Obama Has Mixed Record on African American Issues

Much has been made of President Barack Obama’s so called controversial statements in last week’s Black Enterprise magazine. As the Reverend Al Sharpton put it, President Obama finally stood up to his handful of critics from black organizations when he said that he is “not the president of black America. I’m the president of the United States of America.” Still, many segments of the black community continue to ponder whether or not the president takes their vote for granted (as most Democrats do).

But one of the major distinctions that I'd like to point out about Obama, and the black vote, is the divide between the vote and the admiration. In many ways, I will always be enamored by Obama the man; the black father with a strong family, the historic figure, the stoic and classy demeanor and the message of hope and change that he sends to blacks who have fallen prey to generational poverty and political complacency. However, Obama the politician is just as vulnerable to the assessment of the black community as the next politician who relies on the black vote.

With just under 90 days until Election Day, now is the perfect time to reassess President Obama’s successes and mishaps in delivering to the black community. Yes, the president is not “the president of Black America,” but he is yet another Democrat who continues to benefit from a loyal voting base in the black community. By measuring how a politician delivers to their strongest constituencies, you can also evaluate the weight of their words and commitments. Not only that, but by hearing it from an everyday voter is a lot more fruitful and less misguiding than a powerhouse that proclaims to represent the opinion of the masses:

Cheer: Obamacare is for the Black Community

Love it or hate it, because it is impossible to fall in the middle on this one, the fact remains that of the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans, minority communities can benefit the most form the mandate. In fact, many black voters view this as one of the President's marquee legislative victories. A combination of health disparities that place African Americans on long pharmacy lines and clinics more than the majority, more than 410,000 African American young adults who would otherwise be uninsured and 2.4 million African American seniors who are expected to save money on preventive health services and prescription drugs are ample reasons for the black community to favor Obamacare. Many in the black community view Obamacare as a concrete framework that Congress should work to fill the gaps in -- as opposed to exhausting time and energy to repeal and campaign against.

Jeer: Unrest in the Black Church

It can be the year 3012 and the Black Church would remain a staple in the black community. With that said, Obama has more than certainly lost some support, or at the very least enthusiasm, from black church leaders and congregants. I can even personally attest to countless voters who wanted Obama to win in 2008, but could not vote against their convictions after evaluating the presidential hopeful’s views on contraceptives and same-sex marriage. Since being inaugurated, Obama has come under fire by the religious establishment in the black community for the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all employers’ health insurance providers, even religion-based institutions, must provide coverage for contraceptives. The president took another 'L' from the Black Church when he became the first president to openly support same-sex marriage. The National Coalition of Black Pastors have made it no secret that they are disappointed with the president’s decision and it is probable that a significant number of black pastors will follow suit.

Cheer: Addressing the Sentencing Ratios

This one is a no brainer. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 officially changed the sentencing disparity between powdered cocaine to crack-cocaine related drug offenses from 100:1 grams to 18:1 gram. The long-standing sentencing disparity set by Ronald Reagan in 1986 has been recognized as the main culprit for a ballooning prison population that targeted young black males. As Civil Rights activist, law professor and acclaimed author Michelle Alexander highlights in The New Jim Crow, between 1980 and 2010 the amount of inmates incarcerated for drug offenses increased from 41,100 to half-a-million — a 1,100% increase. 80% of those who were incarcerated for crack-cocaine related offenses are African American. Over the next four years, the Fair Sentencing Act is expected to shave off an average of three years from the prison stint of over 12,000 Americans. Just about anybody should support fair sentencing and a roll back on a greatly ineffective and expensive crime deterrence, but the disproportionately affected, and even targeted, black community appreciates Obama’s deliverance of a far overdo gesture.

Jeer: Jobs, jobs, and, oh yeah, did I mention jobs?

Not too much needs to be said in this department. Whether unemployment rates are at 3 percent or 8.2 percent, blacks have always been hit harder with higher unemployment rates than the rest of the nation. Currently, 14.1% of the black community is unemployed. That, of course, is inextricably linked to the plight of our higher uninsured population, victims of foreclosure and predatory lending, very low food security population and poverty rates that are higher than the rest of the nation. President Obama can continue to boast about his modest improvements to the manufacturing industry, but very few can be duped when they are sitting at home and listening to the all too familiar “look at the auto-industry” and “It’s not my fault, blame Bush and Congress!” sound bites — it’s gotten too old to appease even the most advent Obama-maniac.

Cheer: Fed and Healthy Youth

Obama’s passing of the Child Nutrition Act gets close to none of the attention that the monumental bill deserves. After virtually no budget increases for the past three decades, the Child Nutrition Act boosts the Child Nutrition Program’s budget by $4.5 billion over a 10-year period. In addition, it allocated more funding for the Department of Agriculture’s Farm-to-School grants and allows the USDA to set nutritional standards for school meals, vending machines and outside venders who sell within a public school's premises. You would think that it is rather intuitive for the federal government to make sure that the food they feed our neediest youth isn’t artery clogging, but it was not until Michelle Obama’s strong “Let’s Move” campaign that the nation made the necessary steps to do something about our obesity scourge. Considering that the black community, particularly African American women, have the highest obesity rates and limited access to healthy foods, Obama ought to be showered with more accolade for this one.

Jeer: Race to a Flop

It seems that Obama makes a weekly quotable speech and kicks off a new initiative to address the 53% of black males that drop out of high school, and the meager 4% of black college-bound high school students that are prepared for college level math, science, English and reading. To his credit, he has made a number of measures to make college more affordable for all Americans through several loan forgiveness programs and reduced interest rates for federal college loans. Unfortunately, the affordability of higher education is only half the battle when blacks are not finishing high school and are hardly prepared for college leveled academics because of a public school system that competes for grants as opposed to successful graduates. 

The woes of Race to the Top, which is essentially No Child Left Behind's illegitimate child, is very evident in my hometown of East New York, Brooklyn, where school after school is being shutdown in exchange for charter schools --which place public school systems in better standing to rack in the points for the $700 million grants provided by Race to the Top. Thus, teacher unions are continuously pressured into publically releasing evaluations that are based off of their ability to teach towards an end of the year exam as opposed to monitoring a child’s progress from k through 12 within a given school system. Despite his charge to protect American teachers in every State of the Union, it hardly adds up to the numbers of educators who are laid off based off of a corrupt evaluation system.

By no surprise, most of the jeers (with the major exception of contraceptives and same-sex marriages) and the cheers that I have listed (with the super-duper exception of Obamacare) are pretty much consistent for Democrat, and some Republican, voters of any ethnic community. Whether you are pro-Romney or not, or if you somehow managed to relate to him and his family, there is no disputing that Ann Romney hit it on the nose when she said that “American women care about jobs.” So do African Americans, Latinos, LGBT and just about every other American community. Come November, there should be no doubt that the Black community will be thinking about unemployment rates and the way we perceive Obama’s efforts in commanding legislation through Congress and ushering results.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Jerome Nathaniel

I am interested in social justice issues that continue to go unaddressed and undermined (prison reform, hunger and poverty and human sex trafficking) by the "juicy" headline stories. I am a recent graduate of the University of Rochester and currently serve as a Hunger Advocate at Rochester's regional food bank, Foodlink. Fun fact: I box, and love to punch things (usually bags. I don't have a problem with people).

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