by Dr. Boyce Watkins
US News reported that a group of African American public figures spent four hours in a closed-door meeting and emerged with a “wish list” for President Barack Obama. The two being mentioned by the report are Urban League President Marc Morial and Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network. I suspect that NAACP President Ben Jealous was also part of the gathering as well.
The black agenda is an oft-debated issue and a magical list that many people have always believed to not exist. When I think about the black agenda, I am reminded of that age-old question: “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
This analogy fits because there are many inside the Obama Administration and in the African American community who have long felt that black people simply don’t know what they want from President Barack Obama. They claim that no clear agenda has ever been presented to the president and that our interests are as scattered as pebbles on a windy beach. But the truth is that there has ALWAYS been a black agenda. The problem is that no one was listening.
Even worse, those individuals designated as overseers to the black community, namely Al Sharpton, didn’t use their access to President Obama to aggressively push a black agenda. Instead of giving the black community’s agenda to the president, Sharpton’s job was to give Valerie Jarrett’s agenda to black people. Valerie Jarrett, a Senior Adviser to President Barack Obama, is one of the key people that I hold most personally responsible for the out of control black unemployment problem in America. For the untold suffering of millions of black men, women and children, this woman can never be forgiven.
I am pleased to see that Morial and Sharpton have responded to calls for more direct action from President Obama. Morial, as I’ve mentioned before, has appeared to be sincere and balanced in his approach to dealing with the White House. I won’t say much else about NAACP President Ben Jealous and Rev. Al Sharpton. But I also find myself disappointed in those who’ve spent more time seeking to discredit Obama critic Cornel West than actually talking about the issues that they know to be serious problems in our community. These distractions are costly, for nothing is getting done while people waste their time wondering if West is just angry about inauguration tickets.
Morial was quoted in the article as saying that “It’s important for us to come together.”
I couldn’t agree more. The first step toward coming together would be the insistence by Jealous and Morial that Rev. Jesse Jackson be brought to the table when addressing President Obama. While some of us get distracted by Jackson’s mistakes of the past, I only see a man who has spent 40 years using his powerful voice to speak to the issues that affect black and brown people across America. His 40 years of service should not be discounted just because we’re happy about the guy we’ve had in the White House since 2008. It is possible to love Barack Obama, Cornel West, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson at the same time, and the idea of drawing lines in the sand is one that is fabricated by those who know that black people are most easily conquered when you disperse their leadership into competing factions.
Those who argue that there has been no black agenda were simply determined to close their ears and shut off our brains. For four years, Rev. Jackson, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Dr. Wilmer Leon and a chorus of others have consistently cited massive black unemployment, poverty, urban violence, mass incarceration and educational inequality as the leading concerns of the African American community. The problem is that because these individuals were seeking substantive, rather than symbolic commitment from the Obama Administration, they were never given a platform like MSNBC to share their point of view. Televised liberal politics is nothing more than propaganda at its best, not much better than the nonsense fed to black people on networks like BET.
It’s time for the games to be over. Politics must take a back seat to substance, and real leaders must be given a chance to address real issues. I don’t mind Al Sharpton being at the table for negotiation, since Obama seems to like him enough to let him speak. But by choosing a small group of people and making them the primary conduit through which the needs of 40 million people are communicated, self-interest can become the ultimate bottleneck.
It’s time for the White House to start taking us seriously.