Unchecked: Why you should vote for Obama and why I won’t

I am a daughter of the American South. My family story is like many African American families who chose to stay in the South rather than head to the North or the West in the Great Migration. Settling near the very plantations where they were slaves, we were a family of preachers, teachers, pullman porters, factory workers, caddies, domestics, and farmers. The goal for my great grandparents was an American goal: for their children to get an education; to own a home and raise a family; and to honor their God with the works of their hands and hearts. The complexity of our race relations in the South cannot be reduced to the two dimensional portrayals that usually are the fodder of uninformed intellectuals who too eagerly view the characters in our world as either all white sheeted Klansman running across the night with a lighter and gasoline or scared poverty stricken negro sharecroppers who sang spirituals from sun up to sunset. In our three dimensional reality African Americans in the South shared an indescribable cultural bond with Whites that was grounded (quietly and not so quietly) in a shared religious, agriculturally ethos tied in together in familial blood (whether acknowledged publicly or not).

Yet, despite this shared reality, when faced with the moral demands of integration, the price for the South was high. In addition to the psychic, the physical battles that were fought in the streets of Birmingham, the buses of Montgomery, at the Lyceum in Oxford, and lunch counters throughout the South, shattered the notion that only one civil war was fought on the South. Children of my generation, the first generation of ‘ The New South’, were a transition generation. At home we were cultivated to know that we could be anything we wanted, live anywhere we wanted and go to school anywhere we wanted–yet, at school, our newly integrated schools, many of us faced what our parents faced on their jobs: a begrudging welcome tinged with the whispered addition of “nigger.” We were the next generation of the ‘Talented Tenth’ –reminded often that our educational and professional success was not to only be an economic and political boon for immediate family but for the “Black Community.” Voting was considered a part of caring for our community. As the people at the lowest rung of the American sociological and economic ladder, embracing the candidate that would consider our community’s particular history and reality, would mean that this was a candidate who cared for the least of these and sought to give them voice where they were silenced.

Contrary to popular electoral belief, African Americans have not been a monolithic Democratic voting block. Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and G.W.Bush have received double digit voter support throughout their electoral careers. In 1968, Nixon won with 36% of the African American vote and in 1980 and 2000 Mr. Reagan and Bush won with 18%. What was interesting was that within each of these president’s electoral agenda was significant support for programs and policies that benefited the African American community. Please don’t get me wrong–each of them engaged in policies that reeked havoc within our community (Lord, Reagan alone was a Tsunami of setback). However, none of them ever, ever wrote off the Black Community. They played the political game of quid pro quo. They came to our churches, met with our leaders, and when they failed to meet our needs we called them out or in some cases voted them out. Even though African Americans saw their greatest gains under Bill Clinton including an increase in home ownership,educational attainment, small business growth and income, and the lowest poverty rate in our history, African American leaders regularly took Mr. Clinton to task when they perceived that he was taking our votes for granted. Despite being the first President to engage African Nations in more than a symbolic way; to use American innovation as a diplomatic and economic tool to lift people of color around the world out of despotism and dictatorships, to have standing and frequent meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus Charlie Rangel, Maxine Waters, and the African American scholar class never ever let him forget he had a charge to keep.

African Americans have never had a problem calling a politician out–that is until President Obama. Since 2008, African Americans have thrown a history of being critical electoral consumers (at least on a Presidential level) away in a misguided show of racial solidarity . Before the hate mail begins– I know he inherited a mess but let’s be real: he SIGNED UP for the job–it was not a surprise that the whole thing was going jankey. So whatever he chose to do in the first two years of his term would indicate his true priorities for our country and its people and for 24 months he had a legislative bat to swing without impediment. In those 24 months he proposed a health care bill based on the work of his GOP Rival (btw, if you like Obamacare then at least Mitt credit) and a bailout for the auto industry. When Elizabeth Warren sought to push through to create most comprehensive Consumer Protection Agency in modern history rather than fight for her, President Obama ran a bus right on over her backside. Yet, in all of this, not a word about the blight of black folks except on behalf of Skip Gates. A lot of dialogue about Pakastanis, Iraqis, Chinese, Iranians, Latinos, Women, the Middle class and autoworkers but no shout out for the “folks”. Yes, I know that Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell plot his downfall with every vote (but so does every politicians opposition). Clinton had Gingrich; Reagan had O’Neill; and Bush had Pelosi; and they still managed to get crap done.

