In a recent interview with Black Enterprise, President Obama stated the obvious.When asked about the vocal criticism of his administration for the perceived lack of action on behalf of the black community, and more specifically black-owned businesses, the president said:
My general view has been consistent throughout, which is that I want all businesses to succeed. I want all Americans to have opportunity. I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America, but the programs that we have put in place have been directed at those folks who are least able to get financing through conventional means, who have been in the past locked out of opportunities that were available to everybody. So, I’ll put my track record up against anybody in terms of us putting in place broad-based programs that ultimately had a huge benefit for African American businesses.
This statement is straightforward, correct, and should not be controversial. The idea that the nation’s first black president is not the representative of all black people should not surprise anyone. The president and his administration have consistently argued that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and passing financial reform, health care reform, and other pieces of landmark legislation that would impact African-Americans more than other groups is them making good on this notion.
This view has been slammed by outspoken critics of the president, including Dr. Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, and at times even members of the Congressional Black Caucus. While the Black Caucus has chosen to constructively criticize the administration in order to push the president on specific policy initiatives from his left flank, others have chosen instead to argue that the president should be more explicit in his own proposals and label them as part of a “black agenda.”
The key is that, by not pushing for an explicitly black agenda, the Obama administration is able to achieve some lofty policy goals for African-Americans without being seen as biased to one group, creating the risk of these pieces of legislation being even more demonized by Republicans. In a political climate where Republicans are already calling Obama the “food stamp president” and already claiming he’s giving too much “free government” to African-Americans it only stands to benefit black people for the Obama administration to push policies to help them without naming it.
In majority-white audiences, this quote from the president should also not come as a surprise. Perhaps there are some right wing Republicans who view the president’s agenda as explicitly “black,” but the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric. Independent white voters also will be comforted to know that the president is not singling out specific groups of Americans as favorites and is simply doing what is best for all Americans, African-Americans included.
As president, Obama has certainly tried his best to assuage these independents with talk of bipartisanship and compromise even while enduring loud and at times valid criticism from not only African-Americans but the left at large.
Furthermore, President Obama is stating an inconvenient fact for some: he really isn’t the president of black people and never was.
The president’s historic win in 2008 was a win for the African-American community, but he was not elected to be the next Martin Luther King, Jr. From now until November, the president will make the case for why he should remain the president of all Americans. President Obama hopes that African-Americans will come along for the ride in numbers matching their enthusiasm from four years ago, despite some disappointments along the way.
Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell