All Articles Tagged "President Obama"
Sources say that, after a year of debate and 13 possible locations, President Obama’s future presidential library will be at the University of Chicago. We’ve not yet received official confirmation from the President, the White House, or the Obama Foundation. But the President did call Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week to thamk him for pushing through paperwork to allow for the library to be built on city park property. The official announcement should be made in the next few weeks. There was a delay because Mayor Emanuel was forced into a run off to hold on to his job.
The other contenders were the University of Hawaii, in the state where the President was born, and Columbia University in New York, where the President studied. According to the Chicago Tribune, Hawaii has already been taken out of the running, and will instead house something that speaks to the President’s roots in that state.
The library could be in West Harlem if there’s an unexpected twist and it comes to the Big Apple.
The University of Chicago is located in the South Side of the city, where the First Lady is from. And it’s where the President taught and launched his political career. So there are deep roots there as well.
There has been some opposition to using public land for the library, but that looks to have been defeated.
In 2008, only a few months before the historical election that would eventually crown our country’s first Black president, I appeared on an online radio show and engaged in a loud and very heated impromptu debate over the current state of our political Black class.
At the center of the tension was then-senator Barack Obama’s comments on the acquittal of the four officers who shot and killed unarmed Sean Bell on the eve of his wedding. At the time, Obama, who was running on a platform of hope and change and bringing our country together racially, told reporters the following (as reported by the Washington Post):
“Well, look, obviously there was a tragedy in New York. I said at the time, without benefit of all the facts before me, that it looked like a possible case of excessive force. The judge has made his ruling, and we’re a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down,” he said in response to a question at a gas station in Indianapolis, where he was holding a news conference.
“The most important thing for people who are concerned about that shooting is to figure out how do we come together and assure those kinds of tragedies don’t happen again,” he continued… “Resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and counterproductive.”
It is true that no one likes insurrection. It is messy, it is destructive, and things get f**ked up. However, after multiple generations of being a people who have protested, marched, voted, petitioned our government for reprieve, and appealed to the hearts and minds of the dominant culture, with no signs that anyone is listening, the so-called violent response is a viable option. After all, you can not expect a people who live under economic and social apartheid and who are getting killed out in the streets by police in state-sanctioned violence to always remain calm. If someone keeps punching me in my face, after I repeatedly asked them nicely to stop, I might just haul off and knock them out. And as far as I have always been concerned, after everything that has been done and continues to be done to us as a people, the mere fact that this country is still standing and not a heap of ashes is a testament to just how calm and peaceful we truly are.
Besides, it is disingenuous to say that calm and peace is the answer when our country routinely uses its might to not just defend itself, but to spread its agenda around the world. Violence was the answer during the American Revolution when with Crispus Attucks, a Black man, died in the Boston Massacre. Rioting was the answer when patriots threw the tea into the harbor with the belief that there should be no taxation without representation. No one championed peace and calm during the Whiskey Rebellion, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Seminole Wars (all three of them), the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, World War I and II, the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq.
One thing that America understands is that sometimes, violence is the only and just answer. And if violence is not the answer, then what does Obama, who was running for not just the highest office in the land, but the most powerful position in the world, propose that we do instead?
The thing is that nowhere in his calls for calm has he offered any viable platform position to deal with police brutality and killings. In short, his pleas to respect our nation of laws was shallow just as much as it was dismissive. And since he failed to offer even the tiniest bit of lip-service to our rightful grievances and political demands, he was and is no different than his Republican and neoliberal (ahem, Hillary Clinton) opposition.
This was my position during that radio debate.
Naturally, the hosts at the time, both Black, didn’t see it like that. At least they agreed with me about the need for serious Black political leadership in our community. But, in spite of our collective needs, they also felt that it was important we maintain a united racial front for the benefit of this one man. And whatever Obama needed us to do in order to get him elected, including ignoring the tragic murder of Bell and the courts of New York, which sanctioned it, we must do it.
Despite all indicators that our grievances weren’t even in the same automobile, let alone the backseat of Obama’s agenda, these hosts were certain that Obama was the changemaker that he claimed himself to be. Once in office, he would rip off his mask of neutrality and become the Black president the country needed. However, he had to be more strategic. That he couldn’t come right out and just say those things without sounding like a radical and risking his chances to become the Leader of the Free World. In due time, is what these hosts told me. All I had to do was be patient.
Nearly eight years later, I am still patiently waiting for Obama to rip off that mask. And nearly eight years later, now-President Obama is still singing the same tune about peace and calm that he once caroled as a presidential candidate.
