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Is Barack Obama Bad for Racial Justice?


“I’m Waiting, Sir, I’m Waiting”

 

Last week an assertive middle class black woman named Velma Hart politely but pointedly got in the first black president Barack Obama’s face during a televised town hall meeting. She said she was the near the end of her ability to defend Obama, a president for whom she had proudly voted out of faith in his Hope-filled campaign promises:

 

HART: “I’m one of your middle-class Americans. And quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for – “

 

OBAMA: “Right.”

 

HART: — “and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people, and I’m waiting, sir. I’m waiting. I don't feel it yet. And I thought, while it wouldn’t be in great measure, I would feel it in some small measure.”

 

While Velma Hart is no Oliver Twist (she referred to having two children in private school), I was reminded of Charles Dickens’ iconic fictional waif, who dared to challenge the workhouse master with the famous words, “Please Sir, can I have some more?”

 

 

“These Things Weren’t Going to Be Fixed Tomorrow”

 

Listening to Obama’s bland, professorial response (“We’re moving in the right direction”) to Hart’s complaint, I was reminded of an earlier moment when the president was unexpectedly confronted by public black criticism.  Nearly one year ago, Obama made his belated first presidential visit to New Orleans, site of tropical storm and societal disaster Katrina – the disastrous August 2005 hurricane and federal fiasco that left tens of thousands of disproportionately black and poor inner-city residents trapped in deadly floodwaters.  Seeking to deflect criticism claiming that he had not paid sufficient attention to the city and the broader Mississippi Delta region, Obama appeared to overwhelming applause at a town-hall meeting to claim that “progress is being made” with federal recovery efforts. But the event’s happy feeling was interrupted when a local resident asked “Why is it four years after Katrina, we’re still fighting for money to repair our devastated city?” The questions added, “I expected as much from the Bush administration.  But why are still being nickeled and dimed?”