Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Barack Obama and Black Men: Has He Done His Job?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University 

I did a recent CNN appearance along with the actor Hill Harper and Dr. Alvin Poussaint at Harvard University. The series was a one-year anniversary segment featuring political issues within the African American community. for the entire week, the primary focus was on the impact that President Barack Obama has had onAfrican American men. Given that I've been a black man for quite a while now, I found this conversation topic particularly interesting, so getting to speak to Richelle Carey again wasn't the only perk of doing the job that day.

It must be made clear that the president should not be expected to save the entire world in one swoop. His job is difficult, and he can't give everyone what they want all the time. But to the extent that President Obama has been positioned to trump pre-existing black leadership (remember that some say we now live in a post-racial America), one can argue that President Obama's rantings in black churches come with some degree of accountability from the Oval Office. Obama has spoken at NAACP meetings, telling black men to take responsibility for our families (as if none of us do) and to engage in more personal responsibility (as if we don't do that already). Such tough talk should be backed by meaningful policy, since structural incentives play a dominant role in the ultimate choice of the individual. For example, when companies get tax incentives to invest in new projects, they almost always do.

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