As we sit on the precipice of yet another crucial presidential election, many black pundits are wondering what a possible Obama second term would mean for African Americans.

Since the President was elected there has been no shortage of criticism from black “leaders” and intellectuals who have called for Mr. Obama to be more aggressive about targeting policies toward African Americans. While Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornell West have been two of the President’s most outspoken critics, many in the black community have written them off as “haters.” After Dr. West and Smiley’s radio show was canceled in several markets, Dr. Boyce Watkins (another outspoken Obama critic) is crying foul.

In a new essay, Dr. Watkins claims that “King Obama” is “neutering” black leaders.

He explains:

I refer to Barack as “King Obama” because it appears that many African Americans don’t want a Democracy, but instead prefer an Aristocracy. We want the king to have absolute power, like Bishop Eddie Long running a vacation bible school for teenagers. Rather than living in a land that supports antiquated ideas like “freedom of speech,” we prefer a world where anyone who dares to question the will of the king should have his head cut off in public. Rev. Jesse Jackson, for example, has been cut off from the Obama White House for four years since being caught on camera saying that he wanted to remove some “critical body parts” of the president, but it is King Barack who has actually done all the neutering. 

Not only have President Obama and his team dismantled and discredited nearly all of their African American critics (not via substantive arguments, since the black community is far worse off now than it was in 2008 – I challenge anyone to present data to the contrary), they’ve also emasculated many of their African American allies. Rev. Al Sharpton inexplicably went onto 60 Minutes and said that he would NEVER criticize President Obama, even if he was wrong or the black community was suffering (which it is). This kind of relationship is one that goes beyond the expectations of standard political support and ventures into the land of the blatantly corrupt and comically dysfunctional. Nearly every black analyst given a position on MSNBC, TheGrio or a few other outlets is expected to bow to the king at all times, or risk losing it all. This is NOT the way Democracy is supposed to work, and this is also why we continue to be disrespected as a viable political constituency.

Tavis and Cornel are important for the preservation of freedom within the black community. You don’t have to agree with them in order to appreciate their right to intelligent self-expression. If you think they’re wrong, then PROVE IT. Don’t just try to discredit them as irrelevant hacks. Any time we are more focused on suppressing inconvenient truths than confronting them, we are truly lost. It’s not as if anyone can argue that Cornel and Tavis are lying about the poverty problem in America, since every study imaginable says they are correct. It’s not as if anyone can say that they are misleading us about the depth of mass incarceration and urban violence, our children are filling up body bags and prison cells all across America. The dividing line that has emerged in black leadership today is that there are some who feel that the value of protecting a president from any form of black accountability far exceeds the consequence of seeing millions of people suffer in poverty, death and despair. I do not find this to be acceptable.

While I agree with Dr. Watkins that many African Americans have been less than critical of the President because he’s the first black man to ever hold the office, I don’t pin this lack of public critique on the President, but rather the people.

Unless the Obama Administration is engaging in some J. Edgar Hoover-esque infiltration of black organizations (a point Watkins alludes to without evidence), Dr. Watkins and other black public intellectuals who feel “black leaders” (whoever they are) have been neutered, they should look in the mirror.

As Tavis Smiley and Dr. West prove, no one is stopping them from speaking their mind. While they may not be on as many radios across the nation, the rise of new media affords anyone the opportunity to continue to air their critiques of the President as well as discuss many of the issues facing the black community. Whether or not Dr. West and Smiley are being critiqued or shunned by the community has little to do with President Obama doing the “neutering,” but rather the community’s inability to find value in their delivery.

But I get it. It’s easier to call the President “King Obama” and pin all of the critiques on him instead of calling the black community out for not being as critical or vocal as we need to be for our issues.

While Immigration and LGBT advocates have been organizing, lobbying, and raising funds for their cause, African Americans have been working in silos. Instead of uniting around causes that directly affect us (education policy, poverty, health care, etc.), we’ve left many of the advocating up to others.

If anyone has “neutered” black leaders it has been us.

Many of us feel we don’t need black leaders, and if we do, they certainly won’t be the old guard like Jessie Jackson, someone Dr. Watkins thinks should have been welcomed to the White House with open arms after saying the President should have his “balls cut off.”

If the old guard of black leaders have been “neutered” and emasculated–and I find this ironic since all of the “leaders” Watkins seems to allude to are all male–it’s because many have failed to connect to young people and inspire them to get involved and become fierce advocates for the issues.

So while Dr. Watkins blames “King Obama” for muting the voices of those who have been critical of him, as Dr. Watkins’ article and Dr. West and Travis Smiley prove, the President’s critics have not slunk off into a corner to wait for the chance to return to the spotlight.

The President’s critics are still here (as they should be), still vocal (as they’ve always been), but are they inspiring others to join their cause or do they sound bitter and angry because they didn’t automatically get a seat at the black man’s table?

What do you think? Has black leadership been “neutered” under the Obama presidency?   

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