It’s easy to sit back and criticize. Pretty much anyone, anywhere with access to a computer can spew his/her thoughts on the day’s issues, or worse yet, create hysteria where none exists. When it comes to this president, we’ve watched an unfair number of attacks launched against him from the moment he decided to run for office and throughout his time at the helm. But while vitriol from the right is expected, it’s the petty denigration from supposed progressives and those seeking to make a name for themselves that is the most troubling and disappointing. The latest installment: a piece titled ‘Still Waiting For Our First Black President‘. I can’t think of anything more insulting.
In 2008, we made history. Traditionally marginalized groups stood in line for hours in many cases just to cast a vote and participate in the process. And yes, we elected our first African American President. For people to claim that President Obama’s dedication to the black community is somehow in question, is not only an affront to our Commander-in-Chief’s personal integrity, but also an outright misrepresentation for what he has truly achieved while in office. Despite facing consistent hurdles virtually every step of the way – including conservative members of the House that have attempted to halt his every move – the President has created immense change, much to the benefit of the Black community. And it’s time we start recognizing it.
First and foremost, let’s start with the economy. Inheriting some of the worst conditions since the Great Depression, President Obama’s commitment to passing a stimulus package did in fact avert further financial catastrophe as many economists have highlighted. As the first in the line of fire, people of color were and are directly impacted by his efforts to salvage jobs, housing and this economy. While many, like current Republican frontrunner Willard Mitt Romney, would have liked to see Detroit go bankrupt, the president insisted on saving the auto industry, once called ‘an engine for the African-American middle class’. Today, Detroit is seeing a resurgence, and GM and Chrysler are making record profits while hiring thousands of new workers across the country — many of them African-American.
President Obama’s signature legislation, healthcare reform, was the first successful step in rectifying our fractured system. Creating drastic change that will allow millions of uninsured to receive health coverage (including some 7 million African-Americans) the president not only understands the importance of establishing change within health care, but he has ardently fought opposition every step of the way. Even at the possible cost of his own re-election, President Obama has remained steadfast in his resolve to reform health care so that millions no longer have to choose between feeding their families and going to see a doctor. Let’s not forget all the town hall interruptions, the yelling, the obstruction, the Tea Party and now the Supreme Court that may in fact strike down all of the president’s work to assist Americans unable to pay for health coverage.
Attempts to argue that the President has done little to nothing with regards to the criminal justice system — another area of significant concern within the Black community – are unfounded. Recognizing the unjust sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine possession, the president signed the Fair Sentencing Act that for the first time altered this unjust racial discrepancy. As studies show, Whites, who were more likely to be arrested on powder cocaine offenses, received much lighter sentences, while Blacks received mandatory tough sentences for crack cocaine offenses. Reducing this blatant disparity between crack and powder cocaine possession from a 100-to-1 ratio to 18-to-1, the President is the first to pass this sort of legislation that directly acknowledges and challenges inequities within the justice system.
For years, black farmers in this country have voiced concern over unjust loan practices and discriminatory acts that robbed them of both land and farming opportunities. A collective of these farmers sued the USDA, and it was the Obama administration that settled this litigation known as Pigford II. Signing a bill awarding more than one billion dollars in funding to black farmers discriminated against by the USDA, the president once again made a bold move that his predecessors failed to do.
Rev. Al Sharpton is president of the National Action Network and an MSNBC host.