In a hard-hitting piece at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at President Obama’s relationship with the black community in terms of his remarks on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. He compares Obama’s speech to “The Conservation of Races” by W.E.B. Du Bois, a speech that Du Bois is said to have come to look back on with embarrassment.
Much like Du Bois more than a century ago, Obama positioned himself as an airer of laundry, and speaker of bold, necessary truths:
And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support — as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.
It goes without saying that the president is using a tank to bravely plow through an army of strawmen. George Will could not have done better. I have met a lot of trifling human beings who happened to be black, and from them, I have heard a lot of trifling excuses for not parenting. I have never met one who cited racism as an excuse for not parenting or for giving on oneself. I doubt that Barack Obama has either …
Indeed, if we are — as the president asks us to be — honest with ourselves, we will see that we have elected a president who claims to oppose racial profiling one minute, and then flirts with inaugurating the country’s greatest racial profiler the next. If we are honest with ourselves we will see that we have a president who can condemn the riots as “self-defeating,” but can’t see his way clear to enforce the fair housing law that came out of them. If we are honest with ourselves we will see a president who believes in particular black morality, but eschews particular black policy.
It is heartbreaking to see this. But it is also clarifying.
Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ entire piece at The Atlantic.
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