Last month The Shadow League embarked upon an ambitious survey that was unprecedented for this particular news outlet. We observed numerous societal markers that determine how Blacks have been faring under the current Obama administration.
Part I: The Bro-Bama's Impact on Blacks
Part II:The Bro-Bama Paradox
To clarify, many of the earmarks that determine progress or decline in the living conditions of Blacks in America have been trending toward their current position prior to Obama’s ascension to the highest elected office in the land. However, he is a second term president, so the proverbial buck always stops “there.”
Beyond the great smile, the personality, cool demeanor, charisma and photogenic qualities, we peruse the policies of President Barack Hussein Obama to determine their effect, be they placebo, actual or nonexistent, on communities and individuals who are working class, impoverished and are of African descent.
To many, the very idea of questioning leadership in any sense is tantamount to treason.
Indeed, it has been incredibly difficult to come to the conclusions that I have come to regarding the Executive Branch’s unwillingness or inability to address generational issues and circumstances that have plagued people of African descent from the time immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation until now.
The effectiveness of the POTUS to move the needle in a positive direction on housing, employment, law enforcement and corrections, civil rights, health care and public assistance is at the heart of this particular series.
The Obama administration has been historic on many fronts that go beyond simply having a Black man in the White House, beyond putting the first Black Attorney General of the United States in office, beyond putting the first Black woman in that same office. Past being the president under which gay marriage went national and beyond all of the superficial things that the president has been applauded for, yet have little bearing on, the experience of the Black working poor in America.
Can it be that it was all so simple then? Back in 2007, when the then-junior senator from Illinois first became a serious threat to win the presidential election, Barack Obama seemed like he knew more about the plight of being a man of African descent than any person who has ever sat in the Oval Office. I mean, how could anyone be more qualified to speak with any authorities on the trials of African Americans than a person who self-identifies as being African American, right?
As the newness of Obama’s election began to fade, and the reality of his policies began to come to light, the truth beyond the toothy-grin and Hollywood good looks began to surface.
It wasn’t long ago that noted scholar Dr. Cornel West was supporting Obama in his push toward history. But something happened along the road from community organizer to messianic figure for the Black struggle in America. West turned from an ardent supporter who spoke eloquently of Obama at the Apollo Theater before 1,000 heads in November 2007, to being synonymous with the term “Obama Hater” less than three years later.
As a novice historian, the importance of a Black man in the White House was not lost on me. Moreover, no rational individual should expect his or her problems to simply disappear because someone who shares their particular race, sex or ethnicity is president.
But when a candidate who shares your race, sex or ethnicity and runs on a platform of “Hope” and “Change” gains office it goes without saying he would pique the interests of Black people. For better or worse, there’s no Blacker attribute than “Hope.”
As Dr. West and Tavis Smiley began their Poverty Tour to highlight the plight of America’s impoverished, the rhetorical battle lines between those Blacks who would support the president and those Blacks who would no longer take his word on face value were drawn.
And it was the world versus West and Smiley.
This writer avoided penning anything overtly critical of the president for fear that such ruminations would sully my sense of professional objectivity. I also remained silent as West’s long-silent haters reared their heads to lambaste him as being angry for not being invited into Obama’s inner sanctum of trusted advisers.
Tavis Smiley was once looked upon as one of Black America’s favorite journalists dating back to the late 90's, way back before each of the major cable news networks had a Black talking head.
Smiley and West also eviscerated George W. Bush on his policies, yet it wasn’t until the duo parted ways with the administration did there seem to be an orchestrated effort to marginalize them.
They went from being a voice for impoverished and downtrodden Americans to being cast as malcontents and jealousy-ridden troublemakers almost overnight.
Pro-Obama academia, pro-Obama journalists and pro-Obama celebrities have all taken shots at Dr. West. The American cult of personality being what it is, once an individual is exposed as being unworthy of prior adulation it is only a matter of time before said individual fades into obscurity.
All these big time academics and journalists clashing over the legacy of a Black president seemed so far above my pay grade that I ignored the entire debate and rarely commented on it. As President Obama's final term comes to a close, it seems beyond appropriate to revisit how his policies have affected change. If “change” hasn’t arrived yet then it will never come. Does it somehow diminish me to derisively recall campaign slogans? No, especially not when considering how much promise this administration held.
It is my right, my duty and my pleasure.
So here’s the facts about what we've gleaned from the Obama administration’s effect on poor and impoverished African Americans regarding housing, law enforcement and corrections, education, poverty and homelessness.
