- Created on 26 November 2012
(The Root) -- President Barack Obama has been a target of endless criticism since taking office, most notably from conservative corners, as well as from some blatant racists. But despite the nearly universal support he enjoyed among African Americans in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, some of his most impassioned critics have come from within the black community, and some of their most passionate criticism has focused on the concern that the first black president has not focused on addressing issues of particular importance to the black community or on successfully tackling a black agenda. The Congressional Black Caucus was especially critical of the Obama administration's silence on black unemployment, for instance.
The question now emerging since the president's decisive re-election is whether we'll see greater focus on issues of particular importance to the black community in the second Obama term, and if so, which issues.
Frustration in Some Corners
After the 2012 election Yvette Carnell wrote in the Black Agenda Report, "Now we are all left hoping and wishing that, for the sake of his legacy, President Obama doesn't forget about us during his second term. The smart thing to do would've been to secure something, such as legislation to reduce black unemployment or mass incarceration, before the election, but we weren't smart. We were tribal."
In a piece for the L.A. Progressive titled "Black America Calling for a 'Black Agenda,' " Anthony Asadullah Samad wrote, "Of course, we know he's President of all the people. We got that, but what is the real significance of laying claim to the first African American president if a core constituency cannot ask for anything?"
He then continued, "What are 'black issues'? Historically, they are jobs, education, health care, prison re-entry and economic development of deprived communities -- all issues listed in Smiley's covenant." Samad was referring to PBS host Tavis Smiley, whose relentless criticism of the president's leadership on poverty and issues important to the black community has made him a target of criticism.
For instance, during one of his shows Smiley pointedly challenged Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on whether President Obama would ever get away with exhorting other communities to "stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying," as he said to the Congressional Black Caucus during a speech last year. "Would the president ever say to an audience of our Jewish brothers and sisters, concerned about the crisis in the Middle East, 'stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying'?" Smiley posed to Jackson Lee. "[Would he say] to our Hispanic brothers and sisters on immigration and their concerns, 'stop grumbling, stop complaining, stop crying'? Did he say to gays and lesbians, 'stop grumbling, stop complaining, stop crying'? How does he get away with saying this to black folk when he would never, ever form his lips to say that to any other constituency?"
Hopefulness in Other Quarters
Among those who have disagreed with Smiley's criticisms of the president is civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton. The host of MSNBC's PoliticsNation has previously criticized those who have condemned President Obama's commitment to issues central to black Americans, while celebrating white presidents who have done less.
In a BET town hall debate Sharpton noted that many black Americans referred to Bill Clinton as "the first black president" while some of his policies were harmful to the black community, yet these same black Americans criticize President Obama with abandon. In an emailed statement to The Root, Sharpton cited unemployment among people of color, the education achievement gap between black and white students, racial profiling and judicial inequities as issues of hyper-importance to black Americans that he hopes will make even greater progress in a second Obama term.
"President Obama has provided 72 straight months of increased [numbers of] private sector jobs," Sharpton wrote, "and now the Obama administration must fight the Republicans to increase public sector jobs, where blacks and Latinos work disproportionately. The administration must also force private companies to hire more blacks and Latinos." He also cited the Trayvon Martin tragedy as a reminder of why the president must make equal protection under the law and inequity in the criminal justice system for black Americans an ongoing priority.
Progressive radio host Mark Thompson of SIRIUS XM's "Make It Plain" show is among those who expect to see more vocal commitment from President Obama for a black agenda in a second term. Thompson, who is African American, recently moderated the State of the Black World Conference town hall at Howard University, which focused specifically on the presidential election's impact on black America.
Speaking to The Root, Thompson said, "The Obama administration, in its second term, has a duty to specifically address the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency, the African-American base." When asked if some black criticism of the president regarding a so-called black agenda has been unfair, Thompson replied, "Some have gone too far, and the criticism has gone from political to personal. But we need to solve the riddle of how African Americans support Democrats and not have Democrats take us for granted, knowing we have nowhere else to go."
Thompson argued that vocal black critics of the president seem to have forgotten that he is not treating black Americans any worse than white Democrats before him. But when asked if it is fair for black Americans to expect more of President Obama because he is black, Thompson replied yes.
