Black empowerment in American … at last – or just last?

Julianne Malveaux | 5/20/2013, 10:59 a.m.

(NNPA) – When Beyonce Knowles sang the Etta James song At Last at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the song could have had several meanings. At last we have an African American president? At last, the muscle of the Black vote has been flexed? At last, there is some hope for our country to come together with the mantra “Yes, we can.”

Watching the president and first lady Michelle Obama slow dance to the romantic standard reminded us that African American families have not often been positively depicted. This attractive image of an intact Black family had come At Last. Thus, the song was symbolic of what many folks, and especially African Americans, believed about the Obama presidency.

Some of us blindly believed that with an African American president opportunity had come At Last. Some believed it so fervently that the least criticism of Obama, no matter how mild and how lovingly conveyed, could cause you to be run out of the race. An alumnus of Morehouse College, Rev. Kevin Johnson, the selected baccalaureate speaker at his alma mater, wrote an opinion piece that was mildly critical of Obama. As a result, the former director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs and new Morehouse President John S. Wilson Jr. changed the format of the baccalaureate to a panel, not one speaker, as is customary.

The purpose of a baccalaureate is to have one speaker to focus on the spiritual dimensions of graduation. There is no way that Johnson would deliver a political speech. Still, he was essentially disinvited from the baccalaureate because of his views.

Obama is the president of the United States of America, not the president of Black America, we are often reminded. Yet, it seems that African Americans have been kicked to the curb in terms of focus and attention. Other groups – the LGBT community, the Latino community – have been mentioned explicitly. However, on African American issues, our president has been silent.

Now, some African American people are crooning At Last. Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx has been nominated to serve as secretary of Transportation. If confirmed, Foxx, an outstanding and eminently qualified candidate, would join Attorney General Eric Holder as the second African American to serve in a regular cabinet post.

Similarly, the nomination of Congressman Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency is a step forward. FHFA regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and allows Watt the opportunity to implement some of the Obama initiatives on homeowner recovery from the Great Recession. The raging right has already come after Watt. The Daily Caller (a political blog) has reported an unsubstantiated claim by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader that the Congressman disrespected him in a letter. Nader has never produced the letter. Thus, the purpose of the claim is to besmirch FHFA nominee Watt.

If Watt is confirmed, this represents a step forward for both Obama and for African American people, and for the entire nation. The issue is, of course, confirmation. Will the White House be able to garner the votes Watt needs to be confirmed?