To say the least, Barack Obama is not a man who is inclined to speak often or passionately on the topic of race.
His comments on the subject, on the rare occasions when they are offered, are well-planned, carefully scripted and cautiously measured. It is as though his incumbency as America’s first Black president ought to speak for itself, with little public musing about what it means to him or to others.
And so it was somewhat fascinating to read the president’s remarks, said during an interview with Black Enterprise magazine, when asked about criticism by some that he had not done enough to support African-American owned businesses.
“I’m not the president of Black America,” Obama said. “I’m the president of the United States of America, but the programs that we have put in place have been directed at those folks who are least able to get financing through conventional means, who have been in the past locked out of opportunities that were available to everybody.”
He continued: “So, I’ll put my track record up against anybody in terms of us putting in place broad-based programs that ultimately had a huge benefit for African American businesses.
It seems to be a straightforward, reasonable perspective.
Yet, there undoubtedly are voices in the nation’s political landscape who will take the president’s words out of context, focusing on the first sentence without highlighting the framework that followed. Indeed, so many of Obama’s public statements during the campaign have been misquoted or improperly highlighted by a zealous Republican party that will leave no stone unturned to discredit this president.
For some, any utterance Obama makes where race is included sets off flags and serves as fodder for intense scrutiny or even condemnation.
What’s important to remember from the Black Enterprise interview is who Obama is at his core. The president, the one-time community organizer in Chicago, has a better sense of what will cure the ills of African-American business than most elected officials on the political horizon, let alone any of the leadership of the Republican Party.
Obama is, after all, the man who recently signed an executive order to establish the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans that aims to close the education achievement gap for African-American students and ensure that they have greater access “to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.”
Moreover, Obama is the man whose administration has championed support for the growth of companies owned by African-American women.
So, when the criticism comes, when the pundits on the right take Obama to task for saying he is “not the president of Black America,” it’s important to not just place the entire quote in context, but also the history of the man who uttered those words.