By George Curry
The Bible is filled with characters who started out on shaky ground – Paul, David and Solomon, among them – before being transformed into epic figures. But it seems that Black leaders who dare to criticize President Obama don’t get second chances. Instead, they are the object of widespread ridicule and condemnation.
I spent some time last week with two such leaders – Cornel West and Jesse Jackson – at the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) national convention in Chicago. Although their standing among African Americans has slipped, their analysis of where Blacks have been and need to go is as incisive as ever.
Neither Jackson nor West should be viewed in isolation. The Black community does not want to hear anything bad about Barack Obama, even if it’s true. If a White president had been as dismissive of African-Americans’ interests as Obama has been, Blacks would have been ready to march on the White House. As Michael Eric Dyson says, “This president runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.”
Even so, Blacks treat him like royalty.
My friend Roland Martin is quick to insist that guests on his television program refer to the man who occupies the White House as President Obama. I refuse to play this game. Obama – yes, I said it – is a president, not head of some monarchy. I have called Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush by their last names. I am not going to say President Obama every time I refer to him. Sometimes he is President Obama, sometimes he is Obama. I refuse to treat him like King Obama.
The problem with West and Jackson is their critiques, however valid, were wrapped in language that was offensive to many African-Americans. To call Obama the Black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs – a term most people hadn’t heard since their last high school civics class – is over the edge in this instance.
Don’t get me wrong: There are some Black Anglo-Saxons who deserve to be called mascots and worse – and I’ve called them that. But Obama is not in that category.
When I gave Cornel West a chance to soften his description of the president during a discussion I moderated at the NNPA convention between him and Al Sharpton, he declined. He could have said, “I stand by everything I said about the president but not how I said it.” That would have gone a long way toward refocusing the discussion on real issues, not the Al Sharpton-Cornel West sideshow.
In Jesse Jackson’s case, he has been largely excommunicated from the race for a comment that reeked of envy. After