As part of the Roosevelt Institute's weeklong "Lessons from Black History" series, running on the New Deal 2.0 blog from Feb. 15-19, I was asked to reflect on what lessons from the past should be heeded to advance social justice in the future. Here's my take.
Last year, during Black History Month, African Americans celebrated with great pride Barack Obama's election as the first black President of the United States. Obama sought to enlist blacks and all citizens in his army of hope -- even as too many Americans wrongly believed that Obama's victory ushered in a post-racial America.
Most blacks scoff at the idea of a post-racial nation -- after all, the fingerprints of race are everywhere, from sports arenas to church sanctuaries. A growing number of blacks now feel that perhaps we were only deemed as useful for our votes; all but gone are campaign promises to address our specific needs, like more jobs, better education and important help with the mortgage crisis.
Many of my black brothers and sisters are now murmuring and beginning to feel that the President's ascent to the most powerful station in the nation has done little to get them off their posts of despair. Many black folk walked on rice paper to keep from tearing into the fiber of the President's disturbing avoidance of race in America. It may be that Obama's presence in the White House has overshadowed the problems of a people who survived the "peculiar institution" of slavery. Although the President should keep all Americans in view, it appears that he has lost sight of the problems of most blacks. Other groups -- GLBT, Latinos, Native Americans, even the sometimes amorphous "middle class" -- have asked, and received, particular attention from the Obama administration. Black folk have largely lagged far behind.
Black leadership has witnessed a "don't ask, don't get" response from the Obama administration. Such a snub has caused some members of the Congressional Black Caucus to join forces with celebrities like Danny Glover in leading a metaphoric but increasingly vocal march on Washington.
These activists and politicians realize that most presidents, from Lincoln to Lyndon Baines Johnson, and most recently William Jefferson Clinton, had to respond to the social demands of their black base, resulting in the end of slavery, the passage of the civil rights bill, the voting rights act and the fair housing act.
In 2010, black constituencies should even more vigorously knock on the pearly gates of the White House -- not simply to get a seat at the banquet table of opportunity, but to preserve our dignity and to be treated with the same respect as other groups of American citizens. As the Bible reminds us in James 4:20, "You have not, because you ask not..." If we don't ask, we surely won't get the privileges and benefits we rightly deserve.
This post originally appeared on New Deal 2.0