Three young African-American protestors, and two white women, interrupted Barack Obama at an economic town hall in Florida on Friday, accusing the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee of neglecting the Black community.
The protestors - who held a sign reading "What About the Black Community, Obama?" - said the Illinois senator had not been active enough on issues of interest to African-Americans, ranging from the impact of subprime mortgages to the shooting of Sean Bell and the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Obama urged the audience — which began to boo the hecklers - to calm down, before addressing one of the men directly. "I think you're misinformed. Everything you mentioned I did speak about," he said, listing legislative initiatives and statements on those issues as the men continued to shout at him and the crowd began to chant "Yes, We Can," the Obama campaign's cheer.
"On each issue I've spoken out. I may not have spoken out the way you wanted me to speak out - I understand, but ... hold on a second," said Obama. "What I'm saying is, what I'm suggesting is on each of these issues I've spoken out... .The one thing I think is important is that we're respecting each other and the way we'll solve our problems ... is if all of us come together, black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American."
The controversy was a stark reminder of the misgivings some Black people and their anti-racist allies have about Obama. Critics of the Democratic Party's presidential candidate famously include his former Pastor Jeremiah Wright. Godfather of Black American politics Jesse Jackson graphically gave voice to the concerns when, in an unguarded moment, he said Obama should stop talking down to Black people.
This followed the Democratic presidential candidate's sermon to Black fathers to be more responsible for their children. Some commentators saw Obama's remarks as blaming the victim of poverty and racism rather than the cause and playing to negative white stereotypes about Black men.
But Obama's supporters say that he is caught on the horns of a dilemma - if white voters perceive him as the 'Black' presidential candidate - as they did Jesse Jackson when he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidentail nomination in 1984 and 1988 - he will lose in the November general election poll.