“Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief” “lying African…,” “You lie,” of course it’s about race. While not everyone opposed to President Obama’s policies is a racist, former President Carter was absolutely right.
For many Americans the idea of a Black man in the White House is unthinkable. It runs against American cultural socialization, the country’s historical mythology, challenges the fundamentals of the U.S. social order, and as such, it is a reality that will be fought at every turn.
The response from the Oval Office? Focus solely on the issues; while seeking a politically centrist course aimed at passing a modest change agenda with support form all sides of the political spectrum. The President’s Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett, recently commented that Obama could, if he chose, make an eloquent statement on race, but that his strategy and the direction given to his senior staff is to focus exclusively on the issues.
Centrist policies applied using a race neutral approach applies not only to the current health care debate, but has become the Administration’s overarching strategy, whether the issue is the collapse of the economy or foreign policy. Advancing the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats, the Administration has supported broad-based approaches to stabilizing the economy and ending the wars, theorizing that what benefits all Americans, will help African Americans as well.
But will the rising tide strategy work? And, while the first African American president champions a centrist and race neutral strategy, how should the rest of us respond?
I think that we must respond with a sophisticated, strategic, and vocal demand for our basic human rights — education, life, health care. We have to wage war against hateful, racist speech. And, we have to do so quickly and collectively.
These past nine months have reaffirmed several clear political realities. One, in our constituency-based political system, organized, vocal, and strategic advocates win. Second, the race-neutral approach overlooks the fact that African Americans have been devastated by the economic collapse, and that the dysfunctions in the health and education systems mean that as a community we are less healthy and less educated than the majority population. Even in immigration, people of African descent are more discriminated against. The inequality in immigration means that it is harder for Africans and people of African descent to immigrate to the U.S. and once here they face discrimination based on both race and nationality.
After thirty years of harshly regressive policies — think Reagan, Gingrich, Bush I and II — that have worked against our community, we and every other oppressed group in this society deserve an end to the systems and structures that have fostered exploitation and inequality.
Contrary to the quiet behind the scenes advocacy favored by many African American leaders still enamored with our new President and their new found access to the White House, this is a time for vocal support and for vocal constructive criticism.
Rather than accept, as one African American leader conceded on CNN that any health care bill is better than no health care bill, our community needs to be adamant that legislation and policies that do not directly fix the wrongs in our neighborhoods should not be supported.
Firm, strategic, vocal, and when necessary, in the streets advocacy not only ensures that our communities get what we need, but they may also be perhaps the most powerful way of supporting Barack Obama. Advocacy that pushes him to keep the commitments made during the campaign, and that also provide him political cover may be the only way that we get the progressive approaches we all deserve and desire.