Throughout the first term, asked about his agenda for African- Americans, President Barack Obama explained that he was not the president of Black America, he was the president of the United States of America. African-Americans expect better treatment in Obama’s second term, writes I. K. Cush from New York.
Democratic strategist, Robert Shrum, predicted Obama’s victory two weeks before the 6 November US presidential election. Shrum is a senior fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and was an adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 campaign.
According to him, in spite of the “42% of voters” who are old-guard whites, America is fast becoming a “majority minority nation”. However, a more nuanced explanation is warranted.
Since Richard Nixon, that “42%” of white voters have been the backbone of the Republican Party, and some would say the backbone of old-guard white supremacy politics in America. The people who catapulted Obama to victory in 2008 were marginalised African-American, Latino, and young white voters motivated to vote by his soaring and inspirational rhetoric. They don’t usually vote. But they voted again in 2012, stuffing that 42% further into the dustbin of history. During his first term, Obama did not live up to the expectations of the new voters he energised in 2008. However, they expect him to deliver in his second and final term.
Obama’s new victory portends a new paradigm for the American political landscape: the issues of the new “majority minority”, labour unions, gays and women must be addressed. Any political party or politician who fails to address these issues, as Mitt Romney did during the campaign, will flame out, as Romney did in the presidential race.
Obama did not fulfil many of the expectations of his core supporters – African-Americans – during his first term. Throughout the first term, when asked about his agenda for African-Americans, Obama explained that he was not the president of Black America, he was the president of the United States of America.
However, being president of the United States of America did not prevent him from taking political risks for gays. He supports gay marriage. For women, he supports equal pay for women. For Latinos, he supports immigration reform that will place Latino immigrants on the path to US citizenship.
African-Americans expected their country’s first black president to correct the endemic racism that pervades America’s criminal penal system – a system that railroads thousands of Africans into the country’s prisons: one out of every six African-American men has been imprisoned in the United States, compared to one out of every 39 white men.
The wholesale imprisonment of African-American men is possible because the interstices of the American law enforcement infrastructure are occupied by people – judges, lawyers, prosecutors, police officers, parole officers, probation officers – committed to the precept of black inferiority and white superiority, who use imprisonment to preserve white privilege and boost their financial and political fortunes. Will a second Obama term reverse the racism? Not many Africans in America believe that. According to Alton H. Maddox Jr, an African-American human rights attorney: “There is no indication from the Obama administration that he is prepared to depart from the indifference of other administrations in terms of protecting our rights.”
One thing is certain: the majority of African-Americans will continue to support President Obama uncritically, and this will make it easier for him to continue to refuse to address their issues.
President Obama’s attitude to Africa was indistinguishable from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, during his first term. And there is no indication that his posture will change in his second term.
That is not surprising, for, as Gideon Rose of the Council on Foreign Relations observed when Obama was first elected, “Barack Obama was not elected to clip America’s imperial wings!”
Many Africans who thought that because of his African blood President Obama would treat Africa and Africans differently to how past American presidents did, were dismayed when he treated Africa just like the other American presidents had done.