Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is There Any Such Thing As A "Black Issue"?!?

During the campaign season, lots of folks were critical of candidate Obama for not speaking out more vocally about issues that pertain to the African American community. Many saw his race-neutral style as one that largely skirted his ethnicity, and focused perhaps too much on catering to "mainstream America". In the end, all this panned out. Obama pulled 95% of the black vote, which sounds ultra-impressive, but is more or less in line with what most Democrats running for President have received.

Anyways, Barry is in office now, and going about the bid'ness of saving the world, yet many are still holding his feet to the flame on these "black issues" and exactly what he's going to do about them.
President Barack Obama should specifically address disparities in black unemployment, foreclosures, education and health care, the National Urban League says in its annual "State of Black America" report.

Despite the progress represented by the election of the first black U.S. president, blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated, says the report, which was being released Wednesday by the civil rights organization.

Obama has said that the way for government to help minorities is by improving things like education, employment and health care for all Americans.

But "we have to be more specific," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the 99-year-old Urban League.

"The issue is not only (blacks) doing better, but in closing these persistent gaps in statistics in this country," Morial told The Associated Press. "Our index shows that the gap in African-American status is about 71 percent that of white Americans. We will not rest until that number is at 100, and there is no gap."
I suppose I get Morial's point here. A black President should be more compassionate about Black folks than perhaps, well, a white guy, which is what every President prior to Obama was. As head of the Urban League, an organization that actually does grassroots level community work (unlike, say, the NAACP, whose mission I'm not really sure of), Morial also has the clout to pull such a card.

On the flipside, is there really any such thing as a "black issue"? Aren't "black issues", just plain ole "American issues", albeit on steroids? Seriously, is there anything that genuinely qualifies as a uniquely "black issue"?

The achievement gap exists between black and white students, true. But it also exists between White and Asian students. Perhaps most alarmingly, the achievement gap persists amongst girls and boys of all races and ethnicities.

Unemployment always hits the black community hard, but when it's raining on the whole country, the fact that your shirt's been soaked a few minutes longer isn't gonna win you much >extra sympathy.

Crime is universal. Folks get offed errywhere. Sure, it happens a bit more frequently in places with high concentrations of poverty, but murders are hardly an exclusively black province. I don't need to tell you about drugs.

A lot of black folks took a bath via predatory loans that lead to the collapse of the housing market, but only 6% of such risky loans were given to minorities as a whole. A sh*tload of white folks are in shelters right now too.

Many diseases hit blacks at staggering rates, but few of them are exclusively "black" problems. Hypertension is an American problem. As much as I hate the vocoder and the way it's destroyed black music, it too, is an American problem.

So, with all that said, what exactly is a "Black Problem"?

Question: Is there such a thing as a "uniquely black issue" or are Black America's issues just America's issues, times 20?

Urban League asks Obama to address black issues [AP]

30 AverageComments™:

the uppity negro said...

I think this whole post fails to take into account the psychology and pathology of those problems in the black community that ultimately make them a "black problem."

To use your own post, when discussing how black males can barely graduate from college if they make it, even from HBCU's that's clearly a "black problem." The numerous comments all spoke to issues and problems that are germane to the black community, and moreover problems that are not going to be fixed even as a side effect from fixing other general problems in this country.

Perhaps this is me coming off the heels of reading DuBois' Darkwater and especially Na'im Akbar'sBreaking The Chains of Psychological Slavery that has lead to me make such a statement, but I think to not categorize certain issues as specifically black issues is to buy into the myth that all things are equal in this country when it comes to racial matters.

I think once one understands the psychology and pathologies that have been passed from generation to generation in the black community then one can have appreciation for black issues.


Speaking of shelters, I'm sure me and the rest of AverageNation is waiting on your book review in due time about that 25 year old guy who started off living in a homeless shelter in Charleston, SC.

Marbles said...

That's exactly what I wanted to know every time I saw someone jumping down Obama's throat for ignoring "black issues." Sure, I understand what they are in the abstract, but I have a vague suspicion that "black issues" ultimately means talking about these very (yes) "American issues" using the language and frames that the protest generation and its ideological water carriers are trained in, and are used to hearing. Whether many of the grousers even knew it or not, I suspect that's what they really meant.
I know that communities, to a degree, need to present a monolithic identity when they agitate for poltical change. But as an outsider looking in, it seems to me that the world has passed many of these agitators by, while their language and methods remain stagnant.
Identity politics were once indispensable. But I think much of their credibility has been spent---partly through hard-won victories and partly through abuse. Exceptions, I think, are communities which began to obtain momentum relatively recently (i.e. the gay rights movement, and even some of them make the mistake of going all "Sixties" at the expense of pragmatism.)

Of course, I'm all too aware that it's easy for someone like me to say this, since I've never had to agitate for my own civil rights. Sometimes I hate knowing only one side of the story.

