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Bullying Pulpit: Racism, Barack Obama and the Selective Call for Personal Responsibility

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    by Tim Wise

    Once again, Barack Obama scolds Black men, this time at Morehouse College. The author, an anti-racist activist, writes: “To preach hard work to these men, as if they had never heard of it — as if they now intended to kick back and wait for things to be handed to them — is to not only insult their intelligence, but also to feed every vicious stereotype already held by too many white Americans.”

     

    Bullying Pulpit: Racism, Barack Obama and the Selective Call for Personal Responsibility

    by Tim Wise

    This article previously appeared on TimWise.org.

    To Barack Obama, it is only black people who need lectures about personal responsibility.”

    Sometimes, white privilege isn’t about stuff. It’s not always about better opportunities, or more money, or even greater access to those things than people of color.

    Sometimes, white privilege is as simple as knowing that, generally speaking, if you’re white, you’ll be perceived as competent and hard-working until proven otherwise, while people of color — even those who have proven themselves competent and hard-working — will still be subjected to presumptions that they just might not be, and that somehow, they (but not you) need to be reminded of the importance of hard-work and personal responsibility, lest they (but never you) revert to some less impressive group mean.

    To wit, President Obama’s commencement address today at Morehouse College — one of the nation’s preeminent institutions of higher learning, and perhaps its most famous historically black college or university — during which, among plenty of rather standard commencement speech boilerplate, the president lectured this year’s graduates about the importance of taking personal responsibility for their lives, and not blaming racism for whatever obstacles they may face in the future.

    It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing.

    Either that President Obama thinks black grads at one of the nation’s best colleges really need to be lectured about such matters; or, alternately, that White America is so desirous of exculpation for the history of racial discrimination that we need him to say such things, and he knows it, thereby leading him to feed us the moral scolding of black men we so desperately desire, and which he must know will be transmitted to us by way of media coverage of his talk.

    Either way, the result is tragic.

    To hector them like they were potential supplicants looking for a handout is crass and beneath the dignity of a President of the United States.”

    If the former, then Barack Obama has for once and all revealed himself to be not nearly the deep and analytical thinker so many have long believed. After all, Morehouse men like the ones to whom the president delivered his commencement address today, are not the type to slack off, or make excuses for their shortcomings, or wait for others to do things for them. They earned admission to an amazing school, and have now graduated from said school, on the basis of their own merit and hard work. To hector them like they were potential supplicants looking for a handout is crass and beneath the dignity of a President of the United States, and especially one who shares the coloring of most, if not all of those graduates.

    Barack Obama knows how demanding a school Morehouse is. So to preach hard work to these men, as if they had never heard of it — as if they now intended to kick back and wait for things to be handed to them — is to not only insult their intelligence, but also to feed every vicious stereotype already held by too many white Americans about black males, no matter how educated. It is to give us fuel for our already too-well-stoked racist fires, made ever hotter now by the ability to say, “See, even Obama knows the truth about black men! Even he knows they’re always making excuses for their failures.”

    (And yes, I realize that admonitions to hard work, personal responsibility and “no excuses” have always been common in the black community — in large measure because of the history and contemporary reality of racism, both of which the president rightly acknowledged in the address — but those typically are offered behind closed doors, not in public and by the most prominent person in the country, within listening range of white ears, more than a little prepared to hear only the parts that reinforce pre-existing biases).

    Meanwhile, if the President thought it necessary to upbraid this year’s Morehouse graduates about not being lazy or using racism as an excuse for their shortcomings, precisely because he thinks (or perhaps knows) that white folks love that shit — the second possibility — then that too is pitiable.

    Perhaps it is he who has internalized the idea that black people, even highly educated ones, are would-be malingerers.”

    First, that Barack Obama sometimes seems to think he still needs to go out of his way to please white people is maddening. The white folks open to liking him don’t need him to serve as black folks’ moral scold, and the ones who need that will never be satisfied until he does the full Herman Cain: which is to say, until he is prepared to basically lay all the problems of the nation at the feet of folks of color and sing Negro spirituals in white churches while little old white ladies, either literally or figuratively, rub his head.