As reported by CNN:
“There’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive,” Obama said at a press conference from the White House. “When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing. When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities. That robs jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”
He also called those who looted and burned down the CVS in Baltimore “criminals” and “thugs.”
For all the talk about hope and change, and for all the hoopla over what the first Black president would mean for not only bridging racial gaps in this country, but for our community more specifically, it is clear that our President Obama is not thinking about us. And it is not just Obama. For all the Black mayors, governors, city council people, district attorneys, attorney generals and even dog catchers we have lifted on our collective backs and hoisted into office, they haven’t produced anything for our benefit other than symbolic “firsts.”
Sure, they have made strides in personal achievements and preserving the status quo, however, the dream of W.E.B Du Bois’ that the Talented Tenth would lead and raise up our people to a more equitable and fair future has been a dismal failure. When it is time for them to lead, we are reminded that they are not beholden to us or our interests alone. And when it is time to redress our grievances, we are reminded about the need for calm and peace. My question, Mr. President, is if the so-called violent response to a man having his spinal cord damn-near severed in half while in police custody is counterproductive, then tell me, what exactly is it counterproductive to? Because right now, neither he, nor many others within our Black leadership class, have offered any sort of suggestion, policy change, legislation, or even a got-damn speech to address the long-standing crisis of police brutality and killings. And this is unacceptable.
We chide our children for focusing on Jordans and other materialistic symbols of wealth, yet we engage in the same surface level facades of progress. We bitterly denounce the youth for their violent protests and not bringing about change in the appropriate way, without once considering the piss-poor roadmap we have left them to follow. Many in the leadership class are scared to rock the boat out of fear that they may lose what little bit of status and crumbs from the oppressor’s tables they have accumulated over the years. But they shrewdly try to hold back those who are out here risking freedom, life, limb, and liberty to free us all.
Obama, and everybody else within the failed leadership class, may be one man, however, he is one man with considerable power and a position to do a lot more for us than any other Black person in history. And just like I am one person, who every single day uses her voice and small platform here at MadameNoire to say, “No, this sh*t is wrong,” he can do the same.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am sick of symbolic gestures of progress; I want the real got-damn thing. And I will no longer be compelled to tell people to go vote, particularly for a Black candidate, when the best we have been offered thus far are spineless candidates and politicians who act like their hands are too tied to do anything. Or worse, they would rather blame the victim.
By the way, in addition to condemning the thug criminals for their so-called violent response, Obama also took a few moments to finally criticize America’s police forces for what he called “a slow rolling crisis.” He also pledged that he would send some representatives from the Justice Department to Baltimore to lead an investigation into Freddie Gray’s death. Something tells me that if folks would have continued to wait in the same old peaceful and calm manner, we may not have even been given that.
President Obama has been talking about raising wages nationwide. Now it seems he just might do it–in a roundabout way.
Obama’s administration will propose new rules for overtime compensation, which could force more businesses to pay time-and-a-half after 40 hours of work. This move should be welcome news for a lot of lower-level executives. “Many employees now earning as little as $23,660 a year — below the federal poverty line for a family of four — aren’t entitled to overtime pay because they are considered managers,” reports Yahoo.
Obama has been calling for a raise of the minimum wage, but Republicans in Congress have been blocking such proposals. But Obama can actually change the overtime rules through executive authority. Some people want Obama to push the threshold higher before someone could be called an executive exempt from overtime. Officials at the Department of Labor want it lifted to $51,000. And a group of 26 Democratic Senators want it to be $56,680.
“This is absolutely one of the best practical ways to give people the on-ramp to the middle class,” said lawmaker Sherrod Brown of Ohio. “When you strip people of their overtime pay, which is what’s happened over the years, they really don’t have a chance to get ahead: They’re working harder and harder and not seeing real pay increases.”
Others argue that jobs will be lost as fast-food restaurants, retailers, and other companies may have to cut employment to pay for increased overtime coverage.
Fact is, the middle class is still suffering. Middle class incomes still haven’t bounced back to pre-recession levels. According to inflation-adjusted estimates from Sentier Research, the median U.S. household income of $54,500 in February remained $1,500 short of the December 2007 level, when the recession started.
There could be other changes as well. “Under the Bush administration’s 2004 rules, exempt executives must supervise at least two employees and management must be their primary duty, though there is no requirement covering the amount of time they spend on management tasks,” reports Yahoo. Obama may change this definition of executives.
