A few months ago, a white friend of mine sent me the following YouTube link, with a subject line that simply read, “What do you think about this?:

In it, Michael Eric Dyson goes on a rhetorical tangent, at a 2010 Tavis Smiley-hosted roundtable discussion, about how much he loves President Obama culturally, but not necessarily politically. At the height of his rant, he goes as far as to say that in a Moses-Pharaoh analogy, Obama wouldn’t be the great liberator, leading his people away from oppression. He’d be the one holding them captive in the first place.

I didn’t know what to tell my friend, except to say that I can’t get into Dyson, period, and so his views on how president is failing black folks are outside my sphere of interest. It’s strange to be placed in a position where I’m asked to react to certain racial opinions because I’m black and therefore must have some stake in or strong response to the issue at hand. That wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, so I refrained from further comment.

But Dyson’s ideas agitated me. They agitated me in ways I couldn’t articulate. I didn’t like how they were delivered, with the cadence of a preacher confident of his congregation’s accord. I didn’t like the crowd’s cosigned cheers or the enthusiastic nods of agreement he got from a few other pundits who’d joined him at the table (or, in Cornel West’s case, enthusiastic over-the-head arm-waving, like Dyson just scored a game-winning touchdown). But I especially didn’t like the accusation that Obama had done nothing for African Americans since taking office, while going out of his way to address every other minority group’s concerns.

“At the end of the day,” Dyson quips insultingly, “he’s Jackie Robinson. I’m waiting for Willie Mays to come….”

Good luck with that.

Fast forward to this Sunday, when Jonathan Capehart penned his insightful Washington Post op-ed, “Stop waiting for and start paying attention to our first black president,” in which he dismantles exactly the kinds of ideas Dyson set forth in his rant. Capehart’s article was in response to a piece published two days earlier titled, Still waiting for our first black president.” In it, writer Fredrick Harris asserts:

Obama’s defenders have repeatedly said he must be a president for all Americans, not just African Americans, and Obama himself has made similar statements. But this argument is disingenuous. When other important constituencies ask the president to support their policy initiatives — say, Jewish groups on Middle East matters, or the LGBT community on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and marriage equality, or women’s groups on reproductive rights — can you imagine him responding that he can’t address their particular interests because, as president, he has to be concerned with all people?

So on racial inequality, why do black voters have to take a back seat?

Well, since we’re discussing seats, here’s where Capehart suggests that Mr. Harris have one:

By searching for marquis moments, Harris and others appear not to care about the myriad actions Obama has undertaken that affect the lives of all Americans, yes, but also of African Americans more directly. And I certainly don’t advocate for Obama to burst into the East Room clad in Kente cloth and brandishing a definable “black agenda”or whatever else so many blacks seem to want from him to prove that he cares.

Someone who started his career on the south side of Chicago, whose wife is also from Chicago and who also has two young black daughters, doesn’t wake up one day and say, I don’t care about African Americans. That’s why it bothers me to no end that those who are “still waiting for our first black president” seem unwilling to pay attention to what the first black president is actually doing.

Capehart earlier states that Obama has been addressing issues of concerns to African Americans all along. He just hasn’t been name-dropping his efforts to court the black vote (which, by and large, he already has). Both writers’ essays are worth reading in their entirety. Once you do, come back to Clutch and weigh in.

What do you think? Do Dyson, Harris, and other Obama detractors have a point? Or should the examples of action Capehart provides be enough to end their accusations?

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  • Guest

    And I certainly don’t advocate for Obama to burst into the East Room clad in Kente cloth and brandishing a definable “black agenda”


  • Kiki

    Wow! What a load of oblivion, denial and not even a pretence of aspiring to be part of the intelligencia (grateful, that’s for you). Before you start spouting off and criticizing members of your own community who have as much right to research the issues, analyze them and critique them and your president, why don’t you take a closer look at Obama’s record. Here for starters:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/president-obamas-neglect-for-the-black-community/2012/04/24/gIQAvKHMeT_blog.html; then here: http://freedomroad.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=793%3Acondemn-the-us-boycott-of-durban-iii-renew-the-fight-for-reparations&catid=174%3Aoppressed-nationalities&Itemid=227&lang=en and finally, here: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Shameful-U-S-Boycott-Must-by-Ida-Hakim-090412-392.html.

    Also, I can’t believe someone here mentioned that African-Americans numbers are so small it’s OK to ignore you. Got a penny to buy a clue? You’re nearly 13% less than 2% less than the Hispanic population Obama can’t get enough of.The gay community that Obama is so busy courting is estimated at 2 to 4%. http://cnsnews.com/news/article/us-adults-overestimate-homosexual-population-much-tenfold So what’s your point?

