Monday, 15 August 2011

Black War Over Obama

Could it be déjà vu all over again? 1968, that is... something similar. That was the year a sitting president -- Lyndon Johnson -- withdrew from the Democratic race for re-nomination and reelection. Might 2012 see Barack Obama pull an LBJ?
Let's go back for a moment to 1968. The nation was in turmoil. In late January and early February, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, which was a military failure but a psychological triumph and, hence, a propaganda coup. North Vietnam's victory during Tet jolted Americans' confidence in the war's conduct and further emboldened the anti-war movement.
President Johnson -- architect of the Great Society -- was running for his second full term. LBJ went into New Hampshire's Democratic primary in March expecting a lopsided win over underfinanced challenger and self-styled peace candidate Senator Eugene McCarthy. Everybody, including the national media, expected Johnson to win in a walk.
But in a shocker, LBJ lost the primary to McCarthy -- well, no, LBJ didn't lose the contest, he won 50%-40%. What Johnson lost was the expectations game. McCarthy's showing beat expectations. McCarthy did to LBJ in New Hampshire what the communist Vietnamese did to the U.S. through the Tet Offensive: win at perceptions. Shortly thereafter, in a nationally televised address, LBJ withdrew from the presidential race.
So, you say this scenario can't possibly apply to Barack Obama? History certainly doesn't repeat itself exactly. But there are enough similarities between 1968 and 2012 to make an Obama pullout from a reelection bid worth mulling.
Today, the U.S. isn't embroiled in a controversial major war, but the nation's economic mess might well loom bigger than the Vietnam War in people's perceptions.
Like Vietnam, the country's economic fall is seen as having no end in sight... there's "no light at the end of the tunnel," as was the cliché used in the 1960s about the Vietnam War. There's a palpable fear among most Americans that the nation's economic woes are getting worse, not better. Moreover, unlike the Vietnam War, a sputtering economy touches most Americans' lives directly.
Increasingly, there's concern that a second recession may occur next year (let's set aside that the first recession may not have ended). Storm clouds are visible now, as a matter of fact. The stock market is dropping, manufacturing is anemic, and the U.S. was green-lighted to acquire greater debt, thanks to a feeble budget deal between Mr. Obama and Republicans. Consumer confidence continues to plunge and the housing market remains a drag, among other factors. Europe's financial and economic situations deteriorate daily. Bad decisions in Europe are adversely impacting the U.S. economy.

Never mind the slings and arrows of Tea Partiers. The most politically problematic criticism of Obama these days is coming from his base. And there’s no question that there is a deep reservoir of frustration, confusion, and even rage among many in the African-American community for West to tap into. With unemployment hovering near 17 percent for African-Americans (the national average rate is 9 percent) and 11 percent of black homeowners facing imminent foreclosure, African-Americans have ample reason for anxiety about the coming budget cuts that Obama reluctantly signed into law this month. The Congressional Black Caucus chairman called the recent debt deal “a sugar-coated satan sandwich” that will do little to help communities already struggling.

West and his longtime friend, radio host Tavis Smiley, have taken their criticism of Obama to the streets, launching a two-week, 15-city “poverty tour,” aimed at forcing the powers that be to once again focus on the “least among us” and getting the president to “wake up.” Their efforts are increasingly stoking fears among some African-American leaders that West and Smiley could discourage black voters from turning out when the nation’s first African-American president stands for reelection in 2012.

“The negative discussion Dr. West is having can only put more apathy in the hearts of African-Americans and could ultimately cause them to lose more faith in the entire political process,” says the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Obama’s former church in Chicago. “Where will that leave us?”

Lately, Obama’s supporters in the black community are fighting back. As West and Smiley pulled up aboard their “Call to Conscience” bus in Detroit in early August, a crowd of hecklers awaited them outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. “We will not stand silent as Smiley and West criticize the man who brought us health-care reform, one of the greatest accomplishments for the poor in this country’s history,” says a spokesperson for Detroiters for Better Government.

The pushback is not just coming from community organizers. “The poor did horribly under every president before Obama, and yet there wasn’t this level of outcry toward them by these men,” says Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown. “That makes folks skeptical about the intent.”

West insists he does not intend to suppress support for Obama’s reelection. “If African-Americans choose to stay home this time and not go to the booth, it would be most regrettable -given the options,” he says. “But that can’t stop my message.”

It’s hard to say how much electoral impact the Princeton professor and the media personality might have. Obama retains overwhelming support among black voters. Still, the numbers have been slipping. He received a staggering 96 percent of the African-American vote in 2008. In a poll done by Black Entertainment Television in March, black approval of Obama had slid to 85 percent. According to a recent Washington Post/CBS poll, the number of African-Americans who believe Obama’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to about half that this month.

That’s not the kind of news the president’s reelection team wants to hear heading into a campaign year.

Obama’s team has reached out to West several times and invited him to meet with the president, a White House official says, adding that West has declined. For his part, West says he has received a call from White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, but did not get invited to meet with Obama. “A beer summit won’t help our issues,” West adds, recalling the now-famous meeting the president had with a white police officer and Harvard’s Skip Gates following a tense confrontation between the two in 2009.

