How Much Can a Black President Really Do for Black People?
Diddy was the first rapper that influenced me to vote, even though I was too young I always appreciated a Black entertainer reaching out to me to tell me that my vote matters, and I very much recognized his Vote or Die campaign as outreach to young Black people.
In 2015, Diddy came out and said that voting is a “scam” and that our votes probably won’t change anything, followed by his comments earlier this week: that he expected Obama to do more for Black people in office. It sounds like Diddy has been receiving a strong dosage of political education and is now disappointed by the truth. This begs the question though: how much can a Black president really do for Black people?
“That’s the name of the game, this is politics,” Diddy said in an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC, “You put somebody in office, you get in return the things that you care about for your communities, and I think we got a little bit shortchanged…” Diddy went on to say this wasn’t a knock to the president but I wish that was a much stronger knock to White Supremacy because that is actually the name of the game.
In 1967, Black Power was published defining the entitled phrase and laying out a framework for Black people to gain true political power. Written by Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton, the beginning of the book describes two things that I think Diddy missed in his efforts around voting: colonial politics and the white power structure. Although this book is just under 50 years old, both colonial politics and the white power structure explain exactly why Obama couldn’t do more for Black people as the President of the United States.
Colonial politics is described as white authorities choosing Black “leaders” that will be “responsive to white leaders…white machine”. In conjunction with this is the unified front whites create to uphold white interests, a.k.a. the white power structure, which also operates in direct opposition to things that support Black people. Off top, these things creep into conspiracy territory about our government, but is it really conspiracy to think the U.S. doesn’t want Black people to thrive? Even with a Black president?
We wanted our Black president – complete with jumpshot, cigarettes, and Spotify playlist – to make White people say sorry and repay us for all of their disenfranchisement of Black people throughout U.S. history, but let’s be real. Before we can choose a figurehead to radically represent Black people, we need White America to willingly be held accountable and we see how that’s going (see: “#AllLivesMatter“).
A radical Black candidate is going to call for reparations, equitable schools and housing, an end to environmental racism, among other things – all of which are in the interest of Black folks, meaning the disinterest of the Machine (all listed as policy concerned in the Movement for Black Lives platform).
Studies have shown that when support in the Black community rises around a policy, the chances of that policy being achieved actually decline; this is regardless of how well represented the Black community is in a given political body, even if their representation is in the Oval Office. This shouldn’t be surprising when the reality of our policy-making body is 65% white and male.
When systems such as the prison industrial complex intertwine policy with socioeconomics and result in the government making money off of the Black community, it would only make sense that bodies of government work in opposition to policies, or people, that would benefit this same community.
While I understand Diddy’s frustration, I know that the likelihood of a Black president with the ability to do a lot for Black people is slim. I won’t say President Obama hasn’t done anything for Black people. But I won’t agree that we got “shortchanged”, and I don’t think we got suckered into voting for him. But to put that pressure on President Obama because he’s Black is also unrealistic (let’s not forget he was first, you know The Man will need to take this equality thing slowly).
The heroism of Barack Obama’s election has certainly worn off, but I don’t think he sold us a dream with his campaigns of hope and change, because I see those words as fuel to the current Movement for Black Lives. I think Obama’s position made room for this Movement to grow and actively challenged the American norms and understanding of “freedom and justice for all”.
As the 2016 election approaches, and more Black celebrities and athletes are becoming more vocal on issues impacting their community, I also hope that they present more opportunities for political education in the Black community and get informed themselves on how Black people can truly be liberated and gain legitimate political power. I did think Diddy was right about one thing:
“I honestly think the heat has to be turned up so much, that as a community we gotta hold our vote. Don’t pacify yourself, really revolutionize the game. Make them come for our vote. It’s a whole different strategy but I think we need to hold our vote because I don’t believe any of them.”
And neither do I.
Photo: Wiki Commons