Monday, May 20, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Tim Wise on Barack Obama "the Scold-in-Chief" of Black America

Two more quick thoughts on Obama's visit to Morehouse College.

[I tried to work in an only Nixon could go to China and Obama went to Morehouse quip but it didn't work out. Alas.]

More seriously, at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates puts in (as usual) some great work on deconstructing the offensiveness at the heart of both Obama's speech at Morehouse and the First Lady's address at Bowie State.

Coates was particularly on point here:
This clearly is a message that only a particular president can offer. Perhaps not the "president of black America," but certainly a president who sees holding African Americans to a standard of individual responsibility as part of his job. This is not a role Barack Obama undertakes with other communities. 
Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people -- and particularly black youth -- and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that "there's no longer room for any excuses" -- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of "all America," but he also is singularly the scold of "black America..." 
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed  in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.) 
They will weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the millAnd they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.
Taking on another angle, Tim Wise also offers up a great intervention regarding how black folks are worthy of public chastisement, but white folks, elites especially, are never held up to similar standards of personal responsibility:
Needless to say, Barack Obama will never tell white people at a traditionally white college or university to stop blaming affirmative action for every job we didn’t get, or every law school we didn’t get into, though we’ve been known to use both of these excuses on more than a few occasions. 
He won’t tell white graduates at a traditionally white college or university to stop blaming Latino/a immigrants, for “taking our jobs,” which excuse we’ve also been known to float from time to time. 
He would never tell graduates at a mostly white college to stop blaming immigrants, or so-called welfare for our supposedly high tax burdens, even though these remain popular, albeit incorrect, scapegoats for whatever taxes we pay. 
He won’t tell white grads at white colleges to reject the entreaties of their right-wing radio hosts and talking heads, who keep blaming the Community Reinvestment Act and other fair housing laws for the mortgage and larger economic meltdown, even though such things were not to blame
In short, to Barack Obama, it is only black people who need lectures about personal responsibility. Onlythey who make excuses when things don’t go their way. Only they who need to be reminded to do their best, because white graduates — like the majority of the grads at Ohio State to whom he also spoke recently — have got all that on lock. Their work ethics are unassailable. They would never make excuses for their failings. They would never blame a 35 percent tax rate, or capital gains taxes, for instance, for causing them to not invest their money, or create jobs. They would never blame gay marriage for threatening their own heterosexual marriage. 
Because white people never make excuses for anything.
And so we get to remain un-lectured, un-stigmatized, un-bothered, and un-burdened with a reminder of our own need to be responsible. We get to remain, in short, privileged and presumed competent, presumed hard-working, presumed responsible, until proven otherwise, while even some of the best and brightest black men in America will start their careers having been weighted down with the realization that even the president, at some level, doesn't really trust them to do the right thing, unless reminded to do so first, and by him.
There is much to unpack there.

Of course, such immunity is one of the material and psychic wages of whiteness. But, it is not just race. Because claims on virtue, thrift, and moral responsibility are intimately tied to race and class in America, white folks are a priori assumed to posses such virtues in this country until they severely deviate from them by a huge margin. By comparison black Americans, and to a lesser degree Latinos and Native Americans, are already assumed to be poor and thus morally defective, lacking in impulse control, and thus deserving of their fate.

To point. "White trash" is a statement about deviation from the norm of respectable Whiteness. "Ghetto" is taken to be synonymous with "blackness" and black folks' authenticity. This notion is reproduced by the culture industry and also internalized by too many young people of color, and others who judge them by such a low and twisted standard.

Obama is the national Scold-in-Chief for black America. African-Americans are not the audience for his rhetoric as from Clinton onward the Sister Souljah moment is obligatory for New Democrats and their public.

President Obama's fondness of chastising black people comes out of a long tradition of black respectability. However, that tough love approach was offered up by race men and race women who were proud of the race, and invested in the Black Freedom Struggle all the while calling for black self-improvement and success.

Obama is President of the United States of America. He rejected the mantle of "race man" long ago.

Remember, you cannot get upset at Obama for a lack of transparency on this issue. He told the black community exactly where he stood on "the race question" and social justice years ago with his statement that "I am president of the United States of America" and not black America.

Ironically, President Obama dons the robe and hem of Chief Executive of Negroes only when necessary to criticize African-Americans as only he, the country's first black president, is uniquely able to do.


