The raging controversy over Barack Obama addressing the issue of irresponsible fathers in the Black community, clearly demonstrates that many of the old-school thinkers in the community are living in a time warp. We now have a Black man who is very likely to be the next President of the United States, yet there are those in the community who want him to keep quiet about the fact that we have soiled toilet paper hanging from our inaugural tux. Instead of saying, “Thanks, let me clean up my act”, they’re saying, “Why are you picking on me—I saw a White boy with do-do on him too-why didn’t you say something to him?”
I call these people the “Devil worshipers”. While these people often refer to the collective White establishment as the Devil, they wake up thinking about him, and go to bed thinking about him. They think the White man is all seeing, all knowing, and controls every aspect of our lives. They’re convinced that he has total control over what we learn, what we can’t learn, how we act, and whether or not we can feed our families. While these people generally speak of the White man with either aggressive or dismissive disdain, they fail to recognize that their ceaseless preoccupation with him is actually a form of worship.
That explains why they’re so upset with Obama. They claim that by his saying that Black fathers need to step up to the plate, Obama is “stereotyping” Black men. But they know better than that. They’re simply trying to rally Black support behind a false issue.
Clear evidence of that is the fact that while they’re up in arms about the issue of deadbeat dads being addressed, they have absolutely no criticism whatsoever about the behavior itself, or the fact that it’s being celebrated in millions of videos being sent around the world as representative of Black manhood. Both are clearly doing more to stereotype Black men than anything anyone, including Obama, can say. So is it really Black stereotyping that they’re concerned about, or is it actually Barack Obama himself? I’d say it’s the latter.
They’re actually trying to camouflage their unacceptable belief that no Black man with the gathering power of Barak Obama can be trusted. In their eyes, since the White man is the Devil, and the Devil is evil, any Black man who is allowed to gain true power in this society must also be evil—he’s made a deal with the Devil, as it were.
The problem with that philosophy is that it perpetuates the belief that a Black man has a moral obligation to avoid influence in order stay pure, and to prove his loyalty to Black people. But if we follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, it suggests that a Black man’s place is on the bottom. That attitude is directly responsible for the crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome that we often see played out in the Black community. It is one of our most pernicious psychological shackles left over from our history of slavery.
This attitude also explains why, in spite of a proven creative genius in the arts, Black youth tend to struggle academically-many feel they have a vested interest in academic failure. The reason for that is, many Black people associate academic excellence, along with developing such disciplines as the ability to speak proper English, with being anti-Black. We’ve developed this attitude because during slavery, the only Blacks that field slaves knew who spoke proper English were the house slaves, and they were looked upon with disdain, because the house slaves tended to look down their noses at the slaves who worked the fields. As a result, even though many Blacks fail to realize it on a conscious level, a negative attitude has been passed down through the years towards anything that reminds us of the house slave—and that includes articulate speech, attempts at upward mobility, and the desire for academic excellence.
The argument above also explains one of the reasons you hear so many Black Ph.Ds on national television quoting Tupac instead of Langston Hughes. Essentially, it’s a public apology for being a seeker of knowledge. The message is, “Yeah, I’ve got an education, but don’t worry about it—I’m still one of you.” The argument also brings into focus the question of whether Barack Obama was “Black enough”, and why there’s so much pressure on Obama to attend functions like Tavis Smiley’s “State of Black America” and Jesse Jackson’s “Operation Push”—they want him to prove that he hadn’t been “tainted” by his pursuit of excellence.
We’ve got to get away from this kind of thinking—first, because it sends our young people the message that they have a moral obligation to remain ignorant and on the bottom rung of society in order to prove their worthiness as truly Black. And secondly, it leaves us unprepared to face the new realities of the world around us.
White people, for the most part, have moved on to face reality. They’re beginning to realize that the new battle is not about race, it’s about economics, and class. Even those who didn’t know it before, have learned in the last seven years that the powers that be don’t care any more about poor and middle class White folks than they do Black people. That’s the realization that made Barack Obama possible.
The White community has come to recognize that it’s not just Black people who are paying over four dollars a gallon for gas, and it’s not just Black people who losing their homes as a result of subprime mortgages—everybody’s throat is being cut by the neocons. They’ve come to realize that if we continue to let the corporate class divide us by race, we’ll all be back in the fields—both Black and Whites.
The most telling indication of that is the war in Iraq. That war is being fought almost exclusively by the poor and middle class. While Bush, Cheney, and the new corpo-political class are waving their flags, and handing out medals and coffins, their family, relatives, and friends are cheering on the dying poor over martinis in the lobby of plushly appointed country clubs. Not one of their family members have been wounded or killed by this war that’s subsidizing their lifestyle. That’s why many of the poor and middle class—Black, White, Brown, Red, and Yellow people—are on their third and fourth tours of duty, and not being allowed to leave the military when their enlistments are up. Essentially, they’re being held hostage so the lives of the rich won’t have to be sacrificed.
And consider John McCain’s statement regarding why he was against the new G.I. bill. He said, that he was against it because if we made it easier for G.I.s to get an education, they’d leave the military and we wouldn’t have anyone to fight the war. He couldn’t have been any more clear than that—we need poor people to fight the war.
But as bad as things are, this is the first time that Black people have had anything close to a level playing field. Now that the world is in chaos, and everybody’s hurting, it’s time for Black people to put our best foot forward. We need to stop worrying about the superficialities of image, and start dealing with substance. We need to redefine who we are, reassess our cultural mores, and start seriously addressing the issues that will bring stability into the community.
We’ve got to organize, and start rewarding our children based on how well they can read, do math, and think, as oppose to only stroking them for how well they can dance, shoot a basketballs, or imitate popular rappers. We need to teach our daughters to admire dedicated and focused young men, as opposed to aimless gangsters prone to dropping babies, and hanging out on the block. We need to enlist our churches to hire unemployed mothers to provide low cost childcare for working mothers. The BET Awards should be used to honor our young Black scholars, as opposed to giving out awards to those who corrupt our community. And finally, we should use our dollars to support excellence in the community, and see to it that there is no monetary reward for those who seek to profit from our corruption.
These are the things that we should get worked up about. Once we begin to pursue excellence, we won’t have to be worry about being stereotyped, because a negative stereotype won’t fit the new reality. And once we began to see the struggle we’ve endured as a source of knowledge that makes us more, rather than less, we’ll be able to look back upon our history, including slavery, with the pride of a people who have persevered against tremendous odds.
We’ve got to begin to see ourselves as independent, yet an integral part of this society. Because as many in the White community have already started to realize, we’re now living in a world where it doesn’t matter what color you are. People like Bush, Cheney and the corporate Halliburtons of the world want to subjugate us all. Thus, this new reality demands a new way of thinking, that is, if we want to survive.
And that new way of thinking involves clearly recognizing that your mind is the essence of your being. While the color of your skin may suggest a common heritage that makes it likely that you can bond as brothers, that’s not always the case—people like Clarence Thomas and Larry Elder immediately comes to mind, in that regard. Therefore, the lesson that must be learned, is your brother is not always the one who looks like you; your true brother, is the one who thinks like you.
So let’s pull our heads out of the 19th century, and prepare to deal with the new challenges ahead.
Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at