Friday, June 20, 2008

Barack Obama's Speech on Father's Day



Sen. Barack Obama was roundly criticized by some in the black community for having the audacity to go before the Apostolic Church of God, in Chicago, Il--a black forum, on Father’s Day--and suggest that young black men should step up to the plate and become better fathers. He pointed out that the very foundation of the entire nation is being shaken by too many young fathers, of every race and ethnicity, failing to embrace their responsibilities, but the problem is particularly pronounced in the black community, where one half of all children grow up without a father in the home, a number that has doubled since he was a child.

He went on to point out that children who grow up without a father in the home are five times more likely to grow up in poverty, nine time more likely to drop out of school, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. He also spoke of his own experience without a father. He recalled seeing how embarrassed his mother was to have to go to the market with food stamps in order to feed the family, and the pain she suffered when she couldn’t get him some of the things that other children had. He also spoke of the epidemic of children killing children in the black community, then asked, How many are we willing to lose?

I was caught completely slack-jawed that anyone in our community would take issue with such a pertinent and timely message, but when I read one of the nation’s most prominent black scholars asking, If you have a message about the value of fatherhood, why did you wait to speak at a predominantly black church to give the message only to black parents? , I was completely taken aback.


Had Senator Obama gone to a predominantly white forum to criticize black fatherhood, there might have been some validity to the argument that it was inappropriate, but that was far from the case. First, it wasn’t black fatherhood he was criticizing–in fact, he took the time to commend those black fathers who had stepped up to the plate. He also went out of his way to praise his wife’s father, who in spite of a severe disability, he got up an hour earlier than he would have had to ordinarily just to get to work on time, yet, managed to step up to the plate and bring the type of excellence to his parental responsibility that allowed him to raise two well rounded and successful children. So he wasn’t criticizing black fatherhood at all–on the contrary, he was encouraging those being less than responsible to rethink their way of life.

And as for the propriety of addressing this issue in a predominantly black forum, I don’t understand the objection. He told the truth, in a black setting, as a black man who grew up without a father. Who better to speak to an issue that needs so badly to be addressed in the black community than one of the most prominent figures in the community? And what would be a more appropriate place to deliver such a message than in a black church, and among black people? A case could have been made that he would have been remiss not to have given such a speech.

We often talk about the courage to speak truth to power. That’s exactly what Sen. Obama demonstrated. He’s not a stupid man –he remembers the backlash that came down on Bill Cosby for broaching this very same subject. Yet, in spite of the fact that he desperately needs black support to win the presidency, he decided that it was so important to delivered this message to his people that he took a chance on losing that support. That is the true meaning of speaking truth to power.

We’re often hoodwinked by demagogues to believe that speaking truth to power means screaming at those holding the highest offices. But power is relative, and true power belongs to those who are most apt to have an immediate impact on our lives. During the fifties and sixties speaking truth to power meant speaking out to the powers that be on the issue of civil rights. Back then it took great courage to do that, as the murder of Malcolm, Martin, and many others will attest. But speaking out on those very same issues today is all but meaningless. Since there’s nothing new or evocative in such a message, there’s absolutely no danger involved. That’s why you find every militant brother with lips and low self-esteem shaking his fist at the white man. It allows them to look hard, like modern day Malcolms, but without experiencing any of the risk that Malcolm had to endure.

True power, in this case, is not the government or Barack Obama–true power lies within the status quo, and peer pressure. So if we really want to speak truth to power in this case, it involves challenging the mores of our culture. The truth is, we need to be asking why are we criticizing a man that’s advocating personal responsibility while lionizing people like Fifty cent, or ‘Fiddy’, as he’a affectionately called, who’s getting filthy rich by denigrating the very womb of our culture. And if we want to speak truth to power, we should be asking, why are we allowing Langston Hughes and James Baldwin to be all but forgotten, while black Ph.D.s are running around on national television quoting entire courses of gangster rap.

Ironically, among the many criticisms that was made about Sen. Obama’s speech was that he was contributing to the stereotyping of black men by suggesting that more of us help our sisters raise our children.


Every time a rap video is made that denigrates black women and portray black men us as ignorant, illiterate, and vulgar, it serves as a commercial that goes around the world that says, black men are stupid. Now, that’s stereotyping. We constantly put out these commercials saying I’m a gangster, I want to kill my brother, and the queen of my culture is a slut , then when we’re treated like the idiots we portray ourselves to be, we want to point to Sen. Obama as the source of black stereotyping? The level of disconnect is amazing.

In contrast, I recently saw a remake of King Kong. While watching it, the very first thing that caught my interest was how differently the white man portrays his women. The entire point of that movie was built around the fact that this white, blue-eyed, blond woman made the Earth stand still.

When they took that white woman ashore and the natives laid eyes on her blond hair, and blue eyes, they went totally berserk—I mean, into an absolute frenzy. And in spite of the fact that the island was full of black women, the natives were convinced that nothing in this world would appease this twenty-five foot gorilla like the opportunity to lay his hands on this one White woman. And it turns out they were right, because the minute King Kong laid eyes on her he forgot about all else. Thereafter, he fought forty foot snakes, numerous dinosaurs, and finally, the United States Air Force, just for the love of this one white woman, who wasn’t even as big as his thumb. Now that, demonstrates a love of culture, and a love of self. For you can never have any self-respect without first having respect for the very womb from which you came.

That is the lesson that Obama was trying to teach–and since he had a white mother, and was raised by white grandparents, he has much more than a passing acquaintance with that philosophy. So instead of criticizing him, we need to listen to this black man. He understands that the very foundation of any culture begins with respecting, and protecting, its women, because they symbolize the value of that culture, and everything that culture represents.

On the other hand, meet Fifty Cent:

Fuck Dat Bitch
If a bitch don't like me
Somethin's' wrong with the bitch...(fuck that bitch)
Why...oh wanna fuck with me now?

And you say Obama is stereotyping the black man? I’d say you’re trying to shoot the messenger.

Eric L. Wattree

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