Bashing Black Men in the Age of Obama

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.


  1. I agree with on not understanding the lure of some of the clothing trends AND the irrationality of black male bashing. There is no other group, though black women run a close second, society gives less to and demands more from. It’s especially insulting seeing that McCain still won white Americans and that the meme “if black people would only improve in some area, we’d treat them with equality” goes back to 1865 at least.

  2. Thanks for this, Kristen. I was expecting a lot of diversionary pointing at Obama after the election while telling black men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; it hadn’t occurred to me that they’d be told they could solve their problems by just pulling their pants up too.

    That image reproduced here is an incredible insult. It’s like something you’d see in The Onion.

  3. Kristen Author

    Thanks for the responses KState and macon d. There were actually three images on the website; the other two basically said that no one who dresses that way gets to live in the White House (referred to as a “crib”) or fly on Air Force One. The one shown here sends the most direct message that young black men as a group create their own barrier to excelling in society.
    I am a white woman, and I get exhausted with the onslaught on black Americans. I can only imagine what it might feel like to be a constant target of racist judgments and stereotypes. It’s preposterous that “reverse racism” gets play even as a concept.

  4. Rosalind

    Great post, I do think the most tragic part of this story is that when I followed the link to the non-profit it appears that many of these medical professionals reaching out to communities are men of color. It goes to show the strength of these racist ideologies and images perpetuating within a community. I have found this to be apparent in my research.

  5. Kristen Author

    Rosalind, yes, it looks to be a primarily black male organization, and I actually first saw the image on Facebook – a black male acquaintance of mine, a medical student at an elite university, was using it as his profile picture. This is really complicated, but I think it goes back to how difficult it is to negotiate an anti-black society. African Americans because of their experiences recognize institutional racism to be a real force, but every little bit one can do to try to guard oneself and one’s community from additional hardship is worth it. Thoughts?

  6. Joe

    But isn’t this centrally about looking at the world through the very deep white racial frame, and then giving up to use the old strategy of just conforming to it. So then you hope whites will “let you in”??

  7. Kristen Author

    Joe, I agree and think many people of color find that conforming to white norms is the path of least resistance. But I also think that it plays out in complex ways. For instance, it’s not necessarily assimilation that is being advocated with these types of messages, but learning effective code switching. What do you think?

  8. Maurice

    Kristin, as an African American and a product of the environment in which so many young black men are raised, “the hood.” I am appalled at the fact that this “brother” would…in a public forum…contradict what he sets out to achieve, “encourage our young people to be positive, productive citizens.” It reminds me when I was a child and my uncle would swear at us kids with some of the most degrading words you could say to a child. When he made statements such as, “Boy, if you don’t stop wearing those niggerish clothes, those white folks ain’t gonna give you a job.” As he put it, he was doing it for my own good or in the words of writer Robert Canida, trying to “take the opportunity to reach out to them and educate them.” This is one the most absurd argument’s I’ve heard in my life. Most of these guys, I assume based on their lack of tact are (1) out of touch with the very people they’re reaching out t (2) has probably been indirectly persuaded to believe that in order to be successful you MUST and SHALL confirm to the standards allegedly set by non-blacks. How can you, on one hand, build me up while tearing me down at the same time? It’s apparent that these semi-bigots, along with the likes of Bill Cosby, believe they are immune from black criticism because the pigment of their skin is much darker than yours…Kristen. Furthermore, I’m an educated brotha who “never loss his swagga.” Canida may describe that state as “Ebonics” or “Niggerish.’

  9. I don’t mean to butt in, Kristen and Joe, but the conversation is thought provoking. For me, what’s really complicated about “code switching” is that I don’t actually mind there being some “standard” of behavior or dress or speech in some areas of society. I guess that could make me an elitist, and I’m okay with being an elitist sometimes! I guess I just wish American society would acknowledge that we are privileging white people’s cultural norms over the norms of everybody else’s for no other reason than it’s the path of least resistance.
    As for this group, they don’t seen to be suggesting code switching. They seem to be condescending towards the “other,” and that’s wrong.

