by Dr. Boyce Watkins
President Obama has recently been criticized for going to his “binder full of white men” when seeking people to fill important cabinet positions. Only white males need apply when it comes to obtaining certain opportunities within the administration, and even prominent black faces are agreeing that black folks are best kept out in the front yard plowing the fields and pushing each other to the polls. What’s interesting is that many of those who’ve been quiet about this discrimination were the same ones screaming at the top of their lungs when Mitt Romney referenced his “binder full of women” during the presidential debates. Apparently, when Democrats are being racist, it’s called something else.
Congressman Charlie Rangel has been open about his criticism of Obama’s appointments, stating that it’s “embarrassing as h**l” that the nation’s first black president is still afraid of diversity, even in his second term.
MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry got my attentionwhen she chose to defend President Obama’s decision to turn the Oval Office into the Cotton Club. Harris-Perry makes the interesting argument that being black doesn’t mean you care about issues that affect black people. It’s more than ironic that nearly any argument she makes about President Obama is usually in support of his decisions, no matter how flawed they may be. I certainly hope that she is one day rewarded for her unconditional loyalty to the president, since I’m sure it’s not easy for such an intelligent woman to shut down her brain in order to stand by her man so firmly.
I remember getting a call from a Washington insider three years ago, right after receiving another call from the White House. In each conversation, there seemed to be a subtle implication that while President Obama had to be careful and quiet during his first term, he was going to be Django Unchained during the second one: There were going to be major black cabinet appointments, strong language from the bully pulpit in favor of racial equality and a pile of executive orders to fight the black unemployment crisis that has created conditions nearly as horrific as the Great Depression.
I listened patiently to these words, but they went in one ear and out the other. If I’ve learned anything about the fight for equality, it’s that if you’re making excuses for inaction today, you will continue to make excuses tomorrow. For some of us, it’s never the right time to do what is right, and conditions are never perfect for you to engage in meaningful struggle. You either have it in you or you don’t. When it comes to joining in the battle for racial justice, Barack Obama simply doesn’t have it in him. Sadly enough, most quality of life indicators show that 2008 – 2016 may be among the darkest years in history when it comes to collective progress in the African American community. We have paid a huge price to get the Obama family into the White House, and too many believe that this debt does not have to be repaid.
It’s important to remember and understand that Barack Obama is just as white as he is black. So, when he sits in the Oval office getting cozy with his blonde-haired, blue-eyed buddies, he’s not a black man who’s learned how to “play the game.” Instead, he could just as easily be seen as a white man talking to other white guys. This doesn’t take away his black heritage or black wife, and I have no right to question his blackness. But it does say that a biracial child raised in a white family is usually not going to think in the same way as a black child raised in a black family. This is typically going to be true EVEN IF you marry a black woman from the south side of Chicago, or if you are a man who has been trained to convince others that you are all things to all people.
So, while some observers might be stunned that the president is more comfortable appointing white guys from Harvard than anyone else, it all makes sense to me. For President Obama, there is a huge part of him that is ALSO a white guy from Harvard. At Harvard University, the Game of Thrones is one in which cronyism rules the day, all for the sake of protecting wealth, power and privilege (notice that everyone on the Supreme Court attended Harvard or Yale at some point in their career, making our courts into an Aristocracy). Investing in black people, even for righteous reasons, is considered unprofitable, unproductive and stupid. That’s why, to this day, the Harvard Law School has granted tenure to only two black women in its 200-year history of existence. The second appointment only came after Roland Martin and I expressed outrage over the appointment of Harvard dean Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court three years ago – Kagan’s hiring record for minority faculty couldn’t have been worse if the university were being run by David Duke.
So, when I see Melissa Harris-Perry, a brilliant black woman, dumbing herself down to confirm and validate decisions that would lead to outrage if Obama were a Republican, I feel sorry for her. I’m not sure how in the world she, or others like her, can support a system that would even reject someone like herself. Barack Obama is our president, not our King, so one can both support and disagree with him, all at the same time. Giving knee-jerk support to nearly every decision that the administration makes is an assault on democracy, and an insult to those who fought with presidents of the past to give us what little freedom black people have today.
The bottom line is that President Obama, Michelle Obama and even Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett know that there should be more minorities in the president’s cabinet. Accepting so many votes from black people and then ignoring them for important opportunities is the worst and most vile form of political manipulation in history, and the black employees at MSNBC should have no part of it. As a Finance scholar myself and a man who knows the power of the dollar, I encourage the black Obama surrogates on MSNBC to remember that some things should be more important than money.