The Emotional and Unrealistic Expectations of Barack Obama by the African American Community
Our love for President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and their family was emotional, and I don't find that particularly problematic. However, many of us had some very false perceptions about what he could realistically accomplish regarding the contemporary problems affecting the African American community. I remember the night president Obama won the general election back in 2008. I was excited and prideful as an African American. My political stripe is considered moderate conservative, however; I had voted for Obama because I was concerned with (and rightfully so apparently) the radical right direction that the GOP was going. At that point in history, this radical right direction was symbolized by Sarah Palin and Tea Party movement that came about shortly after Obama. Even with all that, I was excited about the possibility of actual change in the political system. I believed that Barack Obama would bring some positive change to Washington D.C. however; for various reasons, things did not go as well as I had hoped.
To many African Americans, in fact to many Americans of all stripes, Obama’s victory signified the beginning of a post racial America. But that soon was proven to not be reflective of reality. Many people wanted to believe that the concept of White Supremacy no longer hindered Black and White Americans. However, a cursory look at the political atmosphere of the United States seems to suggest such a statement is rooted in, at worst, myth and, at best, fantasy. While it is clear that many African Americans had entered into better lives by making progress in education, employment, business ownership and politics, it is equally apparent that a significant portion of African Americans have lives and situations that have remained basically unchanged since the Civil Rights Movement. Further exemplifying the issue is that with the success of some African Americans there has been a backlash from some Whites who express feelings of being the “new oppressed population.” An example of this thinking was quantified by a baffled Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University in Pennsylvania, when he stated in a CNN Interview: "We went from being a privileged group to all of a sudden becoming whites, the new victims,'' as he was quite surprised to see that “whites see themselves as an oppressed minority.” The fact that this has become a more prevalent ideology within parts of the population post the election of President Obama is startling, but at the same time telling. Also, this reality was very central to the fact of President Elect Donald Trump being elected as Obama's successor. But, that is for a different article.
To the point of expectations, many African Americans expected that this president would be making radical changes that would affect the African American community. That "he" had made it, so in essence “we” had made it. Similar to the feeling when we as Black people see a Black person get promoted at our job, or when one of us is first at something great, i.e.; a tennis champion like Serena Williams, a golf champion like Tiger Woods. Or when we win awards and accolades, like Sidney Poitier and his Oscar or Whoopi Goldberg with hers. However; just like when a Black person gets promoted into management, they become pretty much like other managers. This is simply, because it’s their job. President Obama’s job was to be the President of the ENTIRE United States, and the leader of the Democratic Party. We can all debate on how well he did either job, but at the end of the day, any expectation of him doing miraculous things for “Black” people was rooted in pure emotion and a lack of understanding how the political process really works. One criticism from Blacks that I hear from time to time, is that he did for this or that community, and did nothing for African Americans. Specifically this criticism is levied at the LGBTQ community, as they are perceived to have had their interests addressed by the Obama Administration.
Blacks are an expected demographic within the Democratic platform, and unlike the LGBTQ community, we have had advances that many of us don't acknowledge (as that would ruin the neoliberal narrative of anti-racism) whereas the LGBTQ community was fighting some battles we have already won. And that demographic in the Democratic party was pushing hard. Also, most of the contemporary problems we face as the African American community are honestly best dealt with on a local and state level, a level of politics that we often do not hold accountable. Often not participating in local and state elections to the level that Blacks do in federal elections. We as a people, African Americans, must get past being emotionally moved by things, and to operate in a more rational manner, this includes the scholars, academics and activist that claim to be our leadership. As I stated at the beginning "Our love for Obama was emotional, and I don't find that particularly problematic," but many of us had some very false perceptions in our expectations.