  10. Bambi

    The vicious attack on Black men by society and the way many African Americans have internalized the stigmatized view dominant society has of Black men shakes me down to my core. If we are going to attack sagging pants, can we please add attacking the criminal justice system and prisons that first created the “sagging trend” to the to-do list? And if we insist on ganging up on sagging pants are we going to attack the emo guys who wear black nail polish, eye liner, and all black clothing (or do we have to wait til more Black men pick up this trend?) I find it a bit hilarious to believe that a change in wardrobe, linguistic code, and demeanor will open up doors that have been shut for centuries. After all have Blacks not already forsaken their native tounge, tribal dress, and cultural traditions…and still been told that they aren’t American enough?

  11. Joe

    Maurice, Kristen, NO1, Bambi, great points, right on target it looks like to me. Notice that this med group and other groups like this rarely if ever problematize that white racist frame itself. Why not do ads that center white men and our ways (dress, speech, attitudes, discriminatory actions, etc) as highly problematical — as they in fact are for everyone who is not white and male? The white racist frame and actions out of it are assumed by all too many folks to be “normal,” but it is the real pathology, indeed.

  12. Bambi

    Joe, perhaps most Blacks do not problematize the societal norms because many have been socialized to view them as absolute truths. After all, I am sure we are all well aware of the media’s powerful influence on American culture and their dedication to portraying Blacks in a less than positive light. Perhaps assimiliation is better alternative to fighting the powers that be.

  13. Nquest

    I like Kristen’s point about the obscene rhetorical overreach in the self-loathing, castigating insult that is “the idiotic notion that black men are regularly showing their boxers butts in job interviews.” IMO, that kind of rhetoric plays a certain Black pride nerve (elitist or not) and, as such, exists in the kind of echo chamber where few people ever even question how many Black males have been seen showing up for interviews with their pants sagging. (As a side note, by way of personal anecdote, I can attest to how White interns at my public sector job have shown up dressed like they were hanging out with their friends.)

    I think Dr. Feagin misses the point by solely examining this phenomenon as it relates to the white racist frame. What’s missed is the very way this kind of rhetoric plays out in the Black community. As I see it, at least from the standpoint of the individuals who subscribe to the Obama/Cosby endorsed “pull your pants up” mentality, their position is, at once, one that takes a supposed pragmatic or realist point of view in terms of Black bodies navigating a “White man’s world” and one that’s blindly romantic often invoking a presumably more “dignified” past (or aging generation) where the youth supposedly followed the accepted norms in Black society.

    Now we can argue that those good ole days where oversized (or, more horrifically for me, a bit more conservative Black male dresser, fitting/undersized) pants didn’t exist were a product of Black conformity to White clothing norms in some capacity but there becomes a point where this begs the question of where to Black American norms — and, more importantly, agency begin — and White norms end. African-Americans who happen to give their children English/Christian names out of the accepted traditional norms of a largely [Black] Christian population could be charged with “conforming” but then we’d have to honestly investigate what being African-American entails and then we’d have to know what part of being “American” is inherently exclusive of so-called Black people. (I think Macon D’s curious topic on handshakes is instructive here.)

    I agree with Kristen, there is some complexity to this. I also agree that a lot of this kind of rhetoric is highly problematic and probably is a recasting of the “old strategy” for a lot of people who trade in this kind of discourse — for example, the prime portion of Cosby’s famed (read: infamous) “poundcake” speech:

    Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We’ve got to take the neighborhood back. We’ve got to go in there. Just forget telling your child to go to the Peace Corps. It’s right around the corner. It’s standing on the corner. It can’t speak English. It doesn’t want to speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: “Why you ain’t where you is go, ra.” I don’t know who these people are. And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. Then I heard the father talk. This is all in the house. You used to talk a certain way on the corner and you got into the house and switched to English. Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads…”

    There’s a lot that could have emphasized there (Cosby’s curious first-thought of whose problem it is not… and even the “code switching” reference) but I think the important thing to note is how the discourse is framed from internal, African-American intergenerational perspective (Cosby suggesting something went wrong in the Black community; it’s different from the way it used to be) as well as the navigational standpoint (Cosby reference to the necessity of knowing English which can be seen as essentially race-neutral).

