It would seem that the nation is fed up. Frustrated by the tone of Washington politics and the slow pace of economic recovery, American satisfaction with our policymakers has sharply declined. According to a new Washington Post opinion poll, the long standoff over the debt ceiling had grave repercussions on the public’s confidence in President Obama and our political party leaders.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans polled indicated that they have little or no confidence in Washington to repair the economy, and the number of people who expressed no confidence at all has nearly doubled since October 2010. While the black community still overwhelmingly supports President Obama, there is a growing concern about his administration’s interest and ability to address the economic issues that are still leading to double-digit rates of unemployment and poverty, as well as increased rates of foreclosure among African-Americans.
According to a Washington Post/CBS poll released in July 2011, “the number of African-Americans who believe the president’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to just over half of those surveyed.”
Our policymakers should feel the fire under their feet.
In response to these rising frustrations and the failure of the administration to explicitly deal with the chronic economic marginalization of black communities, the Congressional Black Caucus recently launched a five-city, “For the People” jobs tour along with more than 40 bills to specifically address black unemployment.
Earlier, Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West launched a “poverty tour,” designed to highlight the absence of a “poverty agenda” from the Obama Administration’s economic recovery efforts.
Unfortunately, a sideshow of ill-informed, comedic responses to the Smiley-West attempt to elevate the cyclical poverty and underdevelopment of black communities has distracted us from what’s really important. It has done nothing more than recreate the same type of public “beef” that has historically undermined real discussions about Black progress in America.
Absent from the public discourse is a critical investigation of why there has been little in the form of a coordinated federal and state legislative or policy response to the lingering economic marginalization and chronic unemployment of African-Americans. Given the dire circumstances facing African-Americans, which predate as well as follow the economic crisis and our slow recovery from it, there is a legitimate reason to question the equity lens of the Obama administration.
While our community is entertained by a sideshow of public posturing, we’re losing sight of the legitimate critique about our nation’s failure to respond to the economic pain hemorrhaging in many of our communities.
What did happen to the poverty lens Obama embraced during his campaign? Where is the strategy session to stop the socioeconomic decline of African-Americans? Where is the comprehensive approach to dismantle the overt discrimination that the chronically unemployed (who are disproportionately African-American) face when they are looking for work? These are all legitimate questions that are not being taken seriously.
We’re also losing sight of the fact that job tours — and any other “march” for jobs — are all reactionary and exploratory. They visibly demonstrate need and dissatisfaction, but they do not directly deal with important barriers along the hiring continuum that keep African-Americans out of work and away from quality economic resources. Perhaps it is time to consider a New Deal for African-Americans — one that acknowledges the unique plight of those who face chronic discrimination and that develops remedies that are intentionally designed to foster equity alongside recovery.
New Deal policies of the 1930s brought on a suite of legislative, regulatory and practical changes that ushered in protections for the middle class. Until key interventions made by the “Black Cabinet”— which included Mary McLeod Bethune as the only woman among the black civil rights elite — Roosevelt’s initial economic recovery policies did little to affect the plight of African Americans and other people of color who were suffering from the Depression.
Like today, the initial set of economic recovery packages did not reach the majority of African Americans, who were “redlined” from participation because of race, gender, and the employment proxies that served to exclude them from New Deal benefits.
While the Obama administration may be less inclined to adopt a “Black Cabinet” given its adoption of a “post-racial” identity, there is still a need to embrace the full spectrum of advisors who are working on critical economic recovery issues in the African American community.
There have been a number of meetings with the leadership of the NAACP, National Action Network and the National Urban League; however the exclusive nature of these discussions reflect a gender bias that omits the important contributions of black female civil rights leaders, such as Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society, Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Dr. Avis Jones DeWeever of the National Council of Negro Women, among others, whose expertise, resources, and reach into our communities could help to shape inclusive policies that do more than offer Band-Aid remedies to deep-seated wounds.
What we need is inclusive, creative political action and an increased investment in new strategies to develop skills, opportunities and resources in all communities, so as to ensure that there are fair and equitable outcomes with respect to this nation’s economic recovery.
Our policymakers should be prioritizing funding to develop jobs and build infrastructure, to protect workers’ rights to organize and protect themselves from exploitation, and to invest in the education of those who will ultimately advance the promise of this democracy. Without these and other key interventions, we may kiss our competitiveness in the global economy good-bye; and that’s not change we can believe in.