Scrutiny of Obama Splits Blacks

Pundits who examine the president more critically run afoul of those who continue to praise him.

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Jeff Johnson knows how to make his audiences squirm. The young, black radio and TV political commentator waits for the discussion to turn to the topic being talked about ceaselessly, incessantly, ad nauseam: the meaning of the barrier-breaking election of Barack Obama.

Then, in his laid-back style, he says, "The real issue for me is that history is not enough." That's when the mood becomes tense.

"Black folks, in particular, get irritated," says Johnson, who travels the lecture circuit, hosts a half-hour show on Black Entertainment Television and has a weekly spot for social criticism on a radio program popular with black listeners. Get past "Obama the personality" and see "Obama the president," he says. "Otherwise all you're being is a political-celebrity groupie instead of a citizen. . . . It starts with acknowledging he's my president, and not my homie."

As the nation's first black president settles into the office, a division is deepening between two groups of African Americans: those who want to continue to praise Obama and his historic ascendancy, and those who want to examine him more critically now that the election is over.

Johnson is one of a growing number of black academics, commentators and authors determined to press Obama on issues such as the elimination of racial profiling and the double-digit unemployment rate among blacks.

But doing so has put them at odds with others in the black community. Love for the Obamas is thick among African Americans -- 91 percent of whom view the president favorably, compared with 59 percent of the total population, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month -- and as a result, the African American punditry finds itself navigating new ground.

 

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