Robert Ganshorn

Is Obama Talking Down to Black People?

Filed By Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: African-American, Barack Obama, black civil rights leaders, cut off penis, Jackson, Jesse Jackson

What a week! In one day we see the best and the worst in icons and media.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who I have watched from his earliest years of "grievance based politics," makes an "off mike" whispered remark about Obama's Father's day speech, where Obama remarks that too many fathers are MIA, AWOL, missing from their families lives, and abandoning responsibility. Rev. Jackson says, "He is talking down to Black people" and then makes a reference to cutting him off at "the pass."

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Jesse Jackson Jr. has denounced his father for this, even though it was a "private" utterance into an open mike between two men when they were not knowingly on a live camera. Sometimes this is the only way to see the truth.

But is Barack "talking down" to Black people or not? His Father's Day speech was delivered in a church and he expressed responsibility between generations. I do not find this divisive and at least as valid as a famous quote from the Rev. Jackson himself:

"You may live in the Ghetto, but the Ghetto does not have to live in you."

Is not Jackson's ego greater than his own missteps, fathering an illegitimate child by a woman he brought in to the Clinton White House to meet the President? Did this action assist or hinder Clinton's own effectiveness as a leader when he received them in light of his own misadventures? I think that the answer is pretty clear that it was no help. It was no help to his wife to be humiliated or to Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who now serves as a manager for Barack Obama. As this knowledge came to the public Rev. Jackson barely apologized beyond saying that the child would be "provided for." Will Jesse Jackson be providing a father, too?

In the forty years since the assassination of Dr. King, Jessie Jackson has always been there fighting the good fight for access of American minorities to the political stage and the boardrooms of real power. He has done a lot of good in programs such as "Operation Push," which has given generations new reasons to hope for a better future. The future is now here, and Rev. Jackson's message is an echo from the past that must be dealt with using a clear eye. Barack Obama does not give a blanket excuse to be less than personally excellent when he stresses social and personal responsibility. If he is talking down to anyone, it is to the socially irresponsible who continue to create one-parent homes through abandonment. Calling for parental involvement in the raising of children on Father's Day is something I wish Rev. Jackson would compliment as a former candidate for high office himself.

And yes, Obama is talking down to all people who avoid responsibility and "grievance politics" have been dealt a long needed blow. You cannot both avoid responsibility and be aggrieved.

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William D. Lindsey William D. Lindsey | July 13, 2008 2:56 PM

Robert, you make an outstanding point, it seems to me, when you say, "The future is now here, and Rev. Jackson's message is an echo from the past that must be dealt with using a clear eye."

I think what grated most for me, when I heard what Rev. Jackson said, is the emasculation subtext. From early in this election, there were some clear signs that, yet again, the media would try to play the gender subtext with Obama--too soft, too girly, too sensitive.

That's a dysfunctional message that needs to disappear from our political discourse, even at the subtext level. It perturbs me that what Jesse Jackson said reinforces that subtext message.

It's time to make this way of vetting candidates according to standards of pretend masculinity (and according to gender, it goes without saying) part of the politics of the past--a politics we're willing to leave behind to build a better future and more inclusive society.

Excellent points.

Jackson is someone who preaches the politics of entitlement. It's considered by many to be Unamerican (goes against the idea that anyone who works hard can make it in this country). It doesn't play well with a lot of people, and it certainly doesn't win elections. Like it or not, it won't win this either.

Obama has been preaching a contrary teaching of personal responsibility. It hasn't sat well with some who find it easier to point at others, but it has also attracted a lot of people who wouldn't normally be attracted to someone so liberal. If he keeps it up, Jackson will be irrelevant. That is why he said what he said-and he genuinely meant it. If Obama doesn't forgive him, he will also be irrelevant, and that is why he came up with the BS "out of context" defense.

I think that what Jackson was referring to was Obama's specific reference to and reification of a specific stereotype that the Limbaugh crowd loves so much - that black men are always lazy, promiscuous, and irresponsible - at the expense of many in the African American community.

I mean, it's nice to say things like "Obama is talking down to all people who avoid responsibility," but the truth is he wasn't. He was talking about Black men.

I really don't know or have much of an opinion on if he's right or wrong to have made the speech the way he did, but here are a couple of post to read on the subject of why Jackson might have a problem with what Obama said, here and here. I'm guessing he's made the political decision to separate himself from white people's fantasies about what All Black Men Do, and publicly denouncing what a lot of white folk are thinking about might be necessary for him.

Not that I'm defending Jackson or Obama's apparent strategy here. But I think that there's a whole lot more to all this than just "Jackson is a professionally aggrieved" or "Obama was just talking about how irresponsibility is bad."

