Rating the First Black President

by: Granville M. Sawyer Jr. Special to the AFRO
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In “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America”, Michael Eric Dyson discusses, analyzes and evaluates Barack Obama’s performance as President of the United States. Dr. Dyson sets the tone for his analysis by stating that Obama has the “burden of representation” as the first and only Black president of the obamabookreviewUnited States. Dyson wants to know “… how much closer the election of a single Black man may bring us to a more just and inclusive society…..”

Is this a realistic question given the circumstances under which Barak Obama became president? President Obama inherited the worst economic recession since the depression as well as trillion dollar budget deficits, two wars and, with the exception of the first two years, one or both houses of Congress dead set on opposing everything he wanted to do. Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago Law professor, wrote in {The Huffington Post} that “no president in our nation’s history has ever been castigated, condemned, mocked, insulted, derided or degraded on a scale even close to the constantly ugly attacks on Obama.”

I credit Dyson for including this quote in his book however, I fault him for not following through to discuss its implications relative to how much more difficult an already hard job became for Mr. Obama. Dyson spends very little time discussing these very real challenges even though he admitted that every compromise President Obama made would, “shake the faith Black people had in him and/or further threaten Whites’ perceived position in American Society.” This is a short coming of this book and, I believe it reveals the author’s bias.

When he had the opportunity to interview  President Obama, Dyson mentioned his dissatisfaction with Obama’s  approach to helping Blacks and other minorities. He failed to mention that programs, including the Affordable Health Care Act and pumping billions of additional dollars into the Pell Grant program had specifically benefitted that very same population even though Obama didn’t specifically say that was the purpose of the programs. Obama, in his interview, made it clear to Dyson that as a pundit he doesn’t have to deal with the reality of being president—having to work with congress to get bills written and passed that he can sign into law—something that was never adequately discussed in the book.

When Dyson asked former Attorney General Eric Holder if President Obama should speak out on racial issues as he did, Holder told him Obama “ …. has a responsibility beyond upholding the law – he has to draw a difficult balance between competing needs for resources, competing policies, ideas, groups, etc.”  Dyson states that his conversation with Holder clearly showed him to be a thoughtful person who understands, perhaps better than Dyson, the responsibility of the President.

After two thirds of the book, Dyson seems to better understand the challenges President Obama has faced since taking office. Dyson stated that a year after Michael Brown was shot,  Obama “found a way to be the president of all America while also speaking with special urgency for Black Americans.”

The primary appeal of this book is Dyson’s  sometimes wordy commentary on the Black condition in America and less for his critique of the Obama presidency. This book will appeal to readers who appreciate Dyson’s  view point, opinions, and analysis and how he states them.

Dr. Granville M. Sawyer Jr., is the former president of the South Orange – Maplewood, New Jersey School District, author of “College in Four Years: Making Every Semester Count.” and a professor of finance and director of the MBA program at Bowie State University. An authority on helping minority students achieve success in higher education, he writes about education and life at GranvilleSawyer.com and tweets @ProfGMS.

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