to take place throughout the United States. Every issue will be on the table for discussion: police brutality, reparations for slavery, and even the degrading comments made by some of our nation's most celebrated political figures. We will honestly and courageously confront every concern which matters to the American family, for any family that does not communicate will soon find itself painfully disbanded. All Americans are invited and encouraged to participate in the dialogue.

Health disparities continue to plague the African-American community. Black people are sicker than other Americans and our children are dying at an earlier age. When analyzing the top ten causes of death for African-Americans, factors such as HIV/AIDs, homicide, and diabetes are near the top of the list. To top it all off, our families are not always getting the health care they need. In response to this problem, the White House is sponsoring several health initiatives for the African-American community to encourage healthy living, early testing, and broader access to health care for all people of color. During my administration, we will see a substantial reduction in the number of black mothers who must take their children to the emergency room to get critical care and we will significantly reduce the number of black men who die from diseases that could have been prevented. As a result, there will be fewer trips to the emergency room and fewer trips to the morgue.

Almost no quality of life indicator plagues the black community more than the inner city educational system. Disgraceful funding differentials have led to black graduation rates that are abysmally low, and children who are denied access to the educational tools they so desperately need. By ignoring our social mandate to provide quality education to all of America's children, we are throwing away our nation's future. As we've been told time and time again, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

In direct response to our nation's educational crisis, I am mandating that all funding gaps between inner city and suburban schools be eliminated immediately. I am declaring the nation's educational system to be in a state of emergency and we will give as much priority to improving our schools as we've given to the War on Terror. Never again will the next African-American Einstein or WEB Dubois have his genius crushed under the uncomfortable weight of inadequate funding.

Equally relevant to the educational disparities in our nation are the long list of problems and holes in the criminal justice system. We all know that America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. Study after study has proven that black men are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be incarcerated, and receive longer prison sentences than other Americans, even when they commit the same crimes. America's commitment to mass incarceration, aligned with the system's disproportionate impact on the African-American community, has amounted to a form of genocide committed on the black family and black men in particular. The Innocence Project presents us with case after case of one citizen after another who has been exonerated by DNA evidence after serving decades of his/her life in the penitentiary. Long after these men and women are released from prison, their paths to re-entry into our society are littered with obstacles which keep them from fulfilling their potential as productive Americans. This has got to stop.

In conjunction with Attorney General Eric Holder, I am announcing a complete overhaul of the American justice system. The changes will be no less dramatic than those proposed during our quest to reform the health care system. We will now ensure that public defenders are adequately funded, so that innocent defendants are not forced to accept plea bargains after being threatened with long prison sentences. We will triple the number of rehabilitation and education programs in our nation's prisons, so that these men can emerge as focused, informed, productive human beings, and not just better criminals. We will do all we can to stop prison rape, which is leading to the spread of HIV and other communicable diseases. We will place a ban on corporate involvement in the building of prisons, so that the temptation of free labor does not encourage corporations to profit from modern day slavery.

Most significantly, I am ordering free DNA testing for any defendant who requests it for crimes that were allegedly committed before DNA testing was available. Given that the Innocence Project has exonerated hundreds of innocent men and women, it is my greatest expectation that there are many thousands more. An innocent man or woman should not spend another day in prison for a crime they did not commit. When an innocent American is incarcerated, there is a child who doesn't have a parent, a wife who does not have a husband, or a mother who has lost a daughter. We must recommit ourselves to the principles of equity on which our justice system was founded.

While some Americans may be alarmed that I have issued a State of the Union address specifically for the African-American community, I must make this point abundantly clear: I am not just a president who happens to be black. I am a black man who happens to be the president. Given that African-Americans are legitimate and storied members of the American family, it is important that I give their unique challenges the special consideration they deserve. I will say this again: I received over one-quarter of my political support from the African American community, so it is therefore critical that I give them at least one-quarter of my attention. So, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I will exhibit the same commitment to principled leadership for my own people as I do for the rest of America. Thank you.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. For more information, please visit
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