That's what I was thinking too, Alex. This wasn't just "everyone needs to be more responsible." Obama was specific about speaking directly to black men about taking more responsibility with their children.

While that is a laudable goal (as it is for white men, Asian men and men who are in between mocha and tan and whatever damn color) the part that has always bothered me is that the immediate narrative has been "because black men suck at being good fathers." No, not all of them.

Growing up in poor rural Midwestern Indiana, I've seen a shitload more poor fathering by white people. Nonpayment of child support, abandoning kids, not paying attention to them, molestation, the works - all white folks. Not black.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 13, 2008 11:41 PM

Good morning from Asia and thanks for your comments. Bill and Chuck, I think you are "past 50" like myself and remember a long developed series of impressions gained about Rev Jackson. I was so proud when he came calling on Nelson Mandela in South Africa, for instance.

I repeated Jackson's quote to gang members and drug dealers in my inner city Chicago neighborhood and was proud to use it. I think that on levels common with anyone who has long been in the public eye "the message" has been heard and had it's effect and a new message is in process of development. Jackson can no longer lead, he must follow or get out of the way and not be a prima donna about it.

Alex, I saw nothing wrong with Obama discussing his upbringing and packaging his message just as McCain will be doing. (after all it is the United State(s) of America and what plays in California will not play in Baton Rouge. I am grateful to be out of range of campaign commercials. The Oliphant cartoons are disturbing, but if you lived in an inner city Chicago neighborhood you would have met characters like the stereotypical kid in the bed who work to look that way because it implies toughness. These kids make the gang their family because it is all they have. (many of these cartoons are during the Obama-Clinton fricas right?)

Please know that part of what has been on my mind is the inverse logic of self entitlement Rev. Jackson has used while being aggrieved. "the rules should apply to the man behind the tree but not me." How about something to aspire to by example?

Bil, there is a lot of bad parenting by all races and I'm sure whites lead the pack in sheer volume of bad parenting, (just as they are the greatest recipients of welfare) but within each racial community the figures I find of illegitimate births as a percentage of all births suggest a greater problem. Illegitimacy is not an indication of an absent father, but it is a frightening percentage. (Caucasion 28%, Hispanic 50%, Black 71%) If child support, abandonment, and "fathering" follow these statistics? Hoo Boy!

And, of course there are great exceptions to this rule. When I and my partner sponsored little league our coach (Hispanic) was a great father and nearby neighbor. Both he and his wife worked and carefully raised their son and daughter in a safe home half a block from mine. They had been together for over 25 years and were never married, but you could not ask for people who were more involved in their children's lives. We attended their daughter's wedding! They simply did not buy in to the idea of marriage as confirmation of their love and they were free spirits committed to one another. They are a marvelous and positive exception and their son was a great fielder!

Hi Robert
Great points and welcome to the Blog having talked with you in the comments I know you will have a lot to say here.Now on to topic nobdy likes being told they have messed up now be a man about it and do the right thing.Remember Bill Cosby talked about this very issue and got yelled about it then to. So if deadbeat dads can be yelled at who aint black guess what guys so can you. Now Jessie Jackson sr has an ego problem that he cant get over so watch for him and others to try and kill Sen.Obamas chance at getting elected.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 14, 2008 5:01 AM

Obama’s comments about fatherhood are an extension of his pandering to the religious right to garner votes. He’s doing what Kerry and Gore did before him, the all too familiar Democratic (sic) dance called the Allemande Right.

At the very beginning of his campaign he signaled his real politics when he invited depraved bigots like Donnie McKulkin and Mary Mary to ‘sing’ at his rallies. They did more than sing; they showered the audience with their narrow-minded christian swill. He refused to denounce them.

He did, however, find the time to go out of his way to repeatedly denounce Rev. Wright, whose robust contempt for American racists, including those who mistakenly brand that attitude as ‘black racism’, is an entirely healthy response to the racism woven into the very fabric of US society.

Following his attacks on the Fourth Amendment by supporting the pro-business, anti-constitutional FISA, this week Obama lurched to the right again. He actually endorsed the idea of using federal funds to bribe superstitious (religious) groups to get even more votes. He now backs a further erosion of the separation of cult and state by allocating even more money for superstition-based charities.

"As Barack Obama moves to broaden his appeal beyond loyal Democrats, a chorus of anger and disappointment has arisen from the left. But those voices are a distinct minority because the party has a more pressing concern: winning in November."

When Obama started out he masqueraded as an 'independent', vaguely left candidate who'd repair the damage caused by eight years of Bush. He reveled in the fact that he didn't have a history of sellouts and betrayals like Hillary. His lack of a record fooled lots of people and got him the nomination. In his book the Audacity of Hope he boasted that

"I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
The policies of the Democratic Party’s leadership, as distinguished from those who mistakenly vote for it, has long been interchangeable with the policies of the leaders of the Republican Party in terms of actual practice. In the real world that’s what counts and the candidate’s promises are just so much empth rhetoric. They are the twin parties of war, bigotry and economic chaos.