    To be clear, this kind of “proper English”, proper etiquette thing has existed in the Black community for some time. In fact, one of the things I valued with Michael Eric Dyson’s book/response to Cosby was how he related the long history of the African-American elite criticisms of Black working class more flamboyant dress styles. But that tradition of self-loathing isn’t mutually exclusive to the kind of sentiment No1 expressed about having standards.

    African-Americans can prefer and even emphasize accepting certain societal norms/standards in terms of dress and speech without bordering on or outright castigating/demonizing other Blacks.

  14. siss

    I think this “outreach” is just plain silly. Putting on well-fitting clothing isn’t going to change a person, relatively speaking. However, I do have to point out, if one is going against social norms (what and where ever they are) expect some backlash….just take it in stride.

  15. African-Americans can prefer and even emphasize accepting certain societal norms/standards in terms of dress and speech without bordering on or outright castigating/demonizing other Blacks.

    So could America. But then they’d have to not just acknowledge that somewhat “random” use of white cultural norms as the national standard; they (white people and Cosby type blacks) would also have to acknowledge that it’s not “right.” Then of course, a country filled with so many ignorant people that Bush was appointed to office in 2000 with no big fanfare, then these same ignorant people want the current president to comment on Iranian politics . . . would have a hard time dealing with the notion that there is no particular proper/correct way to do some particular thing. Like Nquest pointed out, nobody says boo when white students/interns/job applicants show up looking like “who shot john and forgot to kill’em” according to black cultural standards. And the whole discussion also ignores the actual care a lot of black students with baggy pants put into their dress. The pants may be too big for societal norms, but everything will be pressed. Colors will match. And much of the time, you only see the person’s underwear when they are coming to a stance or in the process of sitting. Plus, some kids aren’t actually wearing their pants below their waste! They just wear pants a-whole-nother size too big, with a belt and a large t-shirt to give the requisite allusion to other kids.
    Also, piggy-backing of Nquest’s point about when black cultural norms start and white cultural norms end – As long as the white kid with the too tight jeans is “correct,” black kids will push the envelope. We see the same trend in slang. As soon as white people start using a word, black folks stop. “Badd” no longer means “good.” The same trend exists in hairstyles. And so long as “white is right,” we’re gonna keep seeing this because most thinking black people know what’s going on when it comes to racial supremacy and we don’t want to align with the oppressor. Myself, I had my fill the day a white college classmate, in an honors class, wanted to know why it was okay to have the Black Student Movement when “all hell would break lose” if there were a white student movement.
    As to an attempt at an answer to the conundrum Nquest brought up, I try to encourage folks to draw inspiration from just knowing that the “slaves” were actual people from actual communities and ethnicities apart from Europe – my favorite is the Aya tribe. Listing off the different “tribes” of west Africa sparks something. So, code-switch when necessary; but if there’s a way to be “black” without actually breaking a rule, go for it! Of course, as I learned in middle school when a handful of black girls started wearing colored bandaids on their faces for no medical reason (and no “gangsta” reason either), rules change. -And you know what? It’s just that sort of randomly changing the rules that lets black children know they are wrong just because – That aside, I do think it’s possible to be “black” and still meet certain standards. Dredlocks are a prime example. And if you refuse to give your child a Eurocentric or “Christian” name, there’re a million and one African names a person can choose from without being “ghetto.” “Barack” is just one example, and it’s Arabic. But, just kinda stream of conscious thinking, as much as you wanna smack some mothers for the names they give their newborns, there is something to be said about the sort of “hybrid” nature of African American culture that this naming represents. Most of these “ghetto” names have American/European/”Christian” roots and are just made to look or sound different. These names are “Western” but at the same time, they’re not. Just like African Americans, having been cut off from our Aya roots, come out of a “Western” culture; but at the same time, having Aya roots, we’re not “Western.”

  16. JDF

    You make some great points, Nquest, though I think the white racial frame is responsible for the symbolic violence in the black community, as well as the class divisions that play a role in this (as Dyson had focused on in his argument vs. Cosby).

  17. @JDF – How is the white racial frame responsible for the symbolic violence in the black community? And what is it that you’re calling “symbolic violence”? I’m asking because I want to know, not the usual blog-threat “you’re an idiot” way. I’m new to the term “symbolic violence” and I got to, got to know how the white racial frame plays in this.