    To the extent the president no longer needs white folks to like him for the sake of re-election, that he regularly panders to our biases about the black community — as with his repeated lectures to black men, but only black men, on multiple father’s days to be better dads (cuz God knows white men need no similar instruction!) — suggests that perhaps it is he whose views of the black community are to blame here. Perhaps it is he who has internalized the idea that black people, even highly educated ones, are would-be malingerers, just waiting for a reason to go soft and “blame the world for trying to keep a black man down” (yes, he actually used that phrase in his speech).

    Needless to say, Barack Obama will never tell white people at a traditionally white college or university to stop blaming affirmative action for every job we didn’t get, or every law school we didn’t get into, though we’ve been known to use both of these excuses on more than a few occasions.

    He won’t tell white graduates at a traditionally white college or university to stop blaming Latino/a immigrants, for “taking our jobs,” which excuse we’ve also been known to float from time to time.

    He would never tell graduates at a mostly white college to stop blaming immigrants, or so-called welfare for our supposedly high tax burdens, even though these remain popular, albeit incorrect, scapegoats for whatever taxes we pay.

    Barack Obama will never tell white people at a traditionally white college or university to stop blaming affirmative action for every job we didn’t get.”

    He won’t tell white grads at white colleges to reject the entreaties of their right-wing radio hosts and talking heads, who keep blaming the Community Reinvestment Act and other fair housing laws for the mortgage and larger economic meltdown, even though such things were not to blame.

    In short, to Barack Obama, it is only black people who need lectures about personal responsibility. Only they who make excuses when things don’t go their way. Only they who need to be reminded to do their best, because white graduates — like the majority of the grads at Ohio State to whom he also spoke recently — have got all that on lock. Their work ethics are unassailable. They would never make excuses for their failings. They would never blame a 35 percent tax rate, or capital gains taxes, for instance, for causing them to not invest their money, or create jobs. They would never blame gay marriage for threatening their own heterosexual marriage.

    Because white people never make excuses for anything.

    And so we get to remain un-lectured, un-stigmatized, un-bothered, and un-burdened with a reminder of our own need to be responsible. We get to remain, in short, privileged and presumed competent, presumed hard-working, presumed responsible, until proven otherwise, while even some of the best and brightest black men in America will start their careers having been weighted down with the realization that even the president, at some level, doesn’t really trust them to do the right thing, unless reminded to do so first, and by him.

    Quite a mixed blessing, such a graduation gift as that.

    Anti-racist activist Tim Wise is the author of six books, including the highly acclaimed memoir, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son; an academic volume on affirmative action, entitled, Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White; an essay collection, entitled, Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male; two books on race and racism in the Obama era, entitled respectively, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, and Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity; and his latest, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority. He can be contacted through his website, timwise.org.

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    Bullying Pulpit: Racism, Barack Obama and the Selective Call for

    It doesn't surprise me that once again that POTUS would get away with talking down to Africans here in these United States.  It wasn't enough that he outed black fathers for their perceived lack of responsibility back in 2008---the same year he was campaigning around the nation to be the next commander-in-chief, but also got away with publicly insulting two clergymen---the Honorable Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and his own former pastor, the retired Jeremiah Wright.  Where was his responsibility to not only demonstrate proper respect to his elders, but to not insult two emissaries of the Most High?  To my recollection , no one, except for one Tavis Smiley, have ever publicly held him accountable for his responsibility, or should I say "lack of responsibility" towards the masses of African Americans and others who continue to hold him in such high esteem.  Imagine if Senator John McCain, or most recently former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney were to try the same tactics as Obama in talking down to the graduating class at Morehouse College.  I doubt if either men would have been able to finish their speeches before being drowned out by a chorus of boos, but just because it's Obama doing the speaking he gets a pass.  It's a sad day indeed when even black college graduates can't enjoy their special day without being inundated with unnecessary lectures on personal responsibility based on racist stereotypes.  One has to wonder if Mr Obama has been a responsible example to his two daughters the way he has bumrushed the planet with his domestic and foreign policy directives.

