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Why? Barack Obama Decides to Publicly Scold Black Americans (Again) During His March on Washington Anniversary Speech


Despite being a talking-point better suited for Fox News and its obsession with “black criminality” and “racist” assaults on innocent white people, Obama’s playing with symbolic racism (and the coded racial appeals of Republicans and “centrist” Democrats from Nixon onward) is a dishonest use of history.

Black folks are not hyper-emotional civic children and brigands who sit around waiting to spontaneously riot and engage in wanton destruction...despite what the Tea Party GOP and the Right-wing media would suggest.

As Obama most certainly knows, race riots in the United States have overwhelmingly been committed by whites against black and brown folks.

Obama is a smart student of American history. He would most certainly know that  the Kerner Commission report written in the aftermath of the urban rebellions of the 1960s detailed how those “riots” were caused by predictable variables such as police brutality, economic desperation, racism, geographic isolation, a sense of gross racial and class injustice, and other factors that speak to the power of institutional inequality along the color line.

The Los Angeles Rebellion in 1992 was driven by a similar sense of alienation and justified rage at how police brutality and extra-legal violence against people of color is a recurring fixture in American life. George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin is a recent example of the semi-permanence of that fact.

In those rare moments when black folks have rioted, they were for wholly understandable, and in many ways, quite rational reasons: African-Americans are no more violence prone by virtue of skin color than any other group.

In his March on Washington anniversary speech Barack Obama also talked about how “...racial politics could cut both ways as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination.”

Who is Obama speaking of? What agents are engaging in such theatrics and politics? Is Obama alluding to kente cloth and kufi wearing black radicals who haunt the dreams of "respectable" Middle America? Is Obama talking about “angry” black people who scare white folks by talking about racism and white supremacy? Does this group include the great legal scholar Derrick Bell, one of Obama’s mentors, who brilliantly and incisively wrote about the relationship between the American legal system and white supremacy?

Here, Obama’s allusion to “recrimination” is so broad that it becomes an empty vessel that can only be filled in with a two-dimensional parody of those black and brown critics who challenge white racism and white supremacy.

This is the “angry black person” who hurts white folks’ feelings, is “too emotional”, “sees racism everywhere”, irrational, and unwilling to accept that Whiteness is really and truly benign. The "angry black person" will also not give white people the benefit of the doubt by accepting that racism is really about intent, as opposed to outcomes and/or social structures.

Consequently, the "angry black" is a stock character in post civil rights era America because he or she is a convenient way of silencing, marginalizing, and ignoring the justice claims made by African-Americans.

In total, the trope of "the angry black person" is also a way to create a false equivalence between the anger of black Americans at white racism, and white folks’ resentment at having to be held accountable for white racism, and to being forced to consider, just for a moment, that they may have to surrender just a little bit of their unearned power and privilege for the Common Good and social progress.

In his much praised “Speech on Race” in 2008, Barack Obama made a similar move: