So I was perusing magazine covers online (a geeky hobby of mine) and I come across the issue of Ebony magazine with the president on the cover. You know, the one that says President Barack Obama is one of coolest brothers of all time. Yeah, that one. That's when it hit me. I began to lament on the President and struggled to recollect a measure he had undertaken that positively affected Black people-poor Black people in particular. Thus, this mammoth undertaking.
As a columnist for The Shadow League and freelance writer for other publications, I have largely given President Barack Obama a pass.
Sure, I’ve editorially taken him to task for his Brother’s Keeper Initiative in an op-ed piece for The Shadow League last year, but nothing too harsh. Now, in his closing years in the Oval Office, many Black Obama supporters would readily believe that he has in fact been one of the best presidents ever for Black people. Oh, what pride could one take in that, huh?
Indeed, as a person of African descent living in America I remember it seeming, if only briefly, as if our time had come when Obama was elected. We finally had a executive representative for change AND he was Black!
A sophomoric assumption that was immediately smothered in its sleep when Obama so matter-of-fact-ly told Black folks that he was the president of the United States and not just Black people.
To be certain, he needed to state that if only to shut down conservatives and weak-willed Democrats alike- some of whom are allies to the Black man, woman and child only when it is of some convenience to feign such a thing.
Barack Hussein Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, the POTUS, the HNIC if there ever was one.
But one can’t help but notice that virtually all of those who Obama and the Democrats pandered to prior to both the presidential and midterm elections have gotten some semblance of what they requested. That's not to mention backroom deals with individuals and corporations that are more reminiscent of comic book super villains than real people.
But when Black people ask for the President they voted for to acquiesce to our requests in areas of housing, employment, law enforcement and corrections, civil rights, health care and public assistance, African Americans are shamed as being greedy, needy and unwilling to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Misdirection and borderline victim blaming at its finest. Yes, victim blaming.
Most certainly there are many within our readership who will immediately bristle at the very idea of a people who descended from American slavery as victims in the modern context- both Black and White..
Some feel that everyone in the United States should feel blessed to be here, especially when considering the manner in which the rest of the world seems to be immersed in war, famine, or natural disaster (never mind that the U.S. is responsible directly, or indirectly, for a great deal of that carnage).
However, such ruminations have nothing to do with the reality of Black life in America. So I ask the question, what has President Barack Obama actually done for Black people?
With approximately 39 million African Americans living in the United States, you may receive 39 million different answers. But you know what they say about men, women, numbers and lying, right? Using that phrase as our guide, we will dive into, and examine, the numbers.
First we must analyze how Obama’s policies in education, law enforcement & corrections, housing, public assistance, civil rights, health care and employment are working while also taking into consideration how the actions of prior administrations contribute to, and play out in, today's political environment.
The people who say things like ‘We should save the criticism for policies that affect all Americans" sound just as bad as the "All Lives Matter" folks. Because we all know damn well that everybody is getting, has gotten, or will get, theirs.
Big Oil got theirs (70 percent increase in domestic oil production). Gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Wall Street got a bailout from their own nefarious deeds and the Affordable Health Care Act has survived repeated attempts aimed at its elimination. President Obama prevented the Great Recession from becoming a full-blown Depression, got federal contractors a $10.10 per hour pay rate, reduced the federal budget deficit from 9.8 percent (2009) to 2.9 percent in fiscal year 2014, turned record stock market lows under President Bush into record highs despite reforms and increased consumer protection and reduced the unemployment rate to 5.3%. He wrote the Executive Order for the White House Council on Women and Girls to evaluate the effect Cabinet-level agencies’ policies have on women and girls, expanded the Violence Against Women act and supported the idea that the United Nations should adopt a global gay rights policy.
He established tax write-offs for the purchase of hybrid and electric cars and became the first president to say Climate Change is fact and not speculation. He banned antibiotics in food served in US Government-run cafeterias and ordered agencies to only use antibiotic-free meat. He nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court; Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Justice in the court’s history and these women represent only the third and fourth women to serve on the court. He was instrumental in loosening rules for federal oversight on states that legalized medicinal marijuana, cut taxes for 95 percent of American working families and guided the country into a 418% increase in solar power capacity between 2010 and 2014.
And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg.
Groups, both grand and small, lobbied for what they and their respective constituencies wanted, needed and, in some cases, deserved. Yet when African Americans voiced their concerns over what many perceive as the President’s seemingly condescending attitude we’re told to be team players, to be Americans, to wait our turn and not sully the historic nature of his ascension to power by complaining too much. And to stop being haters.
To which I kindly say ‘Kiss my Black ass.’
In the first installment of this three-part series I will focus on Education, and Corrections & Criminal Justice- I've grouped the latter two together because they're one and the same as far as I'm concerned. Many Black males birthed in depressed environments which shaped them will concur. The forthcoming stats will illustrate why.
According to the Pew Research Center, Black college enrollment at two and four year institutions of higher learning has almost matched those of Whites recently at 65 percent to 70 percent of high school graduates for Black and White graduates, respectively.
Black males graduated high school 59 percent of the time, White males graduated 80 percent of the time.
The gap between White and Black college graduation rates is more like a canyon at 57 percent to 42 percent as recently as 2010. But race does not appear to be the single greatest predictor of whether an individual graduates or not- income is. Also, according to a 2008 study done by Princeton University, White men with a felony have a greater chance at finding gainful employment than a Black man with a college degree. That remains true today.
According to governing.com, National high school graduation rates for African Americans were 69 percent while overall graduation rate for American students of 80 percent represented an all-time high as of 2013. Texas had the highest graduation rate of Black students at 84 percent while Nevada had the lowest at 48 percent.
Bush’s "No Child Left Behind" initiative has been a complete failure, but this administration had tried to refurbish it multiple times to the dismay of House and Senate Republicans. Eventually the Obama administration was forced to make its own moves.
