A Black Agenda for President Obama to Address? Yes!

A spat has developed among some prominent Black leaders about the extent to which President Barack Obama should be pushed to give special attention to African American issues.  Some believe that holding the President’s feet to the fire is not necessary (or potentially politically perilous for him) and that some of the unique issues facing Black people can be addressed within the context of larger solutions.  They, in supporting their position, have erected a ridiculous straw man to under gird their position: President Obama is not the President of Black America and should not be held to that standard.  This straw man that, if unchecked, will get in the way of addressing some of the crushing issues facing African Americans.  For me, it’s perfectly acceptable for groups of Americans to push the government to deal with their causes, so black leaders who want to go easy on this President because he is Black are failing their constituents and need to reverse course.  Now.

I believe this argument is a straw man because I have yet to hear one reasonable, credible person argue that Obama should be the President of Black America or solely any other segment of the nation. But that doesn’t mean that issues of particular importance to different constituencies should not be given extra attention.  Special problems require special attention.  Need proof? Consider what has happened with Wall Street.  A massive problem – created by Wall Street’s own greed left to run amuck in a deregulated environment – resulted in taxpayers convulsing more than ONE TRILLION DOLLARS to attempt to fix the problem.

The Black community certainly has some responsibility for its current situation.  The reality is, however, that with some Black communities suffering from unemployment rates above 30 percent (In October 2009, the jobless rate for black males age 16-to-24 was 34.5 percent in my home city of Washington, D.C., a place that has made out reasonably well in the current recession and Milwaukee, Wisconsin has recently had a Black male unemployment rate hovering around 50 percent) and dangerously high dropout and criminal justice supervision rates, a unique, special, and acute problem has been established that requires attention above and beyond what our leaders – elected and appointed, and without regard to race are willing to acknowledge. 

Black unemployment won’t get significantly reversed by treating it the same as White unemployment.  According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 10.7 percent of White men over the age of 20 were unemployed; 17.3 percent of Black males were unemployed at the same time.  White women over the age of 20 have an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent, while 13.3 percent of Black women are jobless (this is a devastating number given the disproportionate number of single-woman headed households in the Black community).  Whites between the ages of 16-19 had an unemployment rate of 24.1 percent; the Black unemployment rate for same aged Blacks was 43.5 percent.

Groups of Americans, whether organized along ideological, religious, cultural, business, or other kinds of lines can, and do, ask the President for special attention to their issues.  African Americans, however, are expected to sit in a corner and wait for the President to get around to their concerns whenever it’s convenient.  I say no.  Credibility requires Black leaders to make sure that Congress and the White House, without regard to partisan control or the race of the leadership, that Black issues are not ignored.

America should not fear a “Black agenda” any more than it would fear an “environmental agenda” or an “education agenda”. As I see it, the “Black agenda” is simply about making sure that some of the most acute issues facing Black communities across the country are respected and acted upon. Black leaders who run from a “Black agenda” to protect the “Black President” need to be reassessed by those who put them in their positions.

Michael K. Fauntroy is assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com. He can be reached on Facebook at Michael K. Fauntroy.
Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/24 at 01:23 AM


The thing that is most frightening to me about this rift is that it does matter Obama does or does accomplish, he can’t be criticized. If you are white, criticism of the president means that you are a racist. If you are black, you are a Uncle Tom.

Obama is like any other politician, he isn’t going to take any action unless he is forced. Having someone aggressively pull a “Black Agenda” would at least make him accomplish this constituency. I hope he doesn’t think that him residing in the White House would be enough to keep black people quiet. I’m sure he acknowledges the Latino agenda and the aims of other special interest groups.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/25  at  01:29 AM


I agree with everything that was said here. This argument partially stems from the fact that some black people (leaders included) thought that just by virtue of Obama being Black he was supposed to put the Black Agenda on his list of priorities, now more of the Black leaders are coming around to the idea that as Dyson said Obama is JFK (or maybe LBJ?) and we need an MLK to address him. Black leaders should continuously petition the president and they should not stand by and wait idly for him to get around to the Black Agenda.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/26  at  01:11 PM


Thank you both for posting your comments.

To Kela, I think that people like Dyson are part of the problem.  All excited about Obama, without really acknowledging the kind of campaign he was running (deracialized, without public attention to Black issues). Now, folk are scrambling to try to figure what it really means to Black people to have a Black President.

To Monica, you’re absolutely right about the perils of criticizing him.  What’s worse, is that Black leaders are on the verge of referring to other Black leaders in that way.

Posted by Michael K. Fauntroy  on  02/26  at  02:36 PM


I agree that originally Dyson was part of the problem. I thought it was pretty funny that he didn’t notice the campaign strategy until after the election (maybe that was by design?) I don’t cut Dyson any slack, I just attribute the quote to him, but he should have known better. As you stated it could just be part of his and other’s efforts in scrambling for a position for President Obama in the Black community.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/04  at  12:59 PM


It seems to me that some people who have positioned themselves in the mainstream media as leaders in the African American community think that, because we now have a black President, we ought to get ‘the hookup’.  That is wrong and one sure way to guarantee that not much gets done. 

I do not remember them taking this strong stance with ‘W’.  Had they done so, their current position would be more credible.

The unique issues that plague our communities must be addressed.  I am a marketing strategist.  So I think of it this way.  Some of your marketing tactics will be general and will be appropriate for and appeal to the entire marketplace.  However, to be successful you must always segment your market so that you can then appeal to the unique needs of customers in each segment.  Therefore, there should be a veterans agenda, a hispanic agenda, a black agenda, a women’s agenda, a children’s agenda, a poor folks agena, an old folks agenda, etc., etc., etc.  I could almost draw a picture of what this looks like.

The enlightened ‘black leaders’ are saying, ‘Mr. President, make sure that your general tactics are also aimed into the black ‘segment’.  AND, as you drill down to address the unique needs of each segment of the American population, the black segment must be clearly addressed, as well.

This feels different from ‘holding his feet to fire to make sure that he addresses the black agenda’. When you go to the table expecting a fight you usually get a fight.  You may not get a win.  But you get a fight.  When you go to the table with with resolve, armed with knowledge (not emotion)and expecting a solution you usually get a solution.
——-

Posted by Katie  on  03/11  at  07:15 PM


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