Dr. Boyce: President Obama meets with Black ‘Leaders’: Of course nothing got done
Dr. Boyce: President Obama meets with Black ‘Leaders’: Of course nothing got done
By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Some might say that Basketball Wives is the most buffoonish reality show on TV. But that’s not the case, since a much better reality show could be called, “Black Leaders Meet Obama at the White House.” Like Basketball Wives, the show would be all flash and no substance. While the Basketball Wives want to be seen with Gucci purses and expensive shoes, the White House show would consist of Black people who are proud to be seen standing next to the President. It would be hilarious to watch.
I received yet another one of those White House emails that they send out to “influencers” in the Black community. You know, those people that they think other Black people listen to. The email laid out the talking points of a recent meeting at the White House and who was in attendance.
The meetings are a brilliant move by Team Obama to take advantage of the “Mama I made it” Syndrome, which is prevalent among many prominent Black figures: It’s when the need for external validation by the descendants of your historical oppressors is so strong that you are manipulated into consuming nearly any political carrot. In other words, meeting with the President is the coolest thing you’ll ever get to do in life, and you’ll allow yourself to be politically neutered in exchange for a little extra money, some fame and a photo op.
The list consisted of the usual suspects: NAACP President Ben Jealous and Rev. Al Sharpton. I find it interesting that Morial was conspicuously absent from this meeting. He was the only member of “The Big Three” that I felt was actually in these meetings seeking to make progress for Black people and not just playing a counter-productive political game. For the record, I respect Morial immensely: He is forthright with the president about the needs of the African American community, but diplomatic enough as to not undermine his success…..he plays the political game the RIGHT way.
A few others were added to the meeting with Obama (after being carefully vetted, I’m sure):
· Melanie Campbell, President, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation
· Ralph Everett, President, Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies
· Wade Henderson, President, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
· Avis Jones-DeWeever, Executive Director, National Council of Negro Women
· Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition
· Rev. Derrick Harkins, 19th Street Baptist Church
· Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director, Advancement Project
This list is longer than previous ones, and I’m sure that all of these intelligent folks had something important to say. Whether they had a chance to properly express themselves, or if the president’s team chose to listen, is another story altogether. The meeting that I’ll be most impressed with is the one that Obama has with Cornel West, Father Michael Pfleger, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Julianne Malveaux. It is at that point that I’ll be convinced that the conversation might consist of a Black agenda being presented to Obama, rather than the Obama agenda being presented to Black people.
I’ll quote some pieces of the email that I was sent and provide a quick interpretation for you, based on what I’m seeing. Maybe together, we can read between the lines:
The Email: “The President met with African American leaders yesterday in the Roosevelt Room at the White House to continue their dialogue on his plan to strengthen the economy for the middle class and continue to build ladders of opportunity for those striving to get there.”
My take: The Obama Administration needs Black people to get behind its agenda to help all Americans so that the rising tide will lift all boats (referring to the failed policy the President eluded to four years ago when asked about racial inequality in unemployment rates). This meeting appears to have been called for at least a couple of reasons: a) so that no one can accuse Obama of ignoring Black people, and b) so the White House can get help from the president’s most loyal constituents. I would be surprised if this was truly a two-way dialogue, since slavery showed us that Black people can be extremely helpful when you need them.
The Email: “The President reiterated his commitment to supporting policies that will directly impact those hardest hit by the economic crisis by making sure that America is a magnet for jobs, increasing access to job training programs, partnering with high-poverty communities to help them rebuild, and encouraging companies to invest in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The president also reiterated his call to reform education by expanding universal pre-K for every child as a way to significantly decrease the achievement gap.”
My take: If the Obama Administration cares, they will use the bully pulpit to push forth with (as Marc Morial has urged) TARGET-ECONOMIC-POLICY. The same way the president has no problem mentioning plans to help rural America, there must be a plan to help urban America. Anything else is simply banter, and we all know that talk is cheap.
The Email: “The President and the leaders expressed a shared concern about the need to implement common-sense improvements to the voting process because our democracy works best when every American eligible to vote has the opportunity to cast their ballot and make their voices heard.”
My take: “We want to make sure that Black people can get to the voting booth so they can keep us in power. That’s more important than us actually doing anything for you people. So, even as you wallow in the midst of 14 percent unemployment and devastating incarceration rates that have destroyed your families due to Draconian prison sentences, you should realize that we’re all you’ve got.”
The Email: “The President called on the leaders to continue the national dialogue on the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction. He stressed the harm that the automatic cuts known as the sequester will have on thousands of jobs while cutting services to children, seniors, mental wellness programs, small businesses, and those in our military.”
My take: This is yet another example of the Obama Administration taking its own agenda and feeding it to the black community. They were working on these things before they met with this group. Now, don’t be surprised if these become the primary talking points for the Al Sharpton Show on MSNBC, as well as the show hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry. It’s all part of a plan, and this is how they earn their salaries.
The Email: “The President praised the participants for their steadfast leadership on a broad range of issues critical to improving the economy and strengthening our country. The leaders in attendance also highlighted their goals to continue to build momentum for Congress to act in the best interests of the American people by supporting policies that help move our country forward.”
My take: I have no idea what they are talking about. This has almost nothing to do with the problems of serious Black unemployment (which has continued to get worse), mass incarceration, urban violence and poverty that plague Black America right now. This meeting appears to be about as impactful as taking a blind man to see a silent movie.
The bottom line is simple: Black leadership is effectively dead, at least when it comes to those who are invited to the White House. I don’t blame these individuals for attending the meeting, since being seen next to the President can be good for the visibility of your organization. But what remains astonishingly clear is that this administration has little to no interest in supporting the Black community in the same way that it has supported gay and Latino groups. As I mentioned earlier this week, a meeting with an Hispanic or gay rights group would NOT have gone this way. They would not be invited in to reiterate their loyalty to team Obama.
The Obama presidency was hugely symbolic for Black America, but nearly every quality of life indicator imaginable shows that Black people have taken a huge step back during the last four years. This is not to say that we don’t have a legitimate right to cheer for the president’s achievements, since they make us feel good, like Big Mama’s soul food that might also give us diabetes. I challenge anyone to show evidence that the Black community has advanced as a result of unproductive meetings with appointed Black leadership, and the silencing of those who speak honestly about the lasting effects of racial oppression. The fact of the matter is that this is getting ridiculous.
The next meeting of Black leadership should be taking place on the steps outside the White House. It’s time to protest these deplorable conditions and demand that our taxpayer money be used to help our people too. If we continue on the path that we’re on right now, our community will be irreparably devastated.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, Black American Money.