Imagining the Possibilities
Thompson's vision is thus: "Because he's an extraordinary transformative figure, President Obama should be able to unapologetically address the specific concerns of his own community and set a precedent for African Americans no longer being taken for granted by Democratic party politicians." Elaborating on the transformative impact the president could have were he to make the black community a focal point of his second term, Thompson pointed out that black civil rights groups and a number of black Americans followed President Obama's lead on same-sex marriage once he specifically affirmed his support for it.
This is an example of the "transformative influence of this president," Thompson added. "Imagine if he used it directly for our community."
Thompson emphasized the word "directly," explaining that while the administration has implemented policies that have helped African Americans, the black community has not received nearly as much as direct acknowledgment as other communities comprising the Democratic base, such as Latinos and the LGBT community. Though Obama is not the first Democratic president to do this, he said, Thompson is hopeful that the precedent will end should Obama embrace black causes more directly in a second term.
One challenge the president faces was mentioned by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a September 2012 interview with The Root. "I think this administration feels far more comfortable in dealing with LGBT or Latino issues because they will never be accused of embracing those issues more than others of the American public. But the moment the president says 'black,' they will begin to call him H. Rapp Brown and Eldridge Cleaver and [say], 'he's a member of the Black Panther Party,' " observed Cleaver. "The next African-American president will not be encumbered with that kind of weight on his or her shoulders."
Mark Thompson shared an anecdote to illustrate the paralyzing impact this kind of thinking among black Americans who break barriers can have on the community. He recalled that John Thompson, the first black coach to lead a major college team to a national basketball championship, told him that while he worked hard to increase the diversity of referees, he worried that black referees would feel pressured to prove they were not biased in his favor and as a result his team may face unfair calls.
Mark Thompson speculated that whether it's Obama or a black manager in the workplace, this fear ends up clouding what African Americans expect of each other. Sometimes the fear is founded. Sometimes it is not.
In an interview with The Root, Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, the oldest black newspaper in New York, expressed hope that she will see the president press more of a black agenda in this term than he did in the last. "I really don't believe there was a black agenda in the first term," she said. "There was an agenda focused on poor people but not specific to black people, although [the policies] impacted black people in poor communities."
Tatum cited education, jobs and addressing health care disparities beyond the scope of Obamacare as parts of the black agenda she would like to see addressed, now that Obama has secured another four years. "What I want to see in a second term," she said, "is the president taking hold of who he is and translating that into action for people of color in this country. He has more of a luxury of being a black president now than he did in the first term. So now I want to see him be more of a black president than a president who happens to be black."
- Created on 23 November 2012
Over the course of the rest of the year, the American people will hear about the need to save the nation from the "fiscal cliff", a crisis of epic proportions brought on by the unique blend of political gridlock, "kick the can down the road" leadership, and self-imposed legislative deadlines.
Throughout the negotiations, the messaging will remain the same. We will continue to hear that Washington must do whatever necessary to bring stability back to America's fiscal house, along with putting provisions in place to help the middle class avoid the consequences of the fiscal cliff.
Yet, that begs a question that many throughout America are already asking themselves: what about those Americans that have already fallen off of the cliff via current long-term unemployment, the housing market devastation over the past few years, and decades of malignant neglect in key areas of the nation that has created a population of harder-to-employ citizens?
We need more than just a set of leaders to pump the brakes to keep government from heading over the fiscal cliff. We clearly also need a bungee cord to save those that already have given up on the second act of America in the 21st century in order to bring them back into the fold.
There are plenty of Americans that have resigned themselves to second-rate economic status in the "recovery" from the Great Recession. Without changing that outlook, our prospects for the nation as the geopolitical leader for decades to come will be second-rate at best.
Any set of agreements coming out of the talks to avoid the fiscal cliff must incorporate this notion: explicit directives must also be put into place that re-capture the disengaged and wasted human capital that has been lost over the past 10 years in America. Without such clear, focused, and forward-thinking goals being embraced at this point, we are doomed as a nation to repeat this exercise of avoiding financial calamity in the halls of government on a regular basis down the road.
The only true approach to curtailing the entitlement spending that threatens to bankrupt the nation and jeopardize national sovereignty in this global environment is to create conditions where more Americans are capable of caring for themselves past their years of prime employment and wage earning. Currently, the number of Americans that are sliding towards permanent Second- and Third-World living conditions continues to rise. As we have learned throughout history (and most recently with the USSR), no nation of military power and collective wealth can survive if a growing number of its citizens struggle to participate in and contribute to the highest potential of that nation.
