Are Black Voters' Expectations of Obama Too Low?

Black Voters' Expectations of Obama May Be Too Low

Are Black Voters' Expectations of Obama Too Low?

A conversation about what President Obama owes African-Americans.

Published May 30, 2013

Editors' note: This is the second part of the series on Obama's legacy to African-Americans. You can read the first part here.

In some ways, the relationship between African-Americans and President Obama is like an abject lesson in first love. The Black community, bursting with pride for his groundbreaking achievements, has opened its heart completely and, some say, a little too willing to give their votes and support to Obama, expecting little or nothing in return.

Is knocking down the biggest barrier in American politics enough of a return when he couldn't have done it without them?

As disclosed by recent reports, African-American voters were supremely instrumental in steering Obama to victory in both of his elections. But, in 2012, for the first time, they turned out in higher numbers than any other demographic.

"I think that any community with the set of social disadvantages and barriers that are faced by African-Americans as a group at least would expect some redress, some remedy coming from government or anywhere else," said University of Michigan political scientist Vincent Hutchings. "So, yes they should make demands on Obama, just like they should any other politician who ostensibly is running on behalf of the people."

Lehigh professor and MSNBC contributor James Peterson shared a similar sentiment. While acknowledging the previously stated policies that potentially benefit African-Americans more than others, he said, Blacks also must apply pressure on the administration to work more aggressively to solve some of their challenges.

Symbolism doesn't create jobs or put roofs over people's heads, but many of the experts spoke with agreed that the symbol of an African-American president could prove invaluable.

Once upon a time, said University of Louisville political scientist Dewey Clayton, when Black parents told their children they could grow up to be president, they didn't really believe it.

"Now they do," he said.

In some ways, Clayton and others stated, Obama's greatest legacy to African-Americans may be to those who hope to follow in his footsteps.

Citing his deep intellect, cool demeanor and a campaign operation that was the envy of many, Dewey said that Obama succeeded in taking race out of politics and made it possible for Americans to seriously consider someone like him running not as a Black man for president, but as a man running for president who happens to be Black.

"He showed many African-Americans how you can run for political office in conservative America and win," Dewey said.

A CBC member who spoke on condition of anonymity agrees, adding that Obama has opened doors and as a result, the nation will see more Black governors and senators.

"So, his biggest gift may be to African-American lawmakers and future politicians, but also boys and girls, particularly minority boys and girls," the lawmaker said. "They can take it for granted and a lot are already growing up in a generation that doesn't see color. They won't be saddling or burdening themselves with a glass ceiling that they create for themselves."

Civil rights icon John Lewis, who must deal with the realities of Washington politics every day, would not say that Obama should do more for African-Americans, but did say there's still time for the president to "come home."

"He still has time to really make a mark on African-American communities," said Lewis, emphasizing how Obama in his Morehouse and other speeches has recalled growing up without a father and choosing to be a community organizer instead of joining a top law firm, and really exhibited empathy toward his fellow African-Americans.  

"He cannot forget that. It's in his heart and in his gut," Lewis said. "He has a good heart and he will continue to grow and in the end he can become a great president. I'm not prepared to give up on him."

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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Written by Joyce Jones


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