If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then men and their egos know no bounds.
I say this because an essay, which begins with the most sexist of cliches used in a roundabout way to call another man a bitch, is nothing but petty, unadulterated pissing-in-the-snow, male ego.
And that is, in short, what I have to say about Michael Eric Dyson’s epic takedown of his former mentor, Dr. Cornel West. And when I say “epic,” I don’t mean in terms of content, but rather length. Seriously, the essay was longer than J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, including The Hobbit. As always, I advise readers to pause my essays and take a look at the source material, but I’m afraid that if you go away, you may not have the time nor the energy left to come back and read my thoughts. So I’ll do my best to summarize it into more digestible portions.
Dyson begins by telling the readers about a personal conversation he had with his former mentor about the right way to critique the first Black president without sounding like a bitter man with a crabs-in-a-barrel mentality:
During a private conversation, West asked how I escaped being dubbed an “Obama hater” when I was just as critical of the president as he was. I shared my three-part formula for discussing Obama before black audiences: Start with love for the man and pride in his epic achievement; focus on the unprecedented acrimony he faces as the nation’s first black executive; and target his missteps and failures. No matter how vehemently I disagree with Obama, I respect him as a man wrestling with an incredibly difficult opportunity to shape history. West looked into my eyes, sighed, and said: “Well, I guess that’s the difference between me and you. I don’t respect the brother at all.”
Setting the stage for what sets his criticism of President Obama apart from the no-holds-barred approach West has been known to take, he goes on to talk about West’s legacy among the Black intellectual elite:
If black American scholars are like prizefighters, then West is not the greatest ever; that title belongs to W.E.B. Du Bois. Not the most powerful ever; that’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. Not the most influential; that would include Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, Black History Week founder Carter G. Woodson, historian John Hope Franklin, feminist bell hooks, Afrocentricity pioneer Molefi Kete Asante—and undoubtedly William Julius Wilson, whose sociological research has profoundly shaped racial debate and the public policies of at least two presidents. West may be a heavyweight champ of controversy, but he has competition as the pound-for-pound greatest: sociologists Oliver Cox, E. Franklin Frazier, and Lawrence D. Bobo; historians Robin D.G. Kelley, Nell Irvin Painter, and David Levering Lewis; political scientists Cedric Robinson and Manning Marable; art historian Richard J. Powell; legal theorists Kimberlé Crenshaw and Randall Kennedy; cultural critic Tricia Rose; and the literary scholars Hortense Spillers and Farah Jasmine Griffin—all are worthy contenders.”
He eventually drops a line declaring West to be one of the country’s most exciting scholars, but after that sort of belittling of his legacy, it is hard to see the piece as anything other than a slight. If that is not bad enough, Dyson says that West basically peaked with his much-celebrated cultural critique Race Matters and that much of his work since then has been “paucity of serious and fresh intellectual work, a trend far longer in the making. West is still a Man of Ideas, but those ideas today are a vain and unimaginative repackaging of his earlier hits.” He also notes that West uses co-writers with many of his books and chides him for not taking his written works as serious as he used to.
According to Dyson, this lack of clarity in his writing is also reflected in West’s self-proclaimed title as a prophet, which he has mostly used to position himself against others who he feels dishonor the Black prophetic tradition. In particular, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whom he calls head house Negros for seeking out camera time. Yet as Dyson points out, West has never missed an opportunity to be in front of the cameras or in the public eye, and that includes his involvement in The Matrix sequels as well as his choice to make some really bad rap/spoken word albums.
Dyson also calls out West’s connection to the Black prophetic tradition in the church, which he so admires and emulates. As he notes, West has done nothing to actually honor that tradition, one that includes ministers and pastors who have done righteous things to get themselves defrocked and excommunicated. Moreover, he adds:
West has a measure of responsibility as a professor, but he enjoys far greater freedom than most ministers or prophets. Professors have a lot of flexibility in teaching classes, advising students, writing books, and speaking their minds without worrying that a deacon board will censor them or trustees will boot them out. Prophets, as a rule, don’t have tenure. West gets the benefits of the association with prophecy while bearing none of its burdens. By refusing to take up the cross he urges prophetic Christians to carry, West is preaching courage while seeking to avoid reprisal or suffering. Playing it safe means that West doesn’t qualify for the prophetic role he espouses.
