By Kasim Ileri
Barack Obama won the White House on a promise of hope and change and with the overwhelming support of black voters. But as he prepares to leave the Oval Office, many of those in his base are still hoping for change.
Obama won the 2008 elections by receiving 97 percent of the black votes.
His favorability rating among blacks is still above 80 percent even though statistics do not reflect much of a change in the economic and social conditions within the black community.
Brinda Boley, 38, from the president’s city of Chicago, Illinois, told Anadolu Agency that she could not really say Obama did “enough” to help alleviate some of the problems blacks face, but she said, “I think he has had a legendary presidency”, without elaborating.
Although Obama has on occasion acknowledged some concerns of blacks, high crime rates in the inner crimes – including Chicago – and racial tensions, Boley said regardless of where the nation’s first black president stands, some people would be unhappy.
“One time he came out said something of the shooting of the African Americans and then he had a lot of backlash and then when Dallas shootings happened, he had a lot of backlash. So he has to walk a fine line,” she said. Boley was referring to the killing of a black man in Texas in July who police said killed five officers following a rally against police brutality.
The fine line she talked about was evident when Obama described the shooting of the officers as a “vicious, calculated, despicable attack on law enforcement” but he was criticized for not defending the lives of the countless black men killed by police as he did the lives of officers.
Boley’s feelings are not uncommon among blacks.
Many are proud of Obama being the first black president but at the same time are hard-pressed to say he has contributed in any significant way to improving the lives of blacks as many had hoped when he became president.
Edwin Martin, a resident of Miami, Florida, said he was proud to witness a black president but acknowledged Obama “had some hits and misses”.
Noting his support for Obama in elections in 2008 and 2012, Martin defends the president’s record because he “was dealt a bad hand in the beginning with a hurdle [with the] economy.” Obama took office in 2009 in the midst of the global downturn in the economy as the U.S. experienced double-digit unemployment and an economic contraction not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
According to Martin, Obama also faced the rage of those who were not happy with a black president.
Having a black president has “brought out the worst” in some people, he said.
“When that brought out the worst in them then I think it really caused a lot of tensions that brings up the worst in anybody.” A recent survey appears to support Martin’s claim.
According to an ORC/CNN poll released last month, 73 percent of blacks think racial discrimination is a “very serious” problem in the U.S. and 15 percent say it is “somewhat serious”.
This rate for all Americans is 42 and 37 percent, respectively.
The same survey also found 40 percent of blacks think race relations have worsened while 35 percent think it has remained the same.
Martin further defended Obama, saying that some of the problems are beyond a president’s ability to fix.
Dr. Rutledge Dennis teaches African-American studies at George Mason University. He told Anadolu Agency that overwhelming support for Obama among blacks stems from the symbolic meaning of his presidency rather than performance.
Although Obama’s first victory was a "revolution" for the black community because "for the first time a black family was going to live in the White House”, Dennis said “the needle has not changed at all” with respect to black unemployment and levels of education and wages for black workers in eight years of an Obama presidency.
“What he did was less than what we had hoped for,” Dennis said. “He did not jab on jobs, which is the heart of the problems of black inner cities in this country.”
The government’s data support’s Dennis. It shows black unemployment fell from 12.7 percent in January 2009 to 8.8 percent in February 2016.
The poverty rate for backs, however, actually increased from 25.8 percent in 2009 before it peaked at 27.6 in 2011 then dipped slightly to 26.2 percent in 2014.
Morris Reid of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization said one of the main problems that Obama faced was “the expectations on him.
“They [people] were expecting him to do what other presidents frankly have not been able to do. So they were disappointed,” Reid said. “I think that overtime history will judge Barack Obama fairer perhaps than people are today.”
Dennis does not let Obama off the hook that easily.
He said Obama could have worked on creating more jobs for blacks by introducing incentives for businesses to relocate factories to impoverished areas.
Dennis acknowledged Obama’s disadvantage as the U.S.’s first black president.
He said in terms of dealing with blacks, Obama might have felt his “hands tied behind the back” because he had to try to make it appear that he was the president of all Americans to avoid resentment from other groups.
It is a tough position for the president to be in because “black America needs more help than the rest”, he said.
Regarding racial issues, Obama had little to do with a centuries-long problem in the U.S. but Dennis believes his election brought about anticipation among blacks that things were going to change.
Obama gave “the message of hope” to change the course of the country, he said, but those messages, particularly in terms of race relations, were not translated into policies.
An ORC/CNN poll found 52 percent of Americans believe the criminal justice system favors whites over blacks, while 36 say it treats blacks and whites equally.
According to a Guardian News Paper project that tracks the number of blacks killed by police based on open source records, 194 blacks have been killed in the U.S. since January.
“Police have always stood for racial status quo. The police represented the white dominance in this country,” Dennis said.
Particularly in the south, where Dennis was born, he said youth has been told to be afraid of the police because “it would be wise for you to fear the police because of police brutality and police terrorism.”
History will surely judge Obama's record in office. While he hopes for a favorable judgment from future generations, blacks who hung their hopes on his getting office may very well be seen as waiting for a change to come.
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