Commentary: Obama and the Search for the Black Agenda

Barack Obama

Commentary: Obama and the Search for the Black Agenda

People calling for President Obama to pay attention to Black issues may be forgetting that he’s done very good things for millions of African-Americans already.

Published December 4, 2012

Ever since Barack Obama fought his way into a second term as president, many people, Black and white, have been wondering if now is the time Obama will release a so-called “Black agenda.” As the thinking goes, with no chance of having to compete for re-election again, perhaps Obama can now unveil politically divisive new plans to lift up African-Americans. But people who don’t think Obama has done specific things to help Blacks probably haven’t been paying attention to what he’s done in office thus far.

Keli Goff in The Root late last month about “Black agenda” supporters:

After the 2012 election Yvette Carnell wrote in the Black Agenda Report, "Now we are all left hoping and wishing that, for the sake of his legacy, President Obama doesn't forget about us during his second term. The smart thing to do would've been to secure something, such as legislation to reduce black unemployment or mass incarceration, before the election, but we weren't smart. We were tribal."

In a piece for the L.A. Progressive titled "Black America Calling for a 'Black Agenda,’" Anthony Asadullah Samad wrote, "Of course, we know he's President of all the people. We got that, but what is the real significance of laying claim to the first African American president if a core constituency cannot ask for anything?"

And it turns out, Black pundits aren’t the only ones hoping for an increased focus on Black issues. After a closed-door, four-hour meeting this week, Black leaders from four different civil rights organizations, including Al Sharpton and Marc Morial, emerged with a plan for what they hope Obama will accomplish this time around.

“Morial … listed five new priorities that came out of what he called Monday's ‘historic gathering,’” wrote Elizabeth Flock in US News & World Report. “Those include: working for parity for blacks in education, health care and the economy; reforming the criminal justice system; and protecting and defending voting rights.”

To be sure, those are all worthy and important pursuits, and it would be wonderful if Obama could rededicate himself to doing those things for African-Americans. But it should be noted that the keyword there is “rededicate.”

President Obama has already done very intentional things to help Black Americans, including putting a focus on fighting HIV in Black communities [PDF] and pushing through the Affordable Care Act, which helps insure millions of Blacks who would otherwise go without health insurance.

Can Obama perhaps do more to help Blacks in the next four years (Black unemployment is still abysmal, for instance)? Yes.

And can he maybe do it more vocally and deliberately? Probably. But it’s important to recognize that he’s probably had a Black agenda all along.

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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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