Avoiding having our economy go over this fiscal cliff is irrelevant in the long-term if too many citizens continue to get run over by the American economy instead of being on-board with a resurging economy.
As well, a prime method of keeping the sovereignty of the United States intact while looking to appropriately streamline defense spending must include making America a stronger, smarter, and more diverse economic power immediately. We heard throughout the presidential campaign season that part of this strategy must include energy independence. However, with that directive - and other initiatives designed to make America stronger in the geo-economic realm - must come the recognition that these policies, when implemented, must be job-creating endeavors that revive the broken micro-economies in communities where America is hurting the most. While most throughout 2012 have been focused on speaking directly to current and future voters, the focus post-2012 (starting with fiscal cliff talks) must speak with a tone that re-engages the lost potential of thousands of Americans. It is with these hardy and willing individuals that the middle class can expand, the tax base can broaden, and the need to continue the ad nauseum clip of spending can be curtailed - all without the current sense of impending pain, possible class warfare, and continued partisan angst spreading across the land.
It is true: the middle class needs a break. However, the working class and the poor need a shot at participating in America's second act in the 21st century as valued players in the post-Recession economy. We are at the point where we must revitalize a vibrant working section of Americans that is willing to contribute to America's second act as tax-paying employees, successful businesspeople, and patriotic citizens that are building a better path for our children and grandchildren - one that most appropriately and successfully leads away from the fiscal cliff.
- Created on 19 November 2012
(CNN) -- The point is no longer whether or not Black Friday tarnishes the holidays.
The point is that Black Friday has become a holiday of its own.
It will arrive again this week, even as Americans are still sitting at their Thanksgiving dinner tables. Black Friday -- with its door-buster sales, hordes of frenzied shoppers shoving for position, employees nervously waiting for the onslaught -- has shrugged off the confines of its name and has now established squatters' rights on Thursday.
Target stores will open at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night, three hours earlier than the stores' midnight opening in 2011. Wal-Mart will begin its Black Friday sales at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Toys R Us will match that 8 p.m. opening, as will Sears. Best Buy, which will wait until midnight to open its doors, seems almost like a dowdy throwback.
The store employees around the country who are upset that the schedules will deprive them of a big part of their holiday Thursday (many of them will have to arrive hours before the customers) and the citizens who fret that the lure of the deeply discounted sales will empty out their home-for-the-holidays family gatherings are probably fighting a losing battle. Black Friday appears to be triumphant, and it has taken on the characteristics of the holidays it mimics.
Like real holidays, it occurs on a predesignated day each year. People anticipate it and mark the date. Across the breadth of the nation they are absent from work to observe it. And when the day arrives, they congregate like. . .well, like congregations.
Established religious holidays, such as Christmas and Hanukkah, have long been occasions for gift-giving; some holidays -- Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day -- have eagerly been embraced by merchants as a way to move their products.
Black Friday does away with the middleman -- in the universe of holidays, it is the only one that exists solely to sell merchandise. It celebrates nothing; it commemorates only itself. It is an annual festival of the cash register.
The derivation of the term "Black Friday" is open to dispute, but it has come to refer to the theory that merchants go into the black -- into the profit side of the ledger -- during the holiday shopping season, which traditionally commences the day after Thanksgiving.
Certainly, and especially in this economy, anything that brings people into the stores is welcome. Brick-and-mortar stores can use the foot traffic as shopping goes increasingly online. And digital doors are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
But there is something about Black Friday -- in the pandemonium of its execution -- that is unsettling and cynical. The Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death on Long Island in 2008 as shoppers knocked the doors from their hinges and stepped on him in their rush to the stacks of sales items, the woman in California last year who unleashed pepper spray on fellow shoppers vying for Xbox video game consoles, those kinds of scenes are becoming the iconic images of the long night.
Of course, the new holiday would not have taken hold if people weren't embracing it.
But you have to ask yourself: When people, as they grow older, remember the best holidays of their lives, is it some discounted gift that they recall with warmth and fondness? Some deal that they found? Or is it the family members and loved ones with whom they spent the holiday time.
