Though Barack Obama's electoral support among black voters is cosseted between 85-90%, legitimate criticisms of him in the black public sphere is more common than one might think.
These opinions are muted for a variety of reasons. The avalanche of Obamania among black supporters -- which I participate in at times -- is a leading cause. It may have buried Tavis Smiley. Being the single greatest "positive" black male role model in U.S. history has been the black bourgeoisie's dream on how to crash the political glass ceiling. Watching Barack Obama can warm the heart of even the most racially paranoid black cynic.
Still, we rarely if ever hear critiques of Barack mainly because of the limited space afforded to only a handful of black thinkers. With fewer participants being solicited outside the usual punditry, views become easily sliced. If you criticize Barack, you must either support Hillary Clinton, John McCain or be a Barack hater. Those offering meaningful observations about the pitfalls of an Obama Presidency are generally unknown to the public.
One of my favorite Obama critics is political scientist Michael C. Dawson, author of the integral book, Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary Political Ideologies. Dawson has written several stinging pieces on Barack and the black vote (see: He's Black and We're Proud), but his most recent article for The Root, End Games: How he black pawns got pushed off the board, should raise as many questions as it does eyebrows.
From The Root:
"Sen. Obama is playing his own brand of risky politics. As he works to maintain white support, he is forgetting his black base. Just a week ago he urged voters to "respect" a New York judge's racist verdict allowing the police killers of Sean Bell to walk. His message was not unlike Booker T. Washington's admonishment to black Atlantans a century ago to respect the law in the face of a deadly pogrom. Black rights were sacrificed in the name of electoral expediency. And Obama is resorting to the same expediency now...
Obama did not find it necessary to condemn a justice system that still does not punish agents of the state who kill black men and women whose only crime is being black. (In Chicago we have had black women shot down in the same manner as Sean Bell.) I will not respect a verdict that once again demonstrates, all too clearly, the continued lack of full citizenship rights for black people in this country.
Like Booker T. Washington a century earlier, Obama chose to emphasize the need to be "calm" over expressing outrage at yet another deadly taking of black life. He, too, has taken the electorally "safe" road."
I've defended Barack when he's faced this type of criticism. No, I don't posit he's a radical in hiding (i.e. The Spook Who Sat by the Door). I recognize he's running for U.S. President, not Black Panther Party Chairman. We want him to deliver some militant quote because so much of black politics and leadership is based upon crucifying someone on a cross of rhetorical martyrdom. Whomever plays the dozens with white America the best is awarded with fond memories, usually posthumously.
Think about all the people who cheered Malcolm X during his auditorium speeches but never joined or volunteered to help his group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). As The Last Poets rhymed, "they loved to hear Malcolm rap but they didn't love Malcolm."
It is paramount that Barack is pushed on urban policy issues more forcefully by black voters and scholars. Constituencies are obligated to do more than simply vote in the 90 percentile for a candidate, believing his or her office seat will equal liberation.
From The Black Commentator:
"First and foremost, we need to bring under scrutiny all of those analytical paradigms that presume that blacks (always imagined as a collective horde) collectively gain political inclusion or incorporation when black elites enter the ranks of a city’s governing elite...
Part of the problem is that too many black political scientists continue to treat black elected officials as if they are part of an insurgent political formation. This is nonsense. Regardless of their rhetoric, black elected officials are, in varying degrees, part of the political establishment."
This is not about hating on Barack. It is about raising awareness to the importance of maneuvering pieces in the chess game known as American politics. I'm supporting Barack because he's a valuable piece on the board. No piece is worth losing the whole game. And as Dawson suggests, "The criticism of Senator Obama must continue when he takes positions that are detrimental to progressive causes and the black community."
Either play or get played.