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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Barack Obama hands more senior jobs than ever before to 'sisterhood' of black women

Has President Barack Obama engineered a quiet racial revolution in Washington, giving more power to black women than at any point in American political history?

Well, according to Bill Shipman he has.

Valerie Jarrett - Barack Obama hands more senior jobs than ever before to 'sisterhood' of black women

Valarie Jarrett

Bill Shipman writes: While Mr Obama has played down the influence of race over his government and policies, Washington is abuzz that the president has handed control of domestic policy, all White House social events, environmental issues and food safety to African American women - seven senior government posts in all.

Known variously as The Sisterhood and Obama's Women, the group of seven accomplished and elegant women have drawn comparison with "Blair's Babes", the generation of female Labour MPs whose election in 1997 caused an historic shift in the composition of the House of Commons.

President Obama used his press conference last week to joke that interest in his own race lasted "about a day" after his election. But below the radar, Mr Obama has been quietly transforming the upper echelons of government.

Black woman only hold 192,000 of more than 1.7 million government jobs, making up about one in nine of the federal workforce, but Mr Obama has given them one fifth of the most senior jobs in government.

While media attention has focused on Michelle Obama, with her emergence as a fashion icon and cheerleader for her husband's policies, the First Lady's old Chicago boss, Valerie Jarrett, has emerged as one of her husband's three most influential advisers.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the African American who represents the District of Colombia as a non-voting member of Congress and was herself a pioneering head of Jimmy Carter's equal opportunities commission, told the Washington Post: "I'm not sure there's ever been a black woman who has enjoyed as much of the president's confidence as Valerie Jarrett. The Obama women are a sign of how far we've come. Black women have been preparing themselves for this day. They are more than ready."

Bush administration officials, who say the former president treated Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman to be secretary of state, like a sister, might dispute that claim. But White House insiders say that Ms Jarrett speaks for the president with greater authority than all but his strategist, David Axelrod, and chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Mr Emanuel's deputy is Mona Sutphen, the first black woman ever to hold the title. She has already made her mark by engineering a softening of restrictions on travel to Cuba. With Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, women have a lock on Mr Obama's foreign policy and Susan Rice, his African American campaign adviser, holds the other high profile post, Ambassador to the United Nations.

The most powerful figure in the domestic arena after Ms Jarrett is Melody Barnes, the head of Mr Obama's Domestic Policy Council, who oversaw the $787 billion economic stimulus package and will now play a key role in overhauling US healthcare and education policy.

The impact of such high profile appointments has raised hopes that more positive images of black women will become prevalent in the media. The award winning black journalist Allison Samuels wrote: "The prevailing theory seems to be that we're all hot-tempered single mothers who can't keep a man and those of us who aren't street-walking crack addicts are on the verge of dying from Aids.

"My 'sistafriends' are mostly college educated, in healthy, productive relationships and have a major aversion to sassy one-liners. Little is known about who we are, what we think and what we face on a regular basis." She says the new cadre of black women, led by Michelle Obama, "will become a stand-in for us all".

The changing image of America's first family is also in the hands of the sisterhood, in the form of Desiree Rogers, who has long been a member of the Obama inner circle.

Once married to John Rogers, a friend of Mr Obama and a Princeton basketball teammate of Mrs Obama's brother Craig Robinson, she is now the first black woman to become White House social secretary. Ms Rogers organised the series of receptions, cocktail parties and the Superbowl gathering Mr Obama used to throw the doors of the world's most famous residence open to Republican rivals and ordinary members of the public.

Her responsibilities include organising activities for the first daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama.

It is not just the Obamas who have benefited from her party organising prowess. She also hosted Ms Jarrett's birthday bash last November.

Cheryl Contee of the Jack and Jill Politics website, which bills itself as "a black bourgeoisie perspective on U.S. politics" says: "Rogers is as brainy as she is beautiful and the social scene in DC is obviously about to change. If there's one thing you can't say about Barack Obama, when you add up Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Barnes and Rogers, you can't say he's afraid of a strong black woman." More HERE

AAPP says: When I read this article, I said, "Go ahead Obama," then I pondered, "so what if he hires a lot of black women into his administration, will it help the black family in America? Will it help black women in America, or will it just employ a few black women in Washington who probably don't give a damn about black women struggling to make ends meet." Will they address poverty in America, which seems to be an un-spoken word in the Barack Obama administration? As Black Men struggling to finish at black colleges, I'm reminded of the words of the words of Nathan and Julia Hare and the endangered black family, when they wrote:

"Quite often the black woman is affluent, with two cars and a condominium but without a man who can satisfy, while the brother is broke with too many women. When we let the revolutionary initiative slip through out fingers after the Sixties, the brother got lost in the cracks. You used to could go through the black community and see a lot of working men and a lot of pretty women. Now you see a lot of working women and a lot of pretty men..”

-- Nathan and Julia Hare, The Endangered Black Family

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