All Articles Tagged "President Obama"
In a controversial editorial for the New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan shares an interesting theory about how President Barack Obama could help resolve race relations in this country. He thinks President Obama should apologize for slavery.
Yes, you read that right: Egan believes President Obama – America’s first Black president – should issue an apologize for slavery.
After you are done rolling your eyes into the back of your heads, check out this passage from his essay in the Times:
The first black man to live in the White House, long hesitant about doing anything bold on the color divide, could make one of the most simple and dramatic moves of his presidency: apologize for the land of the free being, at one time, the largest slaveholding nation on earth.
The Confederate flag that still flies on the grounds of the Statehouse in South Carolina, cradle of the Civil War, is a reminder that the hatred behind the proclaimed right to own another human being has never left our shores. An apology would not kill that hatred, but it would ripple, positively, in ways that may be felt for years.
As the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother who died more than a century after slavery ended, Barack Obama has little ancestral baggage on this issue. Yet no man could make a stronger statement about America’s original sin than the first African-American president.
Um, I think there are stronger statements he could make. He could actually call White people out on their current shit (the Charleston terrorist attacks for example), or reclassify hate crimes, particularly murders, as terrorist acts, or sign some laws that would offer harsh penalties for cops found guilty of police brutality. Those “statements” could actually evoke change. Still, Egan has a point. Although Congress apologized back in 2009 for the enslavement of Black people, the apology was a bit half-hearted. You see, it also came with a stipulation that their admittance could not be used as “legal rationale for reparations.”
Egan also has a point when it comes to elevating conversations on race:
For this year’s Juneteenth — commemorating the day in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a Union general landed in Galveston, Tex., and told the last of the dead-enders in Texas that “all slaves are free” — President Obama could close a loop in a terrible history. He could also elevate the current discussion on race, which swirled earlier this week around the serial liar Rachel Dolezal, and the race-baiting billionaire vanity blimp of Donald Trump.
For some (okay, for most), suggesting a Black man apologize to the country for what happened to our ancestors is likely the most egregiously hilarious bit of post-racial victim-blaming nonsense ever heard. While we’re at it, why don’t we ask the Chinese workers making Jordans and iProducts to apologize for slave labor and being locked inside of sweatshops all day. Or better yet, let’s make a pig apologize to a slaughterhouse for becoming a fried pork chop.
But what is particularly absurd about the essay is the part where he states that President Obama wasn’t burdened by slavery like most African Americans because his father is Kenyan. For one, colonization happened in just about every country in Africa. Hell, it happened in much of the brown world even. So what that means is that there is no Black or brown land or person who hasn’t felt the burden of White supremacy. Likewise, the fact that President Obama’s African father is not native to America, and that Obama was raised apart from the American Black community, has not deterred those within Congress, as well as the conservative right, from attacking him because of his race. Therefore, it is naive to suggest that President Obama has somehow been spared the experience of what our ancestors and their descendants have and continue to go through in America.
I also reject Egan’s notion that an apology for slavery is just about sending a strong statement about the historic wrongs committed against African Americans. He seems to believe that a government-issued apology would address what are largely systematic problems. While it is true that it would be a statement, the reality is that we don’t need anymore symbolic gestures. Instead, what we need are tangible assets. A real apology for slavery – one that does not include caveats – should lay the groundwork for a much more substantive legal action. Yes, I am talking about reparations. And not only do I want my 40 acres, preferably the land right under Wall Street, but I will also take the damn mule.
After all, an apology comes with regret. It is meant to show the victim, or victims, that the apologist not only empathizes with how they have been wronged, but it also shows the victim, or victims, that the apologist has every intention to make amends and offer restitution. What an apology does not do is shield a person or even an institution from culpability, which is exactly what another symbolic apology for slavery would mean. What good would an apology do if schools in largely Black communities continue to be underfunded or when cops are still getting passes from the government for killing and maiming Black people? Or better yet, how will an apology help Black redlined communities or reduce the Black unemployment rate, which is usually double that of whites?
Listen, I am all in favor of President Obama issuing a real and substantive apology for slavery. But what Egan has in mind sounds like more political manipulation meant to give the appearance that we are in a post-racial society. And if a symbolic gesture is the only reason for an apology, well Egan and the United States government can keep it.
