Last week, once again President Barack Hussein Obama mounted the podium at the Capitol to deliver the State of the Union Address to a Joint Session of Congress, the nation and the world. By all reasonable measures the address was an impressive center-left, moderate-liberal agenda on domestic issues like jobs, the minimum wage, infra-structure repair, energy, early childhood education, tax reform, deficit reduction, gender equity, marriage equality, immigration and gun security – a policy prescriptions vastly superior to the dangerous/extremist positions of the radical conservatives and Tea Party obstructionists. President Obama’s Inaugural and State of the Union messages vindicated the massive march on ballot boxes by people of African descent and a Rainbow Coalition of constituencies and interest groups to repel the repugnant assault of the right-wing Neanderthals. As I wrote in the weeks preceding the 2012 election, President Obama was clearly the “better choice.”
But, there is a major problem. Once again the myriad crises, the State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos” was missing from the agenda! While he has taken great care to directly address issues of vital concerns to Latinos, women, lesbian and gay people and youth/students, time and time again, President Obama has refused to directly address the devastation and disaster in urban inner-city neighborhoods - intolerable conditions of depression level joblessness, inferior education, crime, violence, fratricide and mass incarceration. Time and time again defenders of the administration quietly pass the word to justifiably disgruntled Black supporters that our community is indirectly benefiting from policies like the Affordable Health Care Act. And, this is absolutely true. The problem is that the State of Emergency in America’s dark ghettos is so immense, so intractable, that it requires the conviction and courage of a President who is willing to speak the truth to the American people – 50 years after the March on Washington, millions of Africans in America are “still far from the Dream.”
Instead, Obama behaves as if issues of structural/institutional racism are a thing of the past. Therefore, no racial remedies are required to address the pain, suffering, imprisoned and murdered aspirations of the sons and daughters of Africa in America’s dark ghettos. In his Inaugural address, the President eloquently referenced Seneca Falls, the site of the launch of the first wave of the women’s rights movement;, Stonewall, the event which sparked the lesbian and gay rights movement; and, Selma, a high water mark of the Black Freedom Struggle. During his tenure in office, the President has consistently and correctly pushed policies to eradicate gender inequality and discrimination against lesbian and gay people as part of his quest to finish an unfinished civil rights/human rights agenda in this country. But, when it comes to Black people, it is as if Selma represents the pinnacle of the movement, after which no meaningful direct action is required. We are reduced to commemorating the past with no explicit recognition of our present pain and suffering. It is as if we are “invisible.”
To be fair, President Obama did not create the crises afflicting America’s dark ghettos. For decades, urban inner-city areas have been victimized by massive disinvestment as a result of the “white backlash” against the “gains” of the Civil Rights Movement and deindustrialization occasioned by globalization. Blatant neglect has been the order of the day as politicians at all levels have essentially substituted “get tough on crime” policies, paramilitary policing strategies, tougher sentencing, jails and mass incarceration for social, economic and racial justice. Rather than continuing the War Poverty, Black people have been victimized by a “War on Drugs” that is a “war on us.” Ever since the era of Ronald Reagan, urban inner-city areas have been treated like dangerous, crime-infested wastelands that must be controlled/occupied.
So, President Obama did not create the crises, he inherited it. The problem is that like previous Presidents, he is guilty of ignoring the crises or failing to explicitly address it. As an African American who experienced living and organizing on the south side of Chicago and attended Trinity United Church of Christ, deep down inside, President Obama must know and feel the pain and suffering of Black people struggling to survive in urban-inner city America. His real perceptions and feelings notwithstanding, it is abundantly clear that he and his advisors have made a calculated decision to keep race out of the public discourse and racial remedies off the public policy table. Apparently, there is a fear that to mention race or address “racial grievances” would lead to charges that he is partial to Black people or that it would fuel racial resentment. While the White House ponders and pontificates on how to develop “stealth” or “trickle down” strategies to address the State of Emergency in America’s dark ghettos, millions of Black people are suffering. This is a big problem and it cannot be allowed to stand!
Mr. President, it’s time for a wake-up call. The agenda you have put forth is commendable, but it simply does not go far enough to combat the crises in urban inner-city neighborhoods. We respect you, but just as Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders were compelled to confront John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson (Presidents who they respected) to demand government action to end southern apartheid, we today must raise our voices to demand social and economic justice for distressed Black communities. Race based remedies must be resurrected as part of the discourse on public policy. There is growing consensus among civil rights/human rights and political leaders in Black America that you must call for and educate the America people on the urgent need for social and economic policies and programs targeted directly to ending the State of Emergency in America’s dark ghettos.
Based on the Declaration of Intent to Heal Black Families and communities, the Action Agenda of State of the Black World Conference III, IBW has already expressed our determination to use direct action, if necessary, to vigorously press for an end to the “War on Drugs;” jobs and economic development programs for distressed Black communities; and just and equitable immigration reform that protects the interests of people of African descent. Mr. President, race still matters in America. It’s time to face this reality and act with vision, courage and conviction to end the state of emergency in distressed/marginalized Black communities. Be forewarned, we are not and will not be invisible!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.