Has Black America benefited from eight years of Barack Obama? It depends on who you ask.
COMPILED FROM STAFF
AND WIRE REPORTS
With President Barack Obama out of office after two terms, discussions are swirling about his legacy and the place he’ll eventually take among this most exclusive fraternity.
Even as they celebrate Obama’s considerable successes, there is concern among advocates and supporters about the durability of his legacy in light of eight years of intense and sustained opposition from Republicans and the promise by his successor to erase any semblance of the Obama presidency.
Others say that Obama’s performance was underwhelming, especially as it relates to the condition of the average African-American.
Won’t be erased
“I don’t think President Obama has anything to worry about. The notion of erasing his legacy, are you crazy? Legacy is who he is and was,” says Tallahassee-based entrepreneur and psychologist Dr. Sharon-Ames Dennard.
“The feebleminded can always be convinced of anything. There are many things that he and his wife has done right. There were no scandals. You know they were looking for the women, but every chance he got, he boosted up his wife.”
Spoke to all
The Rev. Derrick Harkins said Obama’s political acumen, graciousness, and consistency endeared him to African-Americans, adding that he believes history will be kind to the 44th president.
“He is a president who sought to speak to the full expanse of America. Much of his legacy spoke to the needs of all Americans,” said Rev. Harkins, senior vice president for Innovation in Public Programs at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
“I know the president, know him in the sense of a Black man who is the part of a beautiful family.
They gave a sense of grace, a sense of who they are. President Obama was never uncomfortable being himself. He never lost his bearing.”
Little to show
Others are less forgiving about Obama’s legacy and his performance while in office.
In a Dec. 22, 2016 article in The Atlantic magazine entitled, “How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans,” William A. Darity Jr. wrote about his “deep reservations” about Obama’s leadership.
“I worried that it was possible for the symbolic and inspirational aspects of having a Black president would be more than offset by the damages that could be done by the messages delivered by a Black president. And it has been damaging to have Barack Obama, a Black man speaking from the authoritative platform of the presidency, reinforce the widely-held belief that racial inequality in the United States is, in large measure, the direct responsibility of Black folk.
“This has been the deal breaker for me: not merely a silence on White physical and emotional violence directed against Black Americans, but the denial of the centrality of American racism in explaining sustained Black-White disparity.”
Darity is a professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics, and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University.
Calling Obama’s policy initiatives “timid,” Darity wrote that “Obama’s general position is racial equality can be achieved – or at least approached – via policies that uplift all Americans experiencing poverty and deprivation…But these particular programs – all, even in their diluted forms likely to be under assault under the new regime – are incremental and display no boldness of spirit.”
The Obama administration never gave serious consideration to aggressive transformative universal policies, according to Darity.
The National Urban League, in a January 2017 “Obama Administration Scorecard,” also noted major deficiencies over Obama’s eight years.
“While we scored many of the administration’s achievements with our highest rating, ‘Superior,’ President Obama’s tenure as a whole had shortcomings due to some notable missed opportunities and outright failures, such as the economic development of urban centers, gun violence and the foreclosure rate and bank closure rate in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods,” according to a cover letter written by National Urban League President and CEO Mark Morial.
“On these and other issues, we rated the Obama administration ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor.’”
Among the ‘poor’ grades the Obama administration received were for its treatment of foreclosures resulting in the dissipation of billions of dollars of Black wealth.
Homes, wealth gone
“African-Americans were more likely to have their homes foreclosed on than any other race. African-Americans accounted for approximately 80 percent of the foreclosures that occurred during the (housing) crisis. A 2014 study illustrated that the top five cities for underwater homes were in the cities where at least 80 percent or more of the residents were people of color,” the report states.
Still, the Obama administration didn’t provide “underwater” and seriously delinquent homeowners with opportunities to reduce the amount of money they owed on their mortgages as the value of their houses dropped.
“Over five million homeowners lost their homes during the foreclosure crisis. That number would have been much lower if distressed homeowners had the opportunity for principal forgiveness,” the report notes.
“The African-American homeownership rate has declined from nearly 50 percent a decade ago to around 40 percent. The decline represents an extreme loss of wealth that had been accumulated over a 40-year period.”
The report also criticized Obama for doing little or nothing with regard to small Black-owned businesses.
“African-American small business owners only received less than 2 percent of the loans backed by the Small Business Administration, since Fiscal Year 2013. Further, the president and administration did not use the power and prestige of the presidency to advocate for minority business inclusion in a systematic manner.”
Obama was also criticized for his U.S. Supreme Court picks.
“The president had three opportunities to nominate the first African-American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, but failed to do so for each vacancy,” the report indicates, calling his refusal to appoint an African-American to the nation’s highest court a “failure.”
Despite these concerns, the National Urban League gave the Obama administration an overall rating of “Excellent,” the organization’s second-highest rating.
“The National Urban League has regarded the first African-American presidency with special significance, not simply because of its trailblazing status, but also because of the unique conditions under which President Barack Obama took office and served his two terms.
“He inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, and was faced with Congressional opposition unprecedented in its intensity and sinister nature. Both his accomplishments and his failures must be evaluated against those conditions,” Morial wrote.
Major wealth gap
According to Darity, the Duke University professor, the increase in Black foreclosures doing Obama’s two terms that exacerbated the decades-long wealth gap between Black and White Americans can only be solved by making financial reparations to Black Americans, something that Obama believe is politically impossible.
“…(T)he emphasis on exclusively universal programs yields the spectacle of a Black president who opposes the most dramatic Black-specific program of all – reparations for African-Americans. This opposition ultimately seems to amount to a matter of political expediency….
“The president ultimately takes the position that it is politically untenable to enact a reparations program. If so – and if nothing comparable can be realized – then I contend that it is impossible to close the racial wealth gap,” Darity explains.
The struggle continues
“Having a Black president oppose reparations does not help the cause, particularly when that Black president makes the case that an important source of Black disadvantage is Black folk’s own behavior.
“But Black America should have paid attention to the experience of post-colonial Black Africa and the Caribbean; leaders who look like you do not necessarily act in ways that benefit you.
“So be it. The struggle for reparations – and for Black lives and justice – must and will continue, with or without Barack Obama in the fold,” Darity concludes.
District of Columbia activist and businesswoman Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever said although her personal belief is that Obama should have adopted a more activist role, she’s immensely proud of his accomplishments.
Jones-DeWeever said as the country begins to suffer economic whiplash and Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act, and the erosion of the civil, human and other rights, the appreciation for Obama will broaden exponentially.
“Generally speaking, I’ve been proud of the president’s character, level of dignity, work ethic and moral compass,” said Jones-DeWeever, president and CEO of the consulting firm Incite Unlimited.
“His presidency has been beautiful to see. I’m particularly grateful that for my two boys, he has been the definition of what a president is. It has been beautiful. I’m also happy that he has made significant progress in releasing people trapped in the prison-industrial complex.”
“I believe that history will ultimately fortify his brilliance,” said Jones-DeWeever of Obama.
Their only president
For young voters, the Trump presidency is difficult to sink in, in part because Obama is the only president they have ever voted for.
“I am not happy and it will take me some time to accept what America has thrown at me,” exclaimed Linda McNeil, a resident of the District of Columbia.
Jessica Shaw looks positively at the situation, saying millennials can do something about the future.
“Moving forward, we must not fight with one another. We have to fight, petition, pray and stay in good spirits to be at peace with ourselves in preparation for the future.”
Content from the Trice Edney News Wire was used to contribute to this report.