It took a few years of intense Republican political obstruction, but slowly the reality is setting in and you hear it in the streets, “[President Barack] Obama can do very little to measurably change the lives of African Americans.”
Now some African Americans have shifted into the final phase of this thought process: “I will be glad his term is up so we can get some help from a liberal, white president like Hillary [Rodham Clinton].”
I bring this up to make a point of the political reality in America. It first hit me when Gary, Ind. — the first city to elect a African-American mayor since Reconstruction and where I first got my political training — decided to elect a white mayor in the hopes that he could do what the African-American mayors could not: lure some major business back into the city so that people could get employed.
I saw the same thing happening in Benton Harbor, Mich., a city in which I played a major role in getting a African-American mayor elected in 1970, before I came to Seattle. The white business community retaliated by moving their businesses to the suburbs, and the city center quickly began to die.
So I was not surprised when, in New York, a large portion of the African-American community turned its back on the African-American candidate and went with Bill De Blasio, a white man with a black wife and multiracial family.
Political power without the economic strength to properly develop or sustain the city normally turns into economic blight, and in many ways it happened even in the presidential race.
A languishing community
I originally thought it was individuals trying to find a reason they were fired and lashing out to blame anyone and everyone. But after a few years of Obama’s first term, the pattern was obvious: African Americans, especially males, were being fired or laid off at an unprecedented level. It seems that some people decided that if they could not get Obama, they would get someone that looked like him.
Some had gambled that the unemployment level in the African-American community would diminish the enthusiasm and make him a one-term president. But even when the reelection was over, the layoffs and refusal to hire African-American men has held firm all over America.
So we will end Obama’s second term in worst shape economically than we were when it started, because many of us, who had not already been wiped out by the crack-cocaine epidemic, were losing our property and life savings because of the subprime housing crisis as Obama was being sworn in.
Is crime going up in inner-city communities? You bet it is, and the unemployment situation is decimating our family structures while encouraging others to do criminal acts to save what they have left.
While all of this is going on, our Republican leadership is trying to cut food stamps as well, to make the pain felt even more, and many of our Democratic leaders are either politically incapable of fighting this trend or ignorant of its existence.
So it’s easy to see how those who are not politically sophisticated would quickly come to the conclusion that maybe having an African American in the White House was not such a good idea. As liberal, white America was celebrating the post-racial America, African Americans were floundering.
Can’t be left to fester
Yet, its time to face the reality head-on: If this nation does not deal with the plight of African Americans directly, that rotten core that’s left to fester in inner-city America will bring down this entire nation.
That was one of the reasons I fought so hard for Mayor Mike McGinn’s administration — his was the first administration that saw the problem as something that was crucial to the city of Seattle and not just one of many side issues.
Will the new Ed Murray administration have a similar view? I doubt it because there is no indication, and I hope I am wrong, that the African Americans who may be in his administration have the same sense of urgency as the ones they will replace.
But I and others intend to remind Murray that this is not a game about who got a job and who did not. It’s about saving America, and if we cannot get it done at the national level, it must start one city at a time.
I was hoping the major city in Martin Luther King Jr. County could be the model for the rest of the nation, and I will continue to force that issue. Don’t be surprised to see me on the street corner again and again.
CHARLIE JAMES has been an African-American-community activist for more than 35 years. He is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute (mlkci.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.