Al Sharpton, John Powell talk about Obama
Two years into President Obama's tenure, the debate continues among African-American activists and scholars about exactly how the nation's first black president should address racial issues.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, an ally of the White House, argues Obama's overall approach, but particularly his focus on issues such as eduation, fatherhood and obesity, does more for African-Americans than any other president has, even if Obama rarely invokes race specifically.
John Powell, head of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, says the president's approach has both rhetorical and substantive shortcomings. He argues many majority-black areas were hit harder by the recession than other communities, and fixing these kinds of problems requires a frank, specific conversation that directly addresses race and policies more directly targeted to blacks.
Here are some excerpts of recent my interviews with both men:
"He is addressing the realities that we face today. When he talks about obesity, he talks about fatherhood, he is talking about a real-life narrative. He knows what it's like, he was a community organizer. A lot of the self-appointed black leaders, they talk about black people, they never talk to black people. He [Obama knows] the difference between what's real and what's not real."
On education, 'he's had the courage to deal with the unions, he's the only Democratic president who has been willing to do that. How we deal with education reform and inequity is a critical issue for black people."
"He is authentic. We come from different places, I'm an activist outside the system, he's worked inside the system, in politics. But he's authentic in how he approaches everyone."
"If you take the whole thing with Skip [Henry Louis] Gates, he said what the police did was stupid, which was true, but then the only person who apologized from that was President Obama."
"His strategy is so muted, not just in taking on issues of race, but he cedes these issues to the right."
"He's made clear he doesn't want to be president of the black community, but he's gone further than that. The president is not just a super-legislator, he sets the context for conversation. On race, he clearly mutes the conversation and confuses people.'
"We have tremendous racial anxiety in this country. America has made progress, but it's still there. Racial anxiety is on the rise and not talking about it doesn't make it go away."
Perry Bacon Jr.
| February 25, 2011; 11:41 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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