  18. Joe

    No1, “symbolic violence” is from the late french sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who used it for the internalized oppression done by women to themselves, that is, women who buy into sexist framing of women. We can extend this idea, and many black analysts have raised these issues long before Bourdieu (who never analyzed racism for some reason). Those targeted by racial oppression often internalize the images of themselves that are part of the oppressors’ racist framing of them. Thus, the Black folks who did the ads, like many people of color in a racist society, have bought into some of the anti-black ideas of the very old white racial frame. That is, even people of color can buy into, adopt, and act out of the 400 year old white racial framing, of themselves–in this case of young black men. That is the power of systemic racism and the white racial frame. Actually, a great many young black men are extremely creative and much of what is seen as negative that they do (from the white frame) is actually protest against the white racist framing of them.

  19. JDF

    Symbolic violence is Pierre Bourdieu’s term, meaning when the oppressed are complicit in their own oppression; or essentially assisting the oppressors in their oppression. Blaming young black men’s unemployment on their sagging I think constitutes a good example of this. Meanwhile, the white racial frame is most certainly linked in that whites are NEVER questioned as an entire group for some immoral wrong, while we hear such accusations against blacks regularly…a critical tenet of the frame is that whiteness is innocent and pure (as opposed to blackness, which is guilty and tainted). Thus, with the racist institutions firmly established, whites don’t even need to defend their racist ideologies; this is the very definition of hegemonic power.

  20. Thanks, Joe. Got it. And I agree about the creative protest that’s deemed negative. I wonder if it’s deemed negative because it’s protest. At the very least, it’s negative because it’s easy and to repeat Kristen’s idea, white people have it soooooo easy, it’s incredible.

  21. ms booker

    I was a black studies major. I am black. Grew up in a Midwestern, black church-surrounded community and now live, unchurched, in Washington, D.C. While the juxtaposition of the poster’s visual messages leaves much to be desired, I find the hand-wringing here a little much. Racism is prevalent — that’s undeniable — but failing to address how we remove these young males from a trajectory and behaviors that doom them to inertia is just as criminal as institutional discrimination. You can achieve the same goals of promoting greater equality and resource access for young black males, in particular, without dismissing problematic behavior. I see young males all the time in my city who look like this, and often show no respect for anyone, young or old. They need guidance, love, and discipline, not apologies and misguided “tolerance.” Better outcomes can be achieved through a combination of personal responsibility within their families, better education, and *well-managed* state or nonprofit assistance, as well as volunteers. I understand that this show-your-bootycrack trend is an offshoot from prison culture — I get that –but we have young boys emulating this behavior long before jail becomes a dangerous reality. And the behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s linked to other behaviors that lead to certain outcomes that affect not only these young black males, but the communities around them.

    Now, in a perfect world, we would all be tolerant of more “casual” styles of dress in the workplace, or on the street. But this ain’t merely casual. More, at the end of the day, I don’t care if John White Boy enters a job interview in flip flops, a tee-shirt, and a baseball cap. Oh, the injustice! If you know the cards are stacked in some way — and black folks have known it for 400 years — then the objective is to take the damn cards from the opponent. It’s called dominance strategy, and though black people in this country have often had a much harder time applying it to their circumstances than ethnic whites who don’t share our slavery-based history, many have achieved it. Along the way, some of these people have been called “Tom” and ” Sellout” while quietly financing the lives and educations of many others. Are their contributions less valid because they “compromised” here and there? (And I’m not talking about the Step N Fetchit variety.) No, I say. They are just as black and love black people as much as anyone else.

    As long as this country and it’s money is run by white folks, despite our biracial president, it’s my job to teach the younger generation to think critically and find ways to work around the system so they can prosper and provide for the next — in addition to fighting racism. And, I take umbrage at the idea that having a modicum of dignity — as my 76-year-old mother and 78-year-old deceased father had back in the day — is somehow “romantic.” I’d venture to say those “romantic” notions, dignity, and steely resolve got many of us, especially those who can afford the computers on which we academically pontificate, the lives we have now. Some respect should be shown here. Stop making excuses for this behavior, because it’s not helping these young brothers.

