(The Root) — Witnesses to this week's DNC or last week's RNC conventions could easily come to the same conclusion: African-American issues were about as invisible as the imaginary President Obama in Clint Eastwood's staged chair.
During the Republican National Convention's truncated three-day conference, there was Obama-bashing galore, with frequent mentions that the unemployment rate has been 8 percent or higher since the former U.S. senator from Illinois was sworn in as POTUS more than three and a half years ago. A debt clock served as a timely prop to remind us of how many trillions Obama's failed leadership has single-handedly put us in the hole because of his reckless spending and big government policies.
There was even a minority hour so that rising black GOP stars — Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah; South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott, the Allen West wing nut wannabe; and Artur Davis, the estranged former Democrat congressman from Alabama turned Republican sweetheart — could mouth conservative talking points and get their 15 minutes of national fame. With the exception of these token appearances and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's speech, there was virtually no mention of black folks, and so few were present that comedian and author Baratunde Thurston could count them and did — 143 out of about 50,000.
The Democrats, of course, looked better. Twenty-seven percent of the delegates in Charlotte were black. But save for civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis, who talked about voter suppression and then delivered a tear-inducing tale of being beaten bloody back in 1961 after entering a whites-only waiting room in Rock Hill, S.C., there wasn't much more discussion of black issues among the Democrats than there had been among the Republicans. Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus made cameo appearances, addressing voter suppression and speaking the same red, white and blue platitudes the president would speak later in his acceptance speech. First lady Michelle Obama reminded us why her husband had us at hello four years ago, while the "first black president," Bill Clinton, ripped the hide off the herd of lies the Republicans have been running through campaign ads and in media interviews.
The Democratic convention, as a whole, was designed to simultaneously appeal to that sliver of undecided voters who will choose the winner and fire up the party rank and file to assure that they're ready to go.
In his acceptance speech, the president made a reasoned pitch for the four more years he needs to finish the job he's started. President Obama talked about the taxes he's cut, the manufacturing jobs he'd like American workers to have and the green jobs his administration has helped fuel. He also talked about recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers, ending the Iraq War as promised and not turning Medicare into a voucher system — but not a word about black unemployment.
Here's what both he and Romney didn't bother to mention: The black unemployment rate is 14.1 percent, nearly twice the national rate of 8.1 percent. Black homeowners are almost twice as likely to have buyers' remorse than their white counterparts — 35 percent to 20 percent. More than a third — 36.5 percent — of the nation's African-American students don't graduate from high school on time. And in Chicago, the president's hometown, the Chicago Tribune reported that "while blacks make up about 33 percent of the city's population, they accounted for nearly 78 percent of the homicide victims through the first six months of 2012."
None of these alarming realities were Topic A in either Tampa or Charlotte. Nor were they Topic B or C. None of these depressing realities was presented even as Plan D, Plan E or Plan F.
Mitt Romney's lack of interest in African Americans is understandable. His constituency is different from you and me. A recent poll reported that zero percent of African Americans supported the super-rich Republican. The liberal-to-moderate-to-conservative Romney, depending on his political opportunities at the moment, is still trying to pacify his Tea Party-infested rank and file. His conservative supporters don't love him nearly as much as they hate President Obama, which may explain why Romney's acceptance speech had the lowest TV viewership since 1996, when Bob Dole took to the podium.
Obama should be different. And, to some extent, he has been. Although African-American concerns were off the agenda in Charlotte, there has been some modest progress during his first term. He signed the Fair Sentencing Act, legislation that narrowed the gap between time served for possession of white powder and crack cocaine. By executive order he expanded the funding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to $850 million over a 10-year period. And, through Obamacare, the 19 percent of African Americans without health care insurance is bound to decrease.
That's about it — because America's first black president is America's president, not the president of black America. And, years ago, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington explained to me the double standard black politicians were forced to endure. Like Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans or Italian-Americans, African Americans are a national ethnic group. But because black politicians are so often defined by their color, if they advocate for their own ethnic group it becomes a racial issue.
Barack Obama is no exception. So our first black president is expected to be race neutral. It's just that black and white. But maybe in his second term, President Obama can steer away from the "rising tide lifts all boats" philosophy, and make sure that poor blacks finally get their break.
Cyber columnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.
Cybercolumnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.