In November 2008, I watched the television screen as Barack Obama was elected as the first black president of the United States. His charismatic message of hope and change resonated with many Americans. I thought that maybe the most pressing problems facing black Americans will finally be addressed. The Great Recession of 2007-2008 had virtually wiped out the savings of most black households. No one in Detroit knew for sure if the American automotive industry (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) would survive.
Looking back eight years later, I had a lot of high expectations in Obama. However, I should have known that Obama could not reverse three centuries of racial discrimination in just eight years. Yet, I cannot help that a lot of the optimism and admiration that black Americans entrusted in Obama went unfulfilled. While my family dismissed my pessimism, I cringed when Obama preferred incremental policies that did not address the root of the problems that still plague black Americans: higher unemployment rate regardless of educational attainment than whites, stubbornly high poverty rate, a mass incarceration crisis, under-resourced public schools, and a widening racial wealth gap.
William A. Darity, Jr. explained so eloquently in his must-read The Atlantic op-ed: "Leaders who look like you do not necessarily act in ways that benefit you." Obama did more for immigrants and the LGBT community than blacks who desperately looked up to him as a savior to their plight in the inner city. His successor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, focused her campaign on three issues--women's rights (e.g., equal pay for equal work, family paid leave, and reproductive rights), amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and support for LGBT rights (including same-sex marriage)--that had little to do with combatting institutional and structural racism.
Many of Obama's executive orders did not help working-class Americans suffering from wage stagnation and free trade policies. Sure, the cost of gasoline is lower now but the cost of housing and health care premiums continues to increase exponentially. In addition, Obama was no friend to organized labor, having never met with the union leaders during his entire presidency. The Democratic national leadership failed to understand that a campaign focused primarily on political correctness and identity liberalism (race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality) runs the risk of ignoring the widening income inequality between the rich and the poor. America was turning into a serfdom society with a shrinking middle class and expanding working poor.
Nonetheless, I was delighted that Obama broke the color barrier in the U.S. presidency. This symbolic moment inspired so many black Americans to not lose hope on their native land. But I wished that Obama had done more to reduce the poverty rate in black communities, especially in Chicago. His leadership failed to provide blacks in the Midwestern cities with decent-paying jobs. Let us hope that President-elect Donald Trump delivers on his proposed pledge, the New Deal for Black America.