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    What Else Must Obama Say For Blacks to Know That:

    He's got NO respect for us. The gall of this guy to go to Morehouse College's graduation & lecture its Black grads on issues that they're effectively the antithesis of- who the Hell was Obama really talking to [IMO it was FOX Noise type 'Real Whiteys']??!

    Black folks voted for this guy @ 95%- yet he says that it was the Latino vote [@ 70%] that was the key to his re-election- even though more Blacks voted for him than Latinos in both total votes as well as by percentage. He always feels free to tell Blacks that he's not the Black Pres but everyone [else's] Pres. I wonder how many Hispanics, LGBTs, whites, etc has he said something like that to??? Can you even imagine him going to AIPAC & telling them that he's the US Pres NOT the Israeli Pres??!!

    Obama treats Blacks like his 'piece of 'booty' on the side' that he Never wants to been seen w in public, shows little respect for, but keeps around just get his jollies-off when-ever he's feeling freaky- cause he's so damn sure she'll Never say NO & tell him- 'Hit the Road Jack & Don't Ever Come Back'!!!

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    To hector them like they were potential supplicants looking for a handout is crass and beneath the dignity of a President of the United States, and especially one who shares the coloring of most, if not all of those graduates. Reviewslab

    It's deeper than lack of respect, it's self-hatred

    Obama doesn't really like Black folks, except for when its time to capture their vote.

    Whether you buy into the hype or not, by most accounts Morehouse is a rarified place where Black achievement is honored and respected, it's not a bastion for "shiftless men."  It was a "lecture" or hectoring more fit for a prison class of GED graduates than Morehouse Men.  I bet you he wouldn't go to Harvard or its business school and lecture them on business ethics.  But this cracka loving half-breed wasn't speaking to those young men anyway, he was speaking to the crackas at Fox Noise and his NeoLiberal White friends.  Obama is always about winning White's acceptance of him, not the uplift of Black folk. He could give a damn about Black people. 

    This man's cabinet is Whiter than Geo. Bush's and the highest Black person in his cabinet is an even bigger sucka$$$ than Obama.  Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum best describes these 2 nitwits.  

    Obama doesn't like Black folks, that's plain to anyone who can see, it's deeper than disrespect. He despises Black folks which is why he feels none of their pain or lacks one iota of empathy.   His entire political style is rooted in capitulation and compromise.  How noteworthy is it that we always observe this big dummy bargain from a point of weakness; it is part and parcel of his psychological makeup that is driven if not obsessed with pleasing White men.   Ask Skip Gates, if you don't believe me.

    He's not a role model his damn self.  He's a symbol of cowardice and weakness both intellectually and morally contrary to all of the Black Men I've ever admired in my lifetime; he needs to put that in his pipe and smoke it.   What a well-known Black comedian said is applicable to Obama:  "If he was only half the man his mama was."  

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    "[T]he importance of hard-work and personal responsibility." WTF? And why do you need an excuse to not want to participate in the spirit of capitalism and its glorification of work? What is "personal responsibility?" To what and/or whom is it owed? Is the answer to that supposed to be obvious? It's not to me. Why do we have to measure our worth relative to the needs of the liberal capitalist state? The writer of this article is just a variation on the man he's critiquing. They share the same assumptions about the proper way of being in the world, the ambitious, acquisitve, individualist liberal-capitalist way. He just thinks it's mean to suggest blacks are less committed to it than whites.

    Reply

    Well apparently Mr. Wise's approach as an ally is appropriate enough for Mr. Dixon to share this article on his fb page. It seems to me that Wise, Zirin, etc. never approach with "white savior" mentalities and they write from a position acknowledging their privilege and advocating as allies for voices of POC to be heard and listened to above all. 

    Surprised that BAR

    Surprised that BAR occasionally gives voice to the white, liberal anti-racist cottage industry which is Wise, Zirin, Hedges et al, a fraternity which only takes on people to the right of them so as to curry favor and not risk their credentials with the black left. Black history month is over so one would have thought the great white hope fraternity would be laying low until the next MAJOR racial 'incident' requiring their expertise erupted!

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