The Affordable Care Act has been praised by many as being instrumental in helping reduce the traditional lack of African Americans with health care coverage. The number of uninsured Blacks dropped from 24.1 percent in 2013 to 16.1 percent in 2014. Additionally, nearly 7 million African Americans have become eligible for coverage since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Of all the Obama policies, the ACA has illustrated the most obvious, drastically positive effect on Black households since its commencement.
This portion of our research was left for last for several reasons. First, no president has ever acknowledged the existence of institutionalized racism or its effect on the Black experience in America quite like Barack Obama. He did so during his speech at the African Methodist Episcopal Church following the terrorist attack in Charleston, SC. He also alluded to white supremacy in his speech following the death of Trayvon Martin. Additionally, the Justice Department of this administration has been especially sensitive to issues of institutionalized racism within the police departments and justice systems of municipalities from Ferguson to Baltimore and Cleveland. They have been, or are currently being, investigated for practices indicative of possible white supremacy within a law enforcement agency, many of which have bore immediate results.
There have been 19 binding agreements between municipalities and the Justice Department outlining the type of reforms both parties agree need to be satisfied. Each of these instances were precipitated by public outcry (ACLU, NAACP, local politicians and clergy) over the discriminatory and excessive practices of law enforcement, some of which resulted in the suspicious death of a suspect who was a member of an ethnic or racial minority. One would be hard pressed to find a Justice Department that has been as determined to investigate racism amid law enforcement with more vigor than the one headed by Eric Holder and now Lorettya Lynch
But, and there’s always a but, all of it has been reactionary.
Though there is no technological equivalent to having a clairvoyant attitude toward racism in America, failure to come up with a predictive model of any kind to combat institutionalized racism is a failure when we realize that institutionalized racism, the very soil in which white supremacy subsists, is constantly in a static state. Similar to gravity, it effects everything in society from a poor, Black vantage point.
Nothing is untouched by gravity. Similarly, nothing is untouched by racism in America as far as the average working class Black person in America is concerned. So if a circumstance is static, yet the solutions are reactionary, one would find themselves doomed to put out racial fires for the rest of their days in constant astonishment at their virulence. It's not so much that racism is so powerful but that the solutions are woefully inadequate.
The only attempt being made to proactively monitor and combat institutional racism that was birthed by the current administration is the My Brother’s Keeper initiative- a combined effort between the Federal government with philanthropic overtures and insight from business leaders like Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Magic Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment. Also, General Colin Powell, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Honorable Michael Bloomberg, Rosalind Brewer of Sam’s Club, Ken Chenault of American Express, and Don Thompson of McDonald’s
It’s stated aims are to assess the impact of Federal policies and programs on young boys and men of color, recommend incentives and programs to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color, create a database for practices that are proven to work, ongoing studies to monitor the effectiveness said programs, the development of a public website maintained by the Department of Education that will monitor critical indicators of life outcomes for these individuals, as well as continued work with private business, philanthropic organizations in conjunction with the Federal government.
The My Brother’s Keeper initiative is being designed to combat the effects of institutional racism in education, employment, and corrections, though institutional racism isn’t mentioned once in the official White House press release. It is far too soon to judge its effectiveness but it seems like a tiny drop in the bucket relative to the resources needed. What about young girls of color? Also, the nonprofit designation of this initiative means the Federal government can only suggest changes to portions that are deemed ineffective rather than simply implement changes that have been tested and proven.
This directive can be filled under TBD for now.
The Bro-Bama Summary
Black students still graduate from high school 11 percent less frequently than the national average. Black college enrollment is only 5 percent less than that of Whites (65 percent to 70 percent of high school graduates) but college graduation is 57 percent for Whites and only 42 percent for Blacks. The denominator in this scenario appears to be economic more than racial, but once they graduate college, the racial stain once again rears its head when it’s time to find a job.
There has been marginal improvement in education during this administration.
Corrections and Criminal Justice:
The president has commuted a total of 89 sentences, 79 of which were of nonviolent drug offenders. He has been very vocal about reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, easing prison overcrowding, increasing drug treatment and job training for inmates and restoring voting rights to some ex-cons.
Nationally, drug offenses are down 50 percent, property offenses are down 51 percent and serious offenses are down 53 percent. Assaults decreased by 59 percent, robbery 60 percent, violent offenses 60 percent, rape 66 percent and murder is down close to 82 percent. Despite the 20-year downward trend in national crime, and a decrease in overall arrests over the same time frame, those who are arrested are serving more time than ever. The Obama administration also passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce sentencing discrepancies between those convicted of selling crack and powder cocaine.
But thousands languish in prison on inflated sentences, false or fabricated evidence, biased judges, prosecutors and public defenders. Much more would need to be done to satisfy my admittedly high standard for this category. Crime down, incarceration up, yet law enforcement actively speaks of war with American citizens?
