Cornel West's Telepathy

Jesse Washington has a new piece exploring the uneven impact of the recession on the black middle class, with some really startling information on just how profoundly black homeowners have been impacted, noting that, “In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents.” That's in part because black people were disproportionately likely to have their wealth tied up in their homes, and so were particularly devastated by the foreclosure crisis.

Nearly 8 percent of African Americans who bought homes from 2005 to 2008 have lost them to foreclosure, compared with 4.5 percent of whites, according to an estimate by the Center for Responsible Lending.

So far, so miserable. So who does Washington look to for a possible explanation for why the president has failed to provide adequate support to black folks losing their homes and jobs? Why, Cornel West:

“I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone,” Princeton Professor Cornel West told truthdig.com recently.

West said Obama sold out the poor to become “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. . . . I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama.”

This is just a comically poor explanation, and not just because it relies on West having telepathy. It's very clear that the administration's Home Affordable Modification Program has helped stem losses for banks by keeping homeowners from walking away even as they begin to owe more money on them than they're worth. That's in part because Republicans in Congress helped defeat the proposed "cramdown" provision, which would have allowed judges to alter the terms of mortgages. You could argue that the administration failed to fight hard enough for the provision itself, and that this represents Obama becoming "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs," but that's a little glib given Congress' involvement in defeating a key part of the administration's original proposal. 

Of course, West's original critique didn't contain so much as a whiff of a substantive policy critique--acting as Afro-Pope, he merely excommunicated the president from blackness, someone who is "culturally white" and therefore possesses a "fear of free black men." West's intellectual laziness is one thing, but it's odd to watch a reporter outsource an explanation for the disparate impact of the financial crisis on the black community (particularly when it comes to housing) and the administration's failure to address it to speculation about how the president feels about being black when a really simple, widely known and not particularly technical explanation is available. Washington might even address the administration's slide toward Hooverism, but why bother with policy or politics when you can just imply the president is a self-hating Uncle Tom?

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