Stephen Kearse said...

I am on Tim White's side in spirit, but you're right when you say there's a lot to unpack, namely the fact that Blacks rarely have the privilege to directly address whiteness. If Obama told whites to straight up relinquish their whiteness, he would then wake up and tell Michelle, "I had the keepin' it real dream again."

OaktownGirl said...

Outstanding. Thank you.

cmoon64 said...

A poignant expose on President Obama's fixed oratory for black audiences. The irony of all this is that one of the Morehouse tenets promotes the very premise of striving and excelling regardless of the challenges that society presents or what they experience on a personal basis. They were the least likely audience to require his tendency to expound on the matter. However, canned speeches for certain demographics preclude making the logical deductions.

This is an impressive viewpoint!! Thanks for sharing.

chauncey devega said...

Just repeating what I heard elsewhere w. my 2 cents thrown in. Thanks though!

Share those tenets. I would like to learn more about them.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you for chiming in :)

chauncey devega said...

Obama would be impeached. No black man or other person for that matter saying such a thing would be elected President anyway.

JGrey said...

As long as the zero sum game and all their assets are kept unimpaired, white folks would probably drop whiteness at the drop of a hat and pretend it never existed in the first place, that's it's all in our head and we've been Bro's all along.

Shady Grady said...

Extremely well stated!!!!!

Ben Grim said...

About that discussion we were going to have after I got over my Obama Derangement Syndrome. This is the Chauncey De Vega I've been waiting many many months to hear from. Rather than the Obama cheerleader and excuse maker.

SunKissed said...

Very insightful post. But my question is how is what Obama did any different from what Bill Cosby did years ago, to which you didn't understand the criticism he got? Obama lambast blacks at Morehouse and he is wrong, Cosby lambast blacks at the NAACP and he is truth telling? Perhaps there is something I'm I misunderstand about your stance on the matter.

SKTheKid said...

I'd hazard a guess and say the criticism Obama's receiving is because the ONLY time he seems to speak with any type of authority and conviction is when he's criticizing black people, and we're the ONLY folks he seems to have no issue talking down to.

The "red line" in Syria? Ehh...maybe not.
Closing Gitmo? Well...never mind.

The message in and of itself isn't that different, it's the messenger that's the issue.

Mr. pop pop said...

I agree people don't like being lectured to. However, much of the commentary I read here reminds me of something my nana used to say, lots of smart people have no common sense. The pres doesn't need to tell white graduates of prestigious institutions to act responsibly whether they do or don't has significantly marginal impact on their life chances. Todays young I'mwhite hipster 15 years from now will be a member of a congressional committee making policy impacting black who don't take the game seriously.

AverageBro said...

Mostly because as President, Obama has the power to make some substantive change to the very policies that created the problems he critiques.

Cosby? I'm guessing he couldn't even get a show greenlit on Centric right now. So yeah, sorta big difference.

AverageBro said...

I'm not cool with dropping links to my site on other blogs, but I had a similar take on this today. You can find it if so inclined. I hope you do.

That said, excellent piece here, Chauncey. Longtime lurker.

Constructive_Feedback said...

Dear Mr DeVega: (and hello to you too - Average Brother - the Liberal Kappa - the BLACK MAN so THREATENED by me that he THREATENED to delete every post that I make on his blog, NOT because I violated any 'Acceptable Use Policy' - but because I dared offer direct challenge to his den of agreement.

Can I ask you a question.

After Ta-Nehisi Coates and (Dr Earl Ofari Hutchenson) went on the attack against Minister Louis Farrakhan (and any other prominent Negro) who DARED condemn President Obama's "HUMANITARIAN MISSION IN LIBYA" - which destroyed the Navy of an sovereign African nation as well as its telecommunications infrastructure - DOES MR COATES have any CREDIBILITY left in his person to talk to Black people about how Obama has OFFENDED HIM in a speech at Morehouse?

chauncey devega said...

What are you talking about? Are you also Thrasher writing under a new schizo personality? I like your posts. I think you are sincere and a type of fun court jester. Did you just reveal something unintentional about yourself?

Constructive_Feedback said...

