Prominent Economist Says Obama Can't Be Let Off the Hook on Race

Bernard Anderson calls on African-Americans to demand his attention.

Posted: 02/01/2013 05:30 PM EST

For the past few months, a group of leaders from many of the most prominent civic and civil rights organizations have been quietly meeting regularly in Washington, D.C., to hash out a plan.

Their ultimate goal is to create a comprehensive agenda that will force President Obama to turn his attention to the issues of racial and economic inequality. African-Americans were instrumental in his winning a second term and now, some leaders say, it's time for some payback.

"There are five topics that this group is working on: economics, health, education, voting and criminal justice," renowned economist Bernard Anderson told BET.com at an economic forum hosted by Howard University and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies on Feb. 1. "They're trying to create a common agenda to present to the president and to Congress [that will] articulate the African-American view of what needs to be done to improve the social and economic condition of Black people in this country."

The 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington seems to have become an almost obligatory part of any discussion about the economic state of Black America. Anderson recalled taking the day off from his Army duties at the Pentagon and spending "eight solid hours" in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

It's a day that most people equate with Martin Luther King Jr.'s infamous speech about a dream, noted Anderson who listened from the front row, but as experts are increasingly wont to do, he added that the event was about so much more, namely jobs and freedom.

"That march was organized by A. Philip Randolph, the great civil rights and labor leader, and the juxtaposition of those words was not an accident," Anderson said. "Randolph believed that freedom in this country is dependent upon economic opportunity for Black people. What we need to do is take advantage of this hour to have the president address racial inequality."

The former assistant labor secretary is unusually frank when talking about Obama and his relationship with Blacks. He believes that African-Americans wisely gave Obama a pass by not forcing him on the issue of race in his first term so that he could have a second.

"He does not deserve a pass anymore," Anderson said. "He must not only find his voice, but summon his courage and use his political capital to address racial inequality. He owes that to the African-American community."

Anderson said that African-American leaders are not unaware of the constraints race has put on Obama and they understand he is the president of the entire country, not just Black America. That not only does not absolve him of addressing an issue that is "grinding Black people down," it makes him obligated to do so, Anderson said.

"How ironic is it that an African-American president must remain silent on this issue?" he asked, noting that previous presidents such as Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton all addressed the issue of racial inequality. "That's an abomination. We can't tolerate that."

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(Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

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