Popular talk-radio personality Tom Joyner recently joined the fray, writing an open letter to West suggesting that he and Smiley were motivated more by a desire for attention and book sales than a genuine concern for the plight of the poor. (The two co-host a Public Radio International daily radio show, and Smiley owns a book imprint that publishes most of West’s written works. Smiley’s most recent book, Fail Up, was released in May.)

The Rev. Al Sharpton has also voiced concerns that the pair’s efforts may do more harm than good. “African--Americans are struggling with many issues, and serious discussions need to be had by all,” Sharpton says. “But instead, West has resorted to personal attacks … All that does is distract the attention from where it needs to be. I’ve said that to Cornel and explained the damage being done.”

West has openly admitted being angered by perceived slights from Obama after his election. He says he campaigned nonstop for Obama in 2007, hosting more than 60 events, yet he says he didn’t receive inauguration tickets and lost all access to Obama once he was in office. Smiley fell out of favor with many African-Americans prior to the 2008 election, owing to his unrelenting criticism of Obama. Many think his distaste for the president influenced West’s attitude.

Some of Obama’s staunchest allies are confident a truce is near. Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, who befriended both Barack and Michelle Obama in the 1990s, introduced the couple to West in early 2007. Ogletree sounds determined to resolve what he terms a “disappointing distraction” as soon as possible.

“This is not about two very brilliant men squashing a beef,” says Ogletree of Obama and West. “This is about what’s best for this country … The two men will meet before 2011 is over, and this won’t be allowed to impact the 2012

How Traditional Black Media Can Support Tech Aspirations

I wasn't necessarily in love with my major department at my undergraduate institution, though I had some fairly decent professors.
Then came the semester I took Blacks in Film as an elective. I then took African-American Studies, and then a summer semester Harlem Renaissance course at a local community college.
Each of those professors brought a combination of passion and academic rigor to the courses that I honestly had not seen in many of my other my classes.
What was different? Aside from one high school teacher, this was the first time that I was gifted academic knowledge by someone who reflected my cultural background and experience.
This view probably mirrors many other former and current Black learners, even with caring white teachers. However, a May 2011 study reports that 42% of all African-Americans at predominantly white college campuses never had a single black professor during four years of college. Seventy-four percent of the same students had only one black professor in a field outside of African-American studies.
On a subconscious level, this was in part why chose a career in academia, why I became a 'Blackademic.'
These results indicate a phenomenon far beyond not having enough black faculty on campuses across the U.S. It means that there are too few examples for black students to model themselves after and that many don't see the option.
Dr. John Barker, assistant provost for undergraduate education at the University of Miami, gives a prime example. When he speaks to new groups of mostly minority students, he has them do a visualization exercise, in which students picture a faculty member and then give a description. "Nine out of 10 picture one who is white," says Barker.
With the American economy in its current state of disrepair, graduate school applications have spiked as job options have become scarce. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, minorities in U.S. graduate schools rose from 28.3 percent of first-time domestic enrollment in 2008 to 29.1 percent in 2009. Women accounted for about 71 percent of black U.S. students who enrolled in graduate schools for the first time in 2009. These numbers could mean that eventually, more black students will consider academic careers. But what exactly does it mean to be young and black in the academy, or a Blackademic, in terms of challenges and the current economy?

As a black man who believes in supporting Black-owned businesses I have patronized all forms of traditional Black media most of my adult life to include networks such as BET and TVOne, print magazines such as Ebony and Essence, as well as local, national, and satellite radio. With the exception of XM Radio’s The Mario Armstrong Show, which focuses on helping folks to embrace a digital lifestyle, and Black Enterprise magazine there is scant mention of the of technology and its importance in the lives of African Americans.
I do not believe in complaining about a problem, I believe in taking action. I wrote to newspapers as well as magazines and suggested that space be allocated to provide this critical information to the black community. I offered to provide the information free of charge as a service to the community and I made the case that at this point in our history, making sure our people embrace technology as we move forward in the 21st century is CRUCIAL to our survival – of this, there is no doubt.
Most of the organizations that I wrote simply did not respond. A few others responded with a “thanks, but no thanks”, and a couple offered me the opportunity to bridge the gap. This is simply not good enough. What is the reason for the resistance? How do we expect our young people to view technology as important if we are not discussing it in our media? Why do most of these outlets not consider the topic of technology just as important as finance, spirituality, or health?
Most often when there is a mention of technology in Black media it is coming from a consumer perspective. National publications may make mention of a great new iPhone app that you can purchase, but there is no mention of the 2 sisters at Spelman College who won the AT&T sponsored mobile application development competition or that Morehouse College hosted a National Business Plan competition that was focused on students submitting smart phone application ideas. And even when they were mentioned in a few outlets, there is not another such story for weeks or months. We need a steady diet.
Those 2 sisters and the young men who participated in the competition at Morehouse could provide wonderful role models for our youth. We have the role models, what is lacking is the distribution of this information to our communities. What is lacking is the coverage of these technology-centric stories. Who better to fill this void than our beloved traditional black media.