by Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The condescending, lecturer-in-chief rhetoric that President Obama reserves for Black audiences is beginning to irritate an increasing number of African-Americans, his most loyal voting bloc.
Through intermittent rain, President Obama implored Morehouse College graduates to commit to being fathers and stewards of the community.
“,,,If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that too few of our brothers have the opportunities that you’ve had here at Morehouse,” Obama said. “In troubled neighborhoods all across this country – many of them heavily African American – too few of our citizens have role models to guide them. Communities just a couple miles from my house in Chicago, communities just a couple miles from here — they’re places where jobs are still too scarce and wages are still too low; where schools are underfunded and violence is pervasive; where too many of our men spend their youth not behind a desk in a classroom, but hanging out on the streets or brooding behind a jail cell.”
Critics say that although his speeches are largely uplifting, the predictable sermonizing that the president falls back on often misses the mark.
“If it’s a speech around Father’s Day or graduation there’s typically a kind of lecturing going on that sort of suggests that Black people ought to be socially responsible, that we ought to change our behavior, as if the total onus for what’s going on in our community is on us,” said Ron Daniels, president of Institute of the Black World 21st Century, an organization dedicated the social, political and economic of the Black people around the world.
Trevor Coleman, a political speechwriter, said that the imagery was unnecessary.
“I think that to go into this whole Black social pathology bag, that riff was not appropriate for that particular audience,” said Coleman. “You don’t get into Morehouse if you’re some crackhead, you don’t get into Morehouse if you’re an underachiever. You don’t go through Morehouse without having a certain kind of character and leadership skills and you go come out of there with some kind of commitment.”
Obama was criticized in 2011 for the way he talked to another committed group – the Congressional Black Caucus.
Speaking at a CBC dinner, he said, “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said, his voice rising. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.”
Although many people remember that Jesse Jackson said in 2008 that he wanted to cut off certain private parts of Obama, what is often forgotten is that he began his comment by saying, “He’s [Obama] talking down to Black people.”
Daniels said that the Morehouse speech would have been better used to address the Black unemployment rate, especially among Black men, and discuss a targeted way to alleviate that disparity.
Since President Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, the unemployment rate has fallen for Whites and Latinos, but increased for Blacks. According to the latest jobs report released by the Labor Department, the 13.2 percent unemployment rate for Blacks is almost twice the 6.7 percent jobless rate of Whites.
President Obama’s critics don’t ignore his accomplishments: reducing the 100-1 disparity in drug sentencing, the Affordable Care Act and addressing gun violence. But when it comes to addressing unemployment in the Black community, the president is intentionally vague.
“If anyone else had an unemployment rate among their youth that was anywhere as high as 35 or 40 percent, there would be warfare in this country,” said Daniels. “People are tired of hearing these lectures on social responsibility without policies to address the myriad problems facing the Black community.”
Coleman said, “No one is expecting the president to go out and give a speech about how racist the Republicans are.”
The notion that President Obama’s Black critics want him to march into the White House with a Black agenda, is ridiculous, Daniels said. It’s really about how the president chooses to respond to communities in crisis.
“Whether we supported him or not, he has to respond to the crisis,” said Daniels. “He’s going to Oklahoma, a red state, he’s responding to that crisis. He’s going to Oklahoma, because the people are suffering there.”
Daniels said that the president needs to have a similar response to the Black people who are suffering high unemployment, violence, and mass incarceration.
“No matter who the president is, any group expects for him to respond to their needs whether or not you support that president or not,” said Daniels. “If you are the president for all the people, you assess what any one group needs and you respond to them, but we know in the real world that doesn’t happen because Republicans don’t cater to certain constituencies, and Democrats don’t either but in this particular instance, there should be a direct relationship between and the people that support you politically, that were your margin of victory in many states and your ability to respond to them.”
President Obama’s support in the Black community during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections was near universal and recent studies have shown that, for the first time in history, the Black voter turnout rate was higher than any other group. Daniels said that it’s time for a little payback.
“What stings for a lot of African Americans is we see him willing to go to the mat specifically for issues that directly affect gays issues with marriage equality and he stuck his neck out for them on that issue,” said Coleman. “We see him go to the mat specifically for issues that affect Latinos the immigration issue he stuck his neck out there on that issue, risking political capital. We see him going to the mat specifically for issues that affect White women with the [Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act].”
Coleman said that even though the African American unemployment is unacceptably high, President Obama can’t even say that a specific program to deal with Black unemployment is necessary, without swift political backlash.
“He can’t say that, he won’t do that and that’s what really bothers many African Americans,” said Coleman.
Some argue that, at this point in his presidency, he doesn’t have to.
“It’s an understanding at this point no matter what is said and done, whether he chooses to give [Blacks] preferential treatment or not, and he’s not going to do that, because he know that he’s got that vote and they’re not going to turn against them,” said Herbert Boyd, awarding winning author and journalist. “The president has their vote and they’re not going to turn against him.”
Boyd continued: “There’s nothing that he can do to disrupt that relationship and I think in a realpolitik kind of way he understands that. There’s a good segment of in the African-American community that says, ‘We need to be reminded of our accountability and responsibility.’”
Still, Boyd remains optimistic that President Obama, without the specter of another campaign looming, will begin to directly target, issues affecting the Black community.
“He doesn’t have to worry about re-election he may begin to take more chances, said Boyd. “In the end, I’m betting that he’s going to do something so absolutely, stunningly remarkable that he will be forgiven for everything else.”
His critics are waiting for that moment.