Friday, November 29, 2013

Van Jones Weighs in on President Obama's "Race Report Card"

Given his background in dealing with the criminal justice system as founder of the Ella Baker Center in San Francisco, I was interested in reading Van Jones' assessment of President Obama's track record on dealing with racism. But I have to say that I came away disappointed.

Jones limits his remarks to three symbolic incidents when President Obama commented on race: his speech in Philadelphia after the Rev. Wright controversy, his beer summit after the police harassment of  Professor Henry Louis Gates, and his comments about Trayvon Martin following the acquittal of George Zimmerman.

I agree that these were all important moments. But is Jones really suggesting that we grade President Obama on these situations alone? Is the presidency really limited to the "bully pulpit" on issues that are this important to the country? Only someone who is removed from the everyday lives of people of color and has limited themselves to media critiques would think so.

I've been over this before, but any real "race report card" on Obama's presidency would have to start with his overall work on things like access to affordable health care and college loans. It is true that these things were not billed as race initiatives. But given the disparities people of color experience every day, any attempt to broaden access has a profound impact.

More particularly, President Obama would receive high marks for the work his administration has done in the areas of combating police brutality, addressing what some have called the "civil rights issue of our time" - the achievement gap between blacks and whites in education, tackling the school-to-prison pipeline, and developing a drug policy for the 21st century. But the list goes on...passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, the Pigford Farmers settlement, prosecution of reverse red-lining, and historic agreements with Native American tribes.

Then there is the work still underway on issues like voting rights, immigration reform, universal pre-K, and increasing the minimum wage.

Now that we've identified some of the trees, lets fly back up and take a look at the forest by reminding ourselves of President Obama's long-term strategy on racism. He ultimately knows that - as my friend Robinswing pointed out so eloquently - racism is a white people's problem. Every day that President Obama and his beautiful family demonstrate their strength, determination and grace under fire is another blow to the fearmongering racists. If he did nothing else, he gets an "A" on his report card for that one.


  1. Thank you. Progressives including dear friends have too often decided "Obama's not progressive" on ONE issue the parameters of which they define. I am horrified when people - even people with experience - don't see the long process it takes to undo the forty years that systematically eroded democracy. It is not resolved in speeches, and that "bully pulpit" meme is not only tiresome but WRONG. No president ever moved anyone on that alone. It is long, hard work - and often not at all pretty. It is sometimes very transparent, sometimes utterly opaque, but it is seldom if ever fast. Van has gotten smitten with his own bully pulpit and fame - and I love the Ella Baker Center but not so much him. I am glad he is passionate - I wish he'd direct it far more effectively than simply criticizing the straw man he and he alone created.

  2. Van Jones, an egotistical idiot, let me count the ways! He never understood how far above his thinking PBO is. Van is in the Travis, Cornell club. Ignorance is the admittance fee. Please also note he is working for CNN-need I say more. There is no one progressive or otherwise, who can fairly examine the totality of the past 5 yrs-laws, Executive Orders, appointments, foreign initiatives, etc. etc. and arrive at any level of deficiency in the area of race. Without obstruction, he would have done A LOT more!
    It is tempting to excuse Van's limited abilities but there is an old saying: " A fool without a doubt is a fool, without a doubt."

    Van can only diminish himself with this kind of babble when anyone with 1/2 a brain knows the circumstances are quite different than what he describes. BTW, he is attempting to criticize the President of the United States, a Nobel Peace prize winner, constitutional law professor and a REAL community organizer!!
    I can easily feel sorry for Van as he sees how little he achieved vs. PBO!

  3. It seemed to me that long ago Van Jones stopped being a supporter of President Obama, and joined the ranks of those who criticize him at every turn. the "it's-never-enough" brigade.