African-Americans to President Obama: If Not Now, When?

By April 8, 2013 September 6th, 2013 Commentaries/Opinions, Editors' Choice

President Obama received over 90 percent of votes cast by African-Americans. With Black community support came an expectation the President would focus on their concerns. After waiting patiently, African-Americans ask if not now, when?

African-Americans, alone, did not elect a president. However, their votes and campaign contributions changed the election outcome. To win his second term, the President required the votes of 71 percent of Latino voters, 73 percent of Asians, 55 percent of women and all of those African-American voters. Although Mitt Romney received 59 percent of White voters, Barack Obama received 51.1 percent of the total popular vote and won by 5 million votes.

At over 90 percent, African-American voting numbers are unrivaled. There is also an enormous sense of pride in President Obama, even if the feeling seems unrequited. Perhaps a fear of political backlash prevents the President from openly embracing African-Americans. Too often he treats Black audiences like a chastising parent reminding a child to do chores.

There is hope he will one day acknowledge their devotion. Even when a dismal economy left 14% of Black Americans unemployed and millions under-employed, they waited, patiently. The President Obama was fighting tremendous political and racial obstacles. He needed support, not criticism. Then, the housing market imploded leaving Black Americans with high foreclosure rates. America was fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gun violence escalated. Yet, African-Americans waited.

President John F. Kennedy must have faced a similar situation. It took more than Catholic voters to elect Kennedy. However, the uniqueness of Kennedy’s religion gave Catholic voters an emotional interest in his presidency and an expectation their cause would have a champion. President Kennedy, the first and only Catholic executive, faced pressure by Catholics to intervene in Northern Ireland during its conflict with England. He did so, indirectly.

The Obama Administration has addressed many African-American concerns, directly and indirectly. The Department of Agriculture settled a discrimination lawsuit with Black farmers for $1.25 billion. President Obama, by Executive Order, gave $850 million, over ten years, to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The Affordable Care Act includes preventive medical screenings for diseases disproportionately affecting African-Americans. The Veteran’s Administration was given $140 billion to create jobs for veterans of the Iraq and Afghan Wars; and, treat Post-Traumatic Stress disorder among men and women.

After many African-Americans unfairly received subprime loans leading to high foreclosure rates, the Justice Department, under Eric Holder, sued banks for discriminatory lending resulting in a settlement of $175 million. The Justice Department pressed for a change in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine which had been 100 times higher for crack leading to escalating African-American imprisonment. President Obama and Eric Holder defended voting rights especially Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. The Obama Administration invested in public education with the ‘Race to the Top’ policy and a proposed national pre-school program.

But the African-American community should ask more from the President. Mr. Obama’s stimulus strategy triggered an economic recovery. However, there needs to be a greater focus on bringing employment to the heart of urban communities. Tax incentives will bring businesses into urban communities. However, Black-owned businesses need Small Business loan programs that recognize their particular hardships regarding collateral. If not, the majority of the new urban businesses will be owned by non-Blacks. Although the Justice Department successfully sued banks for discriminatory lending, the victims need programs to assist in re-establishing credit scores.

Gun violence laws are needed. However, urban community centers will save lives. These centers are essential for Black youth to safely play and learn positive social interaction. Unemployment for young Blacks is 25 percent. Job programs for Black urban teens will provide employment skills. Local Veteran Administration offices should be built in African-American communities to better serve Black veterans, create construction jobs, employ office workers, and increase property values.

Justice Department’s investigation of police abuse should include ‘stop and frisk’ policies. Of the 800,000 people stopped in New York City, in 2011, the majority were African-American. The next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court should be an African-American woman.

The President should openly acknowledge African-American political and emotional support. There are problems among Latinos, Asians, women, labor unions, and young people. Yet, when referring to them, the President focuses on their power and not just their problems. He focuses on what they need and not just their neediness. African-Americans have waited patiently for this level of attention.

Now is the time. Mr. President, for those to whom much is given – much is expected.
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Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present,” and a legal correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court and major legal issues.

Gloria Browne-Marshall

About Gloria Browne-Marshall