We are living in an amazing era. Just a few years ago, the chance of Americans electing a non-white-male President seemed slim. Now suddenly we have a man of color in the highest office, and children of color across the USA can dream bigger dreams a bit less naively. It’s a milestone worth celebrating. But, it is disturbing that President Obama is also now being invoked in the cultural assault on black males.
From the blithering of Bill Cosby to the measured reprimand in Barack Obama’s Father’s Day ’08 speech – not to mention the various talking heads I can’t stomach and therefore can’t quote – black men are getting it from all sides. As a society, we believe that young black men prefer the fast glamour of basketball and kickin’ it to the inherent value in education, parenthood, and gainful employment. We wonder what’s wrong with them and how we may help them to see the error of their ways. Maybe if we remind them that basically no one makes it to the NBA and high school graduates earn more than dropouts. Maybe if we criticize the music they love and their wardrobe, everything will start to get better for them. Employment opportunities will materialize, and the police will put away their batons, voila.
This unmotivational image comes from the website of M-PowerHouse, a North Carolina non-profit organization, “conceived by Medical Professional’s to unite communities and to address the educational, economic and health factors that impact youth violence.” The way in which this picture uses President Obama against black men is foul.
The caring medical professionals at M-PowerHouse would like to send black men shopping. Who knew all it took was a trip to JCPenney for equal opportunity. There are a hundred problematic assumptions in the image, including the idiotic notion that black men are regularly showing their boxers butts in job interviews, and this misjudgment contributes to their higher unemployment, incarceration, dropout rates, etc.
Ultimately our society believes young black men are irrational thinkers who make bad decisions that result in them getting less of the good life. But social audit studies show the gold goes time and again to white testers wearing identical (white-normed) clothing and speaking identical (white-normed) diction as black testers. And let us not deny that anti-black racism required that Obama be shirt-and-tied and newscaster-speaking to even be considered a viable candidate (insert here your choice of contrast with George W. Bush). The irrationality we should be talking about in reference to racial inequalities lies in racist thinking and institutional practices, not in black men’s leisure attire.
Personally I don’t understand the allure of the clothing trend shown in the above image, but I have no interest in changing it and definitely not in using it to berate black men for their social outcomes. Progress in racial equality will come through challenging racism and the institutional practices that solidify racial inequality, not through subjecting the targets of racism to further surveillance and judgment.