How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills of black people -- and particularly black youths -- and another way of addressing everyone else, writes Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.

Posted:
 
obamamorehouse575x52013lc
President Barack Obama at Morehouse College commencement (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills of black people -- and particularly black youths -- and another way of addressing everyone else, writes Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.

No president has ever been better read on the intersection of racism and American history than our current one. I strongly suspect that he would point to policy. As the president of "all America," Barack Obama inherited that policy. I would not suggest that it is in his power to singlehandedly repair history. But I would say that, in his role as American president, it is wrong for him to handwave at history, to speak as though the government he represents is somehow only partly to blame. Moreover, I would say that to tout your ties to your community when it is convenient, and downplay them when it isn't, runs counter to any notion of individual responsibility.

I think the stature of the Obama family -- the most visible black family in American history -- is a great blow in the war against racism. I am filled with pride whenever I see them: there is simply no other way to say that. I think Barack Obama, specifically, is a remarkable human being -- wise, self-aware, genuinely curious and patient. It takes a man of particular vision to know, as Obama did, that the country really was ready to send an African American to the White House.

But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed  in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.) They [will] weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk ...

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' entire piece at The Atlantic.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.