May 19, 2011

President Obama, Cornel West and Black Self-Criticism

Recently, comments Dr. Cornel West made about President Obama caused a great deal of controversy. Professor Melissa Harris-Perry responded with her perspective on West's arguments—a perspective that was shared by a number of public black intellectuals.

The main issue people have with West's critique of the President was the fact that some of his criticisms came off as personal, even petty. During the interview, West expressed his disappointment at not having his phone calls returned by President Obama. He also mentions being dismayed at not receiving tickets to the inauguration. West felt that these were snubs, seeing that he had faithfully campaigned for the President. Then Dr. West loses it and begins to speculate about President Obama having a “fear of free black men”.

I'm not here to defend all that. I do want to talk about the fact that people are focusing so much energy on dismissing the personal grievances of West, that they are failing to acknowledge that there are some serious, substantive critiques that West and others have made of the President.

I think we've allowed our collective ambition (to see a successful black president) to pull us away from the principles that are important to us.

There are real issues regarding our President, like his tapping people from Wall Street to fix the economy. Or extending tax cuts to the wealthy. Or providing waivers to companies that allow them to get around compliance to the new healthcare legislation.

During the Bush administration, people were up in arms about our need to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're still in both those wars and bombing Libya as well, but I don't seem to hear the public outcry against the President's decisions in these matters.

People screamed about President Bush having policies that were hostile to black people, and poor people, but now that we have a black president, we feel it's inappropriate to ask him to specifically address black issues. Nobody's asking President Obama to replace the National Anthem with "Lift Every Voice and Sing", or to become a modern day Malcolm X, but is it too much to ask him to talk about black unemployment being over 16 percent?!

I'm tired of the “he's not the President of black people, he's the President of the U.S.!” argument--I know! I also know that black people are a part of the U.S. And I know that every President has been asked by black people to enact policies that benefit black people--until now. My question is: Why the change?

We lose some of our credibility if we are harsh critics of a President we don't like, but can't find the heart to offer an honest critique a President we say we love. We're not doing ourselves any favors by de-legitimizing honest criticism.


“One of the sure signs of maturity is the ability to rise to the point of self-criticism” - Martin Luther King, Jr., The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness

I'm not writing this as an enemy of our President. I voted for President Obama. I like President Obama. And as of today, I plan to vote for President Obama in 2012. I realize the President is facing pressures and problems that we can't fully comprehend. People are constantly questioning his blackness, his citizenship and his faith. I get how unfair those attacks are.

But I don't have a problem with having an honest discussion about what he has/hasn't done while in office. I think such a discussion will only help us become more informed and more aware of where we stand politically.

When will the day come that black people who support the President can offer legitimate criticism of him without having other black people become overly defensive of him? When will we “rise to the point of self-criticism”?
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4 comments:

adept2u said...

Trev, it was not the President's policy to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy. That was a Republican extortion that he got the passage of DADT, the passing of the Arms treaty with russia, the extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a reduction in the amount that wage earners get withheld for in social security. It was in fact the Presidents idea that Democrats run on the issue which they refused to do, so tagging the President with having extended tax cuts for the wealthy isn't exactly honest.

Furthermore the new health care law is the most significant advancement in the overall healtcare rights of Americans that we have ever seen, not sure what you're talking about with the special deals unless you are discussing the so called deal with big pharma which if you believe the conspiracy theory is only about 3% of the healthcare pie.

The President picked the men he felt could help him save the economy, and as we still have an American Automobile and financial industry and Americans have 401k value again the wisdom of his appointments is being held out, however let me draw your attention to a bit of logical fallacy. The President is in charge of his men and if he decides to dig up Zombie Reagan in order to see his views put into practice they are his views.

Perhaps the day you can give legitimate criticism will be the day you have some.

Trevor said...

@adept2u To address your concerns:

I understand the circumstances surrounding the extension of the tax cuts. The fact is he extended them (for whatever reason) after campaigning against them. I don't think I was dishonest for mentioning it.

With healthcare, I wasn't referring to the deals with the pharmaceutical companies, although that's a valid issue. I was referring to the waivers for corporations discussed here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/business/07insure.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

I understand that the President may appoint who he wishes to help fix the economy. I just don't think people with ties to Wall Street are best suited to police Wall Street.

Mike said...

Trevor, the answer to your question is simple: after November 6, 2012 black people who support the President should be able to offer any criticism of him without having other black people becoming overly defensive. While I agree with you that an open honest discussion of the president’s job performance would be informative, unfortunately, any criticism of him by black people before the next election will likely be taken out context and end up in a divisive fox news report.

Trevor said...

@Mike You're probably right. We'll see how everything plays out.

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