Friday, May 07, 2010

Obama-Mania Won't Create Jobs

Obama-Mania Won't Create Jobs

David Squires

Urban Affairs

May 6, 2010

Like a rock star tour, Obama-mania is coming to Hampton Roads on Sunday.

Thousands of people will fill Hampton University's Armstrong Stadium for the Class of 2010's graduation ceremony.

By the time HU officials stop allowing people into the stadium, they should exceed the 19,342 people who attended a 2004 HU- Bethune-Cookman football game — the previous attendance high for a campus event.

All this to see one of the most popular, most recognizable — and in some corners, one of the most roundly criticized — men on the planet, President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president.

For Hampton University, it is a great honor to become the first historically black college or university to have Obama as a graduation speaker. Plus, for this visit, HU gets a sitting president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner in one.

For many African-Americans, this will be a momentous day in their lives.

Vice President Joe Biden might say: This is a really big deal.

But how big of a deal, really?

Has the Obama presidency made a huge impact on the everyday lives of African-American people, his most loyal following who backed him at the polls with more than 90 percent of their votes?

Did he take the high road in refusing to bow down to a group of black leaders who insisted he should have a black agenda?

Similar questions were recently discussed by a group of African-American opinion writers, civil rights veterans and academics during a meeting at the University of Louisville.

The discussion centered on a theme of whether the Obama presidency represents a "movement" or a "moment" for African-Americans. And can African-Americans expect their lives to be greatly affected, to the extent many people expressed after the Nov. 4, 2008, election, or with the Obama inauguration a couple of months later?

The brutally honest truth — and there was a great consensus on this — is that many black people are so intoxicated by Obama-mania and to such an extent that we don't want to hear any criticism of him or his policies.

And if we press him too hard, we might find ourselves ostracized, like television commentator Tavis Smiley, whose feuding with Obama played a role in his leaving a nationally syndicated radio spot on the popular "Tom Joyner Morning Show."

Meanwhile, it's a pretty safe bet that Obama will not significantly improve the lives of African-Americans.

Some argue that Obama should be seen in the same light as other presidents.

Elmer Smith, a columnist and blogger from Philadelphia, said he's not sure "it's fair to expect an Obama administration to be different from other administrations."

Mary Frances Berry, a longtime civil rights activist, who has worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, said African-Americans, in fact, expect less from Obama.

But that's not to say it's not important to us that he is in the White House.

"Most black people, including my own family, throughout the campaign, did not even know what Obama's promises would be," Berry said. "Not only did they not know, they did not care. They just wanted him to win."

And as far as that black agenda, Berry said: "People don't care whether he has one or not — black people don't. ... Symbolically, it is very important for us to see him there."

In fact, Berry said that many black people are in such "deep throes of passion" with the idea of the Obamas in the White House, they don't want to hear any negatives.

But in terms of policy, disparities such as black unemployment being twice that of whites "will be there when he's gone." The danger comes, she said, when black people ask favors of the next president: "She's going to say ... I thought you people had stopped asking presidents to do anything."

So what happens on Sunday? We attend the HU ceremonies. We stretch our necks trying to get a direct view of Obama. Some will try to set up pictures with friends and colleagues with Obama in the background.

Some souls might even manage a presidential handshake.

But in the end, many people will head back to their dead-end jobs, their glass ceilings or their places in the unemployment line.

But, gosh, what a moment.

Squires can be reached at 247-4639 or on his blog at

Copyright © 2010, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

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