All Articles Tagged "first black president"
Breaking Academic Barriers: Ruth J. Simmons Is The First African-American President Of An Ivy League College
Ruth J. Simmons achieved two major firsts. She was the first woman—and first black person—to become president of an Ivy League college. In 2001, this great-granddaughter of slaves was sworn in as the 18th president of Brown University. At the time she also held an appointment as professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of Africana Studies. Prior to this she was president of Smith College from 1995 until the time of her appointment at Brown.
Simmons was born in Texas in 1945 and graduated from the HBCU Dillard University in New Orleans in 1967. She received her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1973.
According to PBS, in 1983, after serving as associate dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California, Simmons joined the Princeton University administration, where she remained for seven years. In 1990 she served as provost at Spelman College for two years. But she returned to Princeton in 1992 as vice provost, she remained at the university until 1995. In 1995 she became president of Smith College, the largest women’s college in the United States. At Smith she inaugurated the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college.
Simmons served on a number of boards, including the Dillard University’s Board of Trustees, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Texas Instruments.
Even the government tapped her expertise. She was appointed by President Obama as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
Simmons, herself, is the recipient of a number of prizes and fellowships, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France. She was selected as a Newsweek “Person to Watch” and as a Ms. Woman of the Year in 2002. In 2001 Time magazine named her America’s best college president, and in 2007 she was named one of U. S. News & World Report’s top U.S. leaders and – for the second time – a Glamour magazine Woman of the Year.
During her tenure at Brown University, Simmons created an ambitious set of initiatives which led to a major investment of new resources in Brown’s educational mission and a successful $1.6 billion campaign, reports PBS.
She stepped down from her position at Brown in 2012.
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People usually ask that question saying why won’t X let Y or Z be great. But in the case of Barack Obama, it’s been made painfully clear why Republicans and Tea Party members in particular won’t let him be great, it’s because he’s black. That’s why I find it so interesting that despite all the hell he goes through as what most agree he is, the first black president of the United States, for some reason a strong segment of the black population won’t let him be black.
The latest forerunner in the case against Barack Obama’s blackness is actor Morgan Freeman. I imagine eyes rolled instantly at the mention of his name, along with a follow-up question of who cares? Unfortunately we care because Mr. Freeman denounced Barack Obama’s blackness openly in an interview with NPR today. Truthfully, I’m not even sure how the topic came up amongst discussion of his new movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, but nevertheless he let his thoughts on Barack Hussein Obama be known, saying:
“First thing that always pops into my head regarding our president is that all of the people who are setting up this barrier for him … they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white — very white American, Kansas, middle of America,” Freeman said. “There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America’s first black president hasn’t arisen yet. He’s not America’s first black president — he’s America’s first mixed-race president.”
Really, Morgan? That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the leader of our nation? It appears he’s as color struck as the republicans he calls out in his next statement.
“He is being purposely, purposely thwarted by the Republican Party, who started out at the beginning of his tenure by saying, ‘We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure that he’s only going to serve one term,’ ” he said. “That means they will not cooperate with him on anything. So to say he’s ineffective is a misappropriation of the facts.”
At least he got that point right. Maybe Morgan thinks that if white people acknowledged the half of the president that is just like them he wouldn’t be so stonewalled, but with the last part of that statement I get the impression that Morgan is more so distancing himself from the president because of his multi-ethnicity rather than trying to point out what makes him a lot like the rest of America.
It continues to amaze me how the black community gets so upset when someone who is mixed identifies as such, as they criticize them for assumedly not wanting to really be black. But in the same token we separate these individuals from the real black people by pointing out their multi-ethnic background when they just want to be black. What purpose does this serve? Not a worthwhile one I can tell you that. I suppose we don’t have to subscribe to the one-drop rule that threw most of us in the colored pool way back when to begin with but if someone wants to identify as black, who is at least 50 percent black, and who is in a position of influence in this country, why are we trying to take that away from him? And again, for what reason?
We don’t just play this one day you’re black, the next you’re not game with President Obama when it comes to his genetic background we also label him as one or the other depending on his behavior and his policies. How many times have we heard people—black and white—mask their desire for a real black president as a joke, pointing out his mild mannerisms and timidness and how he’s actually willing to compromise, as any politician who wants to actually achieve things should, as evidence he’s not a real black man? Is there any wonder fools on the other side of the spectrum are going overboard with their machismo to prove they’re real black men? You know, having babies in every area code, disrespecting women, effing the police, and all that good stuff? I get Morgan’s point about Barack clearly being biracial but do we really want to start, or better yet continue, this trend of one-upping one’s blackness and segmenting another’s? If we go by this definition we’ll probably never have a black president because we’re all quite racially and ethnically mixed and that reality is increasing by the day.
