Is President Barack Obama good for black people? While Obama heads into Election Day with strong support from black voters, some black intellectuals are pressing that question.
In a reproachful op-ed article in the Sunday New York Times, flanked by a large drawing of a black man literally muzzled by an Obama campaign placard, Columbia professor Fredrick C. Harris proposes that “black elites” and voters have effectively conspired to mute criticism of the president because of his race. This argument is plain wrong.
Obama’s presidency, Harris argues, marks “the decline” of a politics devoted to “challenging racial inequality” — a failure facilitated by black America itself. “Black elites” and black constituencies, Harris asserts, have capitulated to a president who does little for them — simply for the “pride” of “having a black family in the White House.”
That is strong stuff. Let’s begin with Harris’s analysis of black Americans’ relationship to Obama — which doesn’t reflect political reality.
There is scant evidence that successful black political figures receive automatic racial support. For example, since replacing Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas has never been welcomed, let alone celebrated, by the black community. Other prominent black figures, from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Artur Davis to Representative Allen West (R-Fla.), have not engendered anything close to the enthusiasm that Obama inspires. As for Harris’s depiction of “black elites,” the fact is that many did not back Obama in the first place.