Breaking up the flow of a real holiday so you can make it on time to the beginning of the Black Friday holiday seems a little misguided. It is one thing during the holiday season to be touched by the poignancy of long lines at soup kitchens and food pantries; it is quite another to witness throngs in the darkness bearing credit cards, waiting to stampede through stores in desperate and hungry-eyed pursuit of flat-screen TVs and Blu-Ray players.
At least earnest groups of neighborhood vocalists are not -- yet -- going door-to-door singing Black Friday carols.
But just give them time.
- Created on 21 November 2012
Millions of Black American families observed Thanksgiving this week. We have much to be thankful and grateful for.
Yet we should also be cognizant of the challenges and struggles that lie ahead in the pathway to future economic empowerment and social sustainability not only in America, but throughout a changing world. In other words, this is a time for reflection, self-assessment, self-improvement, and collective development and progress.
I know that there are some cynics even among us who prefer to see the plight of Black Americans only from a pathological or from a continuously negative critique. It is true that unemployment in our communities, in particular for our youth, remains devastatingly high. Prisons and jails across the nation continue to overflow disproportionately with Black American inmates and defendants. Abject poverty continues to have an alarmingly mortal grip on too many of our families and communities. Improving the systematic quality education of our children remains one of the highest priorities. Constructive criticism does have its place and value. But isolated and even well-intentioned criticism concerning the ongoing struggle to eliminate racism, injustice and inequality without a concomitant plan of action to advance the cause of freedom, justice and equality is just a nonproductive waste of time and energy.
A Black Thanksgiving this year and every year should be focused on taking the time as family, friends, colleagues, and simply as "brothers and sisters" to adequately assess and plan for further advancement of the interests, intelligence, and institutions of the Black American community. This is also a time for the elders of the freedom movement to share wisdom with our young emerging activists and leaders in spirit of acknowledging that every inch of progress that has been accomplished over the past 400 years has come as a consequence of struggle and sacrifice.
This is not, however, the time for carelessly taking anything for granted. We all should be first and foremost appreciative for the very breath of life to be alive in this day and time. We have come a mighty long way, and yes, we still have a long way to go toward the fulfillment of the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the realization of the aspirations and prayers of past generations. A Black Thanksgiving is the time for us to affirm the importance of giving back to help our communities to better develop and prosper. This is the time for sharing what we have with those who are less fortunate. More than 40 million Black Americans now spend more than $1 trillion annually.
"Thanksgetting" presupposes "Thanksgiving." Let's assess how we spend that much money every 12 months. How much is for our empowerment as a people? How much do we spend to educate our children? How much do we invest in our own businesses and institutions such as our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)? How much to we give to our churches and charities that serve the interests of our communities? How much do we give back to Africa? We should at Black Thanksgiving be financially supporting the NAACP, SCLC, National Urban League, NAFEO, Rainbow Push Coalition, National Action Network, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Diamond Empowerment Fund, Georges Malaika Foundation, the NNPA and other organizations and institutions that continue to make a positive difference in the United States, in Africa and the world community. We should be particularly aware and supportive of the African Union and other Pan African organizations.
A Black Thanksgiving should show utmost respect and solidarity with our Native American brothers and sisters who still are struggling for self-determination, freedom and development. It is also important to note here that we should be more proactive in building lasting coalitions with our Latino brothers and sisters because with have mutual interests, anthropological and cultural roots, as well as sharing strategic political goals and objectives as just witnessed on Election Day. The future success of our advancement is dependent upon our unity and solidarity with others who know from history and from the present day realities the importance of standing up, speaking out, taking action, and working tirelessly for the freedom and equality of all people throughout the world.
We are very thankful for the re-election of President Barack H. Obama. This election was triumphantly won by the massive voter turnout against the backdrop of voter suppression. The world is continuing to change for the better and the varied prospects for Black Americans to prosper going forward are significantly enhanced. We just have to stay focused and to avoid the regressive temptations of hopelessness and cynicism. Lastly, when you have an "undying love," respect and a sense of giving for the help of your own family and community, you are clear about the necessity to have love, respect and a sense of giving for the help of others. Thus, a Black Thanksgiving in the truest sense is a Thanksgiving for all people.
- Created on 19 November 2012
John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John's, first came under attack after his address to shareholders in August. What wasn't meant to be a public declaration of being against the Affordable Healthcare Act as introduced under the administration of President Barack Obama, turned into a discussion gaining a lot of confusion and animosity towards the pizza chain.
