When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, black people across the world were jubilant. For many it was the culmination of the civil rights struggle. For so long black people had been discriminated against, poorly educated and routinely tossed into prisons. For so long it seemed that there was a glass ceiling, a feeling that no matter how hard we worked we could only achieve so much. By rising up and becoming the leader of the most powerful nation in the entire world, Barack Obama shattered that glass ceiling. The world was our oyster, nothing was beyond us now.
While he was by no means a saint, Bill Clinton’s charismatic and subtle style of leadership proved to be popular particularly with African Americans. George Bush however was in the opinion of many a loud, incompetent, gun loving Yankee, and the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with America.
With the help of warmongering media friends like Rupert Murdoch, he tricked America into entering a war on the basis of lie. He was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians as well as thousands of soldiers. In Obama the world thought they had a man of honour, integrity and humanity. A man who would ultimately bring peace to the world.
However as the end of his first term ends (he’s up for re-election in 2012), the perception of Obama especially in the eyes of black people are nowhere near as rosy.
While he won 95% of the black vote in 2008, his approval rating among black people is now just 58%. Why is that?
For starters, African Americans are essentially in the same position they were in before Obama was elected. While the country’s unemployment rate stands at 9.1 per cent, black unemployment has hit 16.7 per cent, the highest since 1984. Unemployment among male blacks is at 18 per cent, and black teens are unemployed at a rate of 46.5 per cent. While unemployment has increased across the racial spectrum due to the recession it seems that black people that have been forced to bear the brunt of the squeeze.
Black media personalities Tavis Smiley and Cornell West have led calls for Obama to “wake up” to the suffering of the people who were among the primary reasons he was elected in the first place.
His continued defence of Israel and assault on Libya have led many to believe that Obama is no better than Bush. During his election campaign he stated that despite America’s unmatched military power “did not give it the right to do as it pleases”. During a visit to Egypt in 2009 he apologised for America’s role in stereotyping Muslims as terrorists and opposed George Bush’s view that democracy was the only fair system of government and should be spread across the world;
“No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.”
However this is exactly what has taken place in Libya. The popular Mumaar Gaddafi, a man who had given his life to the service of his country and the African continent was forced out of his own nation and a new American friendly government was put in charge of the oil rich nation. The racially motivated lynching and murders of men, women and children believed to be loyal to Gaddafi by this new regime was completely ignored despite the African Union and Amnesty International confirming that it was taking place. His silence in the case of Troy Davis is also unlikely to endear him to black people, many of whom claimed that they would not vote for him as a result of the Davis’s execution.
In addition he has rejected chances to appear at black conventions such as the black America conference, which brought together the most influential black leaders. This has given rise to suspicions that he’s afraid of upsetting white voters. Prominent American Political activist Cornell West labelled him the “black mascot of wall street” and summarised the feeling of many black people in an article earlier this year;
“The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.”
It is hard to deny Mr West’s sentiment as Obama has failed to fulfil the hopes many of us had for him. Can he be considered a villain? It seems unjust to give him such a title at this time, considering how hard he has fought republicans and even members of his own party to bring in his Universal Health Care policy. He is also making progress on his promise to withdraw all US forces from Iraq by 2014 and has recently announced plans to create more jobs and counter unemployment.
Nonetheless, many still believe that he has not done enough to warrant their support a second time around.
Perhaps the truth is that Obama is not as powerful as we think. Legendary Hip-Hop Icon KRS-ONE creatively expressed this point of view in an interview with Journalist Alex Jones in 2009;
“Barack is like the manager of Burger King. All presidents are, including Bush. It’s like this — when your fries are cold, if your burger’s not done right, you go back to Burger King — America, or your government — and you say, ‘My burger’s cold! I want new fries!’ First, you go to the cashier, that’s the courts. You argue to the courts.
“The courts, if you can’t get no justice with the cashier, you say ‘Let me see the manager! I want to go to the Supreme Court! I want to see the President!’ The manager comes out. ‘Hi. What can I do for you?’ Now, the manager can override the decisions of the cashier. But you never get to see the franchise owner of Burger King.
“If you really have a problem with your burger, you need to go see the franchise owner. We need to go to the top, or to the bottom. We need to go to where the real architecture of government is, and it’s not in a President. It’s in a global scheme.”
This sentiment was echoed by Nation of Islam leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan during a black agenda conference held by Tavis Smiley who described Obama as “brilliant” but explained that he does not run the country.
“Our brother was selected before he was elected”
“When you sit in the seat, the forces that surround power (the president) are the real power. President Obama does not run this country (America). President Obama has been chosen to govern white affairs”
The Minister added that despite the fact that a black man is president, the white house is “still the ‘white house’” and explained that Black people have been begging for Jobs and Justice since the 60’s;
“How long are we going to sit around and beg white people to do for us what we have the power to do for ourselves?”
The Minister makes a crucial point. We have been found too often waiting on others to fix our problems rather than taking responsibility for making a new reality for ourselves. In hindsight it was naïve of all of us to expect one man to bring about a change on his own
What about us? Who or what is preventing us from Uniting and working to build our communities up? Who or what is preventing us from seeking a better way of life for ourselves and our families? We now have no one to blame but ourselves for we may not have chosen the cards we were dealt in life but we do have the power to decide how we play them.