by Dr. Boyce Watkins
The era of Barack Obama is highly intriguing to me for at least a couple of reasons: First, at no point in American history has any group of people supported a candidate so readily and received so little in return. The Obama Administration has pardoned almost no black men, even among those who are in prison for laws that have been taken off the books. Also, black unemployment has rarely enters any meaningful White House discussion (note how Bob Johnson says the White House misled him about following up after agreeing to support his plan to fix black unemployment by supporting black-owned businesses – I’m sure they’re rather just keep meeting with Al Sharpton). Finally, racism is apparently no longer worth fighting against, at least at the highest levels – we would demand no such thing from such an “important and busy” man.
The second reason I find the age of Obama to be intriguing is that I’ve never seen a time when voting for someone is not enough; people instead expect you to love the president as if he were a relative. Someone asked me why I don’t support President Obama. I simply replied: “I endorsed him before you did, that’s all that any politician should ever get from any of us. Therefore, I’ve supported Barack Obama more than any president in American history. And that makes me a hater?” For some reason, questioning the policies of the administration is defined to be traitorous, which is a problematic violation of our most fundamental American liberties.
I’ve stopped discussing the policies of the Obama Administration with people who’ve decided before the fact that they either love Obama or hate him. In my view, these two groups balance each other out, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, fighting for territory without spending much time worrying about what’s right for the country. Many of us hang out on either MSNBC or Fox News, not looking for truth, but instead, seeking out whatever information serves to confirm our chosen obsession.
Instead of speaking with cheerleaders or attack dogs, I gain insights from those who can speak highly of the president one week and bash him the next. This is the kind of analysis we need in order to ensure that a) the politicians we support actually get into office, and b) they do their jobs once they get there. Love and hate are powerful emotions, almost like addictions. One thing I know is that the irrational addict never has power over the pusher, which is why a politician who has convinced his constituents to value style over substance has little incentive to do anything for the citizens who back him the most.
Here are a few ways to know if someone is in love with President Obama:
1) When a person critiques any of the administration’s policies, they are automatically defined to be a “hater” or jealous of the president: I’ve been accused of being jealous on many occasions when I point out problems with the administration’s policies, even though I’d never want to live in the White House. When someone accuses me of being jealous, I then ask the attacker if they are criticizing me because they are jealous of me (since the logic appears to imply that any critique must be rooted in jealousy). Reducing every critic to a hater is an easy way to keep the subject from addressing the nature of the critique, which might be part of the plan in the first place: If I can convince the world that Cornel West is an idiot who simply hates Barack Obama for no good reason, then I never have to defend the president’s questionable record on poverty eradication.
2) When someone asks you about any of the president’s policy positions or whether he has fulfilled campaign promises, you have very evidence to support your point of view: If you can’t explain exactly why you support a candidate, then you probably shouldn’t be supporting him.
3) If you watched the State of the Union Address and spent most of your time noticing how cute Sasha and Malia were in the audience, or marveling over the colors of the first lady’s dress: The kids are adorable and Michelle is beautiful, but when evaluating the commander-in-chief of the most powerful nation on earth, we might want to actually pay attention to how he’s doing the job. The president might have as much “swag” as Denzel Washington, but black people have never progressed historically by relying on swag.
4) When someone mentions drones being dropped on little babies in third world countries or the indefinite detention of American citizens, you change the subject or don’t want to hear it: If you cried for the little babies at Sandy Hook but have no tears for the babies in Palestine, Yemen or the south side of Chicago, then your sympathies are biased, elitist and effectively misguided. All of God’s children matter, even if we don’t think they do.
5) If you regularly use phrases like “I love my president,” or join facebook fan pages with titles like “I love waking up in the morning knowing that Barack Obama is my president:” Obama’s election is a wonderful thing, but it’s not Juneteenth all over again. His/her ability to gain the approval of white America may not be the best way to evaluate the achievements of any black man or woman. Runaway slaves rarely met with white approval, yet they were the bravest among us; the same can be said about hated men like Malcolm X, who fought for self-sufficiency and the ability to speak freely and stand tall in the face of oppressive opposition. As much as we might love President Barack Obama, most of us would agree that his team has decided that speaking freely and honestly in favor of black Americans is a burden they are not strong enough to bear.
6) If you have a picture of Obama right next to Martin Luther King and Jesus: Barack Obama’s picture should be placed next to John F. Kennedy and perhaps Thurgood Marshall, but not Martin Luther King. King paved the way for Obama, but I doubt that Obama would pave the way for the next Martin Luther King; in fact, Valerie Jarrett would probably be seeking to destroy his reputation, since King said many of the same things that Cornel West is saying today. King spoke about racism and poverty, two topics that Obama has almost never chosen to address; that, my friends, is a fact.
7) If you’re getting angry while reading this list: One way to cure yourself of incurable political love is to stop getting angry at me for creating this list. If you’re upset with me right now, it’s because deep in your soul, you know that I might be right. Your other option is to write me off as either being jealous or a hater, which fits into the first item on this list. Instead, I suggest that you become familiar with the president’s policies so that you can defend him the next time someone criticizes him. You might also determine that perhaps it’s possible to support a political leader while still pushing him to do his best on your behalf. Political support should not be a one way street.
8) If you respected Cornel West and Jesse Jackson in 2007 and hate their guts today: One huge price to be paid by black America for the Obama presidency it is that authentic black advocacy is being murdered in exchange for an administration that will barely mention black people in public. Rather than realizing that we can respect both Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson at the same time, people are replacing one for the other. Let’s be clear: there are things that Jesse Jackson will say on our behalf that Barack Obama would NEVER say. While President Obama is fighting for gay marriage, Jesse Jackson is speaking up on black unemployment, mass incarceration and urban violence, topics that the president won’t ever make time to address.
When Barack Obama leaves office, he’s going to retire with all the other former presidents, only joining up with causes that are bigger and more “important” than those in the black community. On the other hand, Cornel West is still going to be fighting the next president on behalf of black people. Replacing Cornel West with Barack Obama is like a woman getting rid of her brother because she has a new boyfriend: One guy has been with you for life and the other could be gone in the blink of an eye. It’s a very risky and unnecessary exchange to say the least.
The point here is not to attack those who support President Obama. For the most part, I probably agree with you. Instead, it is to simply say that the political game is a negotiating process, not unlike buying a new car. Politicians, like used car salesmen, are manipulators by trade, and the minute they realize you’re in love with the product, they are trained to jack up the price. Don’t let politicians manipulate you, even black ones; instead, demand that they do their jobs.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Commercialized Hip-Hop: The Gospel of Self Destruction.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.