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.

President Barack Obama greets a crowd of supporters. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama greets a crowd of supporters. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) — President Barack Obama has been a target of endless criticism since taking office, most notably from conservative corners, as well as from some blatant racists. But despite the nearly universal support he enjoyed among African Americans in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, some of his most impassioned critics have come from within the black community, and some of their most passionate criticism has focused on the concern that the first black president has not focused on addressing issues of particular importance to the black community or on successfully tackling a black agenda. The Congressional Black Caucus was especially critical of the Obama administration’s silence on black unemployment, for instance.  

The question now emerging since the president’s decisive re-election is whether we’ll see greater focus on issues of particular importance to the black community in the second Obama term, and if so, which issues.

Frustration in Some Corners

After the 2012 election Yvette Carnell wrote in the Black Agenda Report, “Now we are all left hoping and wishing that, for the sake of his legacy, President Obama doesn’t forget about us during his second term. The smart thing to do would’ve been to secure something, such as legislation to reduce black unemployment or mass incarceration, before the election, but we weren’t smart. We were tribal.”

In a piece for the L.A. Progressive titled “Black America Calling for a ‘Black Agenda,’ ” Anthony Asadullah Samad wrote, “Of course, we know he’s President of all the people. We got that, but what is the real significance of laying claim to the first African American president if a core constituency cannot ask for anything?”

He then continued, “What are ‘black issues’? Historically, they are jobs, education, health care, prison re-entry and economic development of deprived communities — all issues listed in Smiley’s covenant.” Samad was referring to PBS host Tavis Smiley, whose relentless criticism of the president’s leadership on poverty and issues important to the black community has made him a target of criticism.

For instance, during one of his shows Smiley pointedly challenged Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on whether President Obama would ever get away with exhorting other communities to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying,” as he said to the Congressional Black Caucus during a speech last year. “Would the president ever say to an audience of our Jewish brothers and sisters, concerned about the crisis in the Middle East, ‘stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying’?” Smiley posed to Jackson Lee. “[Would he say] to our Hispanic brothers and sisters on immigration and their concerns, ‘stop grumbling, stop complaining, stop crying’? Did he say to gays and lesbians, ‘stop grumbling, stop complaining, stop crying’? How does he get away with saying this to black folk when he would never, ever form his lips to say that to any other constituency?”

Hopefulness in Other Quarters

Among those who have disagreed with Smiley’s criticisms of the president is civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton. The host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation has previously criticized those who have condemned President Obama’s commitment to issues central to black Americans, while celebrating white presidents who have done less.