On Saturday night, President Barack Obama stood before the Congressional Black Caucus, an audience filled with Democratic politicians, activists, and some of his own most ardent supporters, and urged them to “take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes.” He told them to “shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do.”
Since then, the president’s scathing remarks — uniquely targeted at his black constituents — have remained virtually unchallenged by many within the black community. This overall silence casts a much-needed spotlight on the role of race in politics. It is a silence that stems from the fact that Obama’s “blackness” has purchased the loyalty and uncritical support of far too many African-Americans and has stifled meaningful critiques from black people and politicians of his administration’s pro-corporate policies.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), for instance, is one of only a few blacks who have publicly criticized the president’s remarks before the CBC. In an interview with CBS News on Monday, Waters described Obama’s comments as “a bit curious.” His statements, however, come as such only to those who overlook the fact that the president was speaking before the Congressional Black Caucus and to its nearly all-black membership.
“The president spoke to the Hispanic Caucus and certainly they are pushing him on immigration,” Waters went on to say, “and he certainly didn’t tell them to stop complaining.” She also pointed out that Obama “would never say that to the gay and lesbian community who pushed him on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Or even in a speech to AIPAC, he would never say to the Jewish community ‘stop complaining’ about Israel.”
And yet, Waters neutralized her initial critique of Obama by later asserting that the president “just kind of got off the teleprompter a bit and got fired up … but I certainly don’t think that he thinks that the Congressional Black Caucus is sitting around in house slippers or bed slippers, or whatever the things are.” She defended him further by adding that, “I don’t think he really meant that and we’re not going to hold it against him.”
By “we,” Waters was likely referring to the members of the CBC and to black people at large who, for far too long, have operated under the illusion that racial solidarity does in fact exist between Obama and themselves. Adherence to this false belief has prevented many African Americans from being critical of Obama and from holding him accountable for both his actions (on behalf of Wall Street and its oligarchs, for instance) and his omissions (when it comes to helping and defending the rights of the poor). As Waters’ watered-down criticisms make plain, notions of racial solidarity have resulted in criticisms from those within the black community who look upon the president’s actions.
Conscientious African Americans ought to use Obama’s remarks before the CBC this past Saturday as a platform from which to launch a broader critique of his administration’s policies and as an opportunity to initiate a serious questioning of his commitment to helping blacks. In addition, blacks must wake up to the fact that being “a brother” is not enough to warrant their steadfast and uncritical support.
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