Ciara said...

Black issues are American issues, period.

It just that certain groups of people actually give a damn about it to actually do somethinginstead of sit around and wait for the Magic Negro to save them. It's called collective responsibility, which seems mad foreign these days.

We could have made inroads into these problems but what we do, wait for a Black president to fix it. Oh, so if crime doesn't go down in your specific neighborhood, it's Obama's fault? F*ck outta here. Look in the mirror and ask yourself did you do all you could do to help your community change. If you didn't, sit down and shut up.

Marbles said...

@ uppity:

"I think to not categorize certain issues as specifically black issues is to buy into the myth that all things are equal in this country when it comes to racial matters."

It could appear to peddle that. But that would depend on what kind of issues you're highlghting. For example, the one you pointed out--the graduation problem--seems to be more a cultural issue than a political one.

Shady_Grady said...

While it may be true that a rising tide lifts all boats, I do think there are some issues/concerns that are of special interest to Black people.

Morial lists some of them. Sure many of them can be improved by so called "personal responsibility" but when the unemployment rate is traditionally twice as high for Blacks as for whites, something else is going on. You can be as responsible as all get out but if you run into the wrong policeman on the wrong day none of that matters.

Bottom line is that since Black people voted for Obama at a 9-1 ratio, Black people are entitled to expect some attention to issues. I think it is unrealistic and insane for anyone to expect a "Messiah" or something like that. I don't think that's what Morial is saying.

ebw-educated black woman said...

@Uppity and Ciara, you both make very valid points. I believe "we" (the black community) should acknowledge as Uppity puts it, "the psychology and pathologies that have been passed from generation to generation in the black community", and actively get involved in correcting our ills as Ciara suggests.

It's all so well and good for the Uran League to ask the President to address certain issues, but at the end of the day - are you addressing (and educating) the persons these issues directly affect? Where are the stats on the Urban League's progress in combating these problems? (No offense, I'm just asking b/c the stats re: the problems are mentioned.)
Yes, there are "black issues", but the issues you address in this post are as you say, "just plain ole American issues".

MissJay said...

I think those issues are shared but look magnified for black people. For example, Civil Rights. This would be agreed on as a black issue. But think about it, the issue effects everyone and is actually an American issue. It makes all Americans look bad when this country boasts unalienable rights for all citizens but doesn't practice what is preached.

I agree that we (black people) need to stop thinking that Obama's presidency is the magic wand to fix all problems. Like MJ said," start with the (wo)man in the mirror" and change yourself, then your home/family, and then do something in the community and move on from there. Until then all these problems will only get worse.

adinasi said...

Here's a question that confounds my students, and I'm sure a lot of other folks: What is 'Black', and who decides the spectrum of 'Blackness?'

All Americans desire to be healthy, long living, and prosperous (thank you, Mr. Spock ;-) Any challenge that impedes that pursuit affects all of us. Blacks' unique relationship and importance to America's growth and history makes our challenges unique mostly by their intensity and length of suffering. There are sociologists who can trace the intractable 'poor, urban Black' phenomenon to our legacy of slavery, the same way music historians can trace the roots of Jazz and hip-hop to that same tragic period. Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's wonderful 'Let's Call The Whole Thing Off' ('you say tomato, I say tomahto....") is mostly a voice-and-mike call and response a la Timbaland and Missy Elliott.

Just as my parents used to say Blacks are the 'last hired and first fired', we tend to catch stuff first, worst, and longest. Finding the root of THAT problem may unearth a uniquely 'Black' problem.

Ed The Sports Fan said...

Cats better wise up, the bigger deal might be that our issues as a minority might be taken as less of a priority. We are the 2nd minority behind hispanics, and asians are growing at an alarming rate. I do believe that we have to do better for ourselves, and address our "black issues" more in-house unless it is of deep need, then call up B-Rock and see if he can make something happen!


the uppity negro said...


It's a question of whether or not we choose to buy into the idea of "ontological blackness" or just leave it be?

spool32 said...

Does this mean I can stop putting "the black community" in quotations, or will I still get called out for making overly broad generalizations?

Zen said...

Brilliant comments here. I also agree that there are issues and concerns that are uniquely important to Black people. However, the solutions do not lie with Barack Obama. All of us know that.

Morial's bigger goal, I think, is to draw attention to specific challenges in order to get some kind of help with the solutions. Not having seen the report, I can't blast the NUL for wanting Barack to come in and save them, because I'm not sure that that's what they're saying. Maybe they offer solutions in the report, some of which might benefit from president-level attention.

Green/renewable energy and health care issues got a boost from Barack's attention. Maybe the NUL wants the same thing. Not so much a magic-wand type of solution, but the positive effects of attention/support from Barack.

