African Americans Can Critique President Obama Too

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - My pocket book can’t afford a $1,000 or even a $25,000 dinner at a posh location with celebrities and other dignitaries to see or hear President Barack Obama speak about his vision for our country or explain to me how his policies have improved my daily living for four years. That kind of intimacy with the President is for the rich.

If granted the opportunity for such a setting with the President, as an African American, I wonder what I would do. Would I succumb to the usual salutation, handshake, and good job appraisal? Or, would I seize the opportunity and be honest that his administration has ignored some major issues plaguing the African American community that I am deeply discouraged by.

I would definitely be in an interesting juxtaposition- break the unspoken rule of criticizing the President or praise him as usual.

If this would be a quandary for me, think of what a quandary this is for millions of African Americans who want to be truthful and lay out an agenda that is specific to Black America. It’s a balancing act that puts President Obama’s accountability on pause.

When is it appropriate to critique the President and hold him accountable without retribution and firm scolding? I hope the answer is any time.

Failing to give the President a healthy dose of criticism impedes us from having a platform in political discourse and dilutes accountability. It’s a game of backgammon where we are leaving it up to chance, or maybe even the moment, that he will focus on what we care about.

Yes, President Obama is the people’s President. Likewise, we are one of his many constituent bases.
However, our approach with him should be similar.

There’s an adage that when America has the cold, African Americans have the flu; or when America has the flu, African Americans have pneumonia. As we have seen in the later President Bush years and during President Obama’s term, when the country is in a bad state, we are worse off.

African Americans have had four years of accelerated “squeeze out”. We have been squeezed out of the upper and middle class, wealth-building, employment, and education. That means something.

There’s no bailout like there was for the banks or auto industry that had to institute turnaround strategies and course corrections to which they are now reaping profits.

I don’t think it is fair that we should feel inclined to resign ourselves to silence on our issues and sit somewhere with angst and not ask the President what he is going to do about it? Nor do I think we should wait until things get better or concede to respectful silence without an ask or expectation.

We have to whip out our playbook and use the same political savvy other interest groups employ to pressure the President for their wants and desires. It’s about strategy and maximization.

This election, we should aggressively target the President to gain traction on our issues and demand action. We can’t be the underdog and not exploit our position; or limit his response to us. We have lots of influence since we make up more than 90% of his voter base. And, we need to use it.

Back to backgammon, limiting ourselves to the roll of the dice, same structure, and general pattern of delayed advancement is counter-productive. We can’t short change the rules of not passing and reaching home first with the President on our issues?

Criticizing President Barack Obama is not saying that he has failed the African American community.

It’s the opposite. It’s simply saying our critique is a reminder of what is important to us and how we see him as a part of the solution. We are not going to get a win on everything we want, but we want a win on some of our issues. Candidly, we are holding him accountable now and if he is elected again.

I support our President and am 100% sure I will vote for him come November. But, I would hate to think that criticizing him is for others and not us- African Americans.

(Janet Denise Kelly is a CityWatch featured contributor. She offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at and can be reached at: –cw

Tags: Janet Denise Kelly, Urban Perspective, President Obama, Black America, African Americans, election

Vol 10 Issue 49
Pub: June 19, 2012