An April 11 Boston Globe article bearing the headline "Obama's silence on Imus alarms some blacks" purported to present prominent African-Americans "alarm[ed]" by Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) "silence" regarding nationally syndicated radio host Don Imus' April 4 remark referring to members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" -- though, as the Globe noted, Obama did issue a statement on April 9. But of the "black activists" cited in the article, only one -- Princeton University professor Melissa Harris Lacewell -- singled out Obama for criticism over his response to the Imus matter.
On his Drudge Report website, Internet gossip Matt Drudge linked to the Globe article on April 11 under the headline: "Boston Globe: Obama's Silence on Imus Issue Sets Off Alarm ..."
In the article, Lacewell was quoted criticizing Obama for "his unwillingness to touch" the Imus controversy. The other sources quoted in the article either did not criticize Obama for his response to Imus or said that all the 2008 presidential candidates -- not just Obama -- have a responsibility to "speak up more forcefully about Imus."
According to the Globe:
With the Rev. Al Sharpton leading calls Monday for radio host Don Imus to be fired over racially insensitive remarks, Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign avoided the controversy throughout the day.
Not until Monday evening, five days after Imus's comments were uttered and hours after CBS Radio and MSNBC announced a two-week suspension for the radio host, did Obama weigh in, saying in a statement: "The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful, and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds." Obama did not address whether he thought Imus should be taken off the air.
The episode is the first test of how Obama -- who is of mixed-race background -- is handling the contentious issue of race in his presidential campaign. Even as polls have shown other Democrats attracting a large share of the black vote, Obama has steered clear of the kind of activism symbolized by Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who were both highly visible in the Imus episode but whose aggressiveness on race issues has alienated some white voters in the past.
But with Obama battling other Democrats -- most notably Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York -- for the support of black voters, the candidate's reticence on the Imus issue set off alarms yesterday among some black activists who are anxious to see him more forcefully push for racial justice.
Melissa Harris Lacewell, a professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, said Obama missed an opportunity to prove himself to blacks and white liberals who would have wanted Obama take the lead in denouncing Imus.
"This was so easy, and his unwillingness to touch it tells me this is going to be his third rail, and race never goes away in politics," Harris Lacewell said. "Black people want to love Barack. They're doing everything they can to love Barack. We want to believe that Barack is better than this. But they will turn on him."
While suggesting that Obama might be subject to different expectations in the Imus matter, the other two African-American academics quoted in the article did not endorse a different standard nor single him out for criticism. Ron Walters, University of Maryland professor and former aide to Rainbow/PUSH Coalition founder Jesse Jackson, said:
"There are people that are just waiting for him to jump out there in the crosshairs and be a race leader," Walters said. If Obama spoke out, "that would put him in a different role: a race leader. And that would pull back the covers for those who don't see race when they look at Barack Obama."
University of Pennsylvania professor and author Michael Eric Dyson said that all of the candidates have a responsibility to speak out, while suggesting that Obama might be more susceptible to angering "the black majority." Specifically, according to the Globe, Dyson "said he supports Obama's campaign but questions why he did not speak up more forcefully about Imus. He added that the other presidential candidates had the same responsibility." The Globe further quoted Dyson:
"Here's the point: Paying attention to the issues of race is an American concern," he said. "It looks as if he's [Obama] being so careful and cautious not to ruffle the feathers of the mainstream that he may inadvertently raise the hackles of the black majority."
In addition, the Globe quoted Democratic consultant Joyce Ferriabough:
In a closely watched speech last month in Selma, Ala., Obama declared that he was part of the "Joshua generation" -- likening himself to the Biblical successor to Moses who led the Jewish people into the promised land -- and thus located himself in the post-liberation generation.
While acknowledging debts to civil rights pioneers, Obama has made clear that he represents a different kind of politics, rooted deeply in coalition-building, not anger and outrage.
"He's cut from a different cloth, and that doesn't make him less black," said Joyce Ferriabough, a Boston-based Democratic consultant who is African-American. "His way of doing things is a lot more measured, less fiery, but that doesn't make him less effective. He needs to be the candidate of the people, and the people aren't just black."
Ferriabough, the Democratic consultant, said Obama's campaign is tied to the candidate's personal energy and charisma, rather than those who are declaring their support for him.
"Endorsements won't make or break this candidate," said Ferriabough, who said she has not committed to supporting any candidate but is leaning toward Obama.
"Obama doesn't need to go on the soapbox," Ferriabough said. "Others are doing it, led by Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He's nipping at Hillary, so he's playing for real."
The Globe quoted Rev. Al Sharpton criticizing Obama, but the quote was from a Washington Times article published last month before the Imus controversy.
In an April 11 interview, Obama "called for the firing" of Imus and said he would never again appear on his show, according to an ABCNews.com report.