Will Obama Push a 'Black Agenda' Now?

Some say he ignored blacks' needs in his first term. Here's what Sharpton and others hope for now.

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In a BET town hall debate Sharpton noted that many black Americans referred to Bill Clinton as "the first black president" while some of his policies were harmful to the black community, yet these same black Americans criticize President Obama with abandon. In an emailed statement to The Root, Sharpton cited unemployment among people of color, the education achievement gap between black and white students, racial profiling and judicial inequities as issues of hyper-importance to black Americans that he hopes will make even greater progress in a second Obama term.

"President Obama has provided 72 straight months of increased [numbers of] private sector jobs," Sharpton wrote, "and now the Obama administration must fight the Republicans to increase public sector jobs, where blacks and Latinos work disproportionately. The administration must also force private companies to hire more blacks and Latinos." He also cited the Trayvon Martin tragedy as a reminder of why the president must make equal protection under the law and inequity in the criminal justice system for black Americans an ongoing priority.

Progressive radio host Mark Thompson of SIRIUS XM's "Make It Plain" show is among those who expect to see more vocal commitment from President Obama for a black agenda in a second term. Thompson, who is African American, recently moderated the State of the Black World Conference town hall at Howard University, which focused specifically on the presidential election's impact on black America.

Speaking to The Root, Thompson said, "The Obama administration, in its second term, has a duty to specifically address the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency, the African-American base." When asked if some black criticism of the president regarding a so-called black agenda has been unfair, Thompson replied, "Some have gone too far, and the criticism has gone from political to personal. But we need to solve the riddle of how African Americans support Democrats and not have Democrats take us for granted, knowing we have nowhere else to go."

Thompson argued that vocal black critics of the president seem to have forgotten that he is not treating black Americans any worse than white Democrats before him. But when asked if it is fair for black Americans to expect more of President Obama because he is black, Thompson replied yes.

Imagining the Possibilities

Thompson's vision is thus: "Because he's an extraordinary transformative figure, President Obama should be able to unapologetically address the specific concerns of his own community and set a precedent for African Americans no longer being taken for granted by Democratic party politicians." Elaborating on the transformative impact the president could have were he to make the black community a focal point of his second term, Thompson pointed out that black civil rights groups and a number of black Americans followed President Obama's lead on same-sex marriage once he specifically affirmed his support for it.

This is an example of the "transformative influence of this president," Thompson added. "Imagine if he used it directly for our community."

Thompson emphasized the word "directly," explaining that while the administration has implemented policies that have helped African Americans, the black community has not received nearly as much as direct acknowledgment as other communities comprising the Democratic base, such as Latinos and the LGBT community. Though Obama is not the first Democratic president to do this, he said, Thompson is hopeful that the precedent will end should Obama embrace black causes more directly in a second term.

One challenge the president faces was mentioned by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a September 2012 interview with The Root. "I think this administration feels far more comfortable in dealing with LGBT or Latino issues because they will never be accused of embracing those issues more than others of the American public. But the moment the president says 'black,' they will begin to call him H. Rapp Brown and Eldridge Cleaver and [say], 'he's a member of the Black Panther Party,' " observed Cleaver. "The next African-American president will not be encumbered with that kind of weight on his or her shoulders."