@Ed the Sports Fan
"Asians are growing at an alarming rate." You know that don't even sound right, LOL. As someone with Asian in-laws, I had to get on you for that.

CrzyCatDC said...

Actually Marbles, I wouldn't say it's at all a "cultural" issue. It is a political issue...a socio-political issue. The problem is not one of people not appreciating education or finding any worth in picking up a book. The appreciation of education, art, culture and the like is learned and absorbed from your primary and secondary socializers--family and school. It is these two environments where we become socialized into the world and learn to function in it.

The real problem affecting graduation rates is the lack of funding and quality education offered in many impoverished communities. But this is something that affects low-income communities across the board. It's just that Black communities are repeatedly called out for it, while low-income white communities remain invisible to the mainstream and ignored. The distribution of funding and quality resources is a political issue--albeit not one the executive office would directly deal with, but a political issue nonetheless. That's why I'm happy Obama is creating all of these commities and new liaison positions. They may seem arbitrary now, but he's a community organizer at heart and community organizers know that to lead you have to have your ear to every door and reach out to everyone you can.

But I do think that perhaps there is a "Black" issue in that while graduation rates are relatively low, blacks are incarcerated at a very high rate. I don't know the statistics on all groups to categorize this as a Black issue, but I would guess this is something that impacts the Black community much more than other racial groups.

Monie said...

All this post-racialness is really cool if you're a Black person living a comfortable middle class life with time to ponder such things.

However if you are a Black person who is apart of the lower-class then this isn't some abstract conversation.

There are indeed Black issues. If you don't believe it then go to an inner city public school and then go to a suburban White public school. Go to an inner city hospital then go to a suburban one.

Heck just try to find a real grocery store in a low income Black neighborhood or a real bank.

And what about AIDS; if AIDS was affecting the White community and White women the way its afflicting the Black community and Black women there would be a war on AIDS in America.

Shouldn’t we hold Obama accountable regarding these issues? I say yes and not because he’s Black but because he’s the President.

Although I’m pretty sure if a Latino American (or someone of any minority group) was elected President Latino Americans wouldn’t be running around talking about a post-racial American and not holding that Latino President accountable to Latino issues.

Also this is an interesting conversation in light of the passing of historian John Hope Franklin last week. Because when we don't know our history it's easy for us to buy into a narrative in which we say there are no Black issues only American issues.

A Black President doesn't mean that we shouldn’t hold him accountable to our needs and just because there is Black President doesn’t mean we live in a post-racial America where Black issues are America's issues.

Are there times when Black issues and America's issues overlap, of course but that's not 100% of the time, yet.

Ezra said...

Politically, and in this economic climate, I don't think Obama can afford to address "black issues" for fear of backlash.

I'm curious to see so many comments reflect individual responsibility. You guys have probably all done that in your life so it's worked- for you- to pull yourself up and to help in your community.

But this doesn't make black issues go away on a big scale. Institutionalized racism has to be addressed. The white, ruling, economic, and cultural majority in the U.S. has to address its role in perpetuating the problems poor minorities face.

Because no matter how many times you tell a dropped-out, knocked up, child of drug addicts that she needs to take responsibility for her life, it won't necessarily help. Change needs to be institutional, enforceable, like affirmative action.

Obama can do a lot more (and will) in this regard. He can address issues by not focusing specifically on skin color, but for example, by creating an office of urban affairs, as he has done.

The point is that regardless of whether there are black issues or not- the issues affect EVERYONE negatively- so they have to be addressed.

spool32 said...

... Ezra....

Did you just say that we have to enforce change on the white "ruling class" to save down-and-out blacks?

Care to explain what you mean?

Zen said...


I think you should keep the quotation marks, (though honestly, I'm not sure whether you were serious or kidding).

It's an interesting point though. When I first saw the Web site "Stuff White People Like" and I saw "sushi" and "NPR" on the list (two of my regular staples), I thought it was ridiculous. But of course, I got the joke. The joke, though, requires a kind of flat, one-dimensional view of not only white people, but everyone else.

I think that when anyone talks about a monolithic "black community" it gets slippery very quickly.

As for this post, I think it's the difference between making *judgments* about a group of people, and acknowledging that certain people share a bond whether it's because of race, gender, living on the same block, being in the same family, whatever.


What does "ontological blackness" mean? I want to hear more about that when you have time.

Kirby said...

I agree with a lot of what everyone is saying. A lot of these issues are American issues that are densely concentrated in poor minority communities.

All minorities are being put in an awkward position with President Obama in the white house. Your immediate reaction is to think ok there is one of us in there and our issues will finally start being address from the top; which is an understandable rationale to have because things have been so mismanaged, although some would argue they are doing exactly what they want to be doing, for so long.

