despite what we hear to be something of a struggle within his administration
about how close President Barack Obama should be to the African
American community, he showed up at the 100th Anniversary of the
NAACP and shouted out. At some points in his speech, I couldn’t
tell who Obama was and who Ben Jealous, the new CEO was, as Obama
turned country preacher and got busy giving the organization its
said that Blacks had made extraordinary progress, but there are
still the barriers of HIV/AIDS, disproportionate imprisonment, unemployment
and health care. He seemed to understand that in eliminating those
structural inequalities, there was a balance between what he could
do and what the black community might do. So, he talked about fixing
the economy and health care reform, but featured his initiatives
on education. He gave the impression that “No child left behind”
was left behind, not mentioning it once, and changed the inference
that the state of our schools “is an African American problem” to
an American problem that is the responsibility of our leaders.
that vein, he wants to strengthen community colleges to bear more
of the challenge of job training, institute a “race to the top”
fund to give learning incentive to children in public schools and
pilot programs that feature innovative college preparation. I liked
his urging for us to elevate more examples of professional excellence
in fields other than athletics and entertainment as the basis for
to form, he returned to the familiar theme of personal responsibility,
but this time I noticed that the audience seemed somewhat weary.
Perhaps it is because most blacks have climbed up the rough side
of the mountain and have mostly been very responsible, considering
the tremendous odds they have faced. They therefore, may be growing
tired of the preaching and expect that someone with a large White
House megaphone would also remind America this fact.
while he presented both halves of the balance of responsibility
to energize black progress, both government and the black community,
the private sector seldom gets included (except by those who discuss
Reparations) while it has the largest responsibility as providers
of critical resources such as housing, employment and wealth. He
could have said more about this in reforming the economy, by sending
some of that TARP money to community banks to expand credit for
opportunity to have said more about the private sector responsibility
was missed, even though Obama’s NAACP speech was given on the very
day the Senate was discussing his nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor
to the Supreme Court and the major highlight of those hearings was
the Ricci case, featuring Affirmative Action. Although Obama may
have been advised to take a pass because his advisers believed that
an errant comment by him could have been damaging to the judge,
an NAACP audience still needed to hear that Affirmative Action was
not dead, that it is still needed and that his Administration was
committed to it.
liked the strategy that Obama laid out which gave the NAACP the
role of making the White House do what is right, in other words,
being the legitimate protagonist for an agenda of civil and human
rights. It strikes me that is the right posture, not just for a
black president but for any president, as was discussed during the
campaign about his fidelity to the Black Agenda. But being a protagonist
at a time when there is a history-making event, such as a popular
black man sitting in the White House, takes courage and thus far,
little courage has been in evidence by any of the black leadership.
Maybe that is because when you attempt to broach the issue of accountability,
even by accident, you are disbarred from the black community – ask
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tavis Smiley, and others.
the NAACP be up to the role of the legitimate protagonist? I don’t
know because historically, it has also depended upon access to the
White House as a currency of its leadership, and that currency could
be eroded by the alienation that naturally comes from strong opposition.
So, maybe it is not just a role for the NAACP, but for all of our
organizations, to take seriously the task of “tough love” toward
the administration, a role that gives strong support when it is
right on our issues and strong opposition when the need is clearly
there, but nothing happens. What more can anyone ask?
Editorial Board member Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished
Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership
Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University
of Maryland College Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (The Politics of Race and Ethnicity)
(University of Michigan
Press). Click here
to contact Dr. Walters.