Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Obamas: Black America's Crotchety Grandfather And Nagging Head Of The Usher Board.

[Editor's Note: I apologize, because I realize the nature of you're about to read is sure to rankle some, and confuse others. No, (emphatically!) I'm not saying I would have voted for anyone else. I'm simply saying that I'm not altogether pleased with the guy I did vote for. For a much more nuanced, well-written piece on this same topic by an actual professional, peep "How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America" by the always excellent Ta-Nehisi Coates over at The Atlantic.]

Four and a half years into this whole "Black President" thing, I'm willing to admit some of us might have gotten it wrong. No, I'm not talking about whether voting for Obama over McCain in 2008 was the right call (it was), nor whether voting for Obama over Clinton was the right call (I'm fairly certain it was). I'm talking about the insistence of some in Black America that electing a Black President would make the lives of everyday Black Folks better. Many thought this would magically raise achievement of black students, magically get more black folks to tie the knot, magically transport black men from "The Traaaap" to Morehouse, and magically get sistas off the pole and turned into a new generation of Claire Huxtables. Personally, I always thought this sh*t was some pie in the sky, "Success By Osmosis" talk. I've expressed doubt about this repeatedly here over the years, and many of you have expressed your (fervent) disagreement. It happens.

Still, I thought the election of a Black President would yield some tangible benefits to the black community, beyond a slew of streets and schools renamed after him. I took his campaign promise to institute "Urban Empowerment Zones" to spur economic development, his promise to take the "Harlem Children's Zone" model nationwide in an effort to fix ailing schools, and his promise to end the disparity in crack/powder cocaine sentencing seriously. I mean, this sh*t was actually on his campaign website, not conjured up in the heads of people projecting each and every aspiration of an entire race onto one man. So yeah, I expected that much, at least, and that much would most certainly have yielded some benefits specific to Black People.

When folks like Tavis Smiley and Cornell West raised concerns about Obama's "Black Platform" during the election, they were summarily dismissed as crabs in a barrel by people as enlightened as yours truly. Obama would be "America's President", not "Black America's President" after all. Everyone labelled these guys haters for merely suggesting the President take seriously the very constituency that went harder for him than any other. Sure, the timing and semi-haterish tone of their objections (and the fact that Smiley had some dubious financial backers himself) undermined their points, but in retrospect, those points had some validity.

Fast forward half a decade, and much of what they warned about has come true. Obama pays very little attention to the Black Community beyond the usual lip service when it comes time to get re-elected. Sure, parading all those singing, dancing, acting Black folks in and out of the White House for events makes him appear more culturally in-tune than his predecessors, but I've always been far more concerned about the near absence of people of color in said White House making decisions and pushing policy. With the minor exception of flying to Chicago to lecture Black folks about personal responsibility (and to use them as a backdrop to push gun control post-Newtown), the President has been about as omniscient in the Black community as a Zoe's Kitchen.[1] Sure, he'll drop into a black church or show up at a black commencement speech every now and then to keep his street cred save face, but the topic of his speech is almost always the same: "Ya'll n*ggas need to stop f*ckin' up so much and get like me." Of course, he would help more people "get like him" if he pushed some actual laws that helped "them", but what's a minor detail like policy in the grand scheme of things?

The lack of concern for Black communities (beyond winning an election) was underscored 3 times last week. After some outlandishly ignorant Negroes opened fire on a Mother's Day Parade (!!!) in New Orleans, injuring 19 people (including kids), the White House did nothing beyond issue the typical "yeah, we're sorry that happened to you" press release. There was no press conference assuring Crescent City citizens that the Feds would dedicate every available resource to finding the (at that point still) on the loose gunmen. No call to examine gun laws. No promise to ensure children in New Orleans could go to a Mother's Day parade in the future without worrying about getting sprayed with bullets. No nothing, really. Seriously, Google "new orleans mothers day shooting obama" and see what you get. Lemme know how that works out for you.

The cherries on the proverbial Insult Sundae came over the weekend. I didn't watch the POTUS' speech at Morehouse, but I did watch Michelle Obama's mostly gracious speech at my wife alma mater, Bowie State.

I love the FLOTUS as much as I love myself a good Syfy movie and the subsequent long Sunday afternoon nap[2], but one segment of her speech sorta, kinda, really ticked me off.
"Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they're sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. Right now, one in three African-American students are dropping out of high school; only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree."
Uh, seriously, this speech was at a ceremony for the very people who defied every stereotype and hurdled every obstacle. What exactly is the point of bringing this up, and to whom exactly are you talking? Would you toast someone at a wedding by mentioning just how terrible the state of black marriage is? I think not.

I'm sure this sounds petty and nitpicky to many of you, but this speech and others of its ilk ring hollow for many reasons. Educational attainment and gender gaps are issues also prevalent in the white community (albeit to a far lesser degree) but neither the POTUS nor FLOTUS would breach the subject of personal responsibility when addressing the graduates of a mostly white college. And this also isn't new, as the President has been giving slightly different riffs on the same topic for years now.

At what point does the President use black people for something other than a backdrop to address a much wider-focused political point, and actually use his (dwindling) power to address the very government created policies that (in)directly created many of the problems Black people are facing in the first place?

Personally, I'm getting tired of hearing all this "personal responsibility sh*t" flung at black audiences. Personally, I'd like the President to "take personal responsibility" of his own and start doing something, anything, to address said issues.

Personally, I'm not holding my breath.

Question: Does the President' lip service to the black community tick you off, or am I just in Super Hater Mode today?!?

[1] Darn good food, BTW. And no, that's not a paid ad.

[2] In other words, a lot. A whole lot.

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