Commentary: Blacks Aren’t Marching on Washington Because Obama’s Black?

Commentary: Blacks Aren’t Marching on Washington Because Obama’s Black?

Congressional Black Caucus chairman Emanuel Cleaver II was way off base when he recently suggested that Blacks would be marching on Washington to protest unemployment and poverty if President Obama weren't Black.

Published January 26, 2012

The African-American community, as everyone knows by now, is dealing with some serious problems when it comes to poverty and unemployment. Black unemployment remained at nearly 16 percent throughout all of 2011, augmenting another terrible problem: Black poverty. While 16 percent of the country — 49.1 million people — now lives in poverty, that number jumps to more than 25 percent among African-Americans. And that, as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley have been saying for months now, is unacceptable.

The Obama administration, responding to criticism that it has been ignoring the plight of the African-American jobless, launched a summer jobs initiative this month, part of which is focused on Black youth. But while leaders like NAACP President Ben Jealous lauded the initiative, it was also perceived by some to be not enough.

Speaking to the Daily Caller, a conservative publication, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, (D-Missouri), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that Blacks should be angry about their current economic plight. Nobody can really disagree with him about that, of course. But then he uttered a strange addendum, saying that the only reason African-Americans aren’t marching on the White House is because the president is Black.

“The point was that if we had anybody else in the White House, with this level of unemployment, that you know, you would see a lot more African-Americans, African-American organizations and retro organizations speaking out against it,” he said. “But because he is revered, you know, he gets I guess the benefit of, you know, understanding that the situation was terrible when he came in. So, we’re not doing that.”

It sounds like a simple enough explanation — Black people won’t complain to a Black leader — but simple answers aren’t necessarily the right answers.

Looking to recent history, Black unemployment was actually worse or nearly the same as it was in 2011 for several years in the 1980s. That’s also when the crack epidemic was tearing apart Black communities throughout the country, and when the government started cracking down on the epidemic with Draconian new laws. In short, it was pretty terrible for Blacks back then, too. And yet there weren’t Blacks marching on Washington every other week demanding justice. In fact, seeing as more Blacks got politicized and voted for Obama in 2008 than ever had before, it seems as if Obama’s Blackness might make African-Americans more interested in participating in politics, not less.

Either way, Cleaver saying that tribalism is somehow to blame demeans an issue that’s actually quite complex, and it insults the intelligence of thinking African-Americans everywhere.

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(Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images)

Written by Cord Jefferson

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