If that isn’t a tough enough pill to swallow, he continues on with his critique and eventually calls West “curmudgeonly”:
West remains an elite academic and can hardly be said to have ever been a true outsider, given his position in the academic elite and the upper reaches of the economy, but he hungers to be seen as rebellious. In truth, West is a scold, a curmudgeonly and bitter critic who has grown long in the tooth but sharp in the tongue when lashing one-time colleagues and allies.
And of course, there is the matter of that inauguration ticket, which has been beaten to death for the entirety of Obama’s presidency. In short, West didn’t get one, but the doorman at the hotel he and his mother were staying at in the nation’s capital received one. As Dyson notes of the incident:
Thus the left-wing critic found it unjust that the workingman and not the professor had a ticket to the inauguration. Only in a world where bankers and other fat cats greedily gobble rewards meant for everyday citizens would such a reversal appear unfair. J.P. Morgan might have been mad; Karl Marx would have been ecstatic.
He also accuses West of being enchanted by the same oligarchy and power that he claims to detest. West brags about his affiliation with celebrities more so than he does any affiliation with the very people he claims that he is a prophet for, the poor and the Black.
Dyson took West further to task for his often heavy-handed critique of the president, writing:
The odd thing is that Obama talks right—chiding personal irresponsibility in a way that presumes the pathology of many black families and neighborhoods—but veers left in his public policy. West, on the other hand, talks left but thinks right in his notion of nihilism and the factors that might reduce its peril. In Race Matters, West argued that the spiritual malady of “nihilism” is the greatest threat to black America—not racism, not class inequality, not material hardship or poverty or hyperincarceration. Steinberg rightly argues that it “takes hairsplitting distinctions, that do not bear close scrutiny, to maintain that West’s view of nihilism is different from the conservative view of ghetto culture as deeply pathological, and as the chief source of the problems that beset African Americans.” Steinberg says that despite “frequent caveats, West has succeeded in shifting the focus of blame onto the black community. The affliction is theirs—something we shall call ‘nihilism.’” West did as much to slam the poor with his stylish, postmodern update of ghetto pathology and blame-the-victim reasoning as any conservative thinker. He gave the notion ideological cover because it got a sexy upgrade from a prominent leftist. As much as West berates Obama’s neglect of the poor, his own writing brought them harsher visibility than they deserved.
Aside from the length and poor transitions between thoughts, I honestly can’t find much here that I disagree with. In fact, I’ve had some of these same thoughts about West for years and Dyson’s essay helped to provide clarity to other feelings, which I couldn’t fully articulate until now. In particular, West’s self-declaration that he’s a prophet, which always rubbed me the wrong way. It is no longer a rub, but rather a full-fledged feeling of disturbance. Also disturbing is the fact that one of the nation’s premier Black intellects was prank calling the first Black president of the got-damn free world from an anonymous number (as told by the president to Dyson and reprinted in his essay) over some inauguration tickets. It should be clear to all now that fighting the oligarchy on behalf of the poor is the furthest thing from West’s mind. I know it is a hard pill for Dr. West’s supporters to swallow, considering they too can be as fanatic in their support of him, as they often accuse those who are supporters of President Obama of being. But the truth is the truth.
Still, you have to wonder why Dyson chose to write this harsh critique of West. And there should be no doubt here that this essay was an “Ether.” As mentioned several times in his piece, West was a mentor, and not just in theory. Dr. West actually wrote a letter to help Dyson attend a graduate program at Princeton. Sure, West himself has taken several unnecessary shots at Dyson over the years for his close relationship with President Obama. And I too believe that those attacks against him “brought him great sorrow,” which Dyson admits in his piece. Yet when I read the way Dyson trashes West’s scholarly works and legacy, it makes me wonder how much respect for the professor he ever had to begin with. No, this doesn’t read like someone who was once dear friends with another. And if he felt that West had alienated himself and diminished his own legacy to the point where most do not take him serious, why the need to be the final nail in that coffin?
I would never in a million years speak like this in public about someone who helped give me a leg – even if they deserved it. This seems more personal, or maybe even opportunistic, but it’s definitely crafted for the white gaze (after all, why publish family business in a neo-liberal rag like The New Republic and not EBONY?). I don’t fully understand Dyson’s motivations, but the entire essay reads like a sleight of hand meant to refocus attention away from what at times is a disjointed but much needed criticism of the first Black president, and instead, put it on gossip meant to discredit his flawed critics, in this case, Dr. West and his character.
