By Ben Cohen
I know this is not the most popular of positions, but I'm inclined to agree with Jesse Jackson that Obama should stop lecturing African Americans about their duties to their children (although cutting his genitals off might be going a little too far). Jackson's language was far from appropriate, but his sentiment, I believe, was correct.
The absent father issue he describes in the African American
community is a real problem, but has a complex and long reaching
history that Obama does not go far enough in recognizing. He has spoken eloquently about race in America (particularly after the Rev. Wright debacle), but is now using the topic to allay fears of the white community that he isn't a radical. Obama knows that he cannot become a 'black candidate' like Rev. Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton as he will alienate the millions of white voters he is hoping to capture in the general election. Lecturing the black community is the perfect way to do this, and Jackson was right in calling him out on it (although he may not have wanted to).
Obama does not share the same history as the African American community he is speaking to. He is of direct African descent and was raised by a white mother and white grand parents. Obama's father came to America by choice, and his ancestors were not subjected to hundreds of years of murder, abuse and humiliation.
Recent African immigrants are one of the most successful immigrant communities in
America. The average annual personal income of African immigrants is
about $26,000—nearly $2,000 more than that of workers born in the
U.S.There are no widespread problems related to absent fathers, and the
average African immigrant is better educated than the average American. I lived in West Africa (Ghana) for a number of months, and was amazed
at the vibrant culture, iron clad family structures and lack of crime.
The difference between the two peoples - who are genetically the
same, is remarkable. After 400 years of slavery, humiliation, economic
and prejudice, issues like poverty, crime and broken family structures
still persist. Rather than ask why black fathers won't take
responsibility for themselves, the only thing we should be asking is
how any family structure exists at all given the circumstances. It is a
testament to the strength of the African American community that they
continue to thrive despite the horrific history of their people.
Although individuals should certainly take responsibility for their
families, such widespread behavior throughout one particular community
should be viewed in completely different light. It is a serious problem
caused predominantly by outside factors, and shouting at African
Americans to sort it out won't go very far.
The last 30 years of economic liberalization has further disenfranchized
the African American population, shipping their jobs to Mexico, and
increasing working hours to the point where it is now impossible to
spend time with their children. Obama should spend his time talking
about reversing these trends, and making a serious effort to bring
about a better understanding of African American history in a country
that would rather forget it.
Obama knows the topic will endear him to white voters - those
quietly afraid of too many blacks in their neighborhoods, and afraid
Obama may share their anger. Obama is playing the tricky game of being
'tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime'. He must be seen by
African Americans to be one of them, and by whites to share their fears
and concerns. It is politics at its highest skill level, and Obama is
in danger of alienating one side or the other. He has played it well in
the past, but playing to a national audience means the stakes are
higher. The truth is, Obama would never lecture white audiences about
'taking responsibility' for many of the problems persistent in their
communities. Poverty, unemployment and crime are huge 'white' problems,
but Obama does not dedicate speeches to it. He has already made some
alarming shifts to the center, enraging progressives who paid for his
election. Let's hope he doesn't forget the people who struggled so
valiantly so he could even get elected.