While President Obama has been a unifying force in the black community during his first term in office, his presidency has also fueled deep divisions among many African Americans. The president’s first-term policies sparked heated debates among a host of well-known black intellectuals and political observers who argue that the president has ignored the issues of his most loyal base.
These tensions will likely remain throughout Obama’s second term unless he quickly reverses course.
Critics, such as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, will likely continue to press Obama to address the needs of black America, while others will struggle to determine how to best capitalize on Obama’s second term and get him to push forward a “black agenda.”
But what should this “payback” look like? Unlike other interest groups, such as gays and Hispanics, who responded positively to symbolic gestures from the president, African Americans appear as if they cannot come to an agreement on what a priority list should be. The community seems to lack a unifying issue that Obama could address. And we seem to also lack a clear strategy for implementing what those community-friendly policies might be.
But that doesn’t negate the president’s responsibility to address the concerns of black Americans and respond to their call for social policy that addresses their greatest needs. Indeed, there are a mix of specific issues that might delicately satisfy his most loyal followers. These direct policies could address the disproportionate loss of wealth among black families; a reinvigorated, targeted civil rights agenda; a more holistic approach to family cohesion; and a commitment to Africans around the globe.