Annette John-Hall: Call for minority unity draws flak

Radio host Tom Joyner issueda call to back the president.
Radio host Tom Joyner issueda call to back the president.
Posted: October 21, 2011

Oh-oh-oh, Tom Joyner. You have gone and done it now.

If you want to raise the ire of white voters, all you have to do is tell your eight million African American listeners that they need to reelect President Obama because he's black.

And that's exactly what Joyner did.

The influential "fly jock" and creator of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a syndicated radio mix of R&B, news, comedy, and commentary, stirred up a tempest in a tea party with his recent blog post on his Blackamerica.com website.

Urging his overwhelmingly black listenership to "stick together," he wrote: "Let's not even deal with facts right now. Let's deal with our blackness and pride - and loyalty. We have a chance to reelect the first African American president. ... And I'm not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he's a black man."

Cue hand-wringing here.

One white columnist wrote that Joyner's call for racial solidarity is "a terrible idea." Given that the president was "elected on a promise of unity," any of his supporters "who play that [race] hand will be doing a disservice to themselves and to the nation," she argued.

Hmm. Seems to me that the real disservice is all those obstructionists who aren't putting country first.

Remember Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's now-infamous quote: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

If that's what he means by unity, I wonder how he defines dissension?

I'll admit I don't have a problem with the gist of Joyner's statement, but I do take issue with how he framed it.

Let's not put away the facts, fly jock, let's look at them. Thanks to Obama, we've taken out terrorist tyrants. Financial tyrants, too, like the banks that ripped us off with the outrageous debit- and credit-card fees they called "service." And thank God we now have better access to quality health care if we happen to get sick without having a job or have a preexisting condition. And let's see - American auto companies are still rolling, too.

Has the president fallen short? Sure he has. I'd like to hear him at least acknowledge the plight of the poor and end two endless wars once and for all, among other things.

But for a guy whose bar of expectation is not only set as high as heaven but whose efforts are blocked at every turn, he's done the best he can with what little he's got to work with.

No post-racial nirvana

Is this call to blackness that Joyner espouses some kind of diabolical plot, some secret code intended to erase the post-racial nirvana some think we achieved with the election of a black president?

I could almost see Jason Johnson, professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio, rolling his eyes.

"Identity politics is only a problem when minorities do it. Whites do it all the time," Johnson argues.

"It's absolutely naive to question the unified behavior of a minority group, given the fact that [historically] the majority has always been unified in their oppression."

He's got a point there. I guess there's a reason it took us so long to get to our first black president.

Truth is, black voters are more politically sophisticated than they're given credit for. If we were all in such racial lockstep, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have gotten a lot more traction during their presidential runs, we'd be singing the praises of Clarence Thomas, and Herman Cain wouldn't be such an afterthought.

Like any constituency, African Americans vote for politicians who advocate policies that are beneficial to their needs.

Simply propping up a candidate like Cain is not enough. "Republicans think they can win by putting up a black person. Meanwhile, they don't put up one policy that appeals specifically to African Americans," Johnson says.

Joyner understands that in order for the president to win reelection, black voters must turn out in record numbers like they did in 2008. After all, it was African American women who put Obama over the top in Virginia and North Carolina.

And the No. 1 demographic who listens to the Tom Joyner Morning Show? Black women.

There's a certain beauty in that.


Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Annettejh.

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