How Hard is Obama Working for People Like You? [Reader Forum]

Does President Obama have the right to tell black communities to 'stop complaining' -- or is he simply drawing attention away from Candidate Obama's unfulfilled promises? Our readers chime in.

By Channing Kennedy Oct 03, 2011

Last week in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, Candidate Barack Obama made an appearance — you know, that gifted orator who’ll take on any adversary in pursuit of a more perfect union. Except Obama’s chosen adversary for this speech wasn’t Wall Street or the Tea Party or the two wars; it was the CBC themselves, whom Obama ordered to take off their "bedroom slippers" and to "stop complaining."

Our editor Kai Wright wrote a barnburner of an editorial following the speech, taking Obama to task not just for striking at the wrong target, but for using racially-charged tropes to do so. Kai isn’t alone — the CBC’s Rep. Maxine Waters, one of Obama’s most outspoken critics on the left as of late and an unnamed target of the speech, says she found his remarks "curious."

Here at the Colorlines community, it raised a few unresolved questions: What should black America expect from the first president who looks like them, whom they worked overtime to get out the vote for and who promised a lot that he hasn’t delivered yet? And, as Obama is faced with an unprecedentedly uncooperative Congress, does he have the ability to make it happen anyway?

Here’s what you had to say.


With the Black unemployment rate in the double digits, Blacks citizens and the CBC have every right to voice their discontent. Whether agreeing or disagreeing, there is a way to say things and a way not to say things. What Obama said, and how he said it, was out-and-out disrespectful, and was something I’d sooner expect from someone on the far right than him.

Pressing BO and his administration about how they will work to aid in reducing an unemployment rate that is twice the national average is not being self-pitying. The Blacks he’s criticizing do have their "marching shoes" on in support of a serious problem. Latin@s, immigrants, and gays are/were more vocal the major issues that affected their community and their dissatisfaction with how it was being handled by the BO administration; however, none of these groups received as much public criticism or disrespect from BO as Blacks. I really do hope his support among my fellow Blacks drops in polls and in the 2012 presidential election. He doesn’t respect us or our vote, so deserves neither.

Brotha Wolf:

[…] This sounds like the typical bootstraps command that suggests that people who live at the bottom are merely lazy and nonproductive. That is a racist stereotype that is often directed at blacks while avoiding serious hurdles and difficulties that blacks face.

Even though he was talking to the CBC, that is still a racist stereotype that reflects on all blacks.


If that was all he said, it would have been rude. You’ve totally misrepresented the speech as a whole. Also, nothing will move for passage unless they exert pressure on other legislators, and the CBC absolutely knows that.

Have they pressured Boehner?? Have they tried to get him to pass a Bill? What about McConnell in the Senate? These are the most powerful GOP obstructionists in the Congress, a separate branch of government that the president cannot tell what to do. He can only ask. That’s why it is aggravating to see the same two CBC members constantly & directly blaming the prez. JUST NOT TRUE — the Congress does not work right now with the GOP and the CBC knows that.


Our expectation of the president are most appropriate. EVERY interest group has particular expectation, why not us as well? Do a little research, I’m sure you’ll find multiple entities that have benefited from the president’s policies directly.

Speaking as a member of one of the most vulnerable groups in this country, if he does nothing to alleviate the inequities, he’s a coward. Most members of the tea party are members of the dominant class. That makes it easy to address their needs. We are mere blacks, easily dismissed and that we are. Damn straight, I have expectations — why not, I voted for him, we voted for him in large numbers, and for that we deserve something in return, anything that would improve the living standards of our people now and in the future. That’s not a whole lot to ask for and we shouldn’t have to shout to get it…


[…] Some of us pounded the pavement and donated hard-earned dollars to get that man in the Oval Office. We have supported him when he got insults and death threats. We have supported him when Republicans in Congress have done everything to make his job and and life a living hell. We have supported him when random reactionaries around the country have published racist jokes, emails, and cartoons about him and his family. We have supported him even as his approval rating has fallen among independent voters and white progressives. We have supported him as deportations and detentions for undocumented immigrants have skyrocketed under his watch. And some of us have even supported him as he expanded the imperialist war machine set into motion by the Bush White House.

And you know what? For all our hard work, Obama has repaid us in foot-dragging, backtracking, veiled insults, and political stereotyping. He trashes his progressive base as dirty hippies who don’t understand politics, and he’s sat on his hands as the GOP launched attack after attack on women’s basic human rights. And now, he has the nerve to belittle and insult his most loyal and devoted electoral base: African Americans. The way he spoke to the crowd at the CBC meeting was deeply disrespectful and not worthy of any sitting president. Furthermore, it was the height of chutzpah—how dare he project his own complacency and inertia onto one of the few consistently progressive bodies in Congress?

Mr. Wright, this former (reluctant) Obama canvasser wholeheartedly cosigns everything you wrote in this editorial. And as for YOU, Mr. President — stop complaining and get back to work! We got business to attend to!


I agree with some of the comments here that the bit that hit the airwaves was taken a bit out of context.Rather than watching the Fox News response to the speech, more people might have tuned in to the whole thing, which was a pretty rousing one. And here’s the fundamental question: is it ok for the President to get upset with members of a do-nothing Congress who happen to be part of his base? I think it’s perfectly ok, but maybe Colorlines could ask that question in a serious way. I also think that progressives and liberals in general have started "dragging their feet" when it comes to explaining not just why the right-wing mindset is wrong, but why the left wing is RIGHT.

[…] A few Obama accomplishments, for the record, lest we pretend that he’s been on his ranch in Texas: beginning drawdown in Iraq in earnest, repeal of DADT, a little thing called healthcare reform, creation of a consumer protection bureau, Race to the Top, the giant stimulus that moved us from freefall to treading water, fair pay legislation, and a great (but underfunded) HUD / EPA collaboration. All of these accomplishments disproportionately help poor people and people of color… they just don’t say it in the title, and I don’t hear many CBC members talking about their importance.

He’s pushing for a jobs act that shifts us out of trickle-down mode. Yet the left-leaning Congress, media, and populace can’t even see fit to care about this… or heck, if you don’t care about the jobs act, how about the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization, which could give millions of people better, more cost-efficient, healthier, and safer transportation options, but only if we push for it to be done the right way.

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