    And bk chick, a white president can discuss and deal openly with the races but a black president can’t? Ah, the irony, you’re promoting inequality and discrimination. Good job. I guess if you ever get a female president she should be mum on issues of abortion, gender equality, pay equity and child care. Geez.

    Ms. Information – Is that a play on “Misinformation”?

    • Toppin

      Jesus Christ, please learn to read IN CONTEXT. Not only did you not understand my comments but it appears you didn’t understand any other comments on this blog.

    • @miki…if you’re going to crticize please read my entire comment. I’m simply analyzing why Obama can’t openly pandet to blacks. A woman candidate advocating for women is not as controversial because it will not disgruntle independents who can swing an elwvtikn. However pandering for blacks will def hurt him because of our racial climate and energize true GOP base. Recently there was a campaign to renew the image of barack as radical in connection to Jeremiah wright. Until society respects the fact .that blacks need to fight for our issues or we demand respect by showimg we won’t vote till we are panderd too then Obama has to thread lightly.

  • khrish

    I get so sick of people trying to tell me this. And I am especially sick of Tavis and the professor.

  • Questknowledge

    Black people have been strategically manipulated into believing that if we elect a black man into office he will emphatically and unsympathetically fight for our interests, WRONG!. Obama has never and will never openly and firmly stand on the side of the so called black man. Obama is a bought man, he’s just a pawn in an intricate game of chess. He’s just a distraction, an illusion to keep us quiet and docile.

    These black intellectuals crack me up. People such as Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Cornell West will debate from sun up to sun down travel east to west, critique and criticize, condemn and excuse but how many checks you think they’ve cut to support a true black movement? How many doors you think they’ve knocked on to get black people involved and educated? I’m going to take a wild guess and say none. With all them college degrees and fancy rhetoric they can’t organize and empower a group of people who they claim to hold the best interest of?

    The only way that we can thrive as a whole, meaning the entire black diaspora is to invest in our own businesses from Timbuktu to Australia. Help each other out, don’t borrow money from the white man. Trust in our fellow brother and sister. Black Americans have the most disposable income of all the diaspora and most of us don’t even own land. We owe not own. Lets put our money in Africa buy land create distribution like Marcus Garvey planned. We have so much potential. PEACE & LOVE!

    • pink

      Quest: It’s our (individual) faults (black people that is), that some of us don’t prosper. Every other ethnic group comes to this country and they work at sticking together; tell each other about jobs, and even go as far as helping to get someone hired at their place of employment.I say (some) of us because we often forget, or don’t mention that there are lots of black people doing very well. They have great jobs, decent cars, and a mortage on their home (just like other average Americans)…..most average people don’t own their home outright. As for investing in Africa; I’ll let the people with (real) money do that. Realistically speaking the average person doesn’t have money to invest in Africa; they are busy trying to maintain their own households. Plus regarding Africa…..if truth be told….a lot of Africans don’t embrace African Americans. Again….for the record. THERE ARE LOTS OF BLACK PEOPLE DOING VERY WELL…..Every black person doesn’t live in the hood; nor is every black person on food stamps, and welfare.

    • Questknowledge

      Hey Pink,

      You sound defeated. This is the type of attitude that has proven detrimental to us as a people. We all want to take take take, not sacrifice and take some more and complain that we don’t have and ask the white man for help. Let me drop a jewel on you, Since 2000, the disposable income, of African Americans/Blacks has risen to an astounding $1.2 trillion dollars; here is the link to the proof sense I pride myself on having a rational discussion based on facts (http://www.murraygilford.com/)

      Disposable income is defined as Income remaining after deduction of taxes and other mandatory charges, available to be spent or saved as one wishes. Meaning the money you spend getting your hair done, nails done, going to the movies, and or enjoying a scoop of Baskin Robins ice cream can be easily invested in black owned businesses domestically and internationally.

      There is always a reason an excuse as to why we don’t do something. We have the power to change our circumstance for the better. We can build our own schools and hospitals, make it to where our schools are thriving and instead of our kids going to a school in another distract those in supposed “good” schools will be beating down the doors to come to ours.

    • pink

      Quest: Believe me I am not defeated. You know absolutely nothing about me. This is a blog….so me, and most people don’t divulge to much info about our personal lives (including our finances). I usually blog in generalities. As for asking the white man for help; that is NOT my mantra. I ain’t mad at you though for trying to save the community; I just hope it’s real action, and not just a lot of talk. Bye

  • pink

    A lot of us are weighing in on what we would, or should do as President. Bottomline is we aren’t the President, and most of us don’t really know what we would do if we were. It’s easier said, than done. There’s a reason for the saying “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”