Monday, January 25, 2010 Op-Ed Piece: Would a white president better serve black America?

After Scott Brown's stunning upset victory over Martha Coakley in the
Massachusetts senatorial election Tuesday, many pundits have started speaking
about how troubled Barack Obama's presidency might now be. Their consensus seems to center on whether the Obama White House is capable of getting any significant legislative packages -- health care-related or otherwise -- enacted by Congress.

Although I have similar concerns about President Obama's future
effectiveness as a national leader, I'm writing today to posit the question of
whether -- through the first year of the Obama presidential term -- black
Americans would have been more effectively served by having an individual in the
Oval Office who was white. An incendiary question for sure, but nonetheless, one
that needs to be considered.

Before I am accused of any black-on-black "crime" for even raising such a question (I am black), consider that in a Jan.
15 New York Times op-ed by Clyde Haberman, "For These Three, the Audacity of
Nope," the focus was on President Obama's reticence in supporting three black
men who are/were contemplating their candidacies for mayor of New York City,
governor of New York State, and U.S. senator from New York. (Those candidates
are, respectively, William Thompson, who lost his bid in the November 2009
election; David Paterson, who was encouraged by the Obama administration not to
run again; and Harold Ford Jr., who was also urged not to run.) Consistent with
Princeton University Professor Cornel West's Martin Luther King Jr. Day address
in Atlanta directing black Americans to hold President Obama accountable, the
time has fortunately arrived when it is no longer taboo for black Americans to
analyze the policies and actions of state and national leaders who just happen
to be black. As implied by West and President Obama himself, it is probably
black Americans' civil and moral duty to engage in such review.

So would the 95 percent of black Americans who voted for Barack Obama have been better served during 2009 had the president been a white man? I would say yes. And here I speak not to how the president has fared relative to his policy initiatives
(or lack thereof) respecting, for example, immigration reform, expansion of
gay/lesbian freedoms, health insurance overhaul and military expansion in
Afghanistan. (Yes, I am aware that black Americans stand to be affected, either
directly or indirectly, by choices made by the White House with regard to such
policy advances.)

What I'm writing about today goes far beyond that.
It's my postulation that black Americans are unjustifiably (perhaps even
irreparably) compromised by not being able to politely engage the White House in
public conversations about problems sometimes unique to Black America, because
the top dog there is a black guy who seemingly thinks it would be impolitic to
discuss such matters. Among those issues would be the unabated national epidemic
of racial profiling of black men by law-enforcement personnel. The publicity
attached to, for example, the unwarranted stops of black drivers by the New
Jersey State Police and, most recently, the baseless arrest of Harvard professor
Henry Louis Gates have brought additional focus on a practice that continues to
unnerve black communities throughout America.

Next for consideration by the president could be the phenomenon by which, for example, black New Yorkers are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession notwithstanding surveys that have demonstrated whites to be heavier users.
Equally troubling is that in New Jersey, almost 80 percent of incarcerated men
are black even though blacks don't commit that large a percentage of New
Jersey's crimes.

Moving on to issues of unemployment and economic vitality, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert noted in his column "Blacks in retreat" (see Page A8) that more than one-third of black children are living in poverty. He further wrote that while unemployment for whites is 9 percent, the rate for black Americans is 16.2 percent.

Problems such as these could require substantial governmental response. And if prospective governmental response can't even get to the drawing board because the head man won't publicly discuss the underlying problems, why support having him in office?

Finally, consider this: If President Obama were able to magically
replace President Truman in 1948, would he -- as the president of the United
States who just happened to be a black guy -- have had the courage to sign the
executive order of that year that integrated America's armed services? Or
consider, if President Obama were able to similarly replace President Johnson in
the 1960s, whether he would have had the intestinal fortitude to usher through
the U.S. Senate those legislative initiatives that Johnson subsequently signed
into law as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Something to think about, eh?

Donald Roscoe Brown is a lawyer who writes and lives in Ewing.

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