More than any of the visceral emotions this Washington Post story may summon, sadness seems most apt:
For several months, radio host Tom Joyner has pleaded with his 8 million listeners to get in line behind the first black president. “Stick together, black people,” says Joyner, whose R&B morning show reaches one in four African American adults. The Rev. Al Sharpton, an ally of President Obama who has a daily radio show and hosts a nightly cable television program, recently told the president’s black critics, “I’m not telling you to shut up. I’m telling you: Don’t make some of us have to speak up.”
In other words, he really does mean, "shut up." The piece continues:
Even as Obama and his campaign play down the suggestion that support among African Americans is flagging, a cadre of powerful allies is snapping back at critics in the black community and making explicit appeals for racial loyalty. “Let’s not even deal with the facts right now. Let’s deal with just our blackness and pride — and loyalty,” Joyner wrote on his BlackAmericaWeb.com blog. “We have the chance to re-elect the first African-American president, and that’s what we ought to be doing. And I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.”
As the Post's story notes, Joyner isn't some marginal figure; his radio program reaches 25 percent of all black adults living in America. He is using that megaphone to urge African Americans to vote as a monolithic bloc, based solely on skin color, and to disregard "the facts" in doing so. Reporter Krissah Thomspon interviews a bevy of black voters, radio personalities, and academics for her story. Though they express divergent opinions on these increasingly frank racial appeals, not a single person quoted says he or she opposes the president:
Jack Jackson, who works for the city’s water treatment plant, said he is tired of the appeals to black identity politics. “Leave the race game alone,” said Jackson, 53, who said he supports Obama. “Let’s not keep holding on to that. It’s been done. . . . We should put our faith in God, not Obama.” But Corry McGriff, 42, said the call to stick together resonates with him, and McGriff has begun telling his friends that they have a responsibility to support the president, too. “We need to keep him in there. By him becoming president, he is showing African Americans that it can be done,” said McGriff, who works for a federal defense contractor. “He helped the race. ”
Kychelle Green, 18, a nursing student at Norfolk State University, agreed. “You know it’s not really his fault that things aren’t changing,” she said. “He’s really trying but he can’t change every rule on his own. Now people are trying to criticize him because he is African American.” Green said she listens every morning to Steve Harvey, who is among the radio hosts who are promoting the message that Obama deserves support.
Warren Ballentine, a black talk radio host based in North Carolina who has interviewed Obama about a dozen times, speaks about the president’s accessibility. “It’s not like he is not hearing black America,” he said. Ballentine specifically reminds his listeners of the racial undertones he saw in the 2008 campaign. “It’s almost like we’ve forgotten what this man had to go through to get into the office. We need to remember the hatred and vitriol that came out.”
Also missing from the story: Any specifics on why some "disloyal" black people have ample cause to be exasperated with President Obama's policies. As a young white male, I realize I'm in no position whatsoever to speak for the black community -- or to dictate why or how anyone should should vote. I also refuse to side-step the indisputable truth that our nation retains some gruesome racial scars from its past, even though our darkest chapters on this front were written before my generation was born. Just this past weekend, we witnessed the dedication of a national memorial to the great civil rights champion, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of King's most resonant aspirations for his country should be familiar to every one of us:
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
As we approach the 50th anniversary of that extraordinary address, some prominent black leaders are unapologetically beating the drums of "racial loyalty" -- demanding that black Americans judge a political figure not by the content of his character or policies, but exclusively by the color of his skin. That is profoundly dismaying.
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