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.”
Mark Thompson shared an anecdote to illustrate the paralyzing impact this kind of thinking among black Americans who break barriers can have on the community. He recalled that John Thompson, the first black coach to lead a major college team to a national basketball championship, told him that while he worked hard to increase the diversity of referees, he worried that black referees would feel pressured to prove they were not biased in his favor and as a result his team may face unfair calls.
Mark Thompson speculated that whether it’s Obama or a black manager in the workplace, this fear ends up clouding what African Americans expect of each other. Sometimes the fear is founded. Sometimes it is not.
In an interview with The Root, Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, the oldest black newspaper in New York, expressed hope that she will see the president press more of a black agenda in this term than he did in the last. “I really don’t believe there was a black agenda in the first term,” she said. “There was an agenda focused on poor people but not specific to black people, although [the policies] impacted black people in poor communities.”
Tatum cited education, jobs and addressing health care disparities beyond the scope of Obamacare as parts of the black agenda she would like to see addressed, now that Obama has secured another four years. “What I want to see in a second term,” she said, “is the president taking hold of who he is and translating that into action for people of color in this country. He has more of a luxury of being a black president now than he did in the first term. So now I want to see him be more of a black president than a president who happens to be black.”
Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.