  22. @ms booker – Dare I say, you’re missing the point. No one’s saying that this style of dress and the culture it represents is a-okay. And certainly it’s not okay to show up at a job interview dressed like that. And even in situations where it should be okay, like just regular ol’ school, we do recognize that style of dress invites problems. So, I think it’s fairly safe, emphasis on fairly, to say that we all agree with you there.
    What we’re saying is that outside of job interviews and the like, it shouldn’t matter. We’re also saying that picture is problematic in that it suggests that it not only does matter, but it should. We’re not denying the reality of the situations. And I am someone who, when necessary, will “compromise” if I think it’ll benefit the community. For example, I’m not sure if anyone in my local black community likes and/or respects our county board of elections chairwoman. She can be blatant in her racism. When she reaches out to hug me, my skin begins to crawl. But I hug her nonetheless because I know her position in the larger community can open doors for me that will enable me to uplift, as it were, my black community. . . . Or, at least make sure our votes are properly counted. I don’t think anyone in this thread would have a problem with my “strategy.” So, we’re not denying reality, we just find it problematic.
    Also, you’ll be happy to know that once you hold for socio-econ status, our issues are pretty much the same as anyone else’s. Crime rate, drop out rate, etc and so on. In any study, you find the primary problem to be racism and/or the gap in wealth accumulations, which is a legacy of racism. So, to say that there’s some “problem” in the black community outside of racism is to deny reality – and I’m not saying that’s what you said. I’m saying, and I think everyone else is saying, that highlighting this baggy-pants style is a symptom of racism and internalized racism, and to a great extent, it’s pointless. It only serves to justify continual racism. Cause at the end of the day, the black “elite” can’t change the black “underclass”; it’s not like we don’t try; that the actions of a minority of blacks impacts all blacks so negatively is due to racism; and lastly, it’s all to convenient for white/mainstream society to continue pointing out our underclass as though they don’t have an underclass and then carrying on as though nobody in the black community is doing anything about it.
    I may have said a mouthfull, but I hope you get my point. It’s not that anyone here would disagree with you, I think you may be missing our point. Or, maybe, it’s “common knowledge” to us that there’s no major difference in things like crime rate. And so, to us, there’s no great social point to stigmatizing this style of dress. Don’t get me wrong. If we can convince just one boy to at least dress “properly” for school, it’s a great day! But in the larger frame of things, different racial groups will always have their “outcasts.” Why should black people have to be any different? Why shouldn’t we be able to dismiss our “garbage” the way white folks dismiss their “trash”?

  23. JDF

    Well said, No1KState. Virtually every generation of youth have some kind of style, be it dress, walk, slang, etc, to give their cohort ownership to something while simultaneously (often) rebelling from the status quo fo the day; i.e., doing something their parents cannot stand. For my own generation, I don’t recall people blaming unemployment on young whites for body piercings, ripped blue jeans, tattoos, etc, yet this is done to young black men. Are young blacks in this society equally able to express themselves? Another good question to ask is so what about the plethora of research findings showing black men who do NOT sag at interviews or in the autos when driving, yet don’t get the job or pulled over for no reason anyway.

  24. Nquest

    I challenge Ms. Booker to point out the excuses she claims others have made here. And I double-challenge here to do it with respect to what I’ve said, since she obviously had a problem with the term I used (“romantic”) while willfully and painfully missing the point.
    Simply put: what excuse did I make, Ms. Booker?
    Seeing none…
    Please treat us to more rambling “dominance strategy”, comprised/sell-out, “steely resolve” rhetoric that does not but prove the points you’re taking issue with even as you skipped over all kind of points I know were made in the process. (Please go back and read the last thing I said in my initial post and No1’s post #9.)

