America’s Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and poor whites resurrected the ideal of “HOPE” espoused by Barack Hussein Obama. For the most part, the color divide in the country raised their collective voice in the form of participatory democracy by re-electing Obama to the Presidency. Some pundits say the election gave Obama a mandate, others say it is a referendum opposing the extreme right. In either case, there is an overarching question to be asked of the Obama Presidency—“What Have You Done for Me Lately?”
This question begs the question, in accord with the maxim by Frederick Douglass, that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will …” What demands have been made of the Obama Administration in the last 4 years? It is easy to come to terms with this reality. Void a national political determination or agenda, the ideal of “HOPE” evolves into a mystical presumption.
For example, the young Hispanic community became vocal and mobilized demanding the implementation of the Dream Act. They petitioned, demonstrated and lobbied for immigration reform on this issue. While they did not accomplish everything they wanted during the competitive election year, Obama did sign into law a compromise immigration law giving immigrant children greater opportunity to not be deported. Similarly, the disproportionate disparity between the criminal penalty of possessing small amounts of crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine was narrowed, modifying the sentences of many Black and Hispanic prisoners who were suffering long prison sentences for crack cocaine convictions.
These examples indicate that, when an issue is made part of the national public political debate, the potential exists to influence and change public policy. Given this understanding, what should be made part of the national Black agenda when 13 percent of Blacks are unemployed compared to 7 percent of whites? This has created a greater drop in income since 2007 than any other racial group. Hence, Black household wealth, which had been concentrated in home ownership, had dropped to its lowest level in decades. This has led to 28 percent of Blacks as a whole and 37 percent of Black children poor, compared to 10 percent of whites as a whole and 13 percent of white children.
Although Obama managed to pass the Affordable Care Act into law, Blacks account for 44 percent of new HIV infections since 2009. Just as disturbing, according to a New York Times article titled “How Prisoners Make Us Look Good” by Sam Roberts:
“According to federal data, 3.1 percent of Black men were in state and federal prison at the end of 2010, compared with 0.5 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 1.3 percent of Hispanics. Among Black men 30 to 34, 7.3 percent were serving a sentence of more than a year. (A total of 748,000 adults were in local jails, 1.5 million were in state or federal prisons, 840,000 were on parole and 4 million were under supervised probation.)”
These facts speak directly and specifically to significant problems confronting a substantial portion of the general voting population that re-elected President Obama. But without a national political determination and agenda, there will not be a comprehensive and sustained demand made of the Obama Administration. Therefore, the answer to the question “What have you done for me lately?” is “What have you demanded I do for you?!”
President Obama has made it explicitly clear he does not represent Black America, despite overwhelming support and expectations of him. I believe he no longer deserves a pass, if he ever did. It is more than time for a Black national agenda to forge public policies that address the myriad problems that continue to keep Black Americans at the bottom of socio-economic development and prosperity, and in the disastrous throes of marginal existence.
Jalil A. Muntaqim