We can all look at Barack Obama and see that he is clearly being treated like a black man, and he obviously identifies as such. We don’t need messages like this coming from the same group of people who gets angered by being thrown into one heap of people in society known as minorities. If we start singling out biracial people as something else altogether, our numbers will be way below the 12 to 13 percent of the population we currently make up today. If we think we’re the forgotten ones now, imagine what that new reality would look like.
I know some people are frustrated that President Obama hasn’t been more down for the team so to speak when it comes to the African American community, but I’m 99 percent sure that has nothing to do with the fact that his mom is white, and everything to do with him being in a position to look out for the country as a whole and also seeing that there is no quick policy switch he can hit that will suddenly make black people alright in the world. Can you imagine the type of backlash that would have arisen had Barack Obama stated in 2008 that he was biracial and not a black man? Black folks would have been rushing out in droves to take their votes back. Unfortunately, now some seem to have done the same with their votes of confidence, disappointed that Barack Obama hasn’t lived up to their definition of what a real black man is, proving once again that we’re often our own worst enemies.
What do you think about Morgan Freeman’s comment?
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Some images just capture a moment so well that they eventually become iconized. No doubt, Jacob Philadelphia, the young boy in the photo above, will look back fondly at his history making moment. The then-five-year-old Philadelphia had no idea that he was creating a historic photo opportunity when he patted President Barack Obama’s hair in 2009, but he did. The now 8-year-old boy had come to The White House with his father, a departing member of the White House Staff and National Security Council, and was curious about the President’s hair.
The New York Times reports:
“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.
Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.
“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.
As Jacob patted the presidential crown, … [White House photographer Pete] Souza snapped.
“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.
“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.
White House photographer Pete Souza knew he had captured something special but had no idea just how much the photo would resonate with people.
“That one became an instant favorite of the staff. I think people are struck by the fact that the president of the United States was willing to bend down and let a little boy feel his head,” he told The New York Times. Obama’s advisor David Axelrod has a signed copy framed in his office. As of today, this New York Times story is the top story of the day, attesting to the sentiments and emotions and statements conveyed by this simple photo of the first Black President bowing to a young boy who looks like he could be his own son.
In a very subtle way, the photograph touches on what Obama has avoided in his role as President: race. As the reporter of this article Jackie Calmes asserts: “The photo is tangible evidence of what polls also show: Mr. Obama remains a potent symbol for blacks, with a deep reservoir of support. As skittish as White House aides often are in discussing race, they also clearly revel in the power of their boss’s example.”
The father of the now 8-year-old boy also reinforces that sentiment, telling The Times that “It’s important for black children to see a black man as president. You can believe that any position is possible to achieve if you see a black person in it.”
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I’m going to cut right to the chase and pose this question straight up: Would African-American support for President Barack Obama be the same if Michelle Obama were a white woman? Oh Snap! No she didn’t just go there? Oh, yes I did.
I am a firm believer that we must be upfront about race relations in this country instead of acting like it isn’t worthy of discussion. Folks think about and act on their prejudices every single day, so there should be no reason why we don’t talk openly and honestly about race.
With that disclaimer, last week, the blogosphere had its attention on an excerpt from a new biography about the President called, “Barack Obama: The Story,” by David Maraniss. The excerpt from the yet to be released book focuses on the relationship the President had with Genevieve Cook, a 25-year-old Australian-born (white) Park Slope elementary school teacher, whom he met will living in New York City. Through observations from her diary, we learn that they first met at an east village Christmas gathering and he wooed her back to his apartment with promises of grub. They small talked on an orange bean bag chair before moving the conversation to the bedroom.
They were together for a while, at one point living together. Yet almost immediately Cook said that she began to notice that while the “sexual warmth” was definitely present, Obama, at many times, was also distance and wary in their relationship. On time, he confessed to Genevieve his ideal image of the perfect woman, which he described at as strong, upright and a fighter, “a black woman I keep seeing her as,” she said.
Overall, I thought the piece interesting in that we get to see a more intimate side of a young Obama, which by most accounts is considered to be calm, deliberate and hard to read by most in the press. But besides the tawdry stuff about his relationship with this particular woman, we also get to see a black man of mixed backgrounds trying to find his place in both culture and society. The reference to him carrying around and rereading a tattered copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a story all about black identity, I found very endearing.
Of course, not everyone felt that way. A few friends of mine on Facebook questioned the timing of the release of the excerpt and its overall agenda. Some thought that some of the passages in the book, particularly finding out about his prior relationships with white women, would further question Obama’s blackness and drill down the narrative that Obama doesn’t really have a connection to the black community. I brushed it off until I began reading similar sentiments expressed in the comment section, mostly on black sites, which too covered this story. Comments such as:
“Couldn’t make it past the second page of this rubbish. Do better, GOP! “
“Well from what I was told president o was a virgin before he met his Mrs. right and on top of that I also recall hearing that Mrs. O was his only girlfriend *shrugs*”
On election day 2008, America was handed a triumphant symbolic victory, albeit unfulfilled. To most of us, President-elect Obama was a largely ambiguous character onto whom many of us had attached our own psychological yearnings and contemplations.
