President Obama’s Message to African Americans at the Close of 2009
H/T to Jack and Jill Politics:
The President was interviewed by April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks on December 21, 2009. As Jill Tubman puts it, it’s a black president being interviewed by a black journalist. You can’t miss the significance. Well, here is the audio link: President Obama with White House Correspondent April Ryan
Q: Speaking of the African American community, this seems to be a shift in black leadership, as it relates to supporting you. You have the CBC that’s upset with you about targeting on the jobs front — African Americans, 15.6 percent unemployment rate, expected to go to 20 percent; mainstream America 10 percent. Then you have black actors who supported you — Danny Glover, who’s saying that you’ve not changed, your administration is the same as George W. Bush. What are your thoughts about the fact that black leadership is grumbling, and the fact that people are concerned with you being the first African American President, and they thought that there would be a little bit more compassion for black issues?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, April, I think you just engaged in a big generalization in terms of how you asked that question. If you want me to line up all the black actors, for example, who support me, and put them on one side of the room, and a couple who are grumbling on the other, I’m happy to have that.
I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do. And, so, is there grumbling? Of course there’s grumbling, because we just went through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And everybody is concerned about unemployment, everybody’s concerned about businesses not hiring, everybody’s concerned about their home values declining. And in each of these areas, African Americans have been disproportionately affected. We were some of the folks who were most affected by predatory lending. There’s a long history of us being the last hired and the first fired. As I said, health care — we’re the ones who are in the worst position to absorb companies deciding to drop their health care plans.
So, should people be satisfied? Absolutely not. But let’s take a look at what I’ve done. The Recovery Act helped to lift up an economy that was teetering on the verge of depression. We made sure that states didn’t engage in budget cuts to cut teachers and firefighters and police officers, many of whom are African American. Unemployment insurance we have put in place so that folks can still make their payments and keep their electricity on as consequence of what we’ve done. We have now made enormous investments, historic investments in education, a lot of that targeted into the inner city. Health care I already discussed. This will be hugely important for the African American community.
So this notion somehow that because there wasn’t a transformation overnight that we’ve been neglectful is simply factually not accurate.
Now, do we have to do more work? Absolutely. Because as I said before, the African American community was already hurting before the recession. And that means that the steps we’re taking around education reform, to make sure our schools are performing properly; the fact that, for example, we have recorded historic increases in Pell grants and Perkins loans, which disproportionately help our folks; that is all projected to get our education system up and running, so that it’s working for young people, they can take advantage of the jobs of the future.
When we are designing our green jobs initiatives, one of the things that we’re looking at is how do we make sure that young people in the cities who are going to be weatherized are trained for those weatherization jobs, to put them on a track for a trade over the long term. Small business lending, we have increased Small Business Administration loans by 73 percent, because banks weren’t lending. Those are being lent to African American small businesses, who are out there struggling because the larger banks aren’t helping them out.
So we have made a series of steps that make a huge difference. The only thing I cannot do is, you know, by law I can’t pass laws that say I’m just helping black folks. I’m the President of the entire United States. What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need. That in turn is going to help lift up the African American community.
But we’re going to have a hole that we have to dig out of for a long time, and it has to do with structural impediments to opportunity that we are going to continue to try to knock down. But it’s not going to happen in one year; it’s going to take not just one term, but it’s going to take years. The important point is that we’re moving in the right direction.
Umph. Still, I’m not impressed. This seems canned and formulaic. I know he’s not our Black Saviour. I already know that he cannot specifically target blacks and leave everyone else out. Black people know this; and I think that I as well as they are getting tired of the same excuse being fobbed on us. We’re not satisfied with it. Thing is, though, the comparison between him and Franklin Roosevelt is becoming glaring. Roosevelt knew his own class; he participated in the privileges and at the same time was prejudiced against his own class, and knew that he had to land hard on the rich, bankers, and corporations to save the country. In fact, he did see both sides, but he knew that there were more of us than there were of the rich.
Barack Obama is disconcerting with his embrace of the corporate class and the rich. He was from a middle class background, and it is almost as if he is a striver to work with them and keep them happy, to the detriment of the middle class–high and low–and especially the poor. He appears as if he is breaking his neck for them. Roosevelt was rich and yet he confronted and betrayed his own class. This man who had no legs to walk had the stones to do that and to move the country forward from the brink.
I think Obama’s crack about actors shows a contempt for the elder statespeople in the black community, who despite their shortcomings have seen and experienced a lot. I don’t know whether it is the influence of his upbringing or of Rahm Emmanuel, but he doesn’t like the Sixties. (Dude, if it hadn’t been for the Sixties, your ass wouldn’t be here.) Blacks are uncomfortable about his neo-Cllintonism and how it impacts blacks, and his putting them and other voices at arms length, while he listens to more destructive ones. This is what Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte and John Conyers and Jim Clyburn are concerned about. It’s not about acting and profiling, it’s about activism and showing that you are going to keep your fcking promises.