Obama Needs to Lead All Americans

Listen to the Story

Over the last month a lot of people have offered assessments of Barack Obama’s first year as president. Some folks wonder what his presidency has meant for African Americans in particular. They’re at least three ways to think about it.

The first black president could serve as a role model for African Americans. His story is pretty inspiring stuff, to say the least. But the role model thing just doesn’t seem to be happening. In particular, poor and working-class young African Americans may like and admire the president, but his circumstances are just too far removed from theirs for him to be much of an example.

Another thought: maybe Obama is changing how people who aren’t black think about people who are black. Trouble is that it’s hard to see how Mr. Obama can break down negative stereotypes of blackness when, according to pollsters, most whites and Latinos say that Obama himself is biracial, not black.

Now that’s an interesting thing. Obama’s mother was white. So maybe those folks are simply saying it’s time to relegate the one-drop rule of blackness to the dust bin of history. Or maybe it’s just that everyone wants to claim him. Black folks say he’s people black, white folks say, hey, but he’s white too. Latinos say, hold on, you mean multi-racial, don’t you?

Or maybe for some people the concept of a black man as smart, articulate, masterful, and powerful as Obama is just a little hard to compute.

One blog commentator put it like this: “Obama is not black! … Oprah is black. Samuel Jackson is black. Woopy [sic] Goldberg is black. Mr. T is black. Ja-z is black …Obama is not black and should not be refered to as a black person.” Okay!

A third way that this president could make a difference to African Americans is through his policies. Unfortunately, those policies, while helpful, are falling short so far. Just take a look at the early returns from the stimulus package.

Only a small fraction of the $39 billion in federal contracts awarded in 2009 went to small businesses owned by women, Latinos or African Americans. And The Associated Press reported last year that there’s been much more government spending for places with the lowest unemployment rates than for places with the highest rates.

In other words, the people and communities who need the most help seem to be getting the least. African Americans included.

Listen, blacks have been in America 400 years; Obama has been president 400 days and the man inherited a big-time mess. His administration is still young and it’s tempting to cut him some slack.

We don’t have that luxury. To be the president of all America, as Mr. Obama must be, he must also be the president of all Americans.

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