In light of the current economic climate – while chewing on recent Republican, populist-tinged victories in New Jersey, Virginia and, most recently, Massachusetts – the question regarding African American support for President Obama is bound to come up. It’s the anniversary of his first full year in office, we prognosticators expecting it. But, it’s an even more poignant question amid the very racialized national conversation taking place – from gawks at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “gaffes” to nauseating outrage at bigotry on tap from the likes of commentator Rush Limbaugh and evangelical zealot Pat Robertson. We should see this coming at the turn of every Black History Month.
To consider that question, context is needed. We need to carefully examine writings on the socio-economic construct wall. In the case of Black folks, the recession has pretty much decimated over a full quarter of our middle class, setting Black economic progress back dramatically despite clear electoral gains on the political landscape. A depressing Center for American Progress Report on “The State of Minorities in the Economy” offers some dismal figures on African American unemployment rates, including how “... minorities have been disproportionately affected” by the recession. CAP states: “[M]inorities were not receiving the benefits of the economic growth prior to 2007.“ Further:
At the start of the recession, the unemployment rate for African Americans on a quarterly basis was 8.6 percent. In the two years that followed, the unemployment rate rose 7.2 percentage points to 15.8 percent.
Yet, for some reason, you’d be strangely oblivious to the harsh reality of Black unemployment should you stumble upon a recently touted Pew Center Social Trends Survey which indicates “the perceptions of blacks have changed for the better over the past two years, despite a deep recession and jobless recovery that have hit blacks especially hard.” Pew finds:
“Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president appears to be the spur for this sharp rise in optimism among African Americans. It may also be reflected in an upbeat set of black views on a range of other matters, including race relations, local community satisfaction and expectations for future black progress.”
The Pew survey was by telephone and included a sampling of 2,884 adults, including 812 African Americans. Something missing here? Perceptions seem misaligned with the reality of the current situation. One has to ask who, exactly, did they sample? And, where were the sampled Black respondents residing at the time of the survey? There is a blatant incongruity between these two reports that can’t be ignored.
Obviously, African American support for the President – based on anecdotal observation and data-driven evidence – remains high. If the election for his second term were to take place tomorrow, Obama would enjoy, at the very least, a high margin of grassroots, base support from the African American community (unless there other strong, viable and credible candidates or elected officials with equal or greater gravitas, background and magnetism to split that vote during either the primary or general). In this sense, the recent Pew Social Trends survey is accurate – signs of Black euphoria, despite a recession that’s battered us, can be directly linked to the feel good nature of a “brotha running things.” One can argue that the President takes this built in support for granted. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report calls it “delirium” in a recent piece:
Barack Obama’s presence in the White House is bad for Black people’s mental health. Even as the African American economic condition deteriorates by the day, Blacks perceive a world in which their prospects are improving. Something did change for the better for Black people in 2009. The problem is, it only happened in their minds.