Monday, July 14, 2008

Reverend Jackson Was Right: Uhhhhhh, His Point That Senator Obama Talks Down To Black People


By now, everyone knows about Reverend Jesse Jackson’s hot mike comments about Senator Barack Obama. Of course the Reverend was wrong for joking about emasculating the brother. But, Reverend Jackson was right about one thing: Barack Obama has been “talking down to black people.”

Not everyone has taken Reverend Jackson’s critique of Senator Obama as seriously as they should. Instead, the Reverend has come under attack.

The critics of Reverend Jackson accuse him of being a “Playa Hater.” They contend that he and other civil rights leaders of his generation – those who risked life and limb to end de jure segregation – are jealous of Senator Obama, resenting his rapid rise to political prominence. Reverend Jackson, in particular, is thought to be envious of Senator Obama because he believes that he, not the Senator, should be the nation’s first black president.

Reverend Jackson is also believed to be angry at Senator Obama because the Senator fails to give him and other civil rights leaders their “respect,” that is, the credit they deserve for creating the opportunities that Senator Obama and other black post-civil rights leaders are now benefiting from.

In my view, these veiled attacks on Reverend Jackson’s character miss the larger point of his critique of Senator Obama and the current generation of new black political leaders who are willing to make accommodations with white supremacy for political advancement.

Viewing it as the only legitimate way to contradict the view of black inferiority which hampers their ability to be upwardly mobile, the “accommodationist” black politicians of today repudiates black identity as a political organizing strategy, is willing to tolerate a certain level of white domination, and tries to distance themselves from the black lower classes.

If they are willing to play by the rules, the political currency of the accommodationists is boundless. Anointed as the best and brightest of the new generation of black political leaders by white media and political elites, the accommodationists advance politically by embracing the two doctrines favored by whites: colorblindness and the declining significance of race.

The career advancement of the accomodationists is made secure when they publicly point out, as Senator Obama has been doing, the so-called pathologies of blacks and other people of color in front of eagerly approving black and white middle and upper-class audiences.

The truth is that Reverend Jackson critique of Senator Obama was on the mark. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee “talks down to black people.” He eagerly demands that black people, particularly black men, take personal responsibility for their failures and short-comings, but he lets - though not completely - the system that helps to produce racial and economic inequalities off the hook.

No one serious about eradicating poverty discounts the importance of human agency. At the same time, reams of evidence produced by social scientist also demonstrate that racism is alive and well in American society. I believe that Senator Obama intentionally fails to place many of the problems afflicting black communities in their sociohistorical context simply because of personal ambition, that is, it may harm his political advancement.

It is imperative that we follow Reverend Jackson’s lead and criticize this generation of black leader’s assimilation and accommodation preoccupations. The stakes are too high to do anything less.

4 comments:

Lester Spence said...

i don't think the language of "accomodationism" works here. it's more like "neoliberalism." i was on a show with amiri baraka last week. and on wchb earlier that morning. the wchb link isn't available....but the baraka joint is. go to my blog.

Darryl McMiller, Ph.D. said...

Interesting! I think of neoliberalism as a set of economic policies. While I think that Obama shares one critical aspect of the neoliberal agenda, eliminating the concept of the public good in favor of the idea of “personal responsibility”, I’m not sure if he shares even more critical economic ideas, such as neoliberalism's obsession with the free market, privatization, cutting public subsidies, and deregulation. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if he did.

Michael Robinson said...

I don't agree Darryl. As I remember the speech, Obama made five or six caveats first about why the system caused these problems, then went on to his point about black fathers, saying that fixing the system wasn't enough, the community needs to look inward.

It reminded me a bit of JFK's inaugural address where he tells his audience also to make the nation's work personal. Not quite parallel perhaps, but it's what it sounded like to me.

The other thing that I found interesting: Obama's lines about what it means to be a good father got the biggest reaction from the congregation. That doesn't mean that it was right or wrong, but he's clearly tapped into something that his mostly black audience found compelling.

Finally, it seems to me that BHO and JFK both used these sort of speechs, not because they are right, but because they can. BHO's speech plays well with some African-Americans and a whole lot of whites. And, more importantly, it's a speech that JM could never, ever make. Similarly, JFK's speech about personal responsibility played well coming from a Dem I think because it co-opted an issue that was so important to the GOP.

Michael

Darryl McMiller, Ph.D. said...

What is interesting to me is the message that people take home from the political speeches that candidates gives, particularly white mainstream media and the white public, which I believe is eager to hear black leaders take stands that resonates with the impressions they have about black people. I did a simple Yahoo search, typing in the following words, “Obama’s Father’s Day Speech.” I then clicked on “news.” Look at what popped up: http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news;_ylt=A0geu9QKW39IooUANK1XNyoA?ei=UTF-8&p=Obama%20father's%20day%20speech&fr2=tab-web&fr=moz2 (click the next button to see how extensive the angle is about the speeches he gives to black people). What strikes me is that the headlines say nothing about the points you noted he made during the speech about structures or systems that produce so-called dysfunctional behavior among blacks. The lead is about “personal responsibility,” not structural inequality or socio-historical contexts. So, the problem, according to the media take, is not segregation, failing schools, job discrimination, etc. The problem is – in the white popular imagination filtered through the media – irresponsibility, failed parental behavior, criminal inclinations, and so on. It would be easy to give him a pass and say, “well, he is not responsible for how the media interprets his speeches.” My view is that Obama’s moves are very intentional. He is savvy enough to know what sound-bites will be picked up the next day.