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By Lori Latrice Martin | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Friday, November 2, 2012.

With Election Day a few days away, many are reflecting upon the nation’s past and contemplating the nation’s future. The subject of whether or not President Obama can capture the hearts, minds, and imagination of enough Americans to win a second term has garnered a great deal of attention and print in some of the country’s leading newspapers.

One subject receiving a great deal of attention is whether or not President Obama has taken blacks for granted and whether the loyalty that blacks have shown to the Democratic Party, specifically to the nation’s first black president, has come at a cost.

President Obama’s attention, or lack thereof, to a laundry list of issues facing blacks is routinely compared with that of past administrations. At the same time, blacks scholars critique other black scholars for what they say is a failure to call out the president for turning the proverbial blind eye to matters, including: racial wealth inequality; racial health disparities; the mass incarceration of men of color; unemployment and employment discrimination; and racial differences in academic achievement and educational attainment; to name a few.

Such critiques are often limited in focus and misguided as they involve the comparison of what amounts to political apples and oranges. Not only are comparisons made between the current administration and previous administrations, but also between the days leading up to Election Day 2008 and Election Day 2012.

For one, this president and this presidency is unlike any other in history. The significance of the ascension of a black man to the highest office in the land cannot be overstated, muted, or overlooked. Race is as significant today as it has been in the past. Racism today is alive and well. It may not look like the racism of the days of old, but it is certainly not dead.

To say that race remains very visible marker in America society, is an understatement. Moreover, we must not forget that race is a social construct and as such we continue to give meaning to what it means to have membership in a particular racial group.

Membership is no more voluntary for the president than it is for anyone else. Thus, “the price of a black presidency,” includes the mistrust of a segment of the population still beholden to a narrative that says certain groups are more deserving of benefits and others more deserving of society’s burdens. Consequently, we continue to live in a society that differentiates access to wealth, status, and power on the bases of a number of sociological factors, including race. This system not only predated President Obama’s historic victory in 2008, but also his birth and the births of every one of us in this country.

This country was built upon a very powerful racialized social system that no one election or administration can dismantle, no matter how loud black intellectuals shout or no matter how silent they remain. Whether President Obama yells from his bully pulpit, with his fingers clutched and raised in the air, the system that privileges members of the dominant racial group in this society, over and above other groups, will remain intact.

Election Day 2012 will not be like Election Day 2008, not because President Obama has failed the nation or the black community, but because Election Day 2008 was an historic and unprecedented event, the likes of which may only be comparable to the election of Nelson Mandela after the dismantling of the oppressive Apartheid system in South Africa. No one expected that Mandela would be able to turn right-side up, what had been upside-down for some many years. Similarly, President Obama should not be saddled with the same unattainable expectations. The list of problems President Obama inherited from the previous administration are well documented, as are the list of inequalities, between blacks and whites, the rich and the poor, and men and women, which were written into the nation’s founding documents and principles.

Thus, comparing this president and this election to any other is tantamount to comparing political apples and oranges. Efforts to change societal patterns in fundamental ways will require a radical transformation, not attainable in four-, or even eight years. The groundwork is being laid however, in the uprisings we’ve seen spring up over worker’s rights, health care, education, equal pay, and the like.

Lori Latrice Martin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of the forthcoming, Black Asset Poverty and the Enduring Racial Divide (First Forum Press, a Division of Lynne Reinner Publishers).

 

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