"As a Black Man Like You": Six Words That Enraged White Right-Wingers in Obama's Speech at Historic Black College
Barack Obama, the United States' first black president, rarely talks about race or racism. Moreover, he is weak on policy prescriptions or targeted assistance for communities of color (and black folks in particular)--even though they are a key demographic in his electoral coalition.
Obama's election may not have been the Mount Everest of black politics and the Black Freedom Struggle. But, President Obama did to go to Morehouse College, one of the country's leading historically black institutions of higher learning, where he delivered the commencement speech on Sunday.
There he offered up a very conservative brand of life advice for the graduating class, suggestions that pivot on "personal responsibility" and not "excuse-making" for the lived realities of day-to-day and structural discrimination.
As reported by The Washington Post:
Obama said that too many young black men make “bad choices.”
“Growing up, I made quite a few myself,” Obama said. “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing.”
But, the president implored, “we’ve got no time for excuses.”
“In today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said. “Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.”
“Moreover,” Obama continued, “you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”
Republicans and the Tea Party Right should be very pleased by President Obama's suggestions to the Morehouse graduating class. We know they will not be. Why? Because the White Right, as they have been since his election in 2008, cannot evolve past their herrenvolk bigotry and white supremacist habits. They are drugs in the American body politic to which conservatives are uniquely addicted.
President Obama uttered six little words at Morehouse on Sunday, words that will be twisted, lied about, spun, and processed by a pathologically reactionary conservative White Racial Frame. At Morehouse, Obama committed the ultimate move of poor taste in "post racial" colorblind America: he said, "as a black man like you."
Ultimately, President Obama dared to remind the public that he too is a black man in America.
It would seem that to Drudge and The Weekly Standard this is poor taste, a point of controversy, and worth particular emphasis on their respective websites. To point. Drudge has as its lede following Obama's Morehouse address "I am a Black Man" under the President's photo. The Weekly Standard chose to place in bold for emphasis what they see as an impolitic and provocative phrase--"as a black man like you"--in their quoting of Obama's speech at Morehouse.
The President apparently did not learn from the public whipping he suffered by the Right-wing media when he committed a similar misstep in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Let the complaints and predictable howls begin. The Tea Party GOP and their echo chamber will cry that "if a white president said 'as a white man like you'" that there would be charges of racism. The most dim bloviators on the Right will assert that "historically black colleges" are bastions of "hate" that discriminate against white people.
Never mind the fact that historically black colleges actually offer scholarships and special funding for white students because of a belief in the merits of racial diversity.
Thus, Obama must be a "black racist" who "hates white people" as Right-wing cheerleader Glenn Beck and others have suggested.
Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, racial attitudes have worsened in the United States. In particular, white racial resentment and anti-black sentiments have hardened and increased among Republicans. This is not Barack Obama's fault.
From his "celebrated" "A More Perfect Union" speech on race in 2008 which signaled Obama's full separation from any sense that Black Americans have a unique set of justice claims that remain unfulfilled and largely ignored in this country, to his two terms in office, where he has supported a set of neoliberal, center-Right policy positions, the president has been largely agnostic on the race question. Instead, Barack Obama has relied on the symbolic power of his presence in the White House to be a stand-in and substitute for any significant progress against the inequalities and injustices which remain along the colorline.
As I suggested on Ring of Fire Radio in the days before the 2012 election, if the White Right hates Barack Obama that much, what do their rank and file think of everyday black and brown folks? What hate and contempt looms in their collective heart, either as overt bigotry under the banner of the Confederacy, the slogan of "we want our country back!" or in subconscious and implicit prejudice and bias?
The United States was designed and intended as a White Republic. Black folks, our presence and humanity, have long been viewed, and written into law, as being incompatible with "American." The citizenship and belonging of Black Americans--and other people of color--is contingent and permanent. It formed the basis against which Whiteness and the imagined fraternity of white men was created during the Founding and through to the middle part of the twentieth century when Jim and Jane Crow was demolished by the Civil Rights Movement.
The inclusion of non-whites as full partners in the American democratic project is still a work in progress. Obama's election represents a symbolic victory in that battle--although not a strategic one. Even such symbolic concessions are too much to accept for those who will follow the white identity politics Pied Pipers in the Right-wing echo chamber who will lead their lemmings in feigned upset and complaint that Obama dared to remind people that he is black (again).
Appeals to white victimology and "black racism" should be obsolete. They lost the Republican Party two elections. Nevertheless, the Southern Strategy and the ghosts of the Confederacy in Red State America and the Tea Party GOP continue to demand their offerings.