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Blacks and Obama

Sharon Kyle: Even though blacks in America are suffering more than most during this economic crisis, they are least likely to complain that the Obama administration policies are not benefiting them.

Columnist Kevin Alexander Gray of The Progressive asks, “The dilemma of black politics is whether it is about changing the system or running it. Is it about ending the empire and elitism or running the empire and somehow becoming part of the elite? And what will people sacrifice for the latter?”

black voters

Answers to these questions take us to the heart of the quandary blacks face when questioning the Obama Administration's policies. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly to elect Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. His victory was felt by and extended to all African-Americans. Barack Obama's victory gave a different kind of hope to African-Americans, a group that has contributed mightily to America's success, but that has historically gotten the short end of every stick.

Perhaps because of this, unlike most progressives, the vast majority of African-Americans are deeply loyal to this President. It's as if he symbolizes the realization of a dream and the return-on-investment of their ancestors. Whether the black community knowingly or deliberately seeks to end an empire or run an empire is not known. But what is apparent is that blacks in America are suffering more than most during this economic crisis but they are the least likely to complain about President Obama's policies.

Recently the NAACP held its 102nd Annual Convention at LA's Convention Center. Issues plaguing black America -- mass incarceration, Great Depression-level unemployment, unparalleled foreclosure rates, lack of affordable health insurance and others -- were discussed by the speakers, but the unwritten taboo against uttering a word of dissatisfaction with the President or his Administration was in full force. The Administration's bailing out of Wall Street while ignoring Martin Luther King Streets across America got scant notice.

For legitimate reasons, the black community has continued to rally around President Obama. However, reasons that understandably unite the African-American community in its support for the President -- such as his need for more security than any other president in American history; the blatant disrespect shown to him even while addressing the nation at a Joint Session of Congress; the credence given to those who would question his place of birth or demand his school records; and other unprecedented and blatant displays of disrespect -- have also united the African-American community in its refusal to openly criticize his policies.

Today, African-Americans -- arguably the group most harmed by this economic downturn except possibly Native Americans -- are reluctant to say anything that might suggest that Obama needs to do a better job protecting the most vulnerable in our society. If any other president had enacted the same policies, African-Americans would have been marching in the streets. But black leaders such as Tavis Smiley and Cornel West who have come out and said as much are quickly labeled “Obama Haters”.

In a piece written for CounterPunch, Vijay Prashad said,

“Obama must certainly be defended against attacks to his person. But that defense does not extend to factual and serious criticisms of Obama's policies. The protection of Obama should not mimic the bizarre line of argument that accuses all criticism of Israel as being motivated by anti-Semitism. There is room to both attack racism, and to question Obama's record, just as one must combat anti-Semitism alongside a robust criticism of Israel's record.”

The recent debt-ceiling drama is one of the most recent examples. Even though the “deal” approved by 269 of 435 members of Congress has the potential to cause even more pain in the black community, for the most part, we aren't hearing their outrage.

In a brave and rare move, Congressional Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), have voiced extreme disgust with the bill, with Cleaver referring to the "debt-ceiling" deal as a "sugar-coated Satan Sandwich" and Conyers saying that we need to educate the president. But these voices of disapproval represent a major departure from what we've customarily seen.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Conyers also said we need to educate the people. He couldn't be more right. We have a political system that is increasingly controlled by the wealthy, with policies enacted that disproportionately benefit them and disadvantage others. The link between race and class was magnified in a report released by the Pew Research Center. The data in the report released last month indicates the wealth gap between whites and blacks is worse today than it was 25 years ago.

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Reporting for the Associated Press, Hope Yen recently wrote, “The wealth gaps between whites and minorities have grown to their widest levels in a quarter-century. The recession and uneven recovery have erased decades of minority gains, leaving whites on average with 20 times the net worth of blacks and 18 times that of Hispanics."

The Black Congressional Caucus has come out against the debt-ceiling deal with 24 of its 41 voting members voting against it. This is a positive step considering the impact this deal will likely have on the black community. The table below indicates which members voted in favor of passing the deal Y and which members voted against passing it N.

The Black Congressional Caucus

The Honorable Karen Bass California, 33rd District U.S House of Representatives 408 Canon House Office Building Washignton, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-7084 Y

The Honorable Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. Georgia, 2nd District U.S. House of Representatives 2429 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3631 Y

The Honorable Corrine Brown Florida, 3rd District U.S. House of Representatives 2336 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-0123 N

The Honorable G.K. Butterfield North Carolina, 1st District U.S. House of Representatives 413 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3101 N

The Honorable Andre Carson Indiana, 7th District U.S. House of Representative 425 Cannon House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-4011 N

The Honorable Donna M. Christensen Delegate, Virgin Islands U.S. House of Representatives 1510 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-1790

The Honorable Hansen Clark Michigan, 13th District U.S. House of Representative 1319 Longworth Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-2261 N

The Honorable Yvette Clarke New York, 11th District U.S. House of Representatives 1029 Longworth House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-6231 N

The Honorable William Lacy Clay, Jr. Missouri, 1st District U.S. House of Representative 2418 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-2406 Y

The Honorable Emanuel Cleaver II Missouri, 5th District U. S. House of Representative 1027 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4535 N

The Honorable James E. Clyburn South Carolina, 6th District U.S. House of Representatives 2135 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3315 Y

