President Obama has become a racial enigma. When it comes to the black/white divide in America, Obama is believed to be everything from Clarence Thomas to Malcolm X, depending on whom you ask. The right-wing identifies Obama as a radical black man who hates white people, and the progressive black community sees Obama as yet another political sellout fresh off Harvard Yard.
The “great” Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the recipe for success. But the recipe for failure is trying to please everybody.” Therefore, in Cosby’s world, every high ranking black political figure, including Obama, is destined for certain failure.
Whether Obama will go down as a failure or success as president has yet to be determined. I personally believe that his greatest achievement occurred when he was sworn in as the first black president in American history. Like any good marriage, things can sometimes head straight downhill after the honeymoon.
President Obama has been as silent as a church mouse on some of the most riveting and racially-traumatic events to occur in recent U.S. history. He had nothing to say about the shooting death of Oscar Grant, the wedding eve slaughter of Sean Bell or the police shooting death of 7-year old Aiyana Jones. This inactivity may be frustrating to those who thought that Obama’s election was the second-coming of Juneteenth.
The president added insult to injury by then going out of his way to speak out on the inconvenient porch fight between Henry Louis Gates and Officer James Crowley. The clear message being sent was that if you are politically connected, powerful, and wealthy, your issues might be addressed. But if you’re just a black man or woman shot in the street, you probably won’t matter very much to this president.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE HERE:
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On the specific issue of Shirley Sherrod, the president took the noble step of speaking with Sherrod and working to have her reinstated. This was an important move for Obama, given that the Sherrod firing was one of those folded arms, pursed lips, neck-twisted, “so-what-you-gonna-do-now-Barack?” moments for black America. Black folks were angry about what happened to Shirley, because it has happened to so many of us. Fortunately, Obama passed the test and avoided appearing to be yet another black man unwilling to stand up for a black woman in distress in order to save his own rear end.
Someone asked me if I thought black America would ever grow tired of Obama’s deafening silence on matters relating to race. Let’s be clear: black America will never grow tired of President Obama, which is exactly why he will continue to be as silent as he has been to this point. Obama’s election was one of the most significant achievements in African-American history, and in a population that tends to obsessively focus on status symbols at any expense, a black man in the White House represents the ultimate in political bling.
But a more pessimistic possibility for President Obama is that his Democratic Party may be hit very hard during the mid-term elections, leaving him vulnerable to Republican extremism and obstructionism. The far left is not going to come to his defense, since many of them feel betrayed by Obama’s lack of backbone on critical issues. They will continue to cautiously support him, but probably won’t show up to the polls. Black people, who are still working to understand the most effective uses of political power, love Obama to death but feel that their job was done when we got him elected in 2008. They won’t be showing up to the polls either, at least not in the same way they did two years ago.
The explosive first half of Obama’s presidency may turn into an even more interesting and implosive second half. Therefore, anyone sitting around waiting for Obama to do things for black folks during his last two years in office may be deluding themselves. The political future of our president is uncertain, and if he isn’t addressing matters of race at this time, he probably never will do so as president of the United States.