On November 4, 2008, the 56th quadrennial United States presidential election was held. A changing of the guard was taking place. Republican President George W. Bush’s policies faced a stunning defeat and America was connecting with the campaign slogan of the junior Democratic Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. America seemed invigorated with the idea of “Hope and Change.” Both presidential election campaign candidates ran on a platform of change and reform of the Washington establishment. Few could predict the emerging economic collapse that would provide an October surprise in what seemed up until that point to be a very tight election.
Democrat Barack Obama would take advantage of that moment and go on to defeat Republican John McCain. The election would come down to nine key swing states. Those nine that had voted for George W. Bush changed allegiance in the 2008 election. In the end, the vote count was a sweeping landslide victory for Obama who received 365 electoral votes, to John McCain’s 173. With that, the country would be forever changed, or would it?
For black American’s we finally had our champion. I remember seeing older black Americans in tears. Those blacks who remembered the injustice of the Civil Rights movement, the attacks of the dogs on innocent citizens, the arrest of law-abiding citizens who dared to speak out, and the unfair laws, saw in the election of 2008 the dawning of a new day. I hear people shouting, “It is our time.” Lots of hope was placed on the shoulders of this young junior Senator from Illinois. He became a Messiah figure to some, a Santa Claus to others, but the hope of the entire black community fell on his shoulders. That is a lot of weight for one man to carry. How could he possibly live up to all those expectations? I say that to lay out the point of this post. Now that President Obama is no longer in office what happens to black Americans now? There are three crucial questions to address as I see the future: 1) Do we return to business as usual? The pre-Obama years. Or 2) What progress have we made? Is it enough progress that there is no turning back? And 3) Where do we go from here?
1) Do we return to business as usual?
Maybe it is just me but it appears rightly, or wrongly all the news lately has shifted. We are not talking about the problems of race in America nearly as much today as we did during President Obama’s tenure. Now I am not saying that is a bad thing, but did we suddenly solve all the problems plaguing our urban areas? Have the shootings magically stopped or do those things no longer fit our narrative? Have the poor suddenly found jobs and our young people trapped in dangerous situations all moved to the burbs? I think Jesus would remind us that probably is not the case. In Matthew 26:11 when people were complaining about a sinful woman anointing Jesus feet with expensive perfume, Jesus replied about the seemly excessively wasteful gesture, “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” That would give us some indication that the problems have not miraculously been solved. Chances are things have just drifted back to where they were before. People are still suffering, but now there is no one to raise awareness to the problems. So, the message is “suffer in silence, please. I have don’t have time to deal with it. We have bigger fish to fry.”
2) What progress have we made?
This is the statistical section of the article. I will try not to go too crazy.
In the areas of education, employment:
- Eighty Percent (80%) of African Americans over age 25 have high school diplomas. The average number of African Americans that have at least a bachelor’s degree increased two percentage points to 19% since the year 2000. This, however, is still ten percentage points lower than the national average.
- Although African Americans have an unemployment rate almost double that of the overall population, the black workforce is just as diverse. Because the federal government was one of the first to integrate, African Americans have been over-represented in that sector.
- More than 20% of the black working population over 16 years old are employees of the federal, state, or local government which is just over five percentage points higher than the national average. On the other end, a much smaller percentage of African Americans are self-employed (3.6%) than the national average of 6.2%.
- Black women have made the greatest strides recently. In 2011 33% of employed black women had jobs in management or professional occupations compared to 23% of working black men. As a matter of fact, 64% of working African American women hold “white collar” occupations compared to 50% of African American men. Thirty-six percent of working black men hold “blue collar” occupations compared to 8% of black women.
- Median Income “is the amount which divides the income distribution into two equal groups, ½ having income above median and ½ having income below the median.” The real median household income for all households in 2009 was $49,777; the Black median household income is $29,328 as of 2010. As of 2009, it was $32,584.
- *All statistics used above are from the US Census Bureau 2008 – 2011 American Community Survey
Just a bit of hard data to show that while in some areas things have gotten better we are by no means living in a utopian time for black (or any other middle-class Americans to be perfectly honest).
3) Where do we go from here?
In my humble opinion, we need to continue to work together for solutions to society’s problems. Jesus has a chilling reminder to Christians about our responsibilities in Matthew 25:34-40, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Our mission does not just have pity on those in need but to get our hands dirty and our hearts broken when we see the need and to act. We are called to care. It is not the job of one President nor the government to care for those in need; it is our Christian duty and privilege. We get the honor to make a difference.