Last Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address. The president gave an outstanding and confident speech, which included his now infamous drop-the-mic comment, “I have no more campaigns to run…. I know because I won both of them.” President Obama not only reminded the country about why we voted for him, he also strategically laid out a robust legislative agenda that demonstrated his inability to become a typical, lame duck president.
The president delivered an economic speech — a path forward for Americans to pursue and achieve the American Dream — but he also covered topics ranging from terrorism and Cuba to climate change and women’s rights. The president gave many examples demonstrating that the state of our union is stronger than ever.
But what about the state of Black America? During and after the speech, we saw Black Twitter engage in a heated debate about whether the SOTU was black enough. My question is, what would make the president’s address “black enough”? What are the metrics used to determine whether he’s satisfied that requirement? Is it a similarly shared gut feeling? Or is it outcome-driven? As a Black man who is constantly stepping into new territory (after all, he did step into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW as commander in chief), President Obama is a trailblazer for dealing creatively and constructively with race and racism. With statements like “If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon” and much needed initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, he is clearly addressing challenges that have plagued this country for years.
As a community, we cannot expect the sitting president of the United States to push a solely “Black” agenda. Well, we can, but perhaps we should consider whether sacrificing his legacy and effectiveness is worth it. He is, after all, the leader of an extremely diverse nation. In his speech, he made a point to address polarizing events. “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed.” He did not use buzzwords “black” or “of color” that a lot of us use and perhaps, would have preferred, but none of us were confused about who he was addressing.
If the president had said “Black Lives Matter” during the State of the Union, what do you think would have happened in Congress? Would it result in sweeping legislation ending racial profiling, stop-and-frisk and excessive force in police departments throughout the country? Would House Majority Whip Steve Scalise renounce once and for all his likeness to “David Duke without the baggage”? Probably not.
Does the fact that people wanted to hear #BlackLivesMatter show that we are more concerned with the hashtag than we are the actual issue? Perhaps. Obviously, it would make me feel better to hear the president proclaim in a joint session of Congress: "BLACK LIVES MATTER!" It would provide us with validation, but at what cost? His entire legislative agenda, which includes fair wages, appropriate family leave policies, tax reform and trade? Feeling better in the short term is not worth sacrificing our ability to rebuild the middle class, potentially restore voting rights and eliminate educational and economic disparities.
This State of the Union was undoubtedly one of his best addresses to date — and many of President Obama’s initiatives demonstrate his commitment to strengthening Black America. President Obama’s commitment is evident through his Raise the Wage initiative, in raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour; at least 6 million workers can be lifted out of poverty. African-Americans are among the 60 percent of people of color that would benefit from this initiative.
Obamacare has already had an invaluable impact on Black America. At the end of last year, nearly 8 million Black people were insured as a result of the Affordable Care Act and, of course, our community was disproportionately uninsured. President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative is another example of his commitment to implement programs that invest in our future generation of leaders. By providing education, workforce training and mentorship, the program can potentially obliterate the cradle to prison pipeline.
Moreover, President Obama has increased efforts to make higher education accessible through making college more affordable with student loan forgiveness, allowing many to reduce their monthly payments, and more importantly, increasing investments in institutions that service minorities — specifically community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities (most recently, announcing an initiative with the Department of Education that would provide greater workforce training for cybersecurity jobs).
To quote my mother: “This is not new. They have been saying this since he got in office. What the hell are the same people doing to address race besides complaining?”
To quote my Dad: “He is the president of the United States of America. I can’t think of any president who has dedicated the State of the Union to African-Americans. He did acknowledge that we have a long way to go and we do.”
#BlackLivesMatter, especially our ability to survive and thrive in a country where we have historically been kept out and left behind. We all deserve life. Let’s live — abundantly.
I used to get livid when people would say President Obama is not the president of Black America, he is the president of all of the United States of America. This statement now has a different meaning to me. He has an obligation to all of America — a responsibility he has hardly shirked. One thing is clear, when President Obama reflects upon the economic uncertainty we faced before his historic election, he can now boldly state, “It’s handled,” and it won’t be in a fictional Olivia Pope kind of way. This POTUS is a real deal fixer — fictional characters need not apply.
Angela Rye, an on-air commentator and political strategist, is Principal and CEO of IMPACT Strategies. Follow her on Twitter.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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