A Republican politician is a rancid right-winger with the Rev. Pat Robertson attached at the hip. Obama is a Republican in drag with the Rev. Donnie McClurkin attached at the hip.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 14, 2008 5:25 AM

Those who bear sole and immediate responsibility for the awful conditions faced by African American families and the deteriorating situation faced by all working people are those who decimated union jobs with measures like NAFTA, who gutted welfare and other necessary entitlements, who use racist laws and enforcement practices to jail African Americans in huge numbers, who refuse to raise the minimum wage to $25.00 an hour with union benefits and who oppose socialized medicine.

We have to be crystal clear that they, and not the victims of their policies, are responsible for this terrible state of affairs.

Who are we talking about? Is it the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers? Yes, they support these policies because they directly benefit from them, but the groups who legislate and implement them are the Democratic and Republican Parties.

McCain is a rancid right-winger with the Chamber of Commerce attached at the hip. Obama is a Republican in drag with the National Association of Manufacturers attached at the hip.

As much as a conversation among white folk about whether black men in general are good parents appeals to me, I think I'll just step out as long as we all know that Obama wasn't talking about irresponsible parents in general but knew that the cameras were rolling for the whole country to see.

But this, I dunno:

Illegitimacy is not an indication of an absent father, but it is a frightening percentage. (Caucasion 28%, Hispanic 50%, Black 71%) If child support, abandonment, and "fathering" follow these statistics? Hoo Boy!

I think that the children of lesbian or gay parents might reach the same numbers of illegitimacy as well. Same-sex marriage only started a few years ago and only in two states so far, so a lesbian couple getting artificially inseminated or a gay male couple asking a surrogate mother would be counted as illegitimate. Perhaps the children that the gay male couple adopt are illegitimate, maybe the child a lesbian had when she was still trying to prove her heterosexuality is illegitimate.

Just sayin', that judging the efficacy of parents based on their ability and desire to marry doesn't work for LGBT people, so I wonder why we'd want to use that standard to judge others.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 14, 2008 7:26 AM

Alex, I see your point completely, but I also do not believe we are talking about the same thing. Nor do I think that there are significant numbers when compared to the totals I was referring to in Bil's comment. (I do not believe that Bil was referring to bad White Lesbian and Gay parents in Winchester Indiana) I believe that gay parents are among the best possible parents because they are going to raise children to think. Just the way my neighbors Joe and Margie Lopez raised two fine children without marriage.

My key point is that the involvement and financial contribution of fathers is important in the greater reality of life where women still earn eighty cents for each job for which men earn a dollar. I did not prepare statistics on the area of Lesbian, Gay, Trans, and Bisexual because I do not trust the data. People under or over report.

The 2000 census indicates only 600,000 Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual households. (I do not believe this number unless the entire census includes just New York and San Francisco) It also indicates 34% of Lesbians and 22% of Gay men are raising one or more children. (not surprisingly those willing to be Gay for the record would report they also have children even in states with no rights) There is no racial breakdown I can find for this, but that was not the point really anyway as many Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual and Trans persons are in interracial relationships and so are their birth or adoptive children.

You may recall I said Obama is talking down to all people who are irresponsible. I mean this in the same way exactly as Martin Luther King spoke to my heart when he said he wanted his children judged "not for the color of their skin, but the content of their character."

Okay, it's early, I just got out of the woods, but wasn't Obama speaking to a specific audience on a specific day?

That is not talking down to anyone, it is talking to an audience.

as far as illegitimate children? you've lost me. all my kids are illegitimate because until four years ago, I could not get married. it's just dumb to talk about in the LGBT community.

women do earn less on the dollar, and Black and Latina women earn even less. That is a reality. The economic impact on children's lives when they have a single parent- male or female- is intense.

and here we have to really look at the baked in structural racism in our society. to point to a single group and say, take more responsibility is like throwing a cup of water on a forest fire. it might make for powerful rhetoric at the podium but it is disheartening to me, personally, because it completely misses the point.

you can give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. you can teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime. right? I believe we need to go one step farther- who is in charge of hte pond? why didn't the man learn basic skills in childhood? who has access to the skills? who doesn't? why?

pointing fingers at any specific group is not going to move us forward in any way shape or form. we need to start looking at the overall picture- healthcare, economics, transportation, education, oh, god, the list goes on and on- to make an impact in poor kids lives.

because I had a father and lemme tell you something, it wasn't a good thing.

but was Obama talking down to Black people? I don't think so. He was simply being a politician.