  25. Nquest

    … and to think, before Ms. Booker ever commented, I meant to clarify the argument I was making in my original, lengthy post. I was going to respond to JDF and say the point I was trying to make was that there is a diversity of views in the Black community with some people who extol what I consider genuine, authentic and positive values and cultural messages about “dignity” and standards and others who attempt to extol the same values but can’t help but expose their own self-loathing and internalized racism. That should have been clear to anyone that actually cared to try to understand what I was saying (as poorly as I may have done it).
    That aside, JDF… I also would also argue that both self-loathers and legitimate or otherwise ‘positive’ forces/people in the Black community happen to use the same kind of rhetoric. That was the reason why I talked about the “echo chamber.” The words and phrases resonate with a lot, perhaps most, people in the Black community who aren’t sagging… which is why self-loathers feel so comfortable be so loud and obnoxious (read: Bill Cosby). There’s quite a bit of common ground reached there.
    As for Ms. Booker confusion over the term “romantic”… JDF’s point about “every generation of youth… doing something their parents cannot stand” is why asinine comments about your 76 year old mother are romantic. We’re not in Kansas or the 50’s and 60’s (you know, back in the day when your moms was a teen/young adult) anymore, Dorothy.
    And, really, since we’re talking about “young Black males” and not making any excuses… what’s up with excusing the poor job people of your mother’s generation (or the one immediately following it) did with teaching today’s youth respect and dignity? Children/youth pick that stuff up from somewhere/somebody.

  26. Kristen Author

    This is a great discussion. Thanks to everyone for the thought-provoking comments.I wanted to jump back in, because I think ms. booker introduced an important point for clarification when she said:

    As long as this country and it’s money is run by white folks . . . it’s my job to teach the younger generation to think critically and find ways to work around the system so they can prosper and provide for the next — in addition to fighting racism.

    She’s advocating a dual approach: for day-to-day survival people of color have little choice but to deal with reality and conform to (white) society standards; and, for the long haul, the black community and allies must also fight racism.
    JDF, I think you put it well with: “Are young blacks in this society equally able to express themselves?” The answer is no of course, which is beyond fair, but to quote ms. booker: “black folks have known it for 400 years” – one ignores this knowledge at one’s peril.But, as No1 indicated, most of the posters on this thread differ in perspective from ms. booker in being more concerned with investigating the root of the problem, which is white racism, which has spawned all this pressure on people of color to conform to white-normed standards (or else suffer the consequences and expect zero second chances), and which justifies African Americans’ outcomes as a result of faulty personal choices. Bambi’s earlier statement exemplifies this perspective: “If we are going to attack sagging pants, can we please add attacking the criminal justice system and prisons that first created the “sagging trend” to the to-do list?”As a young sociologist who wants to see my children and grandchildren live in a more humane society, I will err on the side of “challenge racism” over “work with racism,” and I won’t accept ms. booker labeling this approach “hand-wringing,” because from my standpoint, which is that of an upwardlly-mobile white female academic, I see it as MY job in the antiracism movement to teach students about the realities of racism – especially white students who don’t have a 400-year-old base of community knowledge – and encourage them to think critically and find ways to challenge the system so they can help build a better world. I understand that my racial privilege gives me this luxury, but I believe it is a worthwhile endeavor. And, I didn’t intend to make this all about me; I wanted to point out that ultimately all of us here are on the same team, and we are stronger if we recognize and respect our differences in perspective and approach.

  27. @Kristen – Personally, I have great respect of those persons of privilege who, instead of complaining about false liberal guilt, use their position to challenge the status quo. When it comes to my peers, I’m the most radical. I have a girl friend who teases that as a consequence of all my “Black Panther” rhetoric, God will have me marry a white man. (I have a point. Keep reading.) While I wouldn’t deny anyone the right to love who the choose, I’m also not a very big proponent of interracial relations. This is more or less because of the intraracial and mainstream politics attached to it – ie, the CW’s “Hitched or Ditched” most recent episode titled “Blue-eyed Devil.” The gist I got from the 5 min I watched was that the black groom’s mother didn’t like his bride just because she was white. I’m not sure it really got into socio-politics of the situation; that Torrino’s mother was concerned about his and the bride’s anti-racist status. It kinda portrayed her and some other black women of being racist against the bride, maintaining the false notion that racism is all about individual attitudes and everyone’s racist. It’s for that reason I’m not a cheerleader of interracial relationships in general. ~ With this exception: that the white person involved be like you and Joe and Tim Wise. For all my “huff and bluff,” I’d marry a white man who was anti-racist.
    So, my whole point is, I really respect someone who uses their privilege, whether it’s racial, economic, or business network, to challenge the status quo and “help build a better world.”