John proclaimed in August that, "We're not supportive of Obamacare, like most businesses in our industry. But our business model and unit economics are about as ideal as you can get for a food company to absorb Obamacare." The Politico article containing words from the call went on to include the company would use tactics to protect its shareholders. In the same call John went on to say, "Our best estimate is that the Obamacare will cost 11 to 14 cents per pizza, or 15 to 20 cents per order from a corporate basis."
Now for the general public who sees that Schnatter was a huge donor and supporter of the Republican Presidential Candidate, Governor Mitt Romney, they can equate the use of his term of Obamacare and his personal support to mean an attack on policies and lack of consideration to employees. However, I do not believe this is where John went wrong. Stick with me, I'll show you where his words started to bite him.
• After the shareholders meeting, Papa John's announced its NFL promotion to giveaway 2 million pizzas.
• Schnatter says that franchises will more than likely reduce employee hours. This news reignited the public spurring a boycott of Papa John's.
I do not believe that it is the concern of people who support the healthcare act or not, that is really driving the criticism, it's the simple math of it all. The mixed statements coming from John has caused this backlash. Here's why.
The public sees an increase in rates, free pizzas being given away and a reduction in employee hours. Period. John has not clearly addressed the fact that instead of raising rates, the employee hours will be reduced. Although, as seen, it was not swallowed as easily. But making a statement to amend a previous one would have placed some indication that there is an "either or" or not both in this situation. But instead of clarifying the company's position, he left individuals to ask the question, "why raise the rates and give away pizzas if you still intend to not provide healthcare to your employees and reduce their income?"
Now that probably isn't the message John was intending on sending, but due to the inconsistency or not providing clarity in their business' possible solutions, he created an uproar to those who like to do arithmetic, such as Caleb Melby of Forbes Magazine. You see, Caleb decided to break down the proposed revenue of the increase and even the promotional giveaway. Like many others, this giveaway was really putting a wrench in to the thought of customers seeing employees lose income instead of Papa John's incorporating the insurance. Even in the August call, John indicated that his company is structured to handle such a change. So if this is a manageable change to the business model, why continue to speak about the regulation in a new public appearance? Now this just comes off to the public as a man upset with the outcome of the election.
What really draws my interest as a media professional to his original statement to the shareholders, is that if he had used words to not draw an emotional response to government policy, increasing the price of the pizza would have been forgotten after it was implemented. Instead his words then have tangled with his words now. Truth be told, the cost of food increases every year. In fact, food increases are felt by consumers often throughout the year. The increase would have been assumed by many as the cost of inflation not disdain for providing healthcare to employees. Had emotions over politics never entered the original statement, the majority of the public may have never been the wiser. Just think about it, if Frito-Lay decides to make a huge spend within their company, does the typical American know the reason behind it?
I wanted to give Schnatter some credit from his recent statement. He said he isn't in support or against the Affordable Care Act. But as mentioned above in his words at the stakeholder's meeting, that isn't the truth. It makes it hard for the public to believe, "the good news is 100 percent of the population is going to have health insurance" when a couple of months ago you stated you were not in support of Obamacare. Unfortunately, by the time he publicly mentioned this in a recent appearance, everyone had already stoned him for going against their company's mission of protecting their best asset, their employees and had NOT forgotten his original comment of being against the healthcare act.
John Schnatter really has only one thing left to do at this point in his crisis, slice up and eat some humble pie. Here is what I recommend:
• John needs to make one final and clarifying statement on the topic of how his company will handle healthcare as it concerns his employees.
• His final statement should be either pro-customer or pro-employee. If he has paid attention to the comments, he would realize that none have been highlighted as saying, the public will not pay the extra cents so others can have health insurance. Either way, he needs to make one final statement and stop discussing it from various angles. The inconsistency is not sitting well with customers.
• The company needs to focus on publicly highlighting their mission to their employees and to the customers. Ensuring to the public, a business that started off small, can still relate to the working class (his demographic).
• Until this is completed, the emphasis on giving away 2 million pizzas needs to simmer in the oven before serving it back to the public. (Pun intended.)
• This should all be done before the boycott gets legs and runs away too far for him to fix.
What do you think? How has the Papa John's discussion played out among your family members, friends or business associates? Above all, please walk away with this reminder to not incorporate political emotions into your company's public stance.