It's not surprising that so many people get defensive over President Barack Obama.
In many cases, it's completely understandable. When you hear that a Republican congressman referred to the nation's first black president as a "tar baby," you're rightfully infuriated. The same can be said when condescending Wall Street Journal writers question his intelligence. Worse is when two high-profile black men are willing to assail the president with angst that appears to be fueled by largely petty reasons.
Yet for every bigot, idiot or diva with an ax to grind, there are actual, legitimate issues for which to criticize President Obama. Here's a message to some of his more zealous devotees: Settle down. You're a little too emotionally invested in Barack. Or, as Bill Maher put it on the season finale of Real Time, "He's your president, not your boyfriend."
I find myself increasingly shying away from Obama-related conversations with certain people out of fear that they will break into song and croon in my face, "Don't mess with my man, I'mma be the one to bring it to you!" (Word to Nivea.)
Gallup's most recent approval polls show that, while Obama has a 41 percent overall rating, approval among African Americans is still at a high 85 percent. And yet the black unemployment rate is at 15.9 percent — double the 8.1 percent rate for whites. In light of those numbers, it's troubling that some still act as if the man doesn't deserve constructive criticism.
Yes, there are political reasons that Obama can't directly address black joblessness, and no, I'd never suggest that he do anything to validate some trite and delusional right-wing narrative that he's in office only to aid blacks. Even if agreeing to that austerity-inspired debt-ceiling deal — which will do little to generate growth or really chip away at our debts — was a political necessity, it was another example of the president giving off the impression that he's not fighting hard enough for those in greatest need of assistance.
That's essentially the gist of Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West's argument on their poorly named "Poverty Tour." Smiley was right to point out: "If this president is going to be a great president, not just one we celebrate symbolically, if he's going to be a transformative president, somebody — lovingly and respectfully and committed to some core set of principles — has to help push him."
But do Smiley and West's personal and political problems with Obama make them Uncle Toms? Comedian and radio host Steve Harvey seems to think so. And joining him is Tom Joyner, who accused the duo of helping foster the negative environment that allowed pundit Mark Halperin to call Obama a d—- on MSNBC. Since when did a white man need to take cues from black men on how and when to disrespect other black men?
Ideally, I'd turn off all their mics and give people like Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) a larger forum to vent their frustrations with the Obama administration for its failure to support programs specifically addressing the black community. "We want him to know that from this day forward … we've had it," Conyers has said of the president. "We want him to come out on our side and advocate, not to watch and wait."
The hypersensitivity exhibited by some Obama fans — that means you, Harvey — is counterproductive. Blind allegiance shows a lack of perspective and does little to help Obama be a better president.
Despite all of Obama's accomplishments — yes, there are quite a few to tout — he has dropped the ball on what matters most to many in his base: jobs, the lingering war in Afghanistan and standing up to the Republicans in Congress. You can still be supportive of President Obama and say as much.
If we all want to keep our friend around, we'd better let our guard down a little and hear people out.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.