For example, the issues of urban crime and police brutality. I have attempted to explain, that these are both problems best addressed at the local level of politics. After Ferguson, Blacks looked to the Department of Justice, Eric Holder and President Obama for solutions to the tensions in the community surrounding the Michael Brown incident. Regardless if one believes the police officer was justified or not, the underlying racial tension felt in that community and frustration with law enforcement came to the forefront because of that issue. However; that frustration is not translated into voters participating in the system or holding who they vote for accountable. On election night Tuesday April 7th 2015, a record number of voters came out to vote in the Ferguson, MO local elections, so yes, activism led to a higher turnout. But still, very low, showing voter apathy at a level that needs to be addressed for better influence over local politics.
“ (In Ferguson post Mike Brown election) About 30% of voters cast ballots, more than double the participation in the last two elections in Ferguson. Many of the voters who showed up on Tuesday braved rain to cast their ballots in what activists have hailed as a historic election.”
That 30% may have been better than historical Black voter turnouts, but still is low considering what was at stake. Lack of holding local and state politicians accountable leads to lack of accountability for local and state law enforcement. This is ignored in favor of blaming the federal government. In this vein, President Obama President was blamed by Blacks and later President, then candidate Trump, for the high crime in Chicago.
Some Blacks blamed Obama and his lack of action for continued issues of police brutality and excessive force, as in the case of Laquan McDonald. The Department of Justice again was called to get involved, however it was the public voting in local elections that pushed out Anita Alvarez, as it was her office that held the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting from the general public. Anita Alvarez literally lost every Black ward in Chicago, and fittingly so. The question is will this push to the polls, which was caused by positive activism in Chicago , continue in the mayoral elections? And will the general public hold Kim Foxx, who beat Alvarez accountable? In any case, these issues are not issues a sitting president has much control over or influence in. This lack of understanding of the limits around a president exemplifies one of the factors that led to false expectations for the Obama Administration from the Black community and the later disappointments. However; there were some realistic and practical expectations that should have been held by African Americas, regarding socioeconomic policy that not only affected the African American community, but working Americans and consumers in general. That will be addressed in a later article. As for now; what we should be happy about, is what President Obama did mean for the African American community.
My opinion and respect and love for the Obamas is not restricted by the socioeconomic and sociopolitical factors regarding neoliberalism, identity politics, anti-racism or anything else. As a black man in America I am aware of the fact that President Obama becoming president and Michelle Obama being in the White House with him had a social psychological effect on African Americans, a positive one. Before that time to a lot of African-Americans a power couple meant Beyonce' and Jay-Z. Which is why, even though I am a moderate conservative, I only accepted criticism about President Obama rooted in actual policy as legitimate, and reject personal attacks. However; as a community of citizens, we need to be very aware of the politics at play around us, because it does have a direct effect on us.
As far as Obama the symbol, Symbols mean a lot of things, it's part of the human experience. And people become symbols, to the fact that some have been deified throughout history and still are rallying cries for different groups, ethnicities and nationalities and religions. It is foolish for people to dismiss the social and cultural psychological positives that came from Barack and Michelle Obama being who they were, and in the White House. Smart, brilliant people, regardless of their politics. A loving family, this was needed in the African American community and the greater human community We learn from a cursory look at human history, that symbols engender pride in groups, and people have been those symbols. Symbols were taken from the African slaves as they were brought from their nations to North America, and their identity was lost. African Americans are very different than traditional immigrant groups, because we are still building our independent identity. Independent from our African heritage, even as we harken to it in many ways. Obama, like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, etc. is now part of the symbolism.
 H. Roy Kaplan, The Myth of Post-Racial America: Searching for Equality in the Age of Materialism. (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) 3
 Ibid 3
 John Blake. "Are whites racially oppressed?" CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/12/21/white.persecution/ (accessed January 12, 2017).
 Aamer Madhani, “Voices: Ferguson voter turnout disheartening,” USA Today, April 9, 2015 (accessed January 12, 2017) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/us/pentagon-says-it-is-lifting-ban-on-women-in-combat.html.
 Andy Grimm, “Anita Alvarez lost every predominantly black ward in Chicago,” Chicago Sun Times, March 16, 2016 (accessed January 12, 2017) http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/anita-alvarez-lost-every-predominantly-black-ward-in-chicago/