And if I could be more brazen, stuff like this is why I can’t stand what the activist community has become. As a former community organizer who actually worked in neighborhoods that many of these public academic activists speak so profoundly and for great pay about, my job was to take those ideas, which we read about in books including the scholarly ones, and put them into practice. As the truth is and always remains, there is no glory in community service work. Likewise, there are no platforms and very little ego. And there definitely are no prophets, brands, and no celebrity. Just long hours and lots of thankless work.
My point here is where would our communities be if we had more people willing to organize quietly instead of shouting to the heavens about their own genius and engaging in very public spats over who is more legitimate as an activist for the people?
Our beloved Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in America aren’t doing so hot financially. The demise of St. Paul’s College in 2013, a 125-year-old HBCU institution, served as a wake up call for the future of other Black academies. Who’s next? Well, according to Inside Philanthropy, Cheyney University — the oldest HBCU in the nation — is on the chopping block.
Many HBCUs are going through a financial hurricane: falling enrollment numbers, cuts in higher education funding, and a dearth of wealthy donor bases.
In 2013, Howard, Spelman, Hampton, Meharry Medical College, and Florida A&M all had a combined endowment of $1.3 billion. That may seem sufficient, but compare this number to the big guys, such as Harvard. The Ivy League collects an endowment of $30 billion.
In efforts to prevent an HBCU from becoming another St. Paul’s College, donors around the country have given scholarship packages to keep our Black academies afloat. Who are they? Here are some recent benefactors of our beloved HBCUs.
This story is ancient in pop culture news terms. But it’s new to me and just too adorable not to share. So here I am bringing it to you, on the off chance that it might have slipped under the radar for you too.
Remember back in 2012, when President Obama was running for re-election he and First Lady Michelle Obama were having dinner with voters? Well, President Obama being the charismatic dude that he is, he shared a very charming story about the time he had to style his eldest daughter’s hair.
My favorite story out of this is Malia, when she was 4, she had a little dance thing. Well, Michelle was gone that weekend so I’m taking her to ballet. And I get her in her little leotard and her little stuff. I did her hair, put it in a little bun.
We get to the dance studio and one of the mothers there right away comes up to Malia – she thinks she’s out of earshot of me and she says, ‘Sweetie, do you want me to redo your hair?’ And Malia who she’s 4 says, ‘Yes please, this is a disaster’ you know, she didn’t want to hurt daddy’s feelings.
I love this story because I’ll forget the week my mother was out of town visiting her brother, my uncle, in California. I remember it for basically one reason and one reason only. It was the first and last time my dad was left to style me and my sister’s hair for school that week.
The first day I naively thought that since my dad was go great at everything else he did with us, doing our hair would be the same. I was sadly mistaken. Not only does my father have large and heavy hands, he had absolutely no idea how to style our hair like our mother did.
But that didn’t stop him from putting up a good front. That morning before school he asked us what we wanted. I was about 8 and by this time I’d had a relaxer for a few years. And since it had been a while since I’d been to the shop, my hair was too old to be worn down. So I told him I wanted a ponytail.
My father’s hands trying to scoop up the strands of my hair felt like mallets clunking against my scalp. It was anything but pleasant. And on Tuesday, I told him I’d do my own hair. My sister, who is just under two years younger than me, whose hair wasn’t relaxed, just had to suffer until my mom came back home.
Needless to say, after a week of me attempting to protect my scalp and my father struggling with my sister’s three staple braids, we were looking rough…real rough when we picked my mom up from the airport.
We all look back on that week and laugh. Those are some pretty fond memories, even if it was less than amusing when I was going to school looking crazy.
Did your father ever have to do your hair for some reason? How did he do?
So Michelle Obama was on the Ellen DeGeneres show and apparently she’s all about the “Uptown Funk.”
If you haven’t seen the video, it is likely because you are legally blind. And I mean that both figuratively and literally as the video has been everywhere. But for the sake of this post, I offer this brief synopsis: it’s a video of the FLOTUS in some white very wide-legged sailor pants doing some sort of choreographed routine with the cast from “So You Think You Can Dance” to the wildly popular Morris Day and the Time’s…er…I mean, Bruno Mars’ track, “Uptown Funk.”
It is cute because it is awkward. And yet as awkwardly cute as it is, the routine, which is said to have mark the fifth anniversary of her ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative, is all kinds of tired.
Yeah, I said it.
And I say it lovingly and with the utmost of respect for the First Lady (except for those pants she had on because I hated them with the passion of 10 presidential veto powers). With that said, Michelle Obama has spent most of her time in public office as a dancing machine. And I honestly think it’s time that we allow this woman to hang up the tap shoes and enjoy the political show from a comfortable seat on the sidelines.
