by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Since President Obama was elected with 93% of the black vote, there is now a conversation regarding how to leverage unprecedented political support in order to receive the attention from the Obama Administration that such support deserves. The Associated Press wrote about the matter this week, quoting Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President Ben Jealous and National Urban League President Marc Morial along the way.
“I think the president heard us loud and clear. The collective message was, ‘Let’s build on where we already are,’” said Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton then continued to speak to the need to “help the black community” by fighting to support President Obama by averting the pending crisis on the fiscal cliff.
Ben Jealous was also quoted, saying the following:
“We need Republicans to think hard and to pull back from the cliff 98 percent of our families, who make up the bulk of this nation, from seeing our taxes being raised,” Jealous said.
Marc Morial took the conversation in a different direction. Rather than simply repeating the agenda of the Obama Administration and pretending that it is the same as the black agenda, Morial actually spoke to the issues that affect the black community directly. He spoke about a jobs plan for urban areas that have been hardest hit by the recession as part of the path to a full economic recovery. While banks, corporations and white Americans have seen their economic condition improve a great deal over the last four years, due to direct capital injections from Washington, black Americans are facing unemployment rates that would be entirely unacceptable for any other group.
In the context of his request for a jobs program, Morial specifically stated that the programs should be implemented “with a special focus on those communities where unemployment is and remains stubbornly and persistently high.”
“We who represent the nation’s urban communities will demand a seat at the table in these discussions,” he also wrote in his letter.
Do you notice the difference in leadership here? The first two men, Al Sharpton and Ben Jealous, sound like defacto employees of the Obama Administration, as if they are punching a time clock and picking up a check at the end of the day. The easiest way to manipulate someone with a feeble mind is to give them your idea and make them think that it’s their own. While Sharpton and Jealous are certainly intelligent men, their “special gifts” and validation from the White House have led them to dumb themselves down to the administration’s wishes, like an abused wife standing behind her man under any circumstances. This is, quite honestly, just shameful and depletes both men of the credibility necessary to engage in legitimate leadership.
Morial, on the other hand, has served as nothing less than a textbook example of how to play the political game at the top. Morial has preserved his access to the White House by not presenting himself as an adversary to a popular president. At the same time, he’s never said anything to indicate that he is a water boy for the administration. Morial has kept his agenda clear and non-partisan, reaching out to leaders from both major parties and all branches of government, with the expectation that the focus is going to remain on urban communities. Morial doesn’t even force Barack to say the word “black” and has given him enough evasive language to allow him to help his most loyal constituents without worrying about what some bigot is going to think about it.
It saddens me to see our most powerful civil rights leaders bowing to a racist American power structure by giving Democratic leaders carte blanche to leave the black community in ruins. It’s oddly ironic that nearly every word that comes out of the mouths of Sharpton and Jealous is in complete lockstep with whatever talking points they’ve received from Valerie Jarrett and the White House. This is not leadership – this is followership, and Jealous has unfortunately tarnished the already fragile reputation of the NAACP by allowing his work for the president to override his interest in protecting African American people.
When these meetings at the White House occur, they should include at least some of the following people: Marc Morial, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Dr. Wilmer Leon and perhaps even Father Michael Pfleger. Rev. Jackson’s 40 years of service cannot be erased by any president (black, white or bi-racial) and the White House decision to freeze out one of our most storied civil rights leaders is nothing short of the most blatant and disrespectful display of counter-productive cronyism. The Obama Administration refuses to deal with Jesse Jackson because they don’t want to have to answer hard questions from a leader that wouldn’t so easily fit into their pockets.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux, as an MIT educated economist, has the expertise necessary to engage in serious conversations about black unemployment. At least I speculate that she knows more about the topic than a preacher with no formal training in basic economics. Dr. Wilmer Leon has taught classes on how the presidency works, and would therefore be able to make recommendations that are reasonable and fair to President Obama. Father Michael Pfleger is a long-time friend of the Obama family, as well as Valerie Jarrett, and has shown a consistent commitment to solving problems that were previously deemed to be unsolvable (note that he single-handedly produced a significant reduction in gang violence by bringing the gangs together for a Peace Basketball Tournament in Chicago).
If the White House is going to gain any credibility in their alleged commitment to African American people, they have to take these cupcake meetings off the agenda and start doing things of real substantive value. We tried the Sharpton-Jealous-Morial-Obama meetings over the last four years and black unemployment continued to grow to the crisis levels that they’ve reached today. We’ve also seen no significant advances in the epidemics of mass incarceration or urban violence, proving beyond any reasonable doubt, that these meetings have been highly ineffective. When one coaching staff can’t win games, you replace it with another. We can’t afford to drag our feet while millions of families are suffering and children are dying in the streets. It’s time for a civil rights mutiny.
The Obama Administration spent millions of dollars begging black people to stand in line and vote. They asked us to have their backs and we put it on the line unlike any other demographic in America. Now that we’ve shown the courage necessary to endure the political backlash of standing up for the White House to get another four years, it’s time for Obama and his team to return the favor. The days of this one-sided relationship must come to an end and it’s time for this relationship to be one of mutual respect. President Obama knows this himself, and I encourage him to do the right thing.