[quote] Obama has the power to make some substantive change to the very policies that created the problems he critiques.[/quote]

Average Bro - The Liberal Kappa:

1) OBAMA IN OFFICE, after receiving 93%+ of the Black INVESTED VOTE twice

2) OBAMA, sitting atop the tiered government of City/County/State/Federal government BASED ON THE PAST HOPE that the "Americanized Negro" was sold about how his VOTE would lead to his COMMUNITY'S SALVATION

3) The Black Racial Services machine who's PURCHASED SILENCE about the ACTIONS OF THE US GOVERNMENT BECAUSE such criticism would, in their view WEAKEN THE PRESIDENT, making him vulnerable to the RIGHT-WING RACIST MACHINE and thus weaken THE PROGRESSIVE PUBLIC POLICY that the "Americanized Blacks" have been sold upon.....................................


If you were a CONSCIOUS NUPE you would be focused upon the COMPROMISED BLACK INSTITUTIONAL INTEGRITY that was transacted ALONG THE WAY.

People like you who FAILED to establish "checkpoints" during the STRUGGLE - as you did an examination of the GROWTH IN THE PORTFOLIO BALANCE in the 'Black Community Development Fund'.

INSTEAD you choose to fuse YOUR EGO with "YOUR BLACKNESS" which is itself inextricably tied to your POLITICAL IDEOLOGY.

AT the point of MISSION ACCOMPLISHMENT - as "The Man" who so many "We Are In The White House Negros" LIVE VICARIOUSLY THROUGH speaks to the venerated Morehouse College graduation - instead of YOU being able to look at the MOLESTATION OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY INSTITUTIONAL INTEGRITY as it invested more in BUILDING UP A POLITICAL MACHINE than it did in properly governing our BLACK COMMUNITY HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTIONS - you have some DAMNED NERVE to try to sell the NEGRO AGAIN, compelling him to PRESS UPON OBAMA to pass PROGRESSIVE PUBLIC POLICY to "undo the damage that POLICY has created" (in your view).

What you NEED to be looking for are the CONSTRAINTS that are incumbent WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY CONSCIOUSNESS NUCLEUS that prevents an EMBEDDED CONFIDENCE MAN from directing any future "Americanized Negro" DEVELOPMENT HOPES - into the same channel in which so much of the "Black Community Development Funds" WERE STOLEN.

Are you even interested in an AUDIT?

AverageBro said...

He's a serial troll. I fell sorry for bringing him out of captivity an onto your blog. Sincere apologies.

Constructive_Feedback said...

(Out of respect for my dear friend Mr DeVega - I removed the curse words directed at the Nupe as he attempts to discount me into a "Troll" even though I have his number. And to be honest with you, Mr DeVega - I have your number to but at least I have RESPECT for you - if not for all of your antics.)

AverageBro - The Liberal Kappa's definition of a TROLL (when a "Racist Uncle Tom" doesn't quite fit the occasion":

(EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - IF YOU OFFEND 'Average Bro - The Liberal Kappa' THERE IS NO HOPE that whatever observations and attempted redirection of the Black Community's course WILL BE ACCEPTED BY HIM, regardless of the "Accident Record" that has been compiled on HIS WATCH as his favored POLITICAL MACHINE is driving the vehicle called 'The Black Community Consciousness'.


The Detailed Review of the antics of AverageBro - The Liberal Kappa - the man who "Green Lights so much of the malfeasance that occurs within the Black Community and he is not even a 'White Entertainment Executive' " :

1) Anyone that challenges his own PROGRESSIVE-FUNDAMENTALIST ORTHODOXY and dares to offer up clear examples of how it serves as a front for his "Black Consciousness"

2) A person that observes that HIS "Blackness" (or "Certified Blackness" ) is suspiciously a part of HIS OWN "Ego"

3) Anyone who notes that while he is always on the RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY with regard to OPINIONS - this has NO DAMNED CORRELATION to the CONDITION OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY.

3a) Even Though "AverageBro The Liberal Kappa" may have taken a leading role in promoting to OTHER NEGROES the benefit that the collective will obtain from FOLLOWING ALONG WITH HIM - when things don't turn out as PROMISED -(NOT BY PROOF HAPPY NEGROES - but by evidence of DEVELOPMENT AS PROMISED), our dear friend Average Bro - The Liberal Kappa NEVER seems to recommend that HIS VOICE AND OPINIONS be BETTER VETTED by the INSTITUTIONS OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY so the same outcome does not happen again.

