Why I’d Trade My Timid Black President for a White Guy With No Fear

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barack obama and pastor michael pfleger

I woke up this morning asking God if I could make a trade.  Similar to the NBA, when you have one player on the team who isn’t performing at the level you’d hoped, you try to get someone else who fits the criteria necessary to help the team find victory.  In this case, we are playing for Team Black America.

Of course I know that America is not the kind of country that would elect someone like Father Michael Pfleger as its president.  Father Pfleger is the kind of pastor that becomes the nightmare of anyone who chooses to live his/her life cloaked in the comfort of hypocrisy.  He says what he means and does what he says, and seems to have very little fear as he does it.    In fact, I would dare say that Father Pfleger might be well defined to be an angry black man.

But when I consider Father Pfleger’s track record of fighting tirelessly for those who need it, I can’t help but notice that my faith in his commitment to our community far exceeds that which I have in the political Messiah that we’ve placed in the White House.   When I hold onto any hope for true change as it pertains to the black community, I realize that this change will come from empowered community activists like Pfleger instead of politicians who are trying to please everyone else.

So, here are a few reasons that I’d gladly trade our first black president for the white guy who will never be president of anything:

1)      He isn’t afraid to challenge the establishment

Most people who are outside of the establishment spend their lives trying to find a way in.  You do something noteworthy and you’re suddenly rubbing elbows with the rich, powerful and famous.   The comfort of the establishment can, unfortunately make you weak and docile, to the point that you are afraid to say or do nearly anything because you are worried about losing money, offending the wrong person or losing some prominent position that you’ve obtained.  The black community’s incessant need for financial security and white American validation serve as key factors which undermine our ability to fight for racial justice.

When you are owned and controlled by something, it’s difficult to challenge the thing that controls you.  Obama lives and breathes America’s capitalist military machine, which means that the most powerful man in the world may not be powerful at all. Father Pfleger doesn’t seem to have that problem, for he’s gone head-to-head with his own superiors within the Catholic Church and shown a willingness to give up his place in the establishment in order to do what is right.

When I think about the words “What would Jesus do?” I think about Father Pfleger.  Jesus could have been the most powerful megapastor in the world, but when given the chance to trade-in his integrity, he kicked over tables instead.

2)      He’s willing to fight and even die for what he believes in

Barack Obama has an interesting way of fighting.  He seems to believe that you can fight for a just cause and remain concerned about self-preservation, all at the same time.  The man who has pardoned fewer citizens than former president Bush (the overwhelming majority of whom are white) seems more concerned about being re-elected and retiring at Martha’s Vineyard with his Harvard classmates than he does about getting his hands dirty and doing the hard work that needs to be done.

It is also true that, when fighting for a cause you believe in, you must be fully prepared to go down bloody and burning.  Father Pfleger has put his life on the line standing up to local gang members and even working to convert them.  He spends time in the worst parts of one of the most violent cities in America even though he doesn’t have to.  Although President Obama has the term “community organizer” in his background, many of my friends from Chicago don’t remember him organizing much of anything.

3)      He doesn’t seem to care how many friends he loses

Father Pfleger doesn’t appear to worry about losing friends, his reputation, his job or anything else when he goes to war.  He seems to realize that if you want someone to respect you, you must be fully willing to accept that this person may not like you when the fight is over (in a football game, you can’t politely ask the other team’s permission to score points).  I admit that it sometimes appears that President Obama works harder to build consensus and maintain relationships than he does to fight for his most loyal constituents.  This is hardly the disposition necessary for a man to achieve the level of change that Barack Obama promised during his campaign.

4)      White people might actually listen to him

Racism is interesting.  A black man can be talented and intelligent (as Obama is himself) and have all the qualifications in the world, but people don’t respond to him in the same way they would if he were white.  Even Father Pfleger might admit that people would not consider him to be as much of a hero if he were a black man doing the same thing.  In fact, another Chicago pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has been equally assertive in his willingness to do unpopular things to help an oppressed people who are deeply in need of meaningful leadership.

So, maybe a white president who cares about black causes would be more empowered to act than a black man who has to treat his blackness as a liability.  For millions of white Americans, Obama was elected in spite of being black, rather than because of it.

5)      He wouldn’t be so self-conscious about race

In his quest to make conservatives comfortable, Obama hasn’t brought forth any assertive policy, executive order or bold “bully pulpit” announcement that directly impacts the black community.    The courage with which the Obama White House has stood up for the gay community, women’s rights groups and Latinos has yet to be matched for African Americans, who have been far more loyal than any of those groups.  Even the two Supreme Court picks the president had in his possession went to a Latino woman and a white woman from Harvard with a racially-exclusive hiring record (Elena Kagan didn’t hire or promote one single black, latino or native American tenure track professor during her entire six year term as dean at Harvard Law School).  Dorothy Height, before she died, told President Obama that it is sad that after existing for two centuries, the Supreme Court has yet to have an African American woman….at the same time, they’ve had dozens of Harvard graduates like Obama.

There appears to be an odd self-consciousness that Obama has when it comes to avoiding the crime of being considered to be “too black.”  Therefore, we have a black president who hasn’t said the words “African American” in any major public forum in the last three years of his presidency.  A white guy would not have to tip toe around the issue of race because he would never be accused of being too black.  That makes Father Pfleger the perfect double agent.

Once again, I know that Pastor Michael Pfleger would never be President of the United States.  The point is that as we work to become a truly post-racial society, we have to realize that what you do matters far more than what you believe on the inside.  Barack Obama can (as Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said recently) have “genuine love” for the black community all he wants, but if he doesn’t do anything to prove it, then his words don’t mean a thing.  In fact, promises that are not precursors to action are effectively bold faced lies.

Most of us know what we should do and what we’d like to do, but few of us have the courage to actually do it.  That’s what makes Father Michael Pfleger so special.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To receive Dr. Boyce commentary in your email, please click here.

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