by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Someone sent me an image applauding President Obama’s progress on the economy. The image was presented as evidence that President Obama has not been as bad for the American economy as Republicans might lead you to think. It was actually a compelling layout that proves that the president deserves credit for helping some Americans prosper after The Great Recession of 2008.
The image, taken as a screen shot from a news segment, shows that Wall Street has seen astronomical gains under Obama’s leadership. This makes me happy, since most of my wealth is tied up in the stock market and I have taught hundreds of students who’ve gone to Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has more than doubled, going from 7,949 to 16,480, which means that there are some billionaires who’ve been able to add a few Rolls Royces and private jets to their collections.
The second statistic shows that overall unemployment has improved under the president. I can say that, during the Obama presidency, I’ve been gainfully employed and I have a few business interests on the side. So, as an employed business owner with money invested in the stock market, it is clear that I have no personal interest in critiquing the data on this slide.
The third statistic shows that GDP has improved under Obama. I’m a Finance Professor, so I know that’s a good thing.
But one data point that is missing is black unemployment. The employment rate for African Americans hasn’t moved since the president came into office (12.6 to 12.5%, nearly double that of whites, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). While this might seem to be an odd statistical coincidence, it is not: There are clear policies (or a lack thereof) in the White House that have allowed black unemployment to fester like an untreated wound.
When the president was asked four years ago about how he planned to address racial inequality on unemployment, he said that “the rising tide will lift all boats,” meaning that he believed that if he helped everyone, black Americans would do better by default. OK, he has helped everyone, but black Americans are not doing better. So, what is clear is that this racialized version of Trickle Down Economics has been as effective as Bush’s War on Terror.
One can only speculate about the real impact of having Black Unemployment meetings with preachers instead of economists and business owners. The White House’s insistence on meeting with men like Al Sharpton and Ben Jealous, who have very little economic training vs. people like Dr. Julianne Malveaux (who has a PhD in Economics from MIT), is also reflective of a lack of seriousness when it comes to addressing a problem. So, like anything else, if you ignore a problem and don’t allocate resources to deal with it, it’s only going to get worse, that’s been proven here.
Of course, some people are going to presume that the black unemployment number didn’t improve because black people don’t want to work. That’s something that a white supremacist might say. Someone else might make the argument that Barack is not the president of black America. I agree, but the problem with that argument is that not being the president of black America does not, by default, make you the president of white America. If the quality of life for whites improves while it worsens for African Americans, and these changes can be directly linked to government policy, we might take a second to be honest with ourselves about exactly what’s happening here.
So, I ask this very serious question: Do people truly believe that no president has an obligation to care if black people can’t find jobs? If Obama were 100% white instead of just 50% white, would we see this issue differently? Would black women interpret his actions differently if he were married to a white woman like the one he dated in college? I think you know where I’m going with these questions, and you can’t pretend that I’m not telling the truth.
The reality is that, if whites were forced to endure unemployment rates at this level, they’d be rioting in the streets. It would be considered nothing short of a full-blown economic crisis. But for black Americans, it is seen as business as usual. This, by default, implies that (similar to slavery), you are expected to enjoy the scraps that a white man would not feed to his worst enemy. This, my friends, is a characteristic of low collective self-esteem: We don’t fight for anything better because we truly believe that we do not deserve it.
I know that Barack is not the president of black America, but does that mean that he (or anyone) can ignore their biggest constituency? I’d love to hear thoughts, but not just from Obama haters or apologists. I’d rather hear from thoughtful people who are seeking to find the truth. This is no time to express your undying love or engage in hero worship; you must free your mind to obtain equality.