  28. Bambi

    I completely understand the point of view of ms booker. After all, I was raised by Black women who were more concerned with my survival in a White world than breaking barriers. And to a certain extent, I can see the logic behind ms booker’s argument. It is easy to discuss the white racial frame in America and its affects on Black Americans. However, when your everyday job is survival debating social topics doesn’t make it into the day. So the attitude becomes, “Look, if they want you to pull your pants up just pull em up! You don’t have to like it, but its what you have to do.” Talking about the attitude behind sagging pants is not critical when you need a job. However, I still am in favor of questioning the systemic racism that picks at issues as petty as pants! If my people cannot not look at the system critically, then they will continue to conform. The only way I could be in favor of pulling up sagging pants is if it was done in the attitude of: using the master’s tools to dismantle the masters house.

  29. Nquest

    Bambi, a part of Ms.Booker’s argument was formed/expressed by completely mischaracterizing other people’s arguments — i.e. a knee-jerk reaction to a word or two or just because there wasn’t a non-critical, 100% “pull your pants up” party up in here. Her full sprint-while-blindfolded argument missed how things the very people she called herself differing/debating with actually stated things similar to what she contributed to this discussion well after they (No1 and I) did.
    Re: The master’s tools… I’ve long since tired of such rhetoric. It is, dare I say, romantic. Depending on your perspective, of course — and I mean that in a “what’s your ultimate objective” kind of way which probably reflects a difference in perspective I may have given my rather ‘romantic’ Black Nationalist views.

  30. BARB

    Obama Insults the Black Family at the NAACP

    “No Excuses”? Come Again, President Obama
    Tolu Olorunda | Posted July 17, 2009 12:55 PM

    First he declared that Blacks had advanced “90% of the way” to equality; then he scolded single, poor Black mothers for feeding their kids Popeyes chicken for breakfast; then he ridiculed Black men as boys; and now he tells Black children that they have “no excuses,” no legitimate concerns about the centuries-old system of injustice which has strived to sabotage their success?

    Can’t say I didn’t see this coming, though.

    In his 35 minute-long Thursday evening speech to the NAACP, on occasion of its centennial celebration, President Obama stopped by to inject more tough-love serum into the Black community. Of the many questionable things he said, more striking were his charges that, for Black children, the odds are not as stacked against them as they might like to believe. Insult bribed injury shortly after.

    Although he acknowledged that the “pain of discrimination is still felt in America,” Obama castigated Black children who might use these “excuses” to act irresponsibly in school: “Yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. That’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands – and don’t you forget that.”

    Even though for every 10 cents a Black family makes, white families make a dollar; even though a Black family’s median income is 61% that of Whites; even though Blacks are, despite only 14% of the U.S. population, incarcerated 6 times the rate of Whites, Obama is pretty confident that their destiny isn’t somewhat pre-written before arrival into this world.

    His speech before the NAACP–televised internationally–was but a mere reprisal of his June 15, 2008 Father’s Day speech, in which he thundered: “Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities. But we also need families to raise our children.”


    He doesn’t get it, does he? He doesn’t understand that certain occasions serve different functions, and cannot merely be used as bully pulpits to beat upon the most fragile members of society. He doesn’t understand that it’s not just okay to name-drop Du Bois and Dr. King, Jim Crow and Emmett Till, thinking such names guarantee ghetto passes to chastise Black people for everything under the sun. He doesn’t understand that merely pointing out the obvious, highlighting the structural disparities between Black and Whites, does no good when you dismiss the implications of those structural inequities by blaming the disenfranchised for their disempowerment.


    But if you’re Barack Obama, the equation gets a little complicated. For you, the load gets a little heavier. It becomes questionable for you to ask that Black kids weather the storms of an inhumane society, and simply “get that education,” when you appointed as your Secretary of Education a guy with no teaching record whatsoever, a guy whose academic credibility does not exceed a Bachelor’s in Sociology. Questionable, indeed. Critical thinkers begin questioning your dedication to educational transformation when you appoint as Secