Can We Talk Now?

President Obama has many to thank for his reelection victory. None are more deserving of his gratitude and attention than the 93 percent of African-Americans who voted for him.

For the past four years, the president has been free to address issues of interest to women, gays, Latinos, Asians, Jewish-Americans and others. When it came time to talk about the issues afflicting our community -- disproportionately high unemployment; racist drug laws and their discriminatory enforcement; disproportionately high imprisonment rates and sentences that are clearly discriminatory; inadequate access to health care and health insurance; and the prevalence of AIDS that is higher in the nation's capital than in parts of Africa -- we were told to be patient, to wait, to "cut the president some slack."

Most of us understood this call for silence. President Obama may be black, but he couldn't talk about issues that are vital to our survival without scaring the white folks -- the same ones who were calling him illegitimate, a liar, a Muslim, an anti-Semite, an anti-colonial Kenyan, and doing everything in their power to denigrate and discredit him. The Klan's hoods may be gone, but the haters are still with us, still demanding that we be silent, that we stand at the back of the bus or under it.

For much of our lives, we've been told to remain quiet and to wait. Wait for a Civil War to unshackle our chains. Wait for the Supreme Court to declare us full human beings. Wait for a Civil Rights Movement to gain access to public facilities. Wait until America's first black president could be liberated by a second term of office.

While we have waited, millions of black people have slipped further into poverty and desperation. More Trayvon Martins have been murdered. More unarmed black men have been shot by police. More barriers have been conceived to deny blacks and other minorities the right to vote. More programs designed to relieve the burdens imposed by racist policies are being dismantled for being "obsolete" and unnecessary.

It is time to break our code of silence and ask that President Obama listen to the voices and needs of those who have been most loyal to him and to the democratic ideals of this nation. If we cannot speak now, then when? If he will not listen now, then why? If he does not act now, then what?