On the eve of last Tuesday’s presidential election, Selma James, an internationally respected activist who lives in London, offered some insights bound to anger the Obama-hero-worship circles awash in American Black communities.
“Obama has disappointed us so much, but he has a second chance and we will not leave it up to him,” James said before she delivered an address in Center City last Monday evening around her latest book “Sex, Race and Class,” featuring a collection of writings by this widow of famed Caribbean author/intellectual/activist CLR James.
One area that President Obama and America’s political/power elites cannot ignore any longer, James said during an interview, is America’s alarming and growing rates of poverty.
“The U.S. has more poverty than any industrialized country,” she said about the nation where she was born in 1930 but left for life in England a quarter-century later.
“If we don’t address poverty we will be suicidal. Suicidal greed got the U.S. into this economic mess,” James said. “Remember that Nelson Mandela said that poverty is made by man and can be stopped by man.”
No, James isn’t blaming President Obama for causing poverty or exacerbating it, as his Republican presidential challengers fraudulently did in calling him the “food stamp president.”
However, James and others are rightly noting that as president, Obama has a responsibility to address dire issues confronting his country and too many of its citizens.
Those issues include poverty (particularly the obscene numbers of children living in poverty), structural joblessness, unjust mass imprisonment, urban decay, climate change and a host of other issues brushed aside by the body politic for too many years.
As a Black man who made history in the presidential campaign arena noted, “…whenever a government fails to secure for all its citizens that which it guarantees, such a government is nearing dangerous ground..” with such “neglect” becoming like the “cancer” that will continue to grow and spread.
This accurate yet frequently ignored observation on the role of government came from the first Black man nominated by a political party to run for the U.S. presidency…not Barack Obama, nominated by the Democratic Party in 2008, but George Edwin Taylor, nominated by the National Liberty Party in 1904.
Holding elected officials accountable is a duty of citizens in a democracy.
But too many Blacks have skirted this duty during the presidency of Barack Obama, giving him a pass on misplaced contentions thathe is too busy to attend to matters that have historically topped the agenda consistently advanced by Blacks.
This notion that Blacks have to devise an ‘agenda’ to present to President Obama is reminiscent of responses to disappointments during the first term of Philadelphia’s first Black mayor, W. Wilson Goode Sr.
It wasn’t plausible in the 1980s to assert that Goode didn’t know that the citizens who overwhelmingly supported his election wanted an end to racially discriminatory police brutality.
And, it’s not plausible in the 21st century to assert that President Obama doesn’t know that addressing urban violence and unemployment are important to those who helped elect him – twice.
Holding the U.S. president accountable does not diminish the history-making or role-modeling stature of Barack Obama.
But failing to hold any U.S. president accountable does diminish the moral authority Blacks have historically exerted in attempting to make America deliver on its constitutional promises.
As Bruce A. Dixon noted in a perceptive post-election commentary last week, Black America has lost its moral compass.
“We used to know right from wrong and have the courage to stand. In the era of Obama, we have lost it. We’ll need to fight to get it back,” said Dixon, managing editor at Black Agenda Report.
This problem of losing the ‘moral compass’ is not just a Black problem. I t is a fundamental problem with America.
And the source of this problem is that Americans believe the myths we concoct about ourselves just as others around the world believe the myths America projects about itself.
“One problem I have been having for decades is that many people here believe the myth of the U.S. as the ‘panacea’ of democratic order, which is that they cannot believe their ears with some of the things that people like Romney are saying,” said Berlin, Germany resident George Pumphrey, who grew up in the U.S. but left decades ago due to First Amendment-destroying harassment directed at dissidents like him.
For those in Black communities convinced of the inappropriateness of demanding accountability from President Obama for addressing urban issues like epidemic violence because he’s president-of-all-not-just-Blacks, consider the environmental degradation contributing to climate change.
Obama has championed clean coal’ since his 2008 candidacy, but one of the dirtiest deeds of the American coal industry is its extraction process called MTR – mountaintop removal, which literally blows up the tops of mountains.
Besides destroying irreplaceable mountain ranges, MTR destroys watersheds and creates serious health issues like higher cancer rates and birth defects in the MTR sites, now concentrated in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
This president needs to stop the disastrous MTR, but hasn’t.
Issues like MTR contributing to climate change problems like the recent superstorm Sandy are issues impacting all Americans.
And as London activist Selma James noted, “Sandy tells us so much. Nature is rebelling, reacting to what man is doing.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.