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The Obama Effect

Although they remain pregnant with expectation, for many African Americans, President Barack Obama offers hope, inspiration and motivation.

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Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist, author and former president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, cautions people to discern between the symbolism and substance.

She rattles off statistics to make her point: The African-American unemployment rate remains twice that of Whites, the African American poverty rate is three times that of Whites. African Americans only own two percent of the nation’s wealth, and the rate of developing businesses is only a third of whites opening new businesses.

“So people seem to have forgotten or don’t want to deal with the economic gaps,” she says. “President Obama’s victory and election was an enormous symbolic victory for African Americans, and most people were pleasantly surprised when he did win; you saw people really energized.

“But White people wanted to turn this into a post-racial moment without looking at the economic gap that continues to plague African Americans.”

Dr. Mark Naison, a professor of African American studies and history at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York agreed with Malveaux.

In fact, he argues that, notwithstanding Republican obstructionism, Obama’s education policies have had an adverse effect on the Black community by undermining public schools.

“His education policies show that he is capable of taking positions on his own that have damaged the African American community as a whole,” Naison says.

“Privatizing, testing and having public schools put under tremendous pressure with charter schools has basically undermined community stability and displaced a lot of African-American professionals through layoffs and with school closings, and often the teachers replacing them are young and White … the Teach For America types.”

While acknowledging neither African-Americans voters nor moderate and liberal voters had much of an option in Mitt Romney and the

Republicans during the last presidential election, Naison says the crisis in the Black community is too urgent to avoid examining all the president’s policies, objectively critique them and hold him accountable for them.

Despite legitimate criticism, Dr. Henry Louis Taylor Jr., professor and director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, says it was unrealistic for anyone to expect Obama to turn around 30 years of Republican domestic policy in just four years in office.

“The Republican Party up until Obama dominated and controlled American society,” he says. “I discounted the Democratic presidents who interrupted the chain because they continued the policies of the Republicans. So there was no break in that. For us to bring about meaningful change, we’ve got to be in charge for at least 25 to 30 years. For someone to say we haven’t made progress in four years and we’re trying to bring about fundamental change in American society—that is not going to happen.”

He notes, however, that the Obama administration quietly developed the most meaningful and comprehensive urban policy initiative since the 1960s, and predicts programs such as the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative and the Promise Neighborhoods initiatives will help urban communities rebound. National health care initiatives are included in urban policy.

“It’s something that never would have happened under any other president,” Taylor says.

“The health care disparity among Black and White people is monstrous. This universal health care has the potential of making huge and significant differences in the lives of people.”

Ber-Henda Williams, a well-known poet, author and educator acknowledges the challenges facing Detroit and the African American community even with a Black president. However, the impact of Black children seeing a Black man in the White House who relates to them—just like the little boy in the photo—can’t be underestimated.

“As an educator, it opens up a world of possibilities for minorities in this country and, in particular, students that are in grade school, because when we associate power in our formative ages in generations past, we saw people in powerful positions who were not minorities,” says Williams, 32, of Southfield. “So to me, Barak Obama’s election signifies for minority children that they have the option, the right and support to be whatever it is they aspire to be. He is the symbol of hope.” 

TREVOR W. COLEMAN IS A METRO DETROIT JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR WHOSE BIOGRAPHY OF FEDERAL JUDGE DAMON J. KEITH, “CRUSADER FOR JUSTICE,” WILL BE PUBLISHED THIS SPRING.

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