Look, it is perfectly clear to me how the other ‘legs’ of the progressive table can and shouldsupport President Obama’s re-election. As a matter of fact, I think the record is quite clear why they should support him with their time and talent (and last minute dollars). Environmentalists got the pipline killed; LGBT got DOMA and DADT; Hispanics got the DREAM Act ; The Unions got GM and Chrysler; and even Catholics got to say no to the pill. So their investment in an Obama Administration has garnered great returns. Moreover, I believe that the states of Ohio, Michigan, and to a lesser extent Virginia, owe Mr. Obama their vote. He hooked them up EVERY chance he got. Frankly, I will be more than ticked off if they don’t go for him, because he has truly worked on their behalf.

However, I just can’t understand an almost 99% African American voter preference for the President. With evidence that bespeaks of utter neglect, it is implausible to explain such support on a purely rational level. How else can we explain our support for an administration where African American men over 20 years old have an unemployment rate of 13%, while African American women are at a ‘low’ of 9%? How can we fondly and enthusiastically embrace a President’s record where 27% of all house holds in poverty are African American and our median income is less than $32,000 a year (the lowest of the 4 groups tallied including Hispanics)? What else can explain our support for a President ,who unlike other presidents before him, for the first time in 48 years,failed to mention poverty in a State of the Union Address (2011) or the first Democratic president to fail to address race relations in any significant way in all four years (and no I do not count the Beer summit or the ‘if I had a son he would look like Treyvon’)?  Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Emmanuel Cleaver had to admit that such electoral adulation for an incumbent with a record like this should be suspect, pointing out that “With 14% unemployment, if we had a white president, we would be marching around the White House and if Hillary Clinton were president, I would tell her she would have to go.” Cleaver unabashedly admitted that no one from the CBC would ever call President Obama out no matter how bad it got, “The President knows we are going to act in deference to him in a way we wouldn’t to someone who was white.”

And there is the rub. Whereas we as African Americans (and dare I say progressives) would hold any other president accountable for the absolutely sorry state of African Americans in this country, President Obama has been given a pass, because, and I will say it : because he is black. White progressives don’t want to be labeled racists (they’d rather hurl that one at Republicans) so they don’t say anything and Blacks can’t stand to do it because ‘we just need to all stick together.Those of us who dare to give any indication that we are less than enthusiastic about President Obama are subject to losing our Black Card. Maxine Waters, speaking in Detroit, spoke of the dilemma thusly , “If we go after the President too hard, you are going to go after us.” Pleading with the crowd, Waters begged the Black Townhall meeting to “unleash the CBC” on Mr. Obama. She was shouted down with jeers. Mr. Obama, not unaware of this pass, points out that when African Americans think about the White House for the next four years–they want to see Michelle in it. They shouldn’t think of his  his record but because they dig the thought of a sistah in the White House. Really? Hell, if my sorority sister can get the unemployment rate in our community down to the national average, I want her in there also, but as it is she is too busy telling me I am fat and to eat my veggies.

At the risk of racial exile, I am a part of a small but growing group of African American scholars like Fred Harris at Columbia, who is dare point out that there is a problem of pathology that is creating a dangerous electoral condition. Fred’s New York Times Op-Ed “The Price of a Black President”, is a wonderfully written indictment of an unspoken yet prevalent pathology that says that says to be truly black is to be uncritical of our first Black President. Lamenting the silence of the black Academy and the black political and religious establishment, Eddie Glaudet, noted theologian said it best “ Too many Black intellectuals have given up the hard work of thinking carefully IN PUBLIC about the crisis facing Black America…we have either become cheerleaders for President Obama or self-serving pundits.” We have abdicated our cultural mandate (hey I am even willing to question that mandate but it is what it is) to use our positions to reflect and speak critically and prophetically against any black politician black, especially the President ignores our people.Even the great Cornel West has been chastened to silence by the administration’s top academic agent, Melissa Perry. Get too critical and you may find yourself on Fox News and off of MSNBC–and no where to go for Black History month.

In all seriousness, there is the loss of the prophetic that used to come from the ‘scholarly’ and professional class to our electoral leaders. Gone is the prophetic voice that calls the president out for the hypocrisy of million dollar fundraisers in LA and failing to stop by a single black church or the ‘hood just to check in on the folks while on one of Bus tours. Gone is the demand that rather than playing hoops with Jay-Z and Reggie or a round of golf with his boys,  that he turn his attention to the fact that 1 in 3 African American men will be on parole and will find a hostile re-entry to the world of employment. Yet, because we have demanded nothing from this President, nothing has been given. Let me just put it this way in the most stark progressive electoral check list: Environmentalists (check). Union (check). Latinos (Check). Women (double check). LGBT (check).

