In an interview billed as “The President Answers Black America,” President Obama defended his record against recent criticisms from African-American leaders that he has done too little to help the black community in these tough economic times.
“There have been a handful of African-American leaders who have been critical,” Obama told BET News. “They were critical when I was running for president. There’s always going to be somebody who is critical of the president of the United States. That’s my job.
“Particularly, when the economy is going as badly, as it is right now, people are going to have concerns. And they should,” he added.
The interview aired Monday as the president came under fire for telling the Congressional Black Caucus that they should “stop complaining.”
Speaking at its annual gala Saturday, the president told the CBC that he understands the frustration with high black unemployment, but urged the group not to lose hope. “Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do,” an impassioned Obama said.
In response, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said she found the president’s language “a bit curious.”
“The president spoke to the Hispanic Caucus … he certainly didn’t tell them to stop complaining and he never would say that to the gay and lesbian community, who really pushed him on ‘don’t, ask don’t tell’ … he would never say to the Jewish community stop complaining about Israel,” Waters said.
While the national unemployment rate hovers slightly above 9 percent, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 16.7 percent.
Asked why Obama’s economic policies do not include provisions targeted specifically to African-Americans, the president made clear “that’s not how American works.”
“America works when all of us are pulling together and everybody is focused on making sure that every single person has opportunity,” he said. “And so when we put forward a program like, for example, the health care bill, our focus is people who don’t have health care. Now it turns out that the majority of folks who don’t have health care are also working families, and are disproportionately African-American and Latino, but that doesn’t mean that it’s only for them. There are a whole bunch of folks all across the country who need help. And we are going to help every single person who needs help.”