But she probably won’t. And according to The Daily Mail UK, the First Lady will be performing the routine at least one more time on the front lawn of the White House during the annual Easter Egg Roll. Oh goody. More awkward dancing…
It all started with the 2007 election when her husband, then Senator Barack Obama, was forced to bust an uncomfortable move with Ellen DeGeneres in order to win votes. The following year – and only two months before the general election- FLOTUS would again be compelled to drum up votes by also doing a two-step with Ellen. Thankfully, the election season ended and we would soon be spared the embarrassment of having to watch mostly White people force The Obamas to dance – at least for a short while.
In 2011, Michelle would get all footloose again, but this time around, it wasn’t votes she was after. Rather her happy feet were in support of her Let’s Move Initiative. And instead of two-stepping with Ellen, the First Lady did the Dougie with the kids from the Alice Deal Middle School in D.C. Naturally, the public ate it up.
And why wouldn’t they? Michelle is the hip, cosmopolitan and young mother who isn’t afraid to show her arms and doesn’t wear Mom jeans. Likewise, there was a political gain to be had. If you recall, the anti-obesity program was taking a serious beating in the press by mostly right-leaning conservatives, who took issue with Michelle’s tampering with the nutritional value of the public child lunch programs. As such, her dancing provided a nice way to refocus the program to the much more politically- safe topic of physical activity.
And it worked. Michelle would celebrate the second anniversary of the anti-childhood obesity program by dancing across four state in a three day tour. In 2012, she returned to Ellen again to not only dance but have a push-up challenge. In 2013, she did the Evolution of Mom Dance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Also that year, Michelle “freeze danced” with the kids of Savoy Elementary School in Washington, D.C., did a Bollywood bop with guests at the White House’s Diwali celebration, raised the roof with young contest winners during a Kids’ State Dinner, and cut-a-rug with tennis champ Serena Williams.
The dancing continued in 2014 including at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities event at the White House, during another appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and at another Let’s Move event where she did the salsa with former “Saved By the Bell” alum Mario López. She would end last year by releasing a Vine video of her chair dancing with a turnip to Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” For a second there, I thought Michelle was dropping a hint to the world that she would finally be taking that much deserved seat. But she would continue to channel Debbie Allen this year with her latest viral foxtrot with Ellen.
I know that it is common practice for politicians (including their families) to want to show us that they are human and embarrassing just like the rest of us. It is a huge way that they build social capital. While I imagine there are some – a handful at least – politicians who hope to spend their times in Washington taking care of the business we elected them to do, the reality is that many of their own constituents doubt both their actual sincerities and abilities to do their jobs unless we see them engage in some sort of stupid human trick like drinking beers with babies or eating an Italian hoagie while doing the Macarena.
This need to establish and maintain social capital is especially true of the Obamas who have garnered quite a reputation on the Hill for being both anti-social and a bit snobby. As noted by Todd Purdum in this Vanity Fair piece from 2013:
“Successive flights of frustrated senior aides to both the president and the First Lady have battled the Obamas’ persistent assumption that supporters (and staffers, for that matter) don’t need to be thanked—a battle fought largely in vain. Five years into their tenure, the couple has a social reputation few would have envisioned when they came to town: more standoffish than the Bushes, and ruder than the Clintons.”
It’s hard to say how much of that reputation is earned and how much of it is a shield meant to protect them against some pretty aggressive racism, including the micro and passive-aggressive kind. Or even if their alleged attitudes are even the problem at all?
For the most part, President Obama has been a pretty moderate leader. He definitely hasn’t been the reformer many had hoped he’d be in 2008. Yet that hasn’t stopped the right, as well as some within his own party, from trying to paint him as some sort of radical Black, Islamic militant named Barack X. This kind of racism, which has plagued much of the Obamas two-terms in the White House is not unusual to Black America. And the constant cultural maligning as being angry and confrontational tends to create anxiety and doubt within some of us, to the point that we are overcompensating in our genteelness in order to appear non-threatening to non-Black people.
Some of us smile more. Some of us speak in lowered and hushed tones (if at all). Some of us manipulate other behaviors and compromise a bunch while some of us try to become different people all together. And then there are some of us who will dance until White people relax.
