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Regardless of President Obama’s policy record on social or economic issues, historically, he will be primarily remembered as the first African-American President. The first person of any ethnic or gender group to accomplish a major feat in America oftentimes is primarily remembered through the lens of their ethnicity or gender. This has held true with Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor and now Sonya Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. The same has been true with Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin, and Shirley Chisholm in presidential elections. We can look at Tiger Woods in golf, Jeremy Lin in basketball and Arthur Ashe in tennis, as well as several others who were firsts or high achievers in various segment of society. Even in cases where these firsts have attempted to disassociate themselves with their ethnic or gender group, as some have, or disassociate themselves with the label of “first,” this is how our world views things. This is not to say how things should be, but rather it’s a matter of fact in terms of how things are.

What has been a commonality among these firsts is that many have been critiqued by those in their ethnic or gender group as to how they have leveraged their influence into addressing social and/or economic issues that effected their demographics. Therefore, many African Americans have held President Obama to this same standard. Whether or not this is a fair standard is a valid question, but the reality is, this is what takes place in America.

President Obama has had somewhat of a love/hate relationship in the African- American community. Some have given the president unconditional love through aggressive support of every major decision he has made. There are others who have expressed unconditional criticism towards the president, in viewing his major decisions as not doing enough to help African Americans. I would assume that most readers find themselves firmly planted in one of the two categories mentioned above. Therefore, in attempting to present a fair assessment of the first African American president in regards to his relationship with African Americans I offer two questions.

The first is the normative question of “what ought to be,” the second is the empirical question of “what is.”

Where should Christians be on President Obama’s radar?

Where are Christians be on President Obama’s radar?

What often comes up at the beginning of any discussion of faith and politics is the idea of there being a “separation between church and state.” While referring to the “establishment clause” in the bill of Rights, this precise phrase was only originally found in a letter from Thomas Jefferson and later quoted in a Supreme Court decision. The word “separation” does not show up in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. From a constitutional perspective, the law states that government cannot establish or hinder the free practice of religion, nor can religion be used to determine eligibility for seeking office. The Constitution does not hinder faith or religion from framing politics, or determining how a person should vote. Most people’s opinions on public policy come from either socialization, major life experiences, or personal ethics, which for many is faith. In America, this is typically Christianity. So we turn our attention to how President Obama should address the concerns of Christians as well as how he has addressed their concerns.

Where should African Americans be on President Obama’s radar?

Race is and always will be the “elephant in the room” during President Obama’s term in office. However, the necessity of this question is due to the level of electoral support that President Obama received from African Americans, more than it is purely a matter of race. The data below from the 2012 election should provide context to this question:
















Christians (Protestant and Other)






While there are many assumptions that can be made on the surface from reviewing these statistics, there are a few implicit possibilities that cannot be overlooked:

  • If African Americans would have voted for Presdient Obama in the same percentages as other groups have, the election would have been much closer, which would have impacted how President Obama would have governed, and/or the outcome of the election may have been different..
African American’s are one of the few groups that have consistently voted at or close to the 90th percentile for the same political party. These voters have consistently had high expectations for that the party and have expected the presidential candidate leading the party to make their concerns a priority. These high expectations are partially due to the acceptance of a political messaging strategy that has used the following themes to target African American voters:
  • Good vs. Evil
  • Diversity (Equal Opportunity) vs. Discrimination
  • Segregation vs. Integration
  • Voting Rights vs. Disenfranchisement
  • Rich vs. Poor
In addition, the party has frequently used the African American freedom struggle, the civil rights movement, and the legacy of African American martyrs as a political tool to gain the support of African Americans on Election Day.

This messaging strategy and campaign tactics has eliminated the idea of “swing voting,” or splitting the African-American vote between parties during an election; two strategies that have elevated the agenda of other groups. This one-party voting behavior is so strong in the African-American community that voting for a particular party has become linked to cultural identity. In reverse, those who vote for another party or those who abstain have been seen as committing cultural treason.

Several arguments have been used to rebut the necessity of high expectations for President Obama. These arguments include:
  • President Obama is not just the president of African Americans; he is the President of all Americans.
  • African-Americans only represent roughly 12% of the population, so the president should be more attentive to the needs of more populous groups.
While the above two statements are true, the reality is these arguments are often inserted after the election, when the massive electoral investment has already been made. In addition, the President understands these great expectations, yet he has not said or done much to help establish expectations that are more realistic. He has enjoyed the benefits of receiving massive support from these voters, so the issue becomes, should the voters expect a massive return on investment.

It is for these reasons that I believe, just as the NRA, Fortune 500 business owners, and Christian Conservatives have been a policy priority on the Republican agenda due to their massive support for the Republican Party, African Americans who voted close to 90% for the President should be a legislative and policy priority on his agenda, and should not expect anything less.

Where are African Americans on President Obama’s radar?

Here is a political reality, “you get your demands, when you are in demand.” Here are some of the indicators of what I define as being in political demand, or being on the radar:
  • Having both parties aggressively trying to get your support
  • Having both parties address issues that are important to your demographic.
  • Having a series of high ranking officials in your demographic, who are represented in both parties, actively working to place policy concerns in the mainstream of that party.
When cross-referencing several demographics in America with the factors listed above, a strong case can be made as to who is and who is not in demand. I think one would be hard-pressed to make a case that African Americans are high on President Obama’s radar. Most discussions of African American politics have focused on issues related to:
  • Criminal Justice ( the high African American incarceration rate)
  • Equality of Opportunity (Affirmative Action)
  • Economic Empowerment
  • Poverty (the high African American unemployment rate)
  • The number of African Americans diagnosed with STD’s
  • Voting Rights • African Americans in cabinet level positions and in the federal courts
Where have these issue been on the Democratic and/or Republican Party’s agendas? Where have these issues been on President Obama’s agenda? I would humbly say they are not that high and not reflective of 93% support. If we were to contrast this political reality with issues that are of great importance among other ethnic/gender groups, we will see a different reality. For example:
  • Both parties made a very strong appeal during the election to reach female voters.
  • Both parties after (and during) the election have begun to strongly reconsider, or fully adjust their positions on various aspects of gay and lesbian rights. Gay and lesbian rights have advanced more in the last decade than any other time in American history.
  • Both parties have prioritized immigration reform through agreeing to some form of path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
  • Both parties have Latino’s who are in, have been appointed to, or who are being strongly vetted for high ranking positions in the Government and/or in each party;
This is not the case with African-Americans or the issues that are high priorities in their communities. In analyzing why this is the case, I am reminded of a meeting that took place between President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and activist A. Philip Randolph.:

Randolph brought a list of concerns to FDR about working conditions in the country. Upon hearing the concerns, FDR told Randolph that he agreed and that the issues needed to be addressed. FDR went on to tell Randolph that if he wanted him to do address those concerns, Randolph had to, “go out there and make him do it.” In other words, Randolph had to garner support and organize around the country, to put the President in a position where he was politically forced to address Randolph’s concerns. I think African Americans have abandoned this strategy and have become comfortable with great political investment with marginal return.

Bottom Line: If African American are comfortable with where they are on the political radar, then they should continue to do what they have already have done. However, if change is necessary then there should be strong consideration of other political strategies.

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