The truth is, as always, revealed in the fullness of time. Much of the disparate patchwork that weaved together Obama’s life story, the stuff that gave birth to his psychological outlook, was available to us before election ’08. What was not available, however, was any informed analysis of how Obama’s experiences would translate once Obama stopped campaigning and began actually governing.
Gawker is now reporting that the Times is preparing a story arguing that President Obama is depressed. According to a Gawker article published September 12th, “Obama no longer finds joy in the political back-and-forth” and “has seemed increasingly listless to associates.” It goes without saying that an article on the state of Obama’s mental health is purely speculative since, without a report – or prescription- from the Presidential doctor, there’s no way of accurately discerning the President’s mental fitness. But murmurings on whether Obama requires Zoloft or Wellbutrin does add another layer of context to the debate about what it means to be the first black President and the expectations that title carries.
Arguably, the job of President carries with it a level of stress exponentially higher than any other job on the planet. Add to this the fact that Obama was elected the first black President in the midst of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, and the stakes are that much higher.
Was Obama ready? Obama detractors have made the case that Obama’s thin resume should have clued us all in to the potential pitfalls of an Obama presidency, both legislatively and psychologically. Obama has never played a politically high stakes game. He’s never been CEO or governor. This explains why Obama ushered in former President Bill Clinton to effectively sit in for him during the 2010 tax deal and why he turned the BP disaster clean up over to the very scoundrels who caused it. This, I understand.
What many don’t understand, the question that has largely gone unanswered, is why liberals believed it unthinkable during the ’08 campaign that 1) if elected, Obama would be in over his head and 2) a President failing on such a global scale would endure some psychological trauma?
Simple. African Americans and liberals seem to have assumed that being black – thus sharing similar cultural experiences – would gives rise to certain cultural commonalities.The expectation was that by Obama being black, he had a unique historical narrative that would, at least in part, inform his psychological and political outlook. That being black was about more than hair texture or melanin, but a shared history, the outgrowth of which was at least some shared qualities.
And we thought that Obama would be secure enough in his outlook to steady himself psychologically. We thought that Obama was gearing up for a beautiful and principled struggle that our ancestors had been vigorously engaged in since before the American Revolution.
What we forgot is that even shared histories often translate differently.
President Obama’s non-verbal communication during the campaign – the intentional verbiage of Malcolm and the cadence of Martin – resonated with our ideas of the archetypically strong and principled black man. But there are other much more dysfunctional archetypes as well, such as the magic black man, the cowering black man, the Sambo black man, the pleaser black man, and the half grown (also known as the thug) black man.
This is not to say that all (or any) black men fit within these constructs. They don’t. And it would be racist to imply that they did. It would be just as shortsighted, though, to insist that President Obama isn’t subject to psychological frailty because he projects the strong black male archetype. If we’ve learned anything over the past three years, it’s that we don’t know Obama at all. We don’t know with any degree of certainty how he feels about being the first black President or how he’s responding to that challenge psychologically.
His experiences, his self-proclaimed blackness, are not translating in the way that many of us anticipated. We should double down on that. President Obama may not be lost to himself. He may very well be sure footed psychologically and the reports of his supposed depression are probably overblown. But where he’s lost, and where we’ve lost him, is in the translation. We don’t get him. And by all indications, he doesn’t get us either. If he is, in fact, depressed, then he’s not alone.
Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill Staffer turned political blogger. She currently publishes two blogs, Spatterblog.com and BreakingBrown.com.
By Brittany Hutson and R. Asmerom
It’s certainly been a whirlwind decade for the Black community to say the least. We’ve witnessed history making moments, events that brought to light the struggles that still plague our community, devastating natural disasters, and moments that caused us to scratch our head, raise an eyebrow and think ‘what the…?’ Take a stroll down memory lane with us as we recap some of those moments:
One of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the U.S., Katrina caused devastation when it hit the Gulf Coast states (from Florida to Texas) in August 2005. New Orleans bore the brunt of the devastation as the category 3 storm with maximum winds near 125 mph caused the levies to break and flood nearly 80% of the city. The nation was in utter shock as images filtered across television screens, on websites and in publications of residents stranded on the roof of flooded homes, or in boats, waiting for help without water or food.
Katrina caused the deaths of at least 1,836 people and caused immense damage—early estimates of total property damage were $81 billion. Over one million people were displaced and sought solace in cities such as Houston, TX, Mobile, Ala, Baton Rouge, La, and Chicago. Federal, state and local governments were criticized for their mismanagement and delayed response to the storm.
