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After President Barack Obama was sworn in, the policy organization Institute of the Black World 21st Century celebrated—and then got straight to the work of holding him accountable. In January the group formed the Shirley Chisholm Presidential Accountability Commission, an 11-member body charged with critically analyzing the initiatives of the Obama administration and how they affect the African-American community. ESSENCE.com talked to the commission’s co-chair, economist and president of Bennett College for Women, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, about her grade for President Obama, the dangers of “drinking the Kool-Aid,” and speaking truth to power.
ESSENCE.COM: In your opinion as an economist, how has President Obama handled the economy?
MALVEAUX: If I look at the economy overall, I would give President Obama an incomplete. He inherited a situation, and it’s been very difficult for him to get his hands around any number of things. But in terms of job creation, I would give him a failing grade. The national unemployment rate is 9.8 percent, and it’s really 17 percent if you look at a whole category of people who are not being considered, such as those who are working part-time but want full-time work. For Black people the unemployment rate is 16.8 percent, but if we do the same kind of extrapolation on that statistic, you’re actually getting up to 28 percent. That’s frightening.
ESSENCE.COM: Some people may see this commission as bashing the President, though, given that he already receives so much criticism.
MALVEAUX: I don’t see how having a candid conversation about results could be considered bashing the President unless we’ve decided that we refuse to be loving critics. I say loving…but also critics. I would be flabbergasted if anyone considered this bashing the President. Although I know there are some people who have drank the Kool-Aid.
ESSENCE.COM: Well, yes, some people in our community do have an emotional response to criticism of the President. A sentiment I hear a lot is that we should give him enough time and be more patient.
MALVEAUX: If we decide that patience is the only answer we have, then we have abdicated our ability to generate constructive results for our community. I mean, the President took $85 million away from historically Black colleges. Am I supposed to be quiet about that when it cost my college about $600,000—money that I’m going to have to go out and raise? When we look at the unemployment situation, are we supposed to be quiet about that? I’m always reminded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when A. Philip Randolph and some others were concerned that jobs were not going to African-Americans, and they pressed him to do better. He turned around and said, “Make me.” He had other people around him who didn’t want him to do it, so he said, “Raise enough hell and make enough of a point, so I feel I have no choice but to do it.” I think the same is true with President Obama. He’s our brother, and he gets it, but we’re not his only constituency. He’s not the President of Black America. We have to make him do right. He’s not going to do right just ‘cause. We’ve got to make him.