The Schism in Black America

Jonathan Hicks | 1/17/2012, 10:22 a.m.

In a speech in Indianapolis last week, Smiley made his own case. He pointed out that he regularly criticized Obama's immediate predecessor, President George W. Bush, on a host of issues, from his handling of the economy to the war in Iraq. He added that he had been particularly critical of President Bill Clinton, from his welfare reform policy to his withdrawal of his nomination of Lani Guinier as assistant attorney general for civil rights. "It's important to be consistent," Smiley said.

There is a sense of reticence for many Black Americans criticizing a president who is being pummeled by the minute by the Republican right. It's tough to watch the frenzied right wing of the Republican Party do everything from attacking Obama's legitimacy to hold office to depicting him as a chimpanzee in their literature. Every move made by the very Republicans whom the president seeks to court is aimed at making him appear indecisive.

So, what's a brother or sister to do? Who can feel any satisfaction at piling on in this kind of onslaught? At the same time, the criticisms within Black America about unemployment and repeated concessions to Republicans are heartfelt and fundamentally legitimate.

The answer lies in the adage that has become a staple of the Black church: "To tell the truth in love." In the end, it is important to hold the president's feet to the fire on the issues that are most important to the communities that have been the most excited and energetic segment of his political base.

They are also the people who are the most vulnerable to the recession-which is nowhere near being over in their communities-people for whom the pain and despair of joblessness is unrelenting.

In the end, the criticism from Black America, if it remains focused intelligently and constructively on matters of policy, can be an important nudge to Obama. And if the president takes those criticisms seriously and acts on them, it would make political sense. It would help reignite the enthusiastic support of the very people who make up his most loyal and reliable constituency.