Not sure how much the Obamas embodies the latter, but both are highly skilled and intelligent people. I’m certain we can talk to them about anything. This is particularly true of Michelle, who prior to the White House, had her own thriving career as a civil rights attorney. And yet the only use we can find for her to do is the electric slide of the White House front lawn…
“You Should See What The Senate Says About Me”: President Obama Reads ‘Mean Tweets’ From Twitter Trolls On “Jimmy Kimmel Live”
If you’re familiar with “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” I’m sure you know about the “Mean Tweets” segment the show does sometimes. It involves pretty big celebrities growing thick skin and actually reading the harsh criticism lobbed their way by people on Twitter. A lot of the time musicians sit down and read the tweets, and the results are usually hilarious. But this time, the commander-in-chief of the free world sat down to read a few of the things Twitter users had to say about his work as president, his incessant love of golfing, his ears and why certain frivolous things cost so much money under his presidency.
President Obama had a good attitude about the whole thing though, even laughing at some of the criticisms and correcting the grammar of others, proving, as always, that he’s #unbothered by the haters. As he told Kimmel after the segment, “You should see what the senate says about me.”
I’ve read a lot worse online about the POTUS (Daily Mail and NBC News commenters are pretty much a hate group against him), so it’s safe to say that they didn’t pick from the “complete ignorance” batch. Still, it was a fun clip to watch.
Check out how President Obama handles the jokes and jabs for yourself below:
“It Was An Insult”: Civil Rights Leader Diane Nash Left Selma March Reenactment Because George W. Bush Was There
Activist Diane Nash, 76, was a major player in the civil right’s movement. A student leader who decided to fight for change after experiencing extreme segregation at Fisk University, Nash was co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Nash was also a Freedom Rider, took part in some of the first sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and her organizing efforts as one of the leaders of the SNCC helped blacks in Alabama obtain the right to vote through the Alabama Voting Rights Project, as well as the Selma Voting Rights Movement.
But when President Obama and his family, along with many Civil Rights figures, congressmen and everyday people took part in the restaging of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma this past weekend, Nash refused to march. Why? Because former President George W. Bush was there.
According to The Root, Nash told an audience of people taking part in a commemoration of the work of civil rights foot soldiers that Bush’s presence at the event was inappropriate. As she put it, that march was supposed to stand for peace and nonviolence, and Bush represents the complete opposite.
“I was all set to march with them. They had me on the front line. And then George Bush came out and got in the march, and I left. I decided I wasn’t marching anywhere with George Bush. The Selma movement stands for nonviolence and peace and democracy and fairness and voting rights, and George Bush stands for just the opposite. He stands for violence and war and stolen elections and for goodness sake, his administration had people tortured. I think this occasion was not appropriate for him to be at. I think for him to appear to be leading people involved in the nonviolent movement in this country, for photographs of that to go across the world, would make it look as though we have sold out. I think that is an insult to people whose lives were taken…it’s an insult to me. And I think it’s an insult to everybody who does believe in nonviolence.”
Yes, Bush was there, but you might not have known that since the former president and his wife, Laura, marched near the outer edge of the bridge. Plus, most photos from that event cropped Bush out since he wasn’t really anywhere near President Obama and his family during the actual march. Such cropping reportedly enraged Republicans, but then again, it doesn’t take much to heat them up.
So while Nash isn’t criticizing the choice of others to take part in the march, she was not okay with the idea of being part of anything about nonviolence that included the former president. Check out her thoughts in full:
I’m sorry, but I’m having a difficult time feeling inspired by what some in the media are calling a “powerful and poignant” speech made by President Obama during the 50th commemoration of the historic walk through Selma, Alabama. Not when Black people like Kevin McGill are still being harassed and imprisoned and it all appears to be sanctioned by the state.
According to ABC News 7:
“A sanitation worker in an Atlanta suburb is behind bars for getting to work too early. Kevin McGill was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating a Sandy Springs ordinance that says workers can only haul trash between the hours of 7am and 7pm. McGill was cited for picking up the trash just after 5am one morning. He says he could not believe when the prosecutor asked the judge for the maximum punishment.
“I was stunned. I didn’t know what to think. I was shocked,” he said.
The prosecutor, Bill Riley, makes no apologies for locking sanitation workers up.
“Fines don’t seem to work,” Riley said.
He says they are a nuisance to sleeping residents. McGill had only been on the job for three months.
Now he has to spend the next 14 weekends in jail, while he works during the week… after 7am.”
This small town Georgia prosecutor sounds like a terrorist, who is using the justice system to inflict as much personal retribution and paternalism his little evil heart can dish. And it is not only costing the taxpayers (who will foot a sizable portion of McGill’s stay in county), but also McGill who more than likely be hit with not only court fees, but might now have to explain to all his future employers his brief time in jail – that’s if he can get past the application process.
