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.