Many people didn’t think that America would see the day that there would be a non-white president in office. Even if a minority president were to be elected, it didn’t seem plausible that he would be of African American descent. However, against all odds, and against America’s violent and rough racial history, Barack Husein Obama II was elected president of the United States in 2008, and then again in 2012.
With an overwhelmingly supportive African American community backing him up through the election, Obama had some big shoes to fill, some high expectations to live up to. These expectations, however, may have been too high and have certainly not been met. In an article published just a couple of weeks ago in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/has-president-obama-done-enough-for-black-americans/274699/), this exact criticism of Obama is discussed. Many African Americans, from across economic and social lines, had high hopes for his presidency, hoping that he would use his voice to speak up for the black community and look out especially for their interests. However, in his first four-year term, these hopefuls were disappointed by Obama’s “neglect” of race and racial problems in America.
This portion of the black community certainly has a point. Discrimination and inequality are still negatively affecting the black community, with higher unemployment rates, lower education rates, and much higher poverty rates than other citizens living in America. Home ownership rates are lower, and foreclosure is much more likely to occur to a black family than to a white one. While the institutionalization of racial discrimination is still a clear problem in America, Obama has kept relatively quiet on these grounds, something that has angered much of the black community, who expected him to be their advocate.
For a first-term president, however, Obama’s relative silence does not surprise me at all, nor does it surprise many of the hopefuls. Because there was a clear chance for re-election, Obama had to tread lightly on controversial issues. In fact, because he is our first black president, and because racism is so highly institutionalized in American life, Obama had to tread even lighter than many other presidents on these issues as a way to buffer racist feelings that still exist in America. In many ways, Obama had to gain the trust and respect of the millions of Americans who were opposed to seeing a black president in office. Furthermore, NPR asked Obama in 2011 what he felt has special responsibility to the African American community was, and Obama diplomatically and eloquently stated that he had a “special responsibility to look out for the interests of every American” and that his goal was to “promote the kinds of policies that are going to make the biggest difference for the most number of people so that they can live out their American dream.”
Do y’all think that Obama owes the African American community more than that? Or do you think his job, as president, is to treat each group equally, even if their situations aren’t necessarily equal? Do you think that Obama’s second term will differ dramatically from his first as far as race issues are concerned?