Of course, the bigger tragedy here is that these stories about how poor (and that includes the working poor) and Black people are abused by law enforcement and our court system are not unusual in America. The Ferguson report is proof of that. And yet McGill’s story is treated incidentally and told almost in a humorous fashion. There is no exposé into the local district attorney’s office or questions asked about the actual ethics of his prosecution or even commentary about the larger question of prosecutorial abuse. That aspect of the story, and stories like it, are always glossed over. Always.
Just like in President Obama’s Selma speech.
In most of the mainstream press, President Obama drew particular high praises for beautifully articulating both the spirit and struggle associated with the Civil Rights era. In particular, he points how marchers were often condemned as “communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them.”
“As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.
We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.”
And yet many would argue that the march has continued on into Ferguson, New York, L.A., Cleveland and other points ravaged by police abuse and violence – an issue which only seems to have gotten considerably worse over the last 50 years. In fact, more Black men are in prisons today than there were in the time pre-Civil Rights era.
In the speech President Obama acknowledges these injustices, as well as the findings in the Ferguson report. He also reminds us that these injustices are “ woefully familiar” and “evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.”
But in the next breath, President Obama then argues that things have gotten better since Selma. And that Ferguson is not “endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom like it was pre-Civil Rights Movement.” More specifically he tells the crowd:
“We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.”
It is true that we have Black CEOs running Fortune 500 companies and gay Black friends who are now able to say they’re gay openly, but the real question is how many of those Black CEOS and gay Black friends can walk the streets freely without threat or fear of harassment by the police based solely off the color of their skin? I bet if we posed that question to the same groups, very few would speak of progress.
The point here is that what happened in Selma was more than about getting across the bridge to register to vote, just like what happened Ferguson is more than about a single kid who was mercilessly killed in the street by an overzealous police officer. But rather those marches were an indictment of an entire predatory system, which not only views Black people as subhuman. but also actively treats Black people like profit and revenue.
The same predatory system of oppression, which created peonage and sent many of our ancestors post-slavery and Reconstruction right back into bondage. The same predatory system, which created literary tests, taxes and engaged in flat-out fraud to deny people’s constitutional right to vote. And the same predatory system, which today continues to punish and exploit people like McGill, whose only real crime is being Black under the jurisdiction of a white man with an ax to grind.
What happened in Selma and in Ferguson wasn’t just about all colors of people uniting and fighting to change America. But both those narratives were and are also about state-sponsored violence. We should speak that. We should speak that entire truth.
In the speech, President Obama spoke favorably of the young people throughout history, particularly the young people in Soweto, Burma, Tusnia and the kids in Ferguson who’d risen up in similar fashion to demand change. He also acknowledged that true progress, “requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”
And yet as President Obama waxed poetic about the bravery of the young disruptors of the status quo, he fails to mention the responsibility his office holds in disruption of this status quo and facilitating progress. Instead he treats himself as an outsider and an observer pointing out everybody else’s burdens and responsibilities. Almost as if to say, you rainbow-colored bunch of young people keep on marching and I guess someone will eventually come along and be bold about things. Someday.
As clearly, it will not be now and with this president. As pointed out by Dr. Stacey Patton in Dame Magazine:
“As MSNBC reports, Obama fielded a question about why the DOJ didn’t charge Wilson by saying that, “he had ‘complete confidence and [stood] fully behind’ the DOJ’s decision regarding Wilson, whom said he killed Brown in self-defense. “We may never know exactly what happened, but Officer Wilson—like anyone else who is charged with a crime—benefits from due process and a reasonable-doubt standard,” Obama said. “If there is uncertainty about what happened then you can’t just charge him anyway, just because what happened was tragic,” Obama added, noting that it was “an objective, thorough, independent federal investigation.”
And in many respects, seeing the nation’s first Black president being lead across the Edmund Pettus bridge by motorcade is a powerful symbol of King Jr.’s realized dream. Likewise, listening to him evoke the names of Sojourner Truth, Mary Lou Hamer, Langston Hughes, John Lewis, among others is nothing short of magical.
But shit is real out here and we are way past the point of symbolism. And the commemoration of Selma was the perfect time for Obama to talk about what he and Eric Holder could be doing in their last days to fix policies and make both the prosecution and dismantling of these rogue police departments possible. Instead he takes the political coward’s way out and tells everyone to go vote instead.
The problem is that we all did: for you.