I also have to say that although he is not directly saying it, President Obama's actions and story speak directly to how to solve these problems. In a world of dot commer millionaries and entitled sweet 16 year olds there are few boot strap stories that are out there and one's that can be not only attained but also mimiced by future generations. I think him addressing the schooling crisis in America will lead to all these problems being fixed. Simple fact is we need new approaches to solve old problems. Education and expanded thought will lead to this.

America as a whole needs to sit down and refocus, not just blacks. Do I agree that this need to refocus is more needed in the black and other minority communities, no doubt. Do I agree that the solution begins with personal accountability and responsibility? No doubt. I believe it was Public Enemy that said it takes a nation of millions to hold us back. We have to wake up and stop holding one another back.

cinco said...

There are some good points expressed here. I'm all for every person doing what they can for themselves. That being said some universal 'problems' appear more burdensome in the "Black community" because many resources, concerned people, finances etc are less.
I'm so tired of people thinking Obama has some great duty to fix it all for "Black America". The expectation of one man is enormous considering that the Urban League; NAACP and other community and private organizations with all their 'members'; the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world have not cured what ails us. Of course there has been some progress, even if small, but our communities are still suffering.

Overall I think each community has there problems. I've been raised in both 'worlds' so to speak and I've seen advantages used in both. There are differences, but I'm not sure that the "Black" experience is as detrimental as some try to make it. It's for the most part fully subjective.

adinasi said...

@Zen and uppity,

'ontological?' Had to look that up :-p
A word way above my pay-grade; too many engineering classes in college, and never used in any math class I've taught ;-)

I guess 'being' is all in our headz :-)

Ezra said...

What I mean by "enforceable" is that laws have are put in place that address institutionalized racism the way desegregation, the voting rights act, affirmative action, etc. have been put in place.

I know you cringe at the idea because you believe in individual responsibility. But, what do you say to people who suck from the system but don't believe in personal responsibility?

How do you get them to change their ways?

the uppity negro said...


Ontology is the idea of just "being."

So, for example, Eminem is someone who would be a candidate of ontological blackness if that makes sense. Many of his character traits are closely aligned with what many associate with what it means to be black in America.

The problem with ontological blackness is that it begins to define what is black and what is black and who's qualified to speak on it. The biggest problem I've heard about it was with the whole Jeremiah Wright thing last spring when the political pundits decided to dig up what liberation theology was, and specifically black liberation theology which teaches that "Jesus is black." Or even for theologian James Cone that "God is black."

It's this ontological blackness that, in my own humble opinion, sounds good on the surface because it liberates the oppressed from their oppression, but it never provides ideas for how to ultimately reconcile with the now former oppressor.

Zen said...

@ uppity

Thanks for saying more about this. This is something I've thought a lot about but never had a name for it.

TD1016 said...

*The statement below is TD1016's opinion and not that of the NUL in which she is employed by. Hey, ya never know who's lurking*

I think people are right when they say Black issues are American issues, but they impact us 10 times harder. Right now Obama has too much on his plate to address this. Furthermore, I don't think it's something that he really needs to address but that Black community members themselves do. If anything he could just spark the dialogue, but just like the black community worked to assist in him getting elected, we need to work the same way on these issues. Which leads to my point that many of the "issues" our community deals with start on the local and state levels. As I tell my clients, you are own best advocate. If you want to see change, YOU have to put in the work to do so. IMO one of the biggest problems that the black community has is that we don't come together like we should. In other words we can put on protest and marches and come out in the millions for police brutalization against one of uf, but we can't rally the same way when our schools are in turmoil and our healthcare is in crisis. We can educate our kids and selves and everyone we know on the latest tech, but we can't educate a neighbor on housing rights. Now when we start getting our stuff together on that level, maybe than more talk nationally can take place.

Vittoria Falconer said...

The only black "issues" I know of are of Ebony, Jet, and Essence magazine. Other than blatant dumbass racist f***s that every nationality has to deal with at one time or another, there isnt anything really uniquely "black" (not even lowriders and hydraulics.... that was a stereotypically Latino thing... LOL ;-) )IMHO

spool32 said...


What sort of law are you talking about? This sounds like some sort of mandatory work law..? I'm still not understanding at all what you mean.

I do believe in individual responsibility. What do do about people who are OK with just sucking off the system?
Give them a hand up, then wean them off the system and let them sink or swim on their own.

cinco said...


lol, clever.

ebonygentleman said...

Something I've learned from years in or white:

Ain't no "black or white" issues. It's just that some a-holes that need to have their definition of being a human being re-examined.

Do unto others...if you don't, you need to get your @$$ kicked.


VOD said...

To me, they're American issues multiplied many times due to our history, which has affected our collective psychology and overall health.

Just know that the answer is far from simple.

oregonsistah said...

well there seems to be gay/lesbian, Indian, women, latina, phillipine issues that are being funded and heard....

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