Has President Barack Obama helped or hurt black America?

Barack Obama supporters celebrate at his presidential win in 2008. Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images

When the first black American was elected president “It was the moment when the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal.” He was the self-anointed “One we’ve all been waiting for.” Black America knew there was some metaphor, and political populism, in President Barack Obama’s rhetoric, but they were ready to do whatever they had to do to see to it that their dreams of a black president became a reality.

It was inspiring to hear some in the black community say, “If we want to ever have another black American elected president again, we all have to do our part.” Who cares why a person is inspired to do great things, was the right’s reaction to this reaction, as long as they’re inspired.

In previous elections, Democrat presidential candidates received an average of 90% of the black vote. John Kerry won 88% of the black vote, Algore received 95%, and Presidential candidate Barack Obama received 96%. This was an almost unheard of majority of any voting bloc in United States’ elections. Blacks across America were euphoric with this man’s victory. Young, black Americans began to believe anything was possible, and they believed that everything their justifiably cynical elders told them about America was wrong … if for just one moment in the country’s history.  Young, black Americans saw Obama’s election as a fresh new start.

It all turned out to be wishful thinking, unfortunately, as black Americans began to fare far worse under President Obama than they had under Bush.  Under President George W. Bush (Jan. 2007), black unemployment was 7.9%{1}, under Obama it has risen to 13.4% (Oct. 2012). {2}

According to a report released earlier this year by the Bipartisan Policy Center, in 2010, African-American home ownership rates dropped to pre-1990 levels. Blacks owned homes at a rate of 44.3% in 2010, less than two-thirds the rate at which whites owned homes. That same rate inched higher to 45.1% in 2011, but whites owned homes at the far greater rate of 73.7%, according to a report from the liberal Center for American Progress.

That same report, released in April, shows more dismal economic conditions in the African-American community. It found that from 2009 through 2011, black minimum wage workers swelled 16.6%, while whites had only 5.2% more minimum wage workers. Not only, then, has there been a disproportionate increase in the number of African-Americans who are in the unemployment line, but there is also a greater number of blacks working for minimum wage. The same report also found that foreclosure rates in 2011 for African-Americans was 9.8% versus 5.0% for whites, or almost double. {3}

The National Urban League civil rights group showed that from 2005 to 2009 the average black household’s wealth fell by more than half. Nor has economic decline stopped. From 2009 to 2012, median annual household income for blacks fell by 11.1%, compared with a drop of 5.2% for whites and 4.1% for Hispanics. {4} This wasn’t the hope and change African-Americans were looking for in an Obama presidency.

All of these economic indicators are devastating enough for President Barack Obama’s record in the black community, but they pale in comparison to what could’ve been done in the social community of black America. Barack Obama could’ve used his political capital to shore up the fact that most black children don’t live with both parents, that they have one parent in jail, and they are usually born to unwed mothers.  He could’ve, and should’ve, at least addressed this issue more often. Chris Rock has said more to address the problem of fatherless families in black communities than Barack Obama has.

As a good father and husband, Barack Obama stands as an excellent example of what could and should be achieved in the black community, but he could’ve taken it so much further. Growing up without a father, Obama could’ve pushed for a greater sense of responsibility from black men.  He could’ve even quoted Chris Rock:  “(It’s) what you’re supposed to do!” when it came to the responsibilities a man has for his children. He could’ve started an “It’s what you’re supposed to do” campaign, with Chris Rock as the master of the ceremony, to address the issue with more depth through comedy.  Admittedly, no one man —not even the president of the United States— could’ve turned things around overnight, but he and Michelle could’ve made a huge impact on the black community with a few well-placed and well-timed words.

Barack Obama has spoken to outreach groups and begged for stronger participation in mentoring programs, but he’s done so with banal words that avoid being overly judgmental or offensive. The problem preceded President Obama’s tenure as president, of course, but one would think that with the alarming statistics coming out, a more aggressive campaign would’ve been mounted. Judging by the numbers in the black community, in reference to teen pregnancies, unwed mothers, and non-existent fatherhood, the problem has, at least remained the same, and in some cases grown worse during his tenure as president. This could be listed as Obama’s fault by omission.

Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics Larry Sabato disagrees:

“He’s the first African-American president. And in a sense, he lived the African-American agenda,” Sabato said. “I think the policies that he adopted — for better or for worse — they are very much policies that benefit African-Americans.

“But if Obama’s campaign can’t spread that message, there are risks,” Sabato said.

“He’s got to worry about turnout,” Sabato said prior to the 2012 election.”[Obama] doesn’t have to worry about losing votes to Mitt Romney. He has to worry about African-Americans not showing up in the record numbers that showed up in 2008.”In North Carolina, African-American voters make up 23% of the electorate. It’s 20% in Virginia, 13% in Florida and 11% in Ohio. Polls in all of those states show close races between Obama and Romney.{5}

Some have suggested that just because he’s black doesn’t mean that Obama should go about directing legislation that specifically assists the black community, and that is true. He did promise to be president of all of the people, after all, but he could’ve done a lot more to address what many consider one of the nation’s most pressing issues.  While it is also true that he’s a president and not a preacher, President Barack Obama could’ve led some sort of symbolic campaign, or he could’ve put together a commission to address the issue.  He’s addressed gay issues (with the rescinding or don’t ask, don’t tell, and the vocal support he lent to the gay marriage issue), issues that confront women, and illegal immigration, but he has not addressed the issues that may need to be addressed in regard to the sociological issues facing black America. He didn’t have to, and it appears that black voters and leaders won’t hold his feet to the fire over the issues that face them, but one would’ve thought this would’ve been an issue closer to his heart.

{1}     http://money.cnn.com/2012/07/06/news/economy/black-unemployment-rate/index.htm

{2} http://www.theroot.com/views/economist-women-got-latest-black-job-gains





2 thoughts on “Has President Barack Obama helped or hurt black America?

  1. Here’s to hoping that you are right (CLINK!). If you’re not, and I think statistics prove that unfortunately you’re not, then we should let the world know the facts, the figures, and the opinions of the presidential candidates before they vote.


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