Someone forwarded me an email the other day about President Barack Obama. Viral emails about the Obama family have become an industry within themselves, with millions of black folks hanging on every word, event or insult being thrust at the Black American royal family. Will and Jada were once the best we had, and now they have to ride in the back of the chariot.
The email about the president had an interesting subject line. The subject line said the following: “Tom Joyner Receives Heat for His Calls to Re-elect President Obama.” I thought about the topic for a second while sipping a cup of coffee, reminiscing on critiques that I myself have leveled against Tom for telling black folks that we should support President Obama just because he’s black. History makes it clear that supporting or rejecting someone solely because of the color of their skin can lead you down a slipperly slope of ignorance: Just ask millions of people in war torn countries who’ve been terrorized by people who possess the same skin color as their victims.
The beauty of it all, at least now, is that the Tom Joyners of the world are no longer the credible threats to democracy that they once were. Just three years ago, even a hint of dissent toward the Obama Administration was met with the kind of verbal blitzkrieg that would make a grown man cry.
Millions of black folks were watching the throne when Obama was sworn in and gladly putting his picture right next to Martin Luther King and Jesus. Public figures were afraid to give anything less than whole-hearted support for everything the president did, at the risk of being ridiculed, chastised and racially-excommunicated – if you said anything negative about the president, you were nothing but a “jealous hater,” and there was nothing you could do about it. I spoke at a church in New York on the day that President Obama was sworn in and (literally) heard the choir director change the words of the song “We Shall Overcome,” to “We have overcome.” I’m not kidding.
But the Obama presidency, at least the first three-fourths of it, has served as a marvelous and intriguing political education for the African American community. We’ve learned that politicians of all ethnic backgrounds think the same way and that nearly every Harvard/Yale educated Washington Bureaucrat seeks to protect corporations and other privileged citizens before doing much of anything for black folks. We also learned that critical matters such as racial inequality in the economic, educational and criminal justice systems are merely polite afterthoughts for even the most progressive Washington crony-ologists.
Tom Joyner’s massive radio following consists of millions of black Americans who love him, some of whom even respect him. But similar to the preacher on Sunday who tells you to stop having sex, many of Tom’s listeners are also politely ignoring him. Not to say that they won’t agree with Joyner that President Obama is the best political option they’ve got, but they understand that bureaucrats should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the choreography of their caricature.
Barack Obama is a hero, but he’s no superhero. It is no longer taboo to critique the president’s policies, and it’s not even “ethnically illegal” to vote for a Republican. Black people have learned, without question, that the face of the president means almost nothing when it comes to improving their lives. At the same time, we’ve also learned that democracy is best served through diversity of thought and that every voice has value, even if you don’t follow the crowd.
Black America is freer, smarter and more capable because of the Obama presidency. Tom Joyner can go brag about that.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.