by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World
This week, we released the results of a Your Black World Survey, in which it was determined that the majority of black respondents (56.9 percent) felt that President Obama should have spoken up on behalf of the late Troy Davis. Many throughout the world, including former FBI Director William Sessions and former President Jimmy Carter, felt the execution to be unjust. President Obama could have called for a federal investigation into the execution, which would have kept Davis alive to this day. Instead, he allowed America to humiliate itself on the world stage by killing a citizen who likely did not commit the crime for which he was being put to death.
After remaining silent during the execution of Troy Davis, the president can hardly justify his decision to speak out on behalf of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates when he was arrested on his front porch. He also has a difficult time justifying military action in Libya, citing the fact that innocent civilians are being killed by incompetent leadership. The truth is that many of the things that we’ve said about Libya’s slaughter of innocent civilians can now be said about the White House. Fortunately, there’s no country out there powerful enough to invade the United States, for our hands can be just as dirty as our victims.
When the Troy Davis matter was brought up this week, someone reached out to me and said that it’s silly for African Americans to expect the president to have spoken up on behalf of Troy Davis. She said that we’d never expect such a thing from a white president. Others have also mentioned that African Americans are naïve and unrealistic by expecting preferential treatment (or nearly any acknowledgement outside of campaign season) from President Obama simply because he’s black.
So, in light of the fact that African Americans should not expect any semblance of targeted political support from President Obama, shouldn’t that also imply that he should not expect preferential treatment from us? When my friend mentioned that we would never expect a white president to speak up for Troy Davis (Jimmy Carter is, actually, a white man), I simply asked her, “So, you would want us to respond to Barack Obama as if he were just another white guy?” She was silent after that.
If Barack Obama were a white man, that would mean that there would be collective outrage over speeches like the one he delivered at the Congressional Black Caucus Convention, where black people were told to “stop complaining” about the highest unemployment in nearly 30 years. It would mean that we’d expect the same things from President Obama that we would have expected from Bill Clinton or anyone else during their time in the White House. I would dare to say that if black unemployment had risen to 17% under Clinton, he would be hammered by the black community for refusing to consider targeted economic policy.
This is not to say that President Obama is not deserving of the black vote. But it does say that black America must cease to make itself into the political mistress of the Obama Administration. For a man whose loyalties lie elsewhere, the mistress is often the woman from whom he expects preferential treatment, but only offers second-class status. The love is often one of secrecy because he may be ashamed of the relationship and fear the reputational consequences of those who may judge him harshly.
He only comes by with flowers when he wants something and in spite of his consistent disrespect and actions to the contrary, the mistress believes that deep down, he really loves her. When she expresses her concern about the love not being mutual, he tells her to stop complaining and support him in protecting his reputation. She accepts his stern admonishment because she’s simply grateful that he even stopped by to say hello and might even consider it to be tough love. After all, she shouldn’t put any additional pressure on him because his wife is giving him such a hard time already.
The political argument is simple: To whom much is given, much is required. President Obama received unprecedented support from black America in large part, because of the color of his skin. Had he been white, millions of black folks would not have rallied for him, organized on his behalf or took time off to go vote for him. Therefore, it is only logical that those who went the extra mile for their president expect and demand that he go the extra mile for them. Going the extra mile means not just showing up when he needs something (notice the special attention black folks have received since election season began), but having the same degree of integrity, faith and commitment in us that we are expected to have toward the White House. Yes, the Republicans are giving President Obama a hard time, but millions of black people are being hammered by racism and they didn’t use that as an excuse for not showing up on election day.
So, if the White House expects black America to treat Obama differently from the way they would treat a white politician, it is only logical that we expect the same. One of the tenets of racial inequality is the idea that black people should be complacent with being treated worse than others treat us: For example, whites are allowed to moan to President Obama all day about 8.1 percent unemployment, but black people are told to “stop complaining” about nearly 17% unemployment. Do we realize how sick it is that we allow others to say and do things that we cannot do ourselves? So, when President Obama gives a speech before a group of white folks and says “stop complaining,” then I’ll be satisfied. But until then, we might want to reconsider accepting our role as President Obama’s political mistress.