In case you were wondering if CNN anchor Don Lemon had any credibility left, we can all answer with a resounding no.
Just last week, when that Black woman called him an Uncle Tom on live television, I was wondering if she’d taken it too far. But after seeing this week’s antics, I’m starting to think she needed to let him know.
These days, it seems that the network has realized that Lemon is a controversial figure, with his coverage and commentary often causing spirited debate and denouncement everywhere from social media platforms to the barbershop. But instead of attempting to make him more objective or more palatable to the CNN viewer, they’ve used his infamous personality to incite more ire, particularly amongst the Black community.
Yesterday, Lemon was discussing the Confederate Flag continuing to wave in South Carolina and President Obama’s use of the word nigger.
Two separate topics that both just so happen to be hinged on the larger and more complex issue of racism. Instead of speaking about the topics separately, as they deserved, Lemon combined the two asking the audience first if the Confederate Flag offended them. Then, shortly afterward he held up a sign with the word “Nigger” unblurred in white letters over a black background and asked if the audience was offended by this word.
You can watch it in the video below.
Don, what the hell?!
First, it’s a shame that people are getting so caught up on President’s Obama’s use of the word that they’ve completely failed to grasp the point he was attempting to make. That the country needs to have a serious and in depth discussion about racism not just the word. And, in doing the complete opposite of what he just said CNN had yet another tired discussion about whether the word was offensive or not and how shocked and appalled we all were to hear President Obama use it.
As someone pointed out, poignantly, President Obama is not the first president to use the N word. He’s the first to use it publicly, which in and of itself speaks to the steeped and storied history of racism, even in the highest office in America.
When Lemon stood there holding that sign and that flag, looking ridiculous, it was clear that all of it was to get people talking. And that’s exactly what it did. Check out the ways in which people dragged both Lemon and CNN for their poor decision.
It’s clear that CNN has become more interested in the controversy Don Lemon garners than in his integrity as a news man.
— Amanda Seales (@amandaseales) June 23, 2015
MN authors Nneka Samuel and Desiree Bowie had a lot to say about President Obama’s response to the Emanuel AME shooting and whether or not he has been too meek when it comes to issues affecting the Black community. We decided to share both opinions with you at once. What do you think about the way President Obama has spoken about the realities of racism in this country? Has he said and done enough? One author says no, another says yes.
There’s a reason the Obama Anger Translator sketch from Key & Peele resonates with audiences. In it, a hyped-up, no-holds-barred Luther (played by Keegan-Michael Key) takes the words and musings of the ever calm, cool and collected President Obama (played by Jordan Peele) and transforms them into an uncensored rant. The hilarious tell-all indicates how the President really feels in any given situation. In real life, President Obama (who knows how to tell and take a joke) enlisted the fictional Luther’s services during his speech for this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner. He playfully acknowledged his poker face reputation.
All jokes aside, many people, especially those in the Black community, have wanted President Obama to dig deeper and take a more authentic stand on the issues and ills that disproportionately affect people of color in this country – incarceration and poverty, to name a few. The role that race plays in American society is obvious and a resistance to openly acknowledge and discuss that role is a missed opportunity to educate, to affect positive change and to combat complacency and the white privilege that assists in sustaining systemic racism.
Though he has openly discussed both his Black and White parentage, particularly during his presidential campaign, the subject of race was largely absent during President Obama’s first term. Race being an issue that makes a lot of Americans uncomfortable, we like to think that we are so far removed from the time where race literally divided us. “I don’t see race” is a common misnomer that speaks to this. And while we have made great, tremendous strides, we still have a rather long way to go. That division, however, the past that some of us refuse to acknowledge, influences so much of how we live today.
Make no mistake, I do not and have never expected the President to be some sort of messiah to the Black race. As the leader of the United States, President Obama has an obligation to serve as many of this country’s people as he possibly can. This often results in an all-inclusive, generalized type of parlance, as opposed to a direct, “Hey, Black people, I’m talking to you” kind of approach. Expecting President Obama to address all of the issues that plague the Black community in America and disproportionately affect Blacks is almost as absurd as the sentiment that we live in a post-racial society simply because we voted a Black man into office. Not to mention, focusing on a so-called “Black agenda” would have angered a large portion of the American population and surely would have made him a one-term president. Such unrealistic expectations would not only set President Obama up for failure, but give him more power than he or any one person can yield.
