Did Obama Make the Grade on Black Issues | Opinion

Did Obama Make the Grade on Black Issues | Opinion

Published April 29, 2009

President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office were filled with bold and decisive actions that moved the government away from an era of Republican policies that some say ultimately weakened the country and economy. Today we take a critical look at this man, the once little-known senator from Illinois that Black America elected primarily to bring the economy out of a downturn, create more jobs, end the war in Iraq, reduce greenhouse emissions, and end the partisan ways of Bush era government; all while keeping his identity as an African American in mind. Did Obama make the grade?

 We cannot as a country expect any one man – or government, for that matter – to rebuild the country in 100 days. Furthermore, can the Black community expect President Obama to have a duty to address the issues that disproportionately affect African Americans specifically? Should he tackle the creation of legislation as a Black man first? By creating broad policies that address issues that affect all Americans, President Obama is also directly helping the Black community.


For instance, the issue of a higher unemployment rate has consistently plagued the Black community. The national rate is 8.5 percent, while a staggering 13.3 percent of the Black workforce continues to be unemployed. However, the appointment of Van Jones, Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) will benefit unemployed African Americans.


How can a man appointed to keep tabs on the country’s environmental efforts help in the job hunt for Black folks?  Well, a big part of Jones’ platform is the “greening of the ghetto” which includes creating a multitude of “green” positions in inner city communities, and repurposing jobs in city governments that had all but been depleted. 


Black America will also gain from Congress’ lightening-speed partisan passing of the $787 billion economic stimulus measure. Currently there are tons of stimulus related funds available for small businesses and taxpayers that are willing to explore alternative fuel options. Obama also introduced The National Recovery Act, which gave tax breaks to small business owners, cut production costs and increased the price of farmed goods to help rural residents. 


The stimulus funding of big banks and financial institutions like AIG also gave the country a glimpse into Obama’s heavy opposition of Wall Street executives misappropriating funds. He came out hard against those executives that took bonuses using stimulus money. But once again, we ask whether these answers will specifically help the Black community?


Thus far in this administration, we’ve seen Obama put African Americans in positions of power and influence that had never inhabited those offices before. Desiree Rogers was appointed the first Black White House Social Secretary, Susan Rice was appointed United States Ambassador for the United Nations, and Melody Barnes is the Director of the Domestic Policy Council.


While these positions are important, perhaps the most impacting office for African Americans that President Obama created is the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, headed by 25-year-old Joshua DuBois. According to a White House press release, this office was created to make “community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete…” and, “will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.”


If this office brings to fruition all of the goals that President Obama has set forth, it will undoubtedly impact the African-American community in more profound ways than any other ethic group in the country.


Conservative talking heads like Rush Limbaugh were always crassly critical of the President and his agenda; although their criticisms were largely based in fiction, not fact. Obama’s legislation would also ultimately help those who seek to dismantle it. President Obama arguably had the toughest set of circumstances that any president in United States history has had coming into office. He faced opposition not only from a lingering order of  Republicans that saw Bush elected twice, but from the financial elite on Wall Street who were not ready to see reform that could take money out of their already fat bank accounts.


The questions on many Black folks’ minds is, after all is said and done, will we be left wondering if we squandered an opportunity to indelibly change our community forever? Was Obama the proverbial “great Black hope”?


Going forward as a community, we must first ask ourselves how we can make the task at hand easier for the first Black president. He is only one man, with an administration that has a limited amount of time to fix problems that are in some cases rooted in decades of issues.


This is a world economy, not a Black one. The entire country is in a recession, we aren’t the only ones. Although these issues disproportionately affect us, it is important that we create solutions for ourselves that we can present to our government. After all, Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t march alone.

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Written by Angel Elliott, BET.com News Staff


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