President Barack Obama made headlines last August when he remarked during an interview with Black Enterprise magazine, "I'm not the president of black America. I'm the president of the United States of America." He made the controversial remark after being asked how he would respond to criticism that his administration hadn't done enough to help the black community.
While Obama certainly isn't exclusively the president of black America, more than 90 percent of African Americans voted for him in both presidential elections. Accordingly, some civil rights leaders feel that Obama needs to ramp up his support of black Americans and other disadvantaged groups, including immigrants and the poor.
The New York Times interviewed several prominent blacks about their impressions of Obama thus far and their hopes for the president during his second term. Many of their responses were mixed. Take Harvard Law School Professor Randall L. Kennedy, author of The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency. Kennedy told the Times that Obama had been restrained in his outreach to the African-American community. He says Obama hasn't aggressively addressed the high numbers of blacks who are incarcerated or impoverished. "I think the great mass of black people have shown tremendous patience, discipline and understanding, recognizing the dilemma that he faces," he said. In other words, blacks understand that although Obama is the first black president, he cannot appear to favor the African-American community over others.
But other high-profile blacks, such as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, haven't been so understanding of Obama's dilemma. In a piece for CBS News, Smiley encouraged Obama to embrace his blackness and push back against racism. He also suggested that Obama, sworn in during his second inauguration on the bible of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was co-opting the civil rights leader's message but not putting King's words into action.
What do you think? Should Obama make it a priority during his second term to help curb the high black unemployment rate and other barriers African Americans face? I pose this question not only because Obama is black but also because such an overwhelming number of blacks backed him at the ballot box.