However, now that he’s approaching the end of his second and final term, the president has become more vocal about the issue of race, largely in response to the tragic deaths of Black men and women at the hands of White police officers. In a recent interview with comedian Marc Maron for his “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast, President Obama had a very candid and open discussion. It was the type of conversation I would like for him to begin with the American public.
“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” the President said. “We’re not cured from it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ni**er in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.”
You already knew that the media was going to harp on the fact that President Obama used the n-word and make a story out of that instead of the real issue at hand. But the interview was especially refreshing, coming after President Obama’s White House press conference in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting. During the press conference, President Obama focused on gun violence – undoubtedly a very real and very serious issue in need of obvious reform. But he failed to address the racism that propelled Dylann Roof to murder nine Black people as they fellowshipped during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. The President’s press conference left me wanting more. As usual.
I understand that in his role, he cannot always give personal or emotionally-charged responses. As our leader, it would be deemed unprofessional, among other things. And while I am happy that President Obama is not the angry Black man his opponents want him to be, I still yearn for some sort of transparency. I crave the candor he expressed in Marc Maron’s interview discussing race in America, and would like it to be more present in his dialogue with the public. Enough with the same PC responses.
Our fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters are killed at church for being Black. We are killed for driving while Black, for wearing a hoodie while Black, for selling cigarettes while Black, for having a mental illness while Black, for talking on our cell phones while Black. Our murders are an epidemic. The way in which Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed racist and murderer – not alleged or suspected – was found alive, peacefully escorted into custody with a bulletproof vest protecting his body, and provided with Burger King after taking nine innocent lives – not only speaks to why we chant “Black Lives Matter,” but why we need President Obama to keep talking about race. This is not business as usual. We need to focus on healing wounds, repairing damage and creating the kind of society that has been promised to American people since this country’s inception. We need President Obama’s help, his voice and the spotlight of his position as one of the most revered and respected heads of power in the world to ensure the kind of promising future he’s spent his career building. No more holding back.
Guns, The Confederate Flag And Whatever Rick Perry Is Talking About Did Not Cause Emanuel AME Massacre
When it comes to attributing responsibility for the terrorist attack that occurred at the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, it seems that our political leaders are looking for someone, or something, to blame.
Except the shooter.
For instance, let’s talk President Barack Obama, who in his address to the nation after the terrorist attack, spoke about gun control. He said, “We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
While an interesting point, it is not completely the truth. From the moment the incident happened, it was pretty obvious for most willing to operate with a sense of history and common sense what the reason was for this attack. The motive for a white man gunning down nine people inside of a historically Black church was, in fact, racial hatred. Moreover, be it a gun, bomb or even knife attack, the method of the attack doesn’t matter as much because his aim was to inflict harm as well as terror upon the Black community. Yet in a prime opportunity to get the country to face itself, our president conceded the obvious facts and instead chose to direct attention to an issue that is only a symptom of the actual problem.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a representative from the National Rifle Association decided to use the terrorist attack to gain traction for the organization’s gun-toting agenda. The individual blamed Clementa C. Pinckney, Emanuel AME pastor and South Carolina Senator, who was one of the nine people slain. As reported by Yahoo, Charles Cotton, a Houston attorney on the National Rifle Association’s board of directors, said that if Pinckney hadn’t been opposed to concealed carry legislation as a state senator, he and the eight other members of his congregation would still be alive. That’s right. Nothing says concern for the safety of our parishioners like a shootout between two, or more, armed nuts with a possible bad aim in a small, enclosed space.
Also getting some of the flack is the Confederate flag. As noted by Think Progress:
Within hours, social media was flooded with posts and tweets about the Confederate flag, and the word “Confederate” quickly became a trending topic on Twitter. Pieces decrying the flag’s presence on the South Carolina State House grounds began popping up everywhere: Vox’s Zack Beauchamp railed against the historic symbol of the Confederacy, calling its placement on the government property “an insult to Charleston’s victims”; Ta-Nehisi Coates penned a blistering critique of the flag in the Atlantic, aptly titled “Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now”; and The Boston Globe published a scathing political cartoon…
Surprisingly, also championing the cause to get the Confederate flag removed from the South Carolina State House are Republican presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. On his Facebook page, Bush wrote in part: “My position on how to address the Confederate flag is clear. In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged.”