What did black folks get–nothing, NADA, Zip. Not meetings with the Congressional Black Caucus (which he only had 2 in 2011); not photo ops; not even an in person visit to the NAACP since 2009 during an election year(by the way, the only thing on his schedule that day was as CNN confirmed was an interview with CBS News). Even as violence threatens to kill more black men in Chicago than in Afghanistan this year, Mr. Obama did not make a stop to discuss it or hold a summit even though he went home this year for Valarie Jarrett’s daughter’s wedding and to cast a vote for his own election ( He did mention it in a recent interview to MTV). Yet, when the shooting tragedy emerged in Colorado, the President made a bee-line to give comfort and express solidarity immediately. In world where all lives should be equal, the only thing that could make the lives in Colorado more valuable than those in Chicago, is electoral politics. I need to believe that because the alternative is to believe that the President doesn’t care–and I just don’t want to believe that.

Brothers and Sisters, communities of color must hold ALL their electoral officials accountable–especially the ones who look like them. Gone should be the days when having a black face is enough to guarantee our support. If your congressman hasn’t shown up for work or votes in over 60 days but has the nerve to run for re-election, vote him out (that would be you Jesse Junior). If your congressman has a slew of ethics investigations hanging over his head (Charlie R., I am talking about you), vote him out. If the school board representative refuses to focus on the needs of all children but especially your own, then VOTE THEM out. If they refuse to speak truth to power, regardless of the color, sexuality, or religion of that power, VOTE THEM out. To do otherwise is electoral suicide and against the most fundamental principles of being an informed member of the electorate.

Is it fair to ask Mr. Obama to pay attention to the African American plight? Should we expect him to address these issues? After all, he’s not just the African American president, he is the President of the entire United States. To that I agree but I would also ask this one question: When in electoral history have you ever seen a candidate ignore a voting bloc that has been so loyal? So instead of asking President Obama to do it because we are black or because he is, shouldn’t we ask him to consider us because he gets almost all of our votes?

Is Mitt Romney going to be better? Honestly, I am not sure. Paul Ryan (and anyone who adheres to a Ryandian ideology) makes me incredibly nervous. But I do know that racial pride is not an electoral strategy or an ecclesial strategy (I am talking to you North Texas Conference). I am proud as hell of Gabby Douglas but if she left our community with 14% Unemployment and virtually ignored us for 4 years, I would vote her behind right off that balance beam.

Again, if you are a progressive, you should vote for Mr. Obama. If you are a member of the LGBT community, Latino, an Environmentalist, or from Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, or even Colorado, I believe Mr. Obama has made a strong case for re-election. Living in Texas, I have the luxury of using my vote for protest given that rarely does a Democratic vote rarely make a difference in this solidly Red state. On Tuesday, I will show up early to vote. I will vote for some Republicans and some Democrats. I will look at how I and my community (all of them) have fared under their leadership. We have important Senate and House races that demand a vote. But out of deference for too many African Americans who gave their lives for me to have this right –who fought dogs, were spit on, and drug through the dirt so that I would vote for the person that best represents our best hope, I will leave the ballot spot for President unchecked. I will leave it unchecked out of protest for our failure to hold Mr. Obama accountable. I will leave unchecked so he knows (ok he won’t know but in my Maria world he will) that he can’t just phone it in with me, he has to show up and work as hard for me as he does everybody else. I will leave unchecked, because he can do better and because somebody has to do it the only way an American can–not with a blog; or a quiet rant session; or a facebook post; but with a vote.

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

About Maria Dixon Hall

The Rev. Dr. Maria Dixon Hall is an associate professor of organizational communication and non-profit studies at Southern Methodist University.

  • Bill

    The GLBT community has suffered battered wife syndrome from the Democrats for decades, but as always the lesser of two evils is less evil. (Not that I know whether or not Obama or Romney is evil. I’m just sayin’…)

  • Disgusted

    After reading your Rant, I can agree on some things but not on others.
    I am Canadian and not able to vote in your election, the election in the U.S. affects more than your country, remember the Bush years. Trust me when I say that I am not a impressed with your attitude, I know that a Texas Dem is about the same as a NY republican. But I ask you If Obama was the President that you expected ” how long do you think that he would live?”
    Congress with its weak Dems at the beginning of his term did not give the support that he needed. I admit that he could have been more like Dick C and do it my way or else. Obama is a Dem, he had the foolish idea that you could negotiate with a republican. At the half way marker Congress control went to the Rep. What chance did he have to get things done, ZERO.
    To waste a vote as a Dem is asking for more republican wars.