The President’s "Race to the Top" was initiated in 2009 and is a competitive grant from the Department of Education that was meant to spark innovation and reforms at public schools across the country. 19 states have received funding thus far while 34 states modified their state education laws and policies to begin change.
However, Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post:
He did make one apparent nod to the Common Core opposition when he said “some of this change is hard,” but he did not note that one of the reasons it is so hard is because the administration has promoted untenable implementation policies with timelines that states say are impossible to meet. He also said that change requires things including “more demanding parents.”
Strauss also said the Race to the Top program has “untenable implementation policies with timelines that states say are impossible to meet” a criticism it shares with the now defunct No Child Left Behind program.
Last year the Board of Directors of the 600,000 member New York State United Teachers passed a resolution withdrawing support for the Common Core State Standards, the initiative under which Race to the Top falls. This is due in large part to the call for more stringent national standards for students, teachers and administrators amid a wave of reduced funding that has seen the country lose over 300,000 teaching jobs in the last decade. Not to mention public school closings and the emergence of public-funded, privately run schools as well.
The United States also leads the developed world in schools servicing impoverished and disenfranchised children, according a 2014 study commissioned by Stanford University. Disenfranchised and impoverished children? There’s your problem right there. But y’all don’t hear me though.
When it comes to discipline, schools are no different than the rest of America as far as people of color are concerned. Black and Hispanic students are punished much harsher than their white peers. Being that many hardened criminals are institutionalized at a young age, incarcerating some these kids instead of attempting to rehabilitate them early is a fast track to a lifetime in and out of jail. Black and Brown kids represent 70 percent of school-related arrests and those referred to law enforcement.
Corrections and Criminal Justice:
President Obama stepped into the White House in the midst of more police officers patrolling the streets of America than ever before thanks to the Bush and Clinton administrations. Statistics show that Obama has actually contributed to the increased militarization of America’s police forces yet much of his rhetoric as of late has discussed limiting local municipal police access to military equipment following the events of Ferguson and Baltimore. Had these insurrections not occurred it is likely he wouldn’t have spoken about the subject at all.
Recently the President commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders as part of his plan to reform the criminal justice system. So far he has commuted the sentences of 89 inmates, 79 of which were nonviolent drug offenders.
The president would also like to introduce prison reforms that would give greater discretion to judges and prosecutors, and also greatly reduce or eliminate mandatory minimums. He also called for changes to ease overcrowding, prison abuse, increases in drug treatment and job training for inmates and the restoration of voting rights to ex-cons.
Is a provision to free non-violent political prisoners too much to ask? Probably.
Overall crime rates are down across the board in America, dramatically so among African Americans despite what you may have heard. The FBI stats show young African Americans are committing fewer crimes than they have over the last 50 years. Way fewer, like 47 percent fewer overall (According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice). Drug offenses are down 50 percent, property offenses are down 51 percent, serious offenses are down 53 percent, 59 percent for assault, 60 percent for robbery, 60 percent for violent offenses, 66 percent for rape and murder is near 82 percent.
Though it would definitely be “feel-worthy” to credit Obama with the dip in crime, he would have had to have enacted his ingenious plan when he was 3-years-old. I can only give him a sliver of credit for the current levels just because he’s president.
Despite the drastic decrease in arrests (1-10 in 1950, 3-100 in 2012), the prison-industrial complex is a ravenous leviathan that America has seen fit to feed Black lives. The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that one-in-three Black men can expect to see prison time in their life. People of color make up 60 percent of the overall prison population. Currently, 1 in every 15 Black men are in jail and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are in jail. The rate for White men is 1 in 106.
Lest we forget the sickening and callous nature that Black men, women and children have been slaughtered by law enforcement for 300 years? The very first police force was actually a slave patrol set up in South Carolina in 1739. It was done so out of fear of insurrection from out of control “nigg-ras”
Some would say that tradition is largely unchanged, and I would be in that number as well. Could this be the result of tough crime initiatives? I would say "no" seeing as though total arrests of Black men are down overall. It's just that those who are arrested are subject to discriminatory sentencing.
Today, big city police commissioners and prosecutors alike have been known to “throw the book” at Black offenders with more ferocity than whites. It’s a fact. Sometimes the judgment is made before the accused can even enter the courtroom. When I look at Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Jr., John Crawford, Walter Scott and Sam Debose it is clear to me that fear, hatred or both were at play in each episode.
Aside from some nice speeches from the POTUS, the Obama administration has done horrifyingly little to stem this tide. But I would be remiss in not mentioning his Department of Justice as headed by Attorney General Eric Holder has been more conscious of racism within law enforcement than any department prior. Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Ferguson have all come under the scrutiny of the Department of Justice under Obama, and there may be others in the near future.
Newly-appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch presented a 105-page agreement to the Cleveland Police Department listing recommended reforms and a federally-approved consent decree. Here are some of the no-brainer edicts that had to be spelled out for the CPD; no choke holds, no neck holds, no deploying weapons on a fleeing suspect, no pistol whipping.
Obama is conducting the investigations using a 21-year-old law used to impose “get right” on departments that exhibit a pattern of civil rights violations. But the effectiveness of said measures is up for debate. For example, the CPD was investigated for the same thing a decade ago.
It’s a shame that the decrease in black-on-black homicides since 1990 appears to be offset by racist policing, draconian drug laws with mandatory minimums and Clinton’s Crime Bill of 1994 propelling Black men through the criminal justice system and into the belly of the beast.
You can read the second installment here, where we analyze President Obama's impact on the African American ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness in abundance by looking into the executive impact on employment and healthcare in the Black communities of America, followed by fact based observations on housing, health care, employment, public assistance, and civil rights.