As the country braces itself for 2012’s presidential election, a kind of civil war is currently taking place in the Black community as it decides if it will support President Barack Obama in the coming months.
Black support of Obama has been declining in recent weeks—though it’s still well above 80 percent—and a highly publicized shouting match between Rev. Al Sharpton and Princeton professor Cornel West on MSNBC just underscored the impending conflict. It’s unlikely that most African-Americans will choose to not support Obama for president again, but the real question is whether Black liberals can criticize Obama without being attacked themselves. (Related video: West vs. Sharpton)
Of all Obama’s critics, West is probably the most vocal of the African-Americans. Though he supported Obama wholeheartedly in the 2008 election, West believes that the President has since neglected the very Black community he fervently rallied and promised to stand behind just a few years ago.
“There’s too much social misery out there, man,” West told Politico this weekend. “The last thing we need is a weak and feeble reaction to the right wing. I just haven’t seen the kind of backbone; I just haven’t seen the real spine, not just at the level of rhetoric, but in execution.”
Standing up for Obama at every turn is Sharpton, who blames the media for Obama’s perceived problems with Black voters. “What the media has tried to do is to have this Black on Black fight with the Black community and President Obama,” Sharpton said at a recent National Action Network forum. “Some Black leaders who have held [Obama] to a higher standard than some of the white presidents, including Bill Clinton [whom] they called Black.”
Regardless of your feelings on Obama, one thing you have to admit is that it seems as though African-Americans are particularly sensitive to attacks on the President from other African-Americans. The reason? I have to think it’s because some of Obama’s white critics have been so unfair and racist in their critiques—the birth certificate nonsense, the pictures of the president as a monkey, etc.—that Blacks feel a drive to protect him not only as a president, but also as a Black man. The lines between politics and standing up for “one of your own” blur, and we’re left with a scene in which Blacks criticizing Obama are automatically jumping in bed with backwards racists.
It’s an unfortunate outcome of the ugly tone of our recent political arena, and here’s hoping it goes away soon. Because it’s alright to be Black and criticize Obama, and it’s your right as an American, regardless of what color you are.