Updated: May 26
What did Barack Obama 'do' for African Americans during his presidency?
Back in 2008, during a conversation with a friend about the election, I made it clear I was for Obama. He made it clear he was for Hillary. Out of curiosity I asked him why he wasn't voting for Obama. He replied that he would not be voting for Obama because, "he is only for the black people". (My friend's Hispanic). His reply stuck with me and became a repetitive reply during other discussions with friends and strangers during that contentious 08' election.
Now. Looking back. I ask myself, Did my friend have a point? Did Barack Obama only do for 'the blacks'? After some more time, I asked myself. Wait, did he do anything for 'the blacks'?
What did African Americans expect Obama to do for them? What could he have done? What did his critics mean when they said he’d be 'only for the blacks'?
Well, for me, as an AA, I expected him to use his presidential powers to increase equality in employment, level out the graduation rates in college education, lower the unemployment rate among African Americans, eliminate racial prejudices that plague America's justice system, and eradicate discriminatory practices in housing. A tall order, no doubt, but I didn't expect him to do all this in only four years. Not even eight! 'lol'
Those were some examples of the expectations African Americans had of Obama. But did he do or at least attempt to do any of these things?
The question 'did race relations improve under Obama?' has been asked, studied, then published. Source
But did he do anything specifically for African Americans during his presidency? That question has not been asked, studied, then published. Until now.
Did the fears come true that Obama's policies and decision making, such as immigration, would not take any other race into account? source
In my opinion, Barack Obama's greatest contribution to African Americans was that he exposed the racism that his critics said was in the past. His speech on race in Philadelphia at the Constitution Center also made a big contribution toward raising awareness about the topic.
Whether or not Obama felt any obligation to do anything for African Americans is another question entirely. One I've never heard him asked directly. To me, based on his policies and initiatives, affordable health care for all Americans was his primary political ambition. Not the progression toward racial equality that most AA's wanted.
During the election I heard many African Americans say that they were voting for Obama simply because he's black (myself included). We felt obligated to do so and thought that Obama felt that same way towards us. That he wanted to do something for us simply because we're black. We expected him to feel obligated to make radical racial equality a primary issue during his presidency (including reparations). We expected him to right the wrongs done to African Americans by white presidents before him (take your pick), and for our needs to be his top priority.
This selfishness could have been what my friend (and others) meant when he said that Obama was 'only for the black people'. But my friend, and people like him found out fairly quickly that they were wrong.
For African American females Obama did a lot, according to these sources;
-United State of Women Summit source -29 Powerful Black Women Who Called the Shots in the Obama Administration source -African American Women of the Obama Administration source -Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act source.
But for African American men...not so much.
Towards the tail end of his last term, Obama, after realizing he hadn't done much for black America -particularly black men. He put together, at the last minute, a half-hearted, token initiative called My Brother's Keeper Alliance in 2014. Since its inception, the White House has only issued a one-year progress report.
In my opinion, he did this to say he did something for black men, knowing one day he'd be asked the question. That just tells me the drive was never there to begin with. I should never have assumed or expected it would be, just because he's black.
In retrospect I realize Obama did teach me a very important lesson -particularly as a black man- that I need to create my own hope. My own change. And to never expect any man to do something for me, just because he's black.
So, what did Barack Obama do for African Americans while he was president? He did a lot for black females. But as for black men...in the words of Smokey from Friday, "Not a damn thannng!"
But that's just me. What do you think? What did Barack Obama do for African Americans? Why did other races think he would only have AA issues in mind?