When hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast and devastated New Orleans and the governments at the federal, state, and local level failed to launch anything even remotely resembling an adequate response, few people in the black community or connected to the black community in a fashion that wasn’t just filled with little more than derision and/or condemnation were willing to cut President George Bush Jr. some slack. While government at all levels proved incompetent, people affiliated with the black community held Mr. Bush personally responsible for what happened during Katrina and in the hurricane’s aftermath. Few people would say that Mr. Bush was just one piece of the response puzzle and so people needed to take it easy on him. He was the President and he miserably failed to be the President of the black community. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Six years later the black community is being rocked again be an inadequate response to disaster. This catastrophe is altogether different than the natural cataclysm that rocked New Orleans’ world. While massive, Katrina hit in a single geographic location. Its impact was confined. The disaster the black community faces today is more widespread, impacting black people from coast to coast. Today, the official unemployment rate in the black community tops seventeen percent. And that’s the official number meant to include only the people who are actively seeking work. Add the number of black people who have simply given up hope of finding a job and that number rises significantly. By some estimates the unemployment rate more than doubles. And while it is true that unemployment is up for the entire United States, the black community is being hit especially hard. Where is our President to help us?
As he campaigned for the presidency, then Illinois Senator Barack Obama was given a pass by the overwhelming majority of people in the black community. Whenever anyone would make the suggestion that Mr. Obama should explain what he plans for the black community if he made it to the oval office, a collective “shut the fuck up” would emanate from black people who were caught up in the idea that we could be on the cusp of history by electing our first black President. He didn’t need to tell us what we could expect because it was a given that he would do his part for black people because we shared a skin tone. It’s in the bag baby!
For the longest time Mr. Obama avoided any association with black people. He would pass on making any official appearances to address the black community. And when Mr. Obama finally made his address to the black community that fateful Father’s Day back in 2008, his message was quite clear, black men should quit acting like fools and take some responsibility for the condition of the black community. This was from the black man who has no problem standing before miners in Tennessee and talking about the hopes and promises of a future. This was from the man who could stand before a lobby for Israel and promise that as President he would do everything he could to protect United State’s relationship with Israel. It was only the black community that Mr. Obama felt comfortable enough to imply that the black community could expect nothing from him. If nothing else, Mr. Obama proved to be a man of his word.
It’s been decades since unemployment in the black community has been so high. While true that Mr. Obama assumed an economy in complete freefall, it’s been three years and there really hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to what’s happening in the black community. Mr. Obama initiated a bus tour across the Midwest and has been trying to get out in front of people to make his case and explain why he deserves another term to get things done. And not a single one of those visits has been to a black community. Even though the black community is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to economic woes, we still don’t garner any attention from our black President. It’s a prime example of history repeating itself.
Yes Mr. Obama is just one man. It is true that even as President of the United States he cannot do it all. But be that as it may, his compassion and concern as President is important to people who are suffering. It helps to hear the President say that he has not forgotten and that he has empathy. What people don’t want to hear is something akin to take some responsibility for what’s happening in your life. Such a message is kind of callous when people are looking for help. If Mr. Bush gave such a message to people after the devastation of Katrina, I’m sure few people in the black community would be willing to say he’s just one man and he can’t do it all himself.
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Mr. Obama thinks black men should take responsibility for what’s happening around them, then the black Mr. Obama should take responsibility for what’s happening around him. He wants to stand before people and complain that other people that he has to work with are keeping him from doing everything he wants to do. A lot of black people might be able to relate. A lot of black people think that a lot of other people are keeping them from doing everything they want to do as well, like find a job. If Mr. Obama’s message is that black people need to take responsibility for the lack of progress for what they are responsible for, then the black Mr. Obama should be willing to take responsibility for the lack of progress for what he is responsible for.
The black community gave Mr. Obama an opportunity to do something different and the black community got shafted in the process. History has been made so we can get over the need to sacrifice our collective interests in order to help Mr. Obama do what everyone thought was unachievable in our lifetime. Now we need to get back to what is real. The black community needs to hold our President accountable. Yes it might be true that he’s just one man and he can’t do it by his lonesome. But so was Mr. Bush and we didn’t pull our punches when he failed. And if that’s not enough, Mr. Obama doesn’t hesitate to pull a punch whenever he addresses the black community with his responsibility rhetoric. It’s high time the black community listens to the message that Mr. Obama keeps telling us. And if black people are going to listen and are going to start showing some responsibility, a good place to start is by holding Mr. Obama responsible as well.