Black Frustration with Barack Obama and the Democratic Party: From Alabama to Chicago’s South Side

In response to my recent post citing Anthony Bradley’s explanation of why most blacks vote Democratic one thoughtful reader wrote the following comment:

In my experience as a black person being raised in the south and attending a college that was approximately 98% black I see things a little different.

Dr Bradley’s article is more accurate for my parents’ generation, but for my generation and younger generations it seems the reasons for supporting the Democratic Party has changed. The issue is not so much “loyalty” anymore, because there are so many blacks that have no reason to be loyal to the Democratic Party and their policies. The issue has become “dependency”(i.e. they call it caring ) and demagoguery, which works hand in hand. Just like liberal ideas are institutionalize in so many of our institutions the “dependency” and “demagoguery” narratives are institutionalized in the homes, churches, communities, and universities of blacks.

This comment got me thinking, as it is not the first time I have heard this sort of explanation. And lo and behold, in the next few days the Washington Post released two stories, one explaining why a former black Alabama Democratic Congressman will be speaking at the Republican National Convention against President Barack Obama in 2012, and another explaining why African American community leaders in Barack Obama’s former backyard on the Chicago south side are disgruntled with the presidential candidate who offered them change they can believe in.

What are the commonalities here? Frustration that for all of his promises and for all of the support of the black constituency, there has been no real change.

[Artur Davis]

According to the first story, about former Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama:

Four years ago, Davis was onstage at the Democratic convention: a fast-rising congressman from Alabama, so close to Obama that he provided the official “second” for Obama’s nomination.

On Thursday, the Republican Party said he would be a “headliner” at its convention in Tampa, where he will be one of Obama’s most prominent African American critics….

“How many of us believed, four years ago, that Barack Obama was not just a politician?” Davis, a former four-term congressman, asked Mitt Romney supporters in Arlington County’s Ballston neighborhood on Wednesday. The Romney people said nothing, but Davis kept on: This was his story, not theirs.

[Mark Allen]

Davis’s disappointment in Obama and the Democratic Party has led him to become a Republican, but for the black community leaders in Chicago the more likely result of disappointment will be that black voters will simply stay home. As that story reports,

Obama’s much ballyhooed 2009 stimulus package has failed to touch ordinary South Side residents, says [community organizer Mark] Allen, who has reached out to Obama administration officials, including fellow Chicagoan and prominent White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, to express his dismay. He wants red tape cut, and he wants to see more business loans for the area and more jobs for local residents on construction and infrastructure projects.

Allen, who views the South Side’s pain as common to U.S. inner cities, also offers a political warning for Obama’s campaign strategists. The disillusionment of once fierce Obama admirers, he suggests, may hamper the president’s reelection chances by subtly dampening black voter turnout.

The concern here is that for all of the president’s talk of stimulus, very little has “trickled down” to South Side residents.

“We haven’t seen much of the stimulus trickle down to our people here,” he says. “Sure, you see the signs saying that some road or construction project is being done near here with stimulus funds. But when you look at the people working on them . . . you see one or two community people maybe, like the guy who holds the ‘drive slowly’ sign for the [motorists] passing by.”

It is a common complaint among local activists and community leaders. South Side critics point to road and construction crews that are overwhelmingly white and from outside their neighborhoods….

The president tells people, ‘We’re trying to ease the barriers,’ ” Allen says. “But I’d say to Barack: People around places like this elected you on one promise, to bring hope and change to a community like this. Look around. . . . What’s really changed?”

“I liked the community organizer Obama better than President Obama. . . . Democrats say Barack has got 90 percent or whatever of the black vote wrapped up. What they don’t tell you is it’s 90 percent of those who actually come out and vote. . . . What if it’s 90 percent of just 30 or 40 percent who vote?”

There’s a lot of frustration here, and the disillusionment in the black community regarding even the Democratic Party points to deeper problems that few politicians – Democratic or Republican – are taking seriously. Is this part of a process that may open the minds of African Americans to a different political approach? And do Republican politicians even know how to present their vision for the country in a way that persuades blacks that they actually care about them and can help them in a way that Democrats have not? That remains to be seen.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on August 17, 2012, in African Americans, Barack Obama, Jobs, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Black Frustration with Barack Obama and the Democratic Party: From Alabama to Chicago’s South Side.

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