Recently, two fairly well-known academics and activists jabbed out at President Obama for “insulting the race” and “slapping” the Black community in the face.
The first, physician and minister Ronald V. Myers, is the founder and chair of the National Juneteenth Holiday movement. His beef is that while President Obama gives an annual proclamation and hosts a White House reception for Cinco de Mayo, National Jewish Holocaust Day, and a small range of others celebrations, the President of the United States *(POTUS) has yet to honor the Juneteenth holiday that way.
To Myers, this is clear evidence that the president takes the Black community for granted and does not treat the African American community better or even equal to other American ethnic groups.
Even though his comparison is essentially an apples and oranges one–both Cinco de Mayo and the Jewish Holocaust Day holiday, for example, are backed by foreign countries and are part of America’s conduct of international affairs, a characteristic not shared by Juneteenth–Myers may have a point.
The problem is, however, in how he’s making that point. In accusing the president of being disingenuous and insulting to the entire Black community because he has not yet acceded to the demands/petitions from the Juneteenth Committee, Myers is helping that group of relentless Obama-haters always on the prowl for another complaint and sour note against the president.
Granted, Myers and his committee have done an excellent job of convincing more than 40 states to acknowledge Juneteenth in their localized annual observances, and they may pull off a minor miracle in eventually getting all 50 states to do so. That still will not make Juneteenth a national holiday nor make it worthy of being one. And throwing semantic tomatoes at the person you want to champion this cause is a significant motivator for more refusals.
Besides that, historically, Myers and his committee, with all due respect, are wrong. He, along with most loose and lazy researchers, regularly incorrectly tout that the June 19, 1865, announcement by Col. Gordon Granger that all of the slaves in Texas were therefore freed, also meant slavery in the USA was over.
Juneteenth is and was essentially a Texas-Oklahoma holiday. President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a war-time order under his authority as commander-in-chief, and even then, it was to free slaves in the 11 rebellious states and selected parishes of Louisiana only.
It did not address the slaves in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland.
After the Civil War (Lee surrendered in April, 1865), Lincoln’s proclamation, if it still had any validity, was only in effect in Texas and the other rebel states, not in the other parts of America.
Slavery still existed in the USA well after the Appomattox surrender. The Dec. 6, 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (by Georgia, of all states) legally ended slavery in America, not Juneteenth. So declaring Juneteenth as a national holiday celebrating the ending of American slavery would be symbolic at best, but clearly not historical. Dec. 6 would make more sense.
But, not to quibble, more power to the effort to acquire that status for Juneteenth. Just watch the name-calling, Myers and others, when people don’t instantly agree with you.
Try better, more compelling arguments instead to get your point across. Ones’ own negative words can come back to slap you in the face, some community elders once told me.
The second naysayer is Boyce Watkins, Ph.D., an excellent writer and professor at Syracuse University. He just took President Obama to task for announcing the “Executive Order” that gave young Latinos a two-year ‘amnesty’ if they were brought into the US. illegally before they were 16 years old. (Actually, it was not a presidential executive order, it was a prosecutorial discretion of already existing policy.)
Professor Watkins accepts that this step is likely to help America, given the high educational achievement in science and math many Latino students bring to the table. But he is peeved that the POTUS has not and does not seem likely to do something comparable for the Black community. In fact, Watkins reported in a recent blog that “The time for patience with the Obama Administration should be over, and African Americans who’ve deluded themselves into believing that their first Black president loves them need to take a step back and look at reality . . . nothing is getting done.”
Watkins uses a quick reference to a statistic that Black unemployment was lower during the Bush administration (both of them) than it is now under President Obama, and Blacks should pay special attention to that. For sure, we should, but the statistics should be read correctly also, notwithstanding the fact that President Obama has presided over a grand attempt at pulling Blacks and all Americans out of the economic ditch created by forces operating unfettered during the Bush administration.
Bush junior, started with an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent for the Black community in January 2001, and left with an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent in January 2009, an increase of 4.5 percentage points (and the last six months of his term saw a major percentage increase every month for Black unemployment).
President Obama took that 12.7 percent he inherited and tried to stop the bleeding. The rate got up to 16.2, where it officially stands now according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s less than 3.8 percentage points of an increase before the brakes worked.
Yes, no doubt the unemployment rate for Black Americans is too high and must come down, but to blame that on President Obama is illogical, and to make false comparisons is fallacious.
More to the point, if there are specific things Watkins and others think President Obama can do to decrease, for example, the mass incarceration rate, then burning a little more midnight oil will easily show he has done and is doing what needs to be done to reduce that rate. It’s called the appointment of more compassionate federal judges, and the advocacy of legislation to reduce the mandatory-minimum sentencing for drug possession and use that has been a major engine of mass incarceration.
President Obama achieved that in 2010 in the Fair Sentencing Act, before the Tea Partyers came in. Doesn’t he deserve some credit for getting us on the right path?
We need to check ourselves, and our “facts” and remember the mantra of those dedicated to having the POTUS as a one-term president and what they have consistently done to achieve that.
Sure, go ahead and be upset when one does not get his or her way in terms of legislation or executive policies. But we must stop the negative criticism which can only lead to others’ usage of our words to further disrespect our president and to practice more uncivil behavior against him.
Why, for God’s sake, are we helping them? For constructive criticism, have at it, but that means doing real homework and having recommended, well-thought out alternatives to suggest for perceived missteps or mistakes. Constructive criticism means we are all trying to actually get some positive things done. That’s what real change is, collective work.
C’mon Black folk, act like we actually have some decent home training and that our parents did not send out a bunch of one-step fools in this game. Stop helping those who only aim to hurt.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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