There's galaxies more to be done.
Very little progress on these issues during this administration.
We examined the unfortunate tradition of Blacks being forced into slums and government dependency by banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies and landlords colluding to keep certain neighborhoods from being integrated. That tradition was further enhanced by the subprime mortgage tragedy that saw financial institutions purposefully target Black customers with adjustable mortgages they gleefully called “Ghetto” loans in a concerted effort to use Black people’s desire to obtain property to rob them. Currently, 22 percent of all African Americans live in public housing. And fewer than half of Black families own their home. That number is still reeping downward. Every anti-discriminatory housing program the Federal government has eever come up with has been used to do the opposite of what was intended, integrate housing.
Nothing was done to further Black homeownership in America during this administration and the public housing numbers for Blacks are still very high.
As of July of this year, homelessness among veterans has been reduced by 33 percent, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. But, according to Politifact, while the 33 percent claim is supported by the available data, that data is open to speculation as well.
Nationally, 34 states saw a decrease in overall homelessness while 17 states saw an increase of 17 percent between 2013 and 2014. The 2.3 percent decrease in homeless on a national level is welcome but seems a far cry from the claim of ending poverty by 2020 that was made five years ago by the Obama administration.
But positives for the general population always seem to skirt around Black people. In 2010 CNN reported that Black families make up 38.8 percent of the population in homeless shelters. 40 percent of the homeless population is made up of Americans of African descent.
Very little was done to specifically address Black homeless families during this administration..
Blacks are more likely to be homeless, more likely to not own a home, more likely to pay too much for their home and more likely to grow up in resource starved circumstances than any other ethnic or racial group in America. And the problem just keeps getting worse. The median wealth for White households dipped 16 percent between 2005 and 2009, the dark days of the Great Recession. For Black folks that number was 53 percent. The eternal drag on Black wealth accumulation has been obstensibly backed by the Federal government in almost every instance. Also, Black household bare brunt of economic hardships during every downturn dating back before the Savings and Loan scandal of the 80s, and far beyond.
Very little has been done to affect Black poverty during this administration despite Federal disingenuousness regarding the root causes of the recent subprime mortgage-backed economic downturn and their effects on poor Black Americans.
The president has presided over the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession, the recovering stock market and the 5.9 million new jobs that have been created during his two terms in office. But 10.4 percent of African Americans are unemployed. The national unemployment rate is currently down to 5.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A study compiled by Princeton University seems to show that White men with a felony are considered more employable than Black men with a college degree. Ain't that about a blip?
The aforementioned surmises were based upon information that is readily available for public consumption but the conclusions are wholly my own. No one can claim personal agenda, punditry, coon-ism, jealousy or anything of that matter. No ulterior motives other than the desire for people who share similar backgrounds as I to stop getting their asses kicked on every front relative to the race and class in this country.
Nothing was done by the administration to directly address Black unemployment rates.
President Barack Obama has been named as one of the greatest presidents of all time by Rolling Stone, Huffington Post, Politicususa.com and numerous other news organizations. Additionally, Obama’s accomplishments in other presidential measures have been outstanding. There’s no denying that. From our research, every aspect of domestic and foreign policy has produced outcomes that are considered positive by those Americans who are directly affected by them.
But that very same research shows that Black Americans are statistically doing worse than they have in the last 25 years as housing, law enforcement and corrections, education, poverty, and homelessness are concerned. That’s no presidential diss. No “shot fired” in the direction of the nation’s first Black president, and no jealous musings of a once celebrated member of the Black intelligentsia.
Just numbers. Cold, nonpartisan numbers.
The prison-industrial complex is the New Jim Crow, schools are more segregated than they have ever been, Black home and business ownership are at historic lows and Black unemployment is double the national average. Black males are still exponentially more likely to be shot dead by police than any other segment of the population and the vast majority the country believes the African American condition is one of their own making despite substantial evidence of Federal fault via direct manipulation or malfeasance, historically speaking.
And the really messed up part about it is, through all his programs (Fair Sentencing Act, Brother's Keep iniative, Stimulus package of 2009) meant to whittle away at the effects of institutionalized racism without directly addressing the cause, this president has done more to address racism than the past five administrations dating back to Nixon. But it isn't nearly enough.
So as far as Barack Obama the president? Well, he’s doing great.
Barack Obama as the president who understands the idiosyncrasies of Black men?
Barack Obama who openly acknowledges how racism affects racial and ethnic minorities in America? Barack Obama who flew into office on a chariot drawn by horses named Change and Hope?
Not so much.