Nitpicking the Idea of a Presidential 'Black Agenda'

Not everyone agrees with Tavis Smiley

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Is President Obama thinking about the challenges facing the black community? This week, Obama met with a group of some 20 black religious leaders to hear their concerns--among them, that unemployment and recession have disproportionately affected African-Americans. The meeting took place not long after radio host Tavis Smiley convened a panel in Chicago, called We Count!, that aimed to list and discuss the areas in which public policy needs to address black concerns more directly. This isn't the first time Smiley has called upon Obama to set forth a "black agenda," but not everyone agrees that it's a useful or realistic demand.

  • Obama Has Already Done a Lot  The Root's Angela Glover Blackwell finds herself "perplexed" by Smiley's emphasis "on what President Barack Obama has not done for the black community, rather than the significant down payment he has made in our communities this past year." Blackwell goes on to list more than a dozen black-friendly measures Obama has enacted or proposed. "Is there more to do? Of course," she writes. "But acknowledging progress is also very important."
  • Remember, Presidents Don't Write Laws  The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart sympathizes with Smiley to a point, but suggests he focus less on the president and more on "cajoling Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) into putting forth legislation that embodies his goals that Obama could sign. Obama is president, not king." Capehart also calls out Smiley's "strain of blacker-than-thou condescension" toward Obama, who is "the father of two black girls and... the husband and son-in-law of black women" and probably doesn't need reminding about the black community.
  • Wait, What's Wrong With Appealing to Obama?  Sophia Nelson, also of the Post, points out that since American blacks confront a unique set of challenges, they're within their rights to make overtures on their own behalf. "It is a threat to our democratic republic for citizens of any race, color or creed not to feel that they can openly criticize, challenge or lobby the president to focus on issues critical to their interest," Nelson declares. "Gay people do it. Latinos do it. Why can't black folks do it? That is how Washington works."
  • Not All Black Agendas Are Created Equal  Writing in the conservative Washington Examiner, Gregory Kane suggests that "if you ask 10 different black Americans what a so-called 'black agenda' should consist of, you might get 10 different answers." Kane's own version, "as a black conservative and a Republican," would involve charter schools and the protection of gun rights, but he's aware that such ideas are anathema, for the most part, in the left-leaning black community.
  • Was Anything Ever Accomplished at a 'Conference on Race'?  At The New Republic, writing a few days in advance of We Count!, John McWhorter rolls his eyes at the whole idea. He also offers a few predictions: "I venture that a major thread of the discussion will be the observation that although we have a black President, racial disparities persist in America ... There will be a token card-carrying conservative who gets jeered ... Afterwards, the word in the lobby and green room will be that the event was 'great,' a 'real discussion,' and so on ... And the discussion, 'great' though it supposedly was, will cause not the slightest change in the life of a single human being anywhere on earth."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.