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. Michigan, 14th District U.S. House of Representatives 2426 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-5126 N

The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings Maryland, 7th District U.S. House of Representatives 2235 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4741 N

The Honorable Danny K. Davis Illinois, 7th District U.S. House of Representatives 2159 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-5006 Y

The Honorable Donna Edwards Maryland, 4th District U.S. House of Representatives 318 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-8699 N

The Honorable Keith Ellison Minnesota, 5th District U.S. House of Representatives 1027 Longworth House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph. 202-225-4755 N

The Honorable Chaka Fattah Pennsylvania, 2nd District U.S. House of Representatives 2301 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4001 Y

The Honorable Marcia L. Fudge Ohio, 11th District U.S. House of Representatives 1019 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-7032 N

The Honorable Al Green Texas, 9th District U.S. House of Representatives 236 Canon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-7508 N

The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings Florida, 23rd District U.S. House of Representatives 2353 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-1313 N

The Honorable Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. Illinois, 2nd District U.S. House of Representatives 2419 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D. C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-0773 N

The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson Texas, 30th District U.S. House of Representatives 2468 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-8885 Y

The Honorable Hank Johnson Georgia , 4th District U.S. House of Representatives 1427 Longworth House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph. 202-225-1605 Y

The Honorable Barbara Lee California, 9th District U.S. House of Representatives 2267 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-2661 N

The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee Texas, 18th District U.S. House of Representatives 2160 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3816 Y

The Honorable John Lewis Georgia, 5th District U. S. House of Representatives 343 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3801 N

The Honorable Gregory W. Meeks New York, 6th District U.S. House of Representatives 2334 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-3461 Y

The Honorable Gwendolynne Moore Wisconsin, 4th District U.S. House of Representatives 2245 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4572 X

The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton Delegate, District of Columbia U.S. House of Representatives 2136 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-8050

The Honorable Donald M. Payne New Jersey, 10th District U.S. House of Representatives 2310 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3436 N

The Honorable Charles B. Rangel New York, 15th District U.S. House of Representatives 2354 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4365 N

The Honorable Laura Richardson California, 37th District U.S. House of Representatives 1330 Longworth House Office Buiding Washington, DC 20515 Ph: 202-225-7924 N

The Honorable Cedric Richmond Louisiana, 2nd District U.S. House of Representatives 415 Canon House Office Building Washignton, D.C. 20515 Ph: (504) 288-3777 Y

The Honorable Bobby L. Rush Illinois, 1st District U.S. House of Representatives 2268 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4372 Y

The Honorable David Scott Georgia, 13th District U. S. House of Representatives 225 Cannon House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-2939 Y

The Honorable Robert C. Scott Virginia, 3rd District U. S. House of Representatives 1201 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-8351 N

The Honorable Terri A. Sewell Alabama, 7th District U. S. House of Representatives 113 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-2665 Y

The Honorable Bennie Thompson Mississippi, 2nd District U. S. House of Representatives 2466 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-5876 N

The Honorable Edolphus Towns New York, 10th District U. S. House of Representatives 2232 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D. C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-5936 N

The Honorable Maxine Waters California, 35th District U.S. House of Representatives 2344 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-2201 N

The Honorable Melvin L. Watt North Carolina, 12th District U. S. House of Representatives 2304 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-1510 N

The Honorable Allen West Florida, 22nd District U.S. House of Representatives 1708 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-3026 Y

The Honorable Frederica Wilson Florida, 17th District U.S. House of Representatives 2430 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515 Ph: 202-225-4506 Y

The devastation that would have ensued had this deal not passed is unquestionable. But what is not clear is the path to take going forward. The Tea Party's willingness to hold the country hostage paid off. Now that they've been rewarded, there's no reason to believe they won't use the same tactics again, perhaps in the fall -- all the more reason for African-Americans to unite with other progressives.

These cross currents between a desire to support the nation's first African-American president and the need to stand tall for progressive values affected me personally this past weekend, when the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party put forward a resolution that opened the possibility of a primary challenge to President Obama. With a foot in both camps -- as an officer of the Progressive Caucus and a member of the African American Caucus -- I can only hope that steps like this one will push the President and his advisors to reassess their policies and move in more progressive directions. African Americans, in particular, need that course correction.

Two developments are worth noting:

During the first week of August, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are launching what they have dubbed the "Poverty Tour", a 15-city bus tour that will highlight the plight of the poor of all races, colors, and creeds. The two will be on the road August 6-12, 2011, starting with a gathering of the nation's often forgotten Native Americans on the Lac Coutre Oreilles Indian Reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin. To learn more about this tour, click here.

Van Jones, founder of the "Rebuild The Dream" organization and former member of the Obama administration, has joined forces with The Campaign for America's Future to build a coalition committed to countering the damage done by the Tea Party. Jones, Robert Reich, leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and others will map out a cross-country drive for economic revival. Details of the movement can be found here.

The Brown Paper Bag Test

In the coming months, African-Americans will increasingly be forced to make a distinction between defending Obama's policies that have yielded to the Tea Party and supporting Obama the man. The two do not have to go hand-in-hand. Unless action is taken to counter the power wielded by the Tea Party, the country -- and especially the black community -- will be in dire economic straits.

Sharon Kyle

Publisher, LA Progressive