And that right there should let you know that this collective outrage at the Confederate flag is kind of bullsh*t. Sure, the Confederate flag is a horrific symbol of both slavery, as well as state-sanctioned violence against Black people. However, if we are going to remove the Confederate flag, we might as well remove all of the flags in this country. That includes the stars and stripes, as many Black men and woman have been killed through racialized and state-sanctioned violence under the red, white and blue symbol of freedom as well.
Taking a different approach is former Texas governor and current presidential candidate Rick Perry. He recently said that he doesn’t think that the shooting was a terrorist attack, but rather, a “crime of hate.” He also went on to call the attacks an “accident,” which was likely sparked by drugs. More specifically, he said in an interview with NewsMax, “It seems to me, again without having all the details about this, that these individuals have been medicated and there may be a real issue in this country from the standpoint of these drugs and how they’re used.”
For real though, what kind of drugs is this guy on? That’s what we need to be banning. And while we’re at it, let’s ban him from ever opening his mouth and running for office again.
In all of these dialogues about the Charleston terrorist attacks, our legislative representation and political thinkers want to offer useless remedies. From gun reform to more guns to the removal of a symbol, which truly illustrates who we are in this country. All of this totally misses the point of why 21-year-old Dylann Roof went into the church that day and committed mass murder. In his own clear and concise words, Roof admitted that he did it because he hated Black people. That’s it. Nothing more to think about – actually that is not true. Our pubic discourse needs to focus only on one thing, and that is the eradication of White supremacy. Anything else is truly a distraction.
The Nairobian reports a Kenyan lawyer, Felix Kiprono, is seeking the eldest First Daughter, Malia Obama’s, hand in marriage. Instead of a modern proposal, though, Kiprono is offering a dowry of 50 cows, 70 sheep and 30 goats; Kiprono is also willing to meet with President Obama to discuss during his scheduled visit to Kenya in July.
Kiprono claims his love for Malia has been unconditional since 2008 when President Obama was first elected into office. He told The Nairobian, “I got interested in her in 2008. As a matter of fact, I haven’t dated anyone since and promise to be faithful to her. I have shared this with my family and they are willing to help me raise the bride price.”
The lawyer wants to make it clear that he is not infatuated with the teen First Daughter, though he plans to write to President Obama requesting Malia accompanies him on his trip to Kenya. “People might say I am after the family’s money, which is not the case. My love is real, I am currently drafting a letter to Obama asking him to please have Malia accompany him for this trip. I hope the embassy will pass the letter to him. I will hand it over to the U.S. ambassador with whom we have interacted several times.”
If President Obama agrees to Kiprono’s bizarre request, the lawyer already has some ideas for an engagement celebration: “I will not resort to the cliché of popping champagne. Instead, I will surprise her with mursik, the traditional Kalenjin sour milk. As an indication that she is my queen, I will tie sinendet, which is a sacred plant, around her head. I will propose to her on a popular hill in Bureti near my father’s land, where leaders and warriors are usually crowned. The place is called Kapkatet, which means ‘victory.’Ours will be a simple life. I will teach Malia how to milk a cow, cook ugali and prepare mursik like any other Kalenjin woman.”
Unfortunately, everyone but Kiprono knows his dream of having Malia as his wife or President Obama as his father-in-law will not come true. But good try.
State of the Union, January 25, 2014
What Will My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Do?
In catalyzing a national ecosystem of support to help boys and young men of color, MBK Alliance will support program interventions targeting six key life milestones:
- Entering School Ready to Learn (Early Childhood)
- Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade (Middle Childhood)
- Graduating from High School Ready for College and Career (Adolescence)
- Completing Post-Secondary Education or Training (Adulthood Transition)
- Successfully Entering the Workforce (Adulthood)
- Reducing Violence and Providing a Second Chance (Throughout Life)
“All lives matter. We care about your future. Not just sometimes, but all the time.” — Barack Obama#ChangeTheNarrative
My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (“MBK Alliance”), a new, independent nonprofit, aims to eliminate the gaps in opportunity and achievement for boys and young men of color – making the American dream available to all. This will require strategic evidence-based interventions from community, private, public and social enterprise partners that holistically tackle these gaps from cradle to career.
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?