Less than three hours after Barack Obama declared his candidacy for presidency, the feeding frenzy began among Black people. It just so happened that Sen. Obama declared his candidacy on the same day as Tavis Smiley’s “State of Black America” national broadcast, and many had the audacity to criticize him for not putting off this historic event so he could appear on Tavis’ broadcast. And during the broadcast—again, on this historic occasion—Dr. Cornel West of Harvard University ranted on national television that the Black community should be asking Obama, “How deep is your love for your people” and “Where is your money coming from?” He indicated that Barack didn’t put this historic event off to appear on Tavis’ broadcast because he had people talking to him that didn’t warrant our trust. And as he was saying these things, Tavis was standing there grinning like a chess cat, prowling a South Georgia cotton field.
That was the moment that Barack Obama got my unwavering support. It was at that very moment that I decided that this man was going to get my vote—and if that vote was wasted, as many suggested it would be at the time, so be it. Because it was on that day, and at that very moment, that I fully recognized the depth of our self-loathing, and the psychological corruption of my people.
Later on that day I wrote, “as African Americans we are the product of a racist society-and not just any racist society, but a society that is more efficient in producing subtle racists than any other society that has ever existed on the face of this Earth. Due to the necessity of America’s need to subjugate Black people, while at the same time, live up to the hypocrisy of our “All men are created equal” credo, a form of racism has spontaneously evolved that is so subtle that even Black people have become racist against themselves-and amazingly, without even knowing it. As a direct result, Black people in America hate other Black people just as profoundly, and even more violently, than the most virulent White racist in the South. Clear evidence of that is the fact that of the thousands of homicides committed against Blacks every year, not one perpetrator was reported to have been wearing a sheet.”
I continue to hold that belief, and it’s been continually reinforced throughout this election. It seems to me that the only difference between the modern Black man and the 19th century Black man, who shuffled about more interested in the master’s welfare than his own, is the sophistication of his argument.
Today, instead of simply saying that we can’t trust him because he’s Black, we say, “The people talking to him don’t warrant our trust.” And today, instead of saying, “No Black man has sense enough to run this plantation”, we say, “He lacks experience.”
The situation is such that it’s not safe for this brother to open his mouth without somebody parsing every comma, trying to find something to criticize—and when they can’t find anything, they speculate about what he might have meant, or second guess what he should have said, or question his motives.
On father’s Day Barack spoke at the Apostolic Church of God, a predominately Black church in Chicago, Il. During his speech he discussed the need for man young Black men to step up to the plate and become better fathers. He pointed out that children who grow up without a father in the home are five times more likely to grow up in poverty, nine time more likely to drop out of school, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. He also spoke of his own experience without a father. He recalled seeing how embarrassed his mother was to have to go to the market with food stamps in order to feed the family, and the pain she suffered when she couldn’t get him some of the things that other children had. He also spoke of the epidemic of children killing children in the Black community, and asked, “How many are we willing to lose?”
Believe it or not, there were many in the Black community who took serious issue with that speech. Even Dr. Boyce Watkins, one of this nation’s most prominent scholars (note that I didn’t limit it to “Black scholar”), a brother that I consider a friend, and I highly respect, took issue. He asked, “why he waited to speak at a predominantly Black church to give the message only to Black parents?”
My response to Dr. Watkins was, had Senator Obama gone to a predominantly White forum to criticize Black fatherhood, there might have been some validity to the argument that it was inappropriate, but that was far from the case. First, it wasn’t Black fatherhood he was criticizing. In fact, he took the time to commend those Black fathers who had stepped up to the plate. He also went out of his way to praise his wife’s father, who in spite of a severe disability that required him to get up an hour earlier than most people just to get to work on time, he managed to step up to the plate and bring the type of excellence to his parental responsibility that allowed him to raise two well rounded and successful children. So he wasn’t criticizing Black fatherhood at all—on the contrary, he was encouraging those being less than responsible to rethink their way of life.
And as for the propriety of addressing this issue in a predominantly Black forum, I don’t understand the objection. He told the truth, in a Black setting, as a Black man who grew up without a father. Who better to speak to an issue that needs so badly to be addressed in the Black community than one of the most prominent figures in the community? And what would be a more appropriate place to deliver such a message than in a Black church, and among Black people? It seems to me that a good case could have been made that he would have been remiss not to have given such a speech.
We often talk about the courage to speak truth to power. That’s exactly what Sen. Obama demonstrated. He’s not a stupid man—he remembers the backlash that came down on Bill Cosby for broaching this very same subject. And even Rev. Al Sharpton said he was taking a big chance. Yet, in spite of the fact that he desperately needs Black support to win the presidency, he decided that it was so important to delivered this message to his people that he was willing to take the chance on losing that support. That is the true meaning of speaking truth to power.
The brother should be applauded instead of criticized, and I think he would have been if it were not for a latent undercurrent of hatred and distrust of Black people—but ironically, this time it’s among ourselves.
Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.