President Obama perhaps delivered his most impassioned (some might say angry) moment of his historic presidency during the recent Phoenix dinner, his last address as President of the United States to the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. on Sept. 17.
“My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” Obama proclaimed. “If I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect– read up on our history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote…I will consider it a personal insult–an insult to my legacy– if this community lets down its guard.”
It’s hard for some to imagine President Obama delivering those fiery words to any other segment of his diverse coalition other than a room of mostly Black people. Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the long-time public intellectual, provocateur and author of the book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is among those who have taken issue with Obama’s relationship with the Black community. In her book she says Obama, “scolds instead of uplifts,” Black people.
She explored some of her thoughts about Black people and the Obama years during an interview on Sept. 26 on First Edition.
“The president does not know how to talk to the Congressional Black Caucus, he has shown his hind parts (on more than one occasion)…it was 2012 when he told Black people to put on their marching shoes. He does not get that Black people have his back, he doesn’t get that, he doesn’t have to persuade us,” Malveaux said.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens at the end of this presidency…(what) he and Michelle decide what they’re going to do and what position they take vis-a-vis the Black community. We know they are committed to education…But, I wonder if he’ll continue to take that adversarial tone with African American people or if he feels that’s what he has to do to mollify White people,” Malveaux added.
A former president of Bennett College for Women, Malveaux says “there is a disconnect” when it comes to the president and his most loyal constituency. “And part of the disconnect, as an example, shows up in his treatment of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Who would have thought that under an African American president we would have seen less support for our HBCU?” Malveaux wondered.
“At predominantly White institutions it is assumed you are dumb until you prove that you are smart. In HBCU land it is assumed that you are smart and capable until you go out of your way to prove you are not. Now, we do have students who will go out of their way to prove they are not…but, the fact is that when you go and sit down in somebody’s classroom, by and large they assume you are prepared, they assume you can do the work…They (Black students) at so many of these predominantly White institutions, they have to fight to be taken seriously.
Despite what seemed like perhaps unprecedented obstructionism on the part of Republicans, which many believe was based solely on the fact Obama was the nation’s first Black president, Malveaux argues, “he could have done more,” for Black America.
“Why has the word reparations never passed his lips? There are so many things that he didn’t have to do that he chose to do to prove to the other people that he’s basically not favoring Black people,” Malveaux said.
“But, he did not mind favoring Latinos. He did not mind favoring the LBGTQ community, bathing the White House in the rainbow colors after the Supreme Court’s decision about marriage equality was a lovely gesture and I know it was appreciated. But, you’ll appreciate when I say when are we going to turn it red, black and green?” she added.
When it comes to tangible, unambiguous help for Black Americans directly from the Obama White House, in Malveaux’s mind, the list is meager.
“I think he got the symbolism right. I think there are a lot of African American people and especially African American men felt a little better that a Black man was in there,” she said.
“I think a lot of us, when we see his lovely brown wife and those lovely brown children, when I think about the White House Easter Egg Roll and what it use to look like, and what it looks like now. But, you can’t eat symbolism.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.