As we hit the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, a growing chorus of critics argue that the Obama administration isn’t doing enough for black Americans. Leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus criticized the Obama administration for not specifically targeting black America’s unemployment rate in its economic recovery agenda. Actor Danny Glover joined the fray accusing President Obama of “abandoning” blacks.
For his part, President Obama contends that he is the president of all of America, and that he seeks to implement policies that help all Americans regardless of race. Nevertheless, black op-ed columnists and bloggers—mostly liberal, but even a few conservatives (who contend that the president cares more about white liberals and the gay community, than black America)—continue to debate whether the Obama administration has sufficiently addressed black America’s needs over the past year.
However, there are several problems with the critics’ arguments: (1) the idea that the panacea to black America’s challenges rests primarily in politics; (2) a knee-jerk impulse to look to the government for solutions; and (3) a mindset of President Obama as a modern-day black messiah who displaces rank-and-file blacks as responsible actors (as opposed to victims) in our own lives.
Too many of the president’s black critics expect him to be a miracle worker, even though government does not generate wealth but confiscates pre-existing wealth. In order to combat rising unemployment, black America needs to turn from government assistance to the productive engine that drives much of America’s economy: small business creation. Of the 87 percent of Americans who are not public sector employees, small businesses employ just over half of these Americans. Small businesses have also created 64 percent of new net jobs in the past fifteen years in America.
A key reason why the black unemployment rate is always higher than the national average is that only 5.2 percent of blacks are business owners (one-third to half the rate of other racial groups) and black-owned businesses are more likely to hire black workers. Until black America uses our almost $1 trillion combined GDP GDP that would make us the world’s sixteenth largest economy on our own—to build more businesses and have dollars within our communities, which currently turn over less than once before exiting our communities, we won’t see significant change on the employment front.
It is not President Obama’s responsibility to make sure that some blacks maintain our job skills so we remain employable, spend a little less so we can build rainy day fund, or watch our diet so we require less medical care. Nor is it his responsibility to ensure that some blacks don’t drop out of school. It’s not even his responsibility to protect some blacks from crime. These are issues that are the responsibility of individuals, families, or local and state government, not presidential responsibilities.
The “Obama isn’t doing enough for blacks” criticism also doesn’t acknowledge the growing diversity within black America. Which black people do critics mean? Blacks who are small business owners? Liberal blacks? Conservative blacks? Moderate blacks? Rich blacks? The black middle class? Critics instead state or imply a “black = poor” argument—even though 75 percent of black Americans are not poor—so the very definition of “blackness” becomes narrow.
President Obama can’t save black America, nor is it his responsibility to do so. That responsibility falls upon the rest of us, to use our strengths (for example, black America’s higher-than-the-national-average philanthropy rate, in addition to our combined GDP) to use to improve black communities. The question that we should be asking ourselves: what are we rank-and-file blacks going to do to improve our lives, our families, and our communities, so we progress regardless of who occupies the White House?