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Is he “The One,” as Oprah Winfrey once exclaimed with a sense of awe? Is he the secular messiah that has come to save the mighty American empire from crumbling into pebbles of shameful despair? Or, is he, as some right-wing extremists have condescendingly declared, “The Magic Negro,” who has come to wave his wand to cure all of America’s ills left over from the previous eight years? Who exactly is Barack Obama? He is the 44th President of the United States who has been given the responsibility via the expressed powers of the Constitution to be the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, to ensure that U.S. laws are properly carried out, to make treaties with foreign nations, to appoint ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet members, to veto certain legislation, when necessary, etc.
Is President Obama God? Obviously the answer to this extraordinarily extreme question is, “No!” But, one has to wonder whether certain individuals believe that President Obama, as well as former presidents, should fulfill the role of the sovereign, majestic, and mighty Creator. With nearly 200 accomplishments in two years, comments such as, “I’m tired of defending him” and “He should have reversed all of our problems by now” bespeak of this unattainable belief that President Obama or any other president can simply snap his fingers to fix the economy and other enormous issues that evolved years prior to his presidency. The President is one of many people involved in running the White House and passing beneficial public policies. We, as American citizens, should play a vital role in helping the President and ensuring that the country moves forward with value-adding policies through effective political engagement. The following principles should help individuals to successfully engage in politics upon implementation:
1. Don’t elevate a politician to divine status. Exclusive of your political affiliation, it is imperative that you view politicians for what they really are- that is, men and women who have been appointed, elected or selected by some other means to create secular, public policies that theoretically should benefit the general welfare of the public at large. These men and women are not messianic in nature. They are not here to save souls, to heal the brokenhearted or to set captives free. It is extremely difficult to effectively engage in fruitful political discussion and value-adding politics, when one believes that a mere man or woman has somehow been endowed to single-handedly and supernaturally change economic, cultural and societal ills.
by Duane Brayboy
Some years ago in the land of George W. Bush, the argument about the high Black unemployment rate was being made over and over again by Bush’s Black critics. At one point, Bush’s approval rating had fallen to a historic 2% low back in 2005 according to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. His low approval rating was also based on the fact that just a month before that poll, Hurricane Katrina had hit the Gulf area and many Blacks felt that Bush did not respond quickly enough. Even when the Black unemployment rate fell from 10.8 percent just a few years after to 8.3%; the question “Does Bush care about Black people” still had a lot of currency.
Now fast forward to today and we will find that the unemployment situation in this country has gone from bad to worse. At the time of this writing, the Black unemployment rate has now reached a staggering 15.4%.
There are those that would argue that Obama is completely blameless when it comes to the economy and that he simply inherited a bad situation from the prior administration. While there is plenty truth to that suggestion, I believe Obama took complete ownership with his trillion dollar crap shoot starting with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Obama went from promising to “save or create” (whatever that means) millions of jobs to only hundreds of thousands.
While some national Black organizations have taken Obama to task with his stated commitment to job creation; in poll after poll Blacks still give him astronomical approval ratings in excess of 97%. Mind you, on the same issue, Bush was thrown to the dogs when the unemployment rate was better than it is today.
According to the latest CNN poll, 9 out of 10 Blacks think that Obama is doing a great job.
What is it? What is this hesitancy to simply tell the truth? While some commentators have suggested that Blacks are simply being patient with Obama due to the fact that he “inherited” this mess, I tend to disagree. You mean to tell me that all the examples of poor Blacks who were at their wits end financially under Bush, are now suddenly willing to be patient under Obama?
When the war in the Middle East was “Bush’s war”, many Blacks throughout the blogosphere did not hold back in posting pictures of crying Black soldiers who were supposedly forced to fight in a senseless war. We were also told that Black soldiers were dying at a much higher rate than White soldiers.
A shower of consciousness regarding fiscal responsibility was also widely seen throughout our blogs as many posted up counters showing the out of control spending that was taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has clearly outspent Bush domestically, and is in a horse race to beat Bush’s spending record in the Middle East. Yet according to polling data, Obama is simply terrific for besting Bush’s failures.
Clearly there is a pact in the Black community to give Obama our thumbs up no matter what. What we don’t realize is this pact to not hold Obama to the standards he set for himself is worse than any damage from a racist sign from the Tea Party movement. Why? Because we prove that we hold past Presidents to a much higher standard than our nation’s first Black President. By withholding the truth, we tell future generations that Obama was simply good enough but not really prepared to fully take on the pressures to be President.
It’s time we break this pact and simply start telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us God!
Duane Brayboy is the founder and editor of Blackinformant.com.