  • barb newberg

    Maria:
    Very thoughtful and refreshing take on Obama and this election. I am a working single head of household, an environmentalist and a supporter of fair wages for women. I am voting early tomorrow in the blue state of Illinois and I am not voting for Obama.

    My personal reasons:I do not support unlimited abortion rights, in fact, I am dismayed that AMA does not say more about women’s health issues and ways to be responsible and avoid pregnancy in the first place. The other major reason I am not voting for Obama is his dismal response to the attack in Benghazi and failure to “fess-up” & the unimaginable war in Syria. We should have called-out Assad as violating his verbal cease-fire/ UN agreement months ago. The brutal killing over there should not be tolerated by any modern society.
    It is a sad day but I am convinced we will see a Romney victory tomorrow. Let’s pray that a more caring and empathetic president will provide good leadership and set a new course for our future. We are all neighbors on this great earth together.

  • Pingback: Black Voter Turnout Key to Obama’s Virginia Hopes – Wall Street Journal (blog) | Syndicated News

  • Cheryl McBee

    Thank you Maria Dixon.

    I’ve been saying this for years, and as a Black woman in New York City, that’s not easy. But there is nothing of the African American legacy to be found in Barack Obama. He and his Liberal Chicago Machine, hijacked our Civil Rights Movement and placed Obama as it’s figure head. Yet his disconnect to American Blacks is appalling.

    In addition to increased criminal activity, illegal aliens helped to destroy the lower black (and white) middle class by taking jobs for which they had no legal right. Still Obama sued Arizona for enforcing laws, already established, designed to protect its citizens. What kind of president would sue the very people he’s been sworn to protect; on behalf of a foreign, criminal element?
    Obama has no innate sense of what it means to be Black American. Any true African American knows that when you’re the “first” anything, you must prove yourself better than the very best. Emphasis on the “Prove”. It may not be fair but it’s nothing new.
    For example, Jackie Robinson was the first Black to break the color line in Major League Baseball. Robinson endured crushing threats and verbal abuse every, single time he went to bat . Nevertheless, he never failed to hit the ball out of the park and for that reason, Robinson earned the respect that broke the color line in sports. No Liberals running to his defense. He didn’t need to make excuses. One would expect as much from our first Black president.
    We needed an extraordinary African American as president. One who demonstrated content of character through ability and leadership. Instead we have a narcissistic, race baiter, whiner and fraud.
    Barack Obama co opted African American history and tarnished its integrity.
    Heart breaking.

  • janet

    This is an admirably written article, and there is much to commend it. But the shortsightedness of it appalls me. Change NEVER happens quickly. All of the injustices can never be wiped away by just ONE man. He himself said this: ” You need to MAKE me be the President you want me to be ” (paraphrased). He knows what he is up against. Why don’t we?
    If Romney is the next President we will have wiped away 65 years of hard-fought progress for not only African-Americans, but all women, the poor, gays, the elderly, and all other disenfranchised groups. PLEASE PLEASE don’t enable this with your justifiable but shortsighted frustration. Keep faith with him and he will help rather than hurt. He will not walk on water, he will not turn it into wine, he will not turn one loaf and one fish into thousands. But he will stop the backward march of the radial extremists who would take us into another very dark age. I am a white woman. I stand with you. Be strong, be patient, be better than them.

  • Zion

    I vote for Jesus Only. Doesn’t Obama and everyone else know who he has been set up to be?

    Christ +Jeremiah 45 + Ezekiel 20:29 + Babylon + Nebuchadnezzar + Osama= Osama Resurrected as Obama in Revelations 13 + Daniel 7,8 + New York as physical Babylon in Rev. 17,18= Daniel 9 to 12 + Joel + Malachi + Jude + Jeremiah 45 to 51 = Rev 14 to 21

  • Leonard Martinez

    I think you just signed your death sentence. Think it, but don’t say it.

  • anonymous

    Great article Ms. Dixon.

    You spoke the truth. It may have hurt but you did it. Your forefathers fought for centuries so African Americans could be free and have a chance to work today. 14% unemployment and rising poverty for youths in the black community show us that he hasn’t made things better.

  • so true

    This is an outstanding article. Its all so true. there is a lot more to all of this. Obama is just part of a larger machinery here and blacks and progressives are all going to get duped. There is also a color problem here. Light skinned more moderate blacks being pushed out not shown even Malia obama looked like they had put her in a tanning booth for the Dem National Convention in Charlotte.Somthings up. Rhiana the whore is shut up two months before the election but back on the prowl with her whore tactics to continue to lure unsuspecting black girls who dress like her into the brothels and underground sex trade in this country. Its all tied together. He is the most anti black politician yet and someday we will all know it.


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