Constructive_Feedback said...

TRUCK YOU you damned Nupe!

Please define what "Trolling" is - IN YOUR VIEW.

That way I can determine if YOU are TROLLING as a impostor that is fronting as a voice of the Black community.

Something has to explain why so many valuables have been invested and you are forced to refer to "President Romney" as a hypothetical.

Why there were no "Afro-Centrists" protesting outside of Morehouse about:

* The Drone Bombing of Northeast Africa and Yemen

* The assignment of (you all's words) A BLACK REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE figure to the FBI TERRORIST LIST

CLEARLY a "Troll" is someone that puts a paddle to your backside - Intellectual SCROLLER.

Wavenstein said...

Beautifully stated

chauncey devega said...

Priceless comedy gold.

chauncey devega said...

I like your work too. Do chime in more.

Stephanie V. Folling said...

Excellent discourse on Mr. Coates' and Mr. Wise's amazing articles. Great work!

(((d-_-b))) said...

Tim ALWAYS puts it down.

AverageBro said...

No doubt.

chauncey devega said...

That he does.

chauncey devega said...

Easy to cook a good meal when you are working with excellent ingredients.

trose1 said...

Notice Mr Coates closed comments on his article. Why? If you read the comments u will know why.
I listened/watched that speech.
PBO didn't say anything that my parents did not preach to me as a child. No excuses, be the best, never give up. I guess PBO should have told the audience go out get drunk and high and the white man holds us down.

I am puzzled how some Black people want to keep Black people thinking as victims. Glad my parents taught me that I can be great no matter what the challenges of racism. Racism is a bitch and it will kick u. We have to learn to get up keep going. We need to strive to do, be better.

Whatever, haters gonna hate.

SunKissed said...

What Obama did was the equivalent of teaching a grown man how important it is to wipe himself after he takes a dump. Appropriate advice for a three year old perhaps, but not an Adult, it's insulting. Those Morehouse students are not the stand ins for every black deviant in the country. Contrary to whatever you've been taught about black people, talking to one of us is not talking to all of us.

trose1 said...

I am Black. What should PBO told those graduates? Eat shit and die because the white man will hold u down?

PBO is not Louis Farrakhan. He is not Al Sharpton. he is not Jesse Jackson. BO is the President of the United States. IF Black people are waiting for PBO to be their savior they are long gone.

PBO will be out of office in 3 more years. What are the black people waiting on PBO to come up with some Black agenda going to do? what will those hell bent on criticizing everything PBO say do? I know what, go hide up under their white masters where they came from. They will continue to do nothing as they did under white presidents.

I am really curious what do u think PBO should have told a graduating class of Black men.

chauncey devega said...

Why? Maybe after 400 plus comments things meander, go sideways, and detract from the good stuff that came before?

chauncey devega said...

Zing. The complexion for the protection.

chauncey devega said...

That is a fair question. Pulpit? Attention? Responsibility?

chauncey devega said...

Got to cosign that. He does show lots of conviction on lecturing the negroes.

chauncey devega said...

We try. I learned it from watching you.

SunKissed said...

Being black does not make you immune to believing falsehoods about your own people. I don't understand why you think Obama can only choose between scolding black students for the ills of people they never met or going on some kill whitey diatribe. That is what's called a false choice and I believe PBO (as you call him) and black people in general are more dynamic than to fall into one of those two caricatures. Perhaps these cartoonish stereotypes are the only way in which you think blacks can behave, but I believe better about our people. As for what he could of told a graduating class of black men, how about "well done!"

CNu said...

that tough love approach was offered up by race men and race women who
were proud of the race, and invested in the Black Freedom Struggle all
the while calling for black self-improvement and success.

That higher set of standards and culture of shaming was offered up by men and women who literally had their own skin in the game of acquiring legal rights that others would be compelled to acknowledge, and, who could ill afford to be identified with and held back by the shameful antics of some low-life, black trash.

"White trash" is a statement about deviation from the norm of respectable Whiteness.

Black trash hereby replaces "jiggaboo" as the preferred neologism for expendables who deviate from the norm of respectable blackness....,

Constructive_Feedback said...

