For the first time since President Barack Obama was elected as America’s only black commander-in-chief, I heard something unfamiliar inside the black-owned barber shop in Washington, D.C. where I get my hair cut regularly.
“I’m not voting for Obama!” said one black man, a regular customer. “Won’t do it, and I’m not afraid to say it. Black men don’t have jobs. Blacks have the highest unemployment rate in the country. This is a capitalist country, and I don’t have any capital. What is Obama doing for me?"
The criticism of the president from the animated customer was a rare opinion inside this barber shop of Obama loyalists, but yet it underscores a prickly issue that is apparently reverberating through some parts of the black community.
With an astounding black unemployment rate of 16.8 percent, frustration – and anger –among black men is running at a fever pitch, as more black men are no longer whispering, but speaking out publicly against Obama.
But there were many inside the barber shop this week who are old school: Don’t air your dirty laundry in public, they say. Obama gets enough criticism in public from white folks, others claimed, so black people don’t need to pile on, too.
“Doesn’t the brother deserve another term to get it right?” someone asked.
“No,” said the ranting customer. “He’s had more than enough time. I’m worse off under Obama!”
The outrage towards Obama among some black men comes as a new research poll shows historic disparity in wealth between whites and minorities – and Obama is now facing plunging approval ratings among his core base: Liberal Democrats and African-Americans.
African-Americans overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008, but today, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, even the president’s black constituents are beginning lose confidence in Obama’s leadership.
And it’s all about jobs – or, rather, the lack of jobs.
According to the newspaper, "The Post/ABC poll found that the number of liberal Democrats who strongly support Obama’s record on jobs plunged 22 points from 53 percent last year to 31 percent. The number of African-Americans who believe the president’s actions have helped the economy has dropped from 77 percent in October to just over half of those surveyed."
For starters, Obama should specifically acknowledge – and with a strong sense of moral outrage - the 16.8 percent black unemployment rate and assign a team of economic experts to offer suggestions to resolve this unprecedented crisis.
The problem for Obama is that in some black circles, he’s losing the debate in the court of public opinion – places like barber shops across America where Obama is counting on votes in large numbers. Some of those voters are lost for now, some are lost forever.
Valerie Jarrett, the senior White House advisor, said Obama understands the frustrations of black Americans, but what the administration needs most right now are concrete ideas – not more rhetoric.
“The president encourages everyone to feel that they are a part of this discussion and the solutions we all want to see implemented to help the African-American community rebuild wealth and create jobs in America,” Jarrett recently told Essence.com.
Civil rights organizations are already gearing up for what will be a tough re-election battle for Obama. The NAACP, for example, plans a huge national initiative to boost African-American voter turnout in the 2012 elections. Ninety-two percent of blacks turned out for the 2008 presidential election, but in the 2010 mid-term election, 15 million blacks did not vote, including 3 million who were registered.
Obama has also dispatched black senior White House advisors to black communities across the country to share stories about how the administration is working to improve the quality of life for African-Americans.
The Obama administration’s goal is ambitious: To connect with one million African-Americans and host 100 events in black communities across the country throughout 2011.
Obama’s high-profile outreach may not be enough to satisfy the deep-rooted frustration among some black voters, brothers like the barber shop customer who said he’ll probably just sit out the 2012 presidential election.
“I’m tired of his speeches,” the brother said. “I just want my piece of the pie.”
I often hear the frustration in the voices of African-American men, especially those who are unemployed and hoping for a brighter day.
But here’s a question worth considering: If not Obama, then who?
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