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Rep. Maxine Waters (D. California) has been one of the most vocal advocates on the Black unemployment crisis as of late. Waters has argued that President Obama should use the bully pulpit of the White House to speak in a more balanced way about unprecedented African American suffering.

She has noted that while President Obama gives specific and targeted attention to voters in swing states like Iowa, he doesn’t show the same reaction to the African American community. It seems to Waters and others that the less loyal you are to the president, the more he caters to you.

“There are roughly 3 million African Americans out of work today, a number nearly equal to the entire population of Iowa. I would suggest that if the entire population of Iowa, a key state on the electoral map and a place that served as a stop on the president’s jobs bus tour were unemployed, they would be mentioned in the president’s speech and be the beneficiary of targeted public policy,” Waters said in a statement to POLITICO.

“So, one question to be answered this evening is, are the unemployed in the African-American community, including almost 45 percent of its youth, as important as the people of Iowa?”

Black unemployment is the worst that it’s been in 27 years. It has risen to a startling 16.7 percent, compared to a national average of just 9.1 percent. In fact, Black unemployment likely won’t be lower than 9.1 percent after the recession has come to an end.

“This evening, as the President speaks to the nation about his plan to create jobs, he must acknowledge the economic disaster in the African American community, whose unemployment rate hovers at roughly 16.7 percent, almost double that of the general population and equal to depression-era levels. He must then articulate how the plan he puts forth will target the communities with the highest rates of unemployment, including the African American community,” Waters said.

I only have one thing to say: Applaud Maxine Waters. I don’t cheer for Waters because she is critical of President Obama. I cheer for her because she cares. Waters is laying out the uncomfortable proposition that African American suffering is just as valid and significant as suffering in the white community. This is a simple, yet unconventional concept, because America is a country that continues to believe that Black pain simply doesn’t matter.

Waters, as an elder stateswoman, is showing the kind of passion and energy  that is called for in the Black unemployment crisis. She is a politician who has no problem sharing her emotion, rather than simply calculating how many votes she is going to lose by being “too Black.” She is the kind of politician that Black America needs; a woman willing to sacrifice her career to do what is best for her community.

The idea that Black suffering should remain under the table is an obvious artifact of white supremacy. Whites have an unemployment rate of eight percent (it dropped this month, while Black unemployment continues to skyrocket), but yet they are screaming in pain. What’s interesting is that I dare to say that after this recession is over, African Americans will be expected to cheer for an unemployment rate of eight percent. We will, as in slavery, be asked to feast on the scraps that were rejected by white America. There is no way anyone can argue that this is fair or just. Dr. King’s dream of equality is not real or relevant to the politicians who will be smiling at his memorial dedication ceremony in the near future.

So, I applaud Maxine Waters for doing what the rest of us should have been doing long ago: Judging our political leaders by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Waters’ statements are not necessarily an indictment of Obama, they are an indictment of all of America, ourselves included. You can only get through a crisis of this magnitude with assertive and progressive action, and not by doing the “Potomac Two-Step.” Our community’s hard fought economic foundation is crumbling, so someone needs to get nasty.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. Follow us on Facebook by visiting this link.


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