I struggle with a sort of DuBoisian double consciousness when it comes to President Obama, particularly his commitment to HBCUs and the greater Black community.
On one hand, there is the “this-is-family-business-and-you-won’t-criticize-the-first-Black-president-in-front-of-White-folks” tradition in which I was raised. But on the other, there’s this growing “what-has-he-done-to-deserve-my-loyalty” frustration that has come to almost a full boiling point and is on the verge of manifesting itself as nothing short of outrage.
When folks called the president elitist a few years ago, I rationalized it by saying there was nothing wrong with it. I tend to believe most members of my family are elitist. The president, to me, looked like me and my friends and my loved ones. We weren’t from the hood; we were from upper middle class families. We understood our responsibility to reach back and help others, but we didn’t live the “Boyz in Da Hood” lifestyles that somehow serve as a measure of Blackness.
We all went to “elite” private HBCUs, and truth be told, all may sometimes project a sense of entitlement. But I have come to learn there is a difference between President Obama’s elitism and the elitism of my friends and family. My loved ones care. We feel a sense of communal responsibility to help others. While we attended good schools and had good (though not perfect) families who supported us, and while we can’t be touched with the plight of inner city struggles, we don’t distance ourselves from those who can. We don’t stand up in front of mixed crowds on multiple occasions and tell our brothers and sisters that their condition is a result of their own slothfulness.
We don’t paint a broad picture of irresponsibility and ineptitude of our peers who weren’t born into such fortunate circumstances. And we don’t wholly fail to acknowledge the struggle of Black Americans — a struggle that belongs to all of us — while offering public support for members of other marginalized groups.
Through all of the president’s negative public comments about the Black community, I stood silently, brow furrowed, but still refusing to publicly criticize the nation’s first Black president. I bought all of his children’s books and read them to my own children every night, because it is his shoulders upon which they will stand. They will never know a world where a Black president is not even a consideration. And for that, and for the positive example of a Black family man, and for the tremendous image of Black love between he and his wife, I am eternally grateful to President Obama.
But the White House Initiative on HBCUs-sponsored HBCU Week summit this week was something of a last straw for me. I repeatedly asked Department of Ed officials if the president would make an appearance at the conference this week, and was repeatedly told he was busy. I grumbled, agreeing with one HBCU president who had told me earlier this year that the best way for the president to show the support for the community he has been proclaiming would be to show his face, but I understood he may have had a schedule conflict.
On my way to the conference yesterday morning, I read that the president was expected to appear at Prince George’s Community College the same day. Wait a minute — not an important foreign policy visit to Iran or a week-long meeting with key members of Congress on the budget stalemate. But an appearance at a community college up the road? THAT took precedence?
I flashed back to the same conversation with the HBCU president, who cited as an example the president’s public support of community colleges — his robust community college agenda, his frequent visits to two-year institutions — juxtaposed with his very rare appearances on HBCU campuses, and very occasional mention of HBCUs –except when he needs to make sure he can count on them to rally around him in an election. And I grew irate.
Then, I arrived at the conference and was greeted by a member of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, who conveyed the fact that the president had not met with them as promised, sending instead a junior representative who had no clue about HBCU issues and was not even prepared to have a conversation with those who traveled so far to advise the president (at his own request) on the issues that matter most to the HBCU community.
And, at the closing plenary, to hear the Initiative’s new executive director tout “the strengths of a White House that has really made an effort to say that [HBCUs] are important in the educational arena,” I couldn’t help but wonder if George Cooper was that out of touch, or if he was put in the position to be at worst, a puppet, or at best, a figurehead.
The truth is, the president has done little on behalf of the HBCU community. He allowed the highest advocacy position for Black colleges to go without permanent leadership for nearly a year. He allowed reports mandated by his own executive order to go unpublished, ignored the voices of those who can penetrate his line staff to demand advocacy on their behalf, and sat idly by as resentment among the HBCU community grew.
His administration has communicated poorly, has not sought input and has made no effort to show the HBCU community that he really is committed to being the partner they expected in the first Black president, the partner they campaigned for and donated to, the partner he promised they’d have in him. If you take out all of the emotion and the charisma and the warm fuzzy feelings, if you snap out of the trance induced by his oration and look at the data, HBCUs were truly in a better position under President George W. Bush than they have been under President Obama.
Forty-four has left the HBCU community, and arguably the entire African-American community out to dry, like a motherless child, and we are indeed a long, long way from the comfort and stability and security of home.
And Kanye West had all of y’all saying George Bush didn’t care about Black people.