Racial Uplift or Racial Scolding: The Baggage of Symbolic Representation in President Obama’s Speeches to Black Americans

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4 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    “Perhaps it is generational differences or simply the weariness of always having to try extra hard for things solely because of race that causes some of my colleagues to prickle at this suggestion.”

    Making your kids value education, tutoring them at home, and so forth, are not “trying harder”. Deferring gratification, living cheaply and saving, are not “trying harder”. Not having children when you’re in your teens is not “trying harder”. They’re trying. They’re the normal behavior of middle class and above people of any color.

    The absolute worst thing you can do to any group, is encourage them to see the source of their troubles as being somewhere other than themselves, because the only thing they really have control over is themselves.

    This is a message anybody has standing to deliver, regardless of authenticity or race.

  2. AYY says:

    When did Tim Wise become a “scholar?”

    You end the post by saying that you have doubts, but it’s not clear what doubts you have. You raise questions, but they’re not directed to the validity of what Pres. Obama said.

    If you think for one second that the readers of this blog are going to just sit here silently and let our President be criticized without anyone defending him, well that’snot going to happen. Pres. Obama probably doesn’t write his own speeches. Speech writers do. Pres. Obama has other things to worry about. Maybe hte speechwriter knew Tim Wise was going to be there and wanted to make sure the graduates heard something in rebuttal.

    More importantly, just because others havc asked the questions you mentioned doesn’t mean they’re legitimate. Whatever one thinks of Pres. Obama personally, some of us are willing to judge him on whether what he says is right or wrong, not on whether it’s legitimate for him to have the nerve to disagree with Tim Wise.

    If you thought Pres. Obama was wrong for saying what he said, then give us the reasons. The legitimacy issue you raise seems to miss the point of the speech.

  3. Muriel Morisey says:

    “whether President Obama seems to be treating black audiences differently from other audiences when he talks about social problems.”
    *I think he does treat them differently but I also think the audiences expect it. My observation when a Morehouse parent was that it is a very conservative community – progressive on racial and social justice issues, to a point, but conservative in just about every other way. I think the President was saying what a lot of parents wanted him to say to their kids and re-enforcing a lot of the messages the faculty conveys.

    “If so, does he have the same legitimacy as the black elders who made similar speeches to me in the early 1950s?”
    *His legitimacy comes from the same place as theirs, doesn’t it – the experience of having to work extra hard and always against negative stereotypes. I come from a long line of educated achievers – privileged compared to most blacks – but my family imparted messages about excellence, hard work and so on. Did their messages lack legitimacy?

    ” In light of the President’s past statements and actions does he have standing as a black man to make a racial uplift speech (lift as we climb), or has he been so non-committal that he lacks the legitimacy to make that speech since he does not claim to be a black leader?”
    *There are a variety of ways to assess “blackness.” For example, to my mind the Obamas have used the White House to legitimize black artists in every sphere. Oprah could have done much more than she did in this regard. Tavis Smiley could do more.
    *I don’t think he should claim to be a black leader. For one thing, he would have the election claiming that.
    *I wouldn’t characterize him as noncommittal. Pell Grants policy, for example, means more to black kids wanting college educations that any rhetoric he might promote. Virtually every aspect of his domestic policy supports programs that help blacks disproportionately. The President’s policies and actions protected Pell Grants. Any negative effects were the result of congressional, not presidential action.
    * No one paying close attention during the first election should have concluded he was going to be a race President. His positions on affirmative action and the death penalty alone made that clear. I think we’re getting what he claimed to be but some people had a different fantasy going.
    * His choice to work as a community organizer will always count for something with me. He could have made a ton of money and been around people who said things like, “I don’t even think of you as black,” for the rest of his life.
    * Should black academics teach to literally and preach to figuratively only black students? Of course not. But I’m sure all of us take special efforts to mentor and support our black students. Teaching is an opportunity to influence lives. We are all in leadership positions. And these days especially no one would get a job claiming they were going to focus on the issues and concerns of black students. Why is the President so different?

  4. Muriel Morisey says:

    Correction to my previous post. I meant to say that had the President claimed to be a black leader he would have lost the election….