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This past Sunday on “Meet the Press,” the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said the following, “Latinos, women and young people — that is the new governing coalition.”
To be sure, there are Black folk in each of those categories. But since President Obama’s victory on Election Day, I have been troubled by the paltry attention paid to the record turnout amongst African Americans to make Mr. Obama only the fourth Democrat in a century to be re-elected to a second term. I know Doris Kearns Goodwin, so I don’t think she intended to suggest that Black votes don’t matter. But there is this creepy sense that in the midst of this historic moment in Black history, Black Americans are being pushed off stage. And while Black Americans are being pushed off the stage, there is a growing debate on the internet and in the mainstream media about whether and how Black folk should push President Obama now that “he has nothing to lose.”
There’s a whole lot of pushing going on.
This is real simple for me. With all due respect to the formidable coalition of Latinos, women, and young voters, Barack Obama would not be sitting in the Oval Office right now had Black folk stayed home in their “house slippers.” African Americans are his most loyal constituency and everybody in the Obama re-election campaign and in the Obama White House knows it. The president owes Black folk. BIG time.
The poet Gwendolyn Brooks had this wonderful refrain, “the last of the loud.” Respectfully, somebody has to remind the president day in and day out of the debt he owes Black America. After four years of being sidelined and silenced, it’s time to get loud. We have to be willing to engage even if we are “the last of the loud.”
Our Latino brothers and sisters immediately (as in the day after the election) jumped on a national media conference call to make it clear that they saved the president in some key battleground states. I ain’t mad at ‘em. That’s exactly what they should have done. Black folk taught the disenfranchised masses how to make demands in the name of unarmed truth and unconditional love. Ready for the hard truth? At the moment, our Latino brothers and sisters are better examples of the Black prophetic tradition than are Black folk.
Word now comes that many Black notables will join together at a national symposium later this week to discuss the state of Black America and the road ahead. We will see if Black leaders are finally ready to turn up the volume. If we aren’t, well, we’re just going to get drowned out over the next four years. There is a line of folk wrapped around the White House who intend to collect on the Obama promissory note they’ve been holding since 2008. Where are African Americans in that line? Are African Americans even in the line?
We celebrate this electoral victory today, but what about tomorrow? How tragic would it be at the end of eight years to be confronted by economic data which suggests (as the data does now) that in the Obama era Black folk lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category? I shudder at the very thought. So should you.
Are we going to be the last of the loud, or just the last?
- Tavis Smiley