Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama owes blacks this much

By DeWayne Wickham

TAMPA — There's something disarming about Valerie Jarrett, Barack Obama's consigliere, that dulled the knife I was determined to use to cut to the bone of an issue the Obama administration would rather I ignore

She's soft-spoken, quick to smile and deflects criticism of her boss — the president — with the disapproving glance of a schoolteacher who is disappointed by a student's lack of knowledge.

I got that look from Jarrett when I asked her a question that's been bugging me ever since President Obama backtracked on his harsh criticism of the Cambridge, Mass., cops who had arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Asked about the arrest during a July news conference, Obama said the cops "acted stupidly."

"This has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up," the president said a few days later. Obama said he didn't mean to malign the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer.

"I could have calibrated those words differently," Obama said.

So, when I got the chance to interview Jarrett while she was at the National Association of Black Journalists convention last week, I wanted to know whether the president has reconsidered something he said during an earlier news conference this year.

In March, ABC News correspondent Ann Compton asked Obama whether the issue of race comes up when he has policy discussions with his economic advisers. "I think that the last 64 days has been dominated by me trying to figure out how we're going to fix the economy, and that affects black, brown and white," the president answered.

But a rising tide recovery plan won't be enough to fix the economic problems of blacks whose unemployment is much higher, and family income is far lower, than that of whites. So I asked Jarrett if Obama had rethought his answer.

Pointing to the speech he gave at the NAACP convention in July, she said the president made it very clear "that if you look at the disparities in unemployment, health care and education — all these issues that are his top priorities — they are the areas in which there is suffering disproportionately in the African-American community," Jarrett said. "Everyone is aware that the issues we are tackling in the economy are disproportionately hurting African Americans."

I wish that had been the president's answer. And failing that, I wish he'd gone into the press room a couple of days later — as he did in the Gates' case — and tweaked his response.

He didn't, and that worries me.

Too many blacks — especially black journalists — are reluctant to ask tough questions about what the Obama administration is doing to improve the lives of African Americans. They fear it will embarrass the president, or give his political enemies something to use against him. I worry that not raising these questions — or not getting good answers when we do — will do even greater damage.

Black voters turned out in record numbers to put Obama in the White House. Like any other members of a winning coalition, blacks expect, and deserve, to reap some benefits of the victory they helped make possible.

That, I think, was the point of the question Compton asked Obama. And it was certainly the thrust of the one I put to Jarrett. While her deft handling of my question was disarming, I would like to have heard the president speak those words.

1 comment:

Thrasher said...

Black Americans should leverage Obama. I am pass the emotion and celebration of the end of white privilege and white supremacy in the white house. I contributed to the breaking of the color line and I expect to leverage and take advantage of my efforts and my work over decades in seeking to make our country live up to its ideals . Yet I have encountered a number of people with the opinion that Black people should not seek to press our new president based upon his hue and cultural footprints. Now from my vantage point such a posture and position is foolish, silly and counterproductive on so many levels. It makes no sense to not capitalize on a product I help polish for mass consumption. Black America poured cultural capital into Prez Obama part of his being is the creation of Black America. We were not only his cultural mentor but his landscape and soil . Black Americans were his practice dummies on the field of America's racial games. Those who clamor to the obsolete mantra of a color blind america are living in an obsolete world and there is nothing progressive about ignoring the obvious and the raw truth of reality and the fact of race in our society. From my platform to be truly progressive is to acknowledge existence of one's race and then not be a bigot. Obama is a person of color he is a nonwhite president and as such he has a relationship with nonwhites whether he likes it or not. I have no respect for those who seek to dismiss and deflect and ignore the obvious about race and it's role in our nation and now in the white house. I have no reservations nor will I have any regrets when people accuse me of playing the 'race card" with Obama. Black americans have endured centuries of race based contempt to now expect us to ignore it when we have suffered and died for this moment is an insult and a affront to universal truth. It is a human condition to seek a bond and relationship with another who shares your experience. I offer no apology nor will I moderate or remain passive in seeking to leverage Obama in the white house. Black americans should ignore and dismiss those who claim we are seeking revenge, payback, reparations, special treatment as we seek to leverage our Black agenda in an Obama era white house. I offer no apology at all in my quest to leverage Obama in the white house it is what americans have down for 43 administrations prior to an Obama white house.