Dr. Boyce: President Obama Lacks the Moral Authority to Give His Lopsided Speech at Morehouse
By Dr. Boyce Watkin
This week, President Barack Obama gave the commencement address to the young men at Morehouse College. I was happy to see the president speak to these men, for I’m sure they were inspired by his presence. The achievements of Barack Obama are nothing short of legendary and inspirational, he deserves to be recognized as such. Morehouse College President John Wilson should also be commended for his extraordinary leadership. Dr. Wilson was gracious enough to join the presidents of Spelman and Clark in co-signing the open letter on mass incarceration written by myself and Russell Simmons.
The president’s message consisted of the same themes that I recall hearing from my grandmother: You have to work twice as hard to get half as much if you are black in America, and racism is no excuse for you to give up. I agree with this message, and I share similar messages every single day of my life.
The president’s decision to speak in ways that he knew would resonate with Morehouse men and their older black parents was an intelligent political move, without question. The president’s speeches tend to be more conservative when he speaks to African Americans (I even noticed his use of the word “Lordy” early in the speech), and this is a good fit, since black people are also very conservative. The truth is that many African Americans would be Republicans if the party would just stop being so blatantly racist.
Another thing about black people is that many of us suffer from the low self-esteem that tends to afflict oppressed individuals. We’re not much different from the housewife who believes her husband wouldn’t have had to beat her if she had not burned the cookies. When her husband is out with other women, she is simply thankful that he took the time to pay the rent. She’s ecstatic about any form of acknowledgement from her husband whatsoever, and when he berates her, she knows that she deserves it. To some extent, she comes to embrace her oppression as the natural order of things, and the tranquility of her marriage is built upon the idea that his views, needs and status are superior to her own.
When President Obama graces us with his presence, we are simply honored that he took the time to even acknowledge us. Any symbolic gesture, no matter how scant and meaningless, becomes precious to us, because for some, there is no greater achievement that any black man could aspire to than to get validation from white people. Had President Obama passed on the presidency and taken a position at an all-black school and educated thousands of black children, we would have considered it to be a wasted opportunity. Why would such an important man spend his time with us? The political harmony between black America and the Obama Administration is a carefully-designed relationship in which our job is to shut up and cheer for anything the administration chooses to do with our votes.
Part of this asymmetric partnership with the Obama Administration is that we are actually HAPPY when the president berates us. We like being told that we don’t try hard enough and that the reason so many of us struggle is because we have come to embrace an inferior set of habits and cultural norms. We ENJOY the abuse, because deep down, many of us have bought into the myth of white superiority as much as white people themselves.
So, when Obama comes to Morehouse and says, “Stop using racism as an excuse and start taking more responsibility,” we LOVE it. We also nod our heads in agreement because for the educated elite, Obama isn’t talking about us. He’s talking about “them.” You know, those n*ggaz who keep getting sent to prison, who can’t get jobs, and who are killing each other in the street. They deserve their plight because they don’t work as hard as the rest of us, at least that’s the logic. It’s easy to grab onto the simple answers: Black men love their kids less than white men do, black women are only capable of raising incompetent children who eat Popeye’s chicken for breakfast, and black people are slightly less human than whites, thus prone to more criminal activity.
Graduates react as President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., May 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)