Posted Aug. 4, 2008 – Sen. Barack Obama has introduced another thought into the mix that certainly won’t endear him to the crowd of Black thinkers who say that the United States owes African Americans back pay for hundreds of years of forced labor.
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"I have said in the past – and I'll repeat again – that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed," the Illinois Democrat said recently.
But, at a time when Obama needs as much support from the Black community as possible, some African Americans are questioning whether the Illinois Democratic senator is serious about the issues that matter to them, such as reparations. After all, several Black members of Congress – a group of politicians who have been in their constituents’ ears far longer than Obama has – have drafted legislation designed to spark debate and ultimately enact a law to repair slavery’s deep damage. The measure is supported by civil rights groups, such as the National Urban League and the NAACP; several cities, including Obama’s Chicago ; and even a union biggie, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"Let's not be naive. Sen. Obama is running for president of the United States , and so he is in a constant battle to save his political life," said Kibibi Tyehimba, co-chair of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America . "In light of the demographics of this country, I don't think it's realistic to expect him to do anything other than what he's done."
But reparations is just one issue close to Black folks that has gotten a cool reception from Obama in recent days.
When questioned last week whether he was a supporter of affirmative action, he said, “yes,” but took the opportunity to rail against quotas, echoing Republicans’ oft-criticized concerns about the equality program. And about the matter of a national apology for slavery, he told journalists of color recently that an apology, like reparations, are not nearly as proactive as passing non-racialized laws that impact Black lives disproportionately.
"If we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they're disproportionately uninsured," Obama said. "If we've got an agenda that says every child in America should get – should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it's oftentimes our children who can't afford to go to college."
At a rally in recent days, Obama was heckled by critics who argued – quite loudly – that he was not supporting issues that are important to Blacks.
Do you believe that Obama’s attempt to become the president of all Americans prevents him from standing up for such issues as affirmative action, reparations or a slavery apology? Click "Discuss Now," on the upper right, to post your comment.