[quote]. But my question is how is what Obama did any different from what Bill Cosby did years ago[/quote]



BILL COSBY never commanded the US MILITARY /CIA / JSOC and had them:

1) Invade a Sovereign African Nation - selling it as a "Humanitarian Mission"

2) DROP DRONES upon Yemen, Somalia and Mali - WITHOUT triggering the Americanized Blacks to protest

3) While the "Americanized Blacks" were focused on THEIR VOTES BEING STOLEN as they were asking for Photo ID - their FOCUS UPON ELECTING OBAMA and defending him against RIGHT-WING RACISTS had them looking past the 260,000 Somalians in Africa who died in the famine of 2011-2012 the same time as the AMERICAN ELECTION.


CNu said...

Bro. Feed, whilst the teensy weensy violins screech every time you bow them on behalf of poor benighted Africans continent-wide, aside from pigmentation - what exactly is it again that you want American negroes to identify with in Africa?

1. Our ancestors were sold out of there by other Africans.

2. Like poor benighted Muslims, they have the misfortune to be sitting on top of land and resources that we need/covet.

3. Many Africans look down on American negroes as smugly and arrogantly as many melaninated Caribbean's do, just that Africans are proximate to lots and lots of goods worth stealing, while the Caribbeans -,

trose1 said...

LOL , I doubt u listened/read or watched the speech.. He stated that clearly, u refuse to listen.
If u don't like PBO that is fine. Majority of Black people think the man is doing a fine job.
Maybe it is U who is talking down to Black people.
I cannot wait for PBO to leave office because those who criticize will be able to push their agenda with the new WHITE president. LOL bunch of fools.

trose1 said...

I read alot of the comments and most were not buying the bs he was selling. Mr. Coates is trying to get his golden ticket to the big media money. Black people commenting and making substantive arguments is not allowed. He is the white progressive go to Black man.
A "bojangles" in waiting.

CNu said...

rotflmbao...., this kneegrow got bojangles and willy wonka into a single, coherent, bust on GED-having TheAtlantic "editor" TaNehisi...,

A little more like this, and they'll have to take out some overblown black trash...,

CNu said...


trose1 said...

and u give us?

SunKissed said...

"He stated that clearly..."
Yep and that's all he had to say. Telling them not to blame white people for their problems was uncalled for. But I get it, criticizing the President is to not like him personally and to talk down to black people. I will from hence forth only heap lavish praise on PBO no matter how many of my people he insults or how many Afghan children he blows up in drone strikes. Thank you for showing me how foolish I am for thinking those things are not worthy of adulation.

Ben Grim said...

That dog whistle worked beautifully. I just saw the McLaughlin Group fawn over and praise Obama's Morehouse speech. Not one of them mentioned the issues discussed here. I have completely lost respect for the one person there that I had thought was very reasonable, Eleanor Clift. I may not agree with WARN on many things, but you are absolutely right about the sickness known as Whiteness.

CNu said...

Common sense is sweeping Ta-Nehisi into the black trash bin...,

Leftist fruitcakes as determined to find fault with Obama even when he does something right -- and in this case at least, they are as out of touch as the president's right-wing opponents. That's the conclusion I reached after rereading Obama's Morehouse remarks in light of the strong critiques from Coates and Kai Wright, my esteemed former colleague at The Root. I didn't hear the "convenient race talk" that Coates detected or the browbeating that troubled Wright. I didn't even hear the voice of a politician.

I heard the voice of my father. It could have been my dad lecturing me across the dinner table when Obama declared, "You have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by."

“In today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said. “Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.”

“Moreover,” Obama continued, “you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”

I know that some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself. Maybe you feel like you escaped, and now you can take your degree and get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car — and never look back. And don’t get me wrong — with all those student loans you’ve had to take out, I know you’ve got to earn some money. With doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could not even imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do. (Applause.)

cmoon64 said...

This is paragraph taken from the site Black Past.Org: "Faculty and staff at Morehouse instruct students to embody a set of
characteristics known as the “Morehouse Mystique.” Created by Dr.
Benjamin Elijah Mays during his tenure as president between 1940 and
1967, the five tenets uphold (1) academic excellence, (2) the
elocutionary arts, (3) high moral values, (4) social commitment, and (5)
the belief in a higher power.That was the vision and I'm sure there were and are ongoing derivatives formed over the years from these basic tenets such as the President cited at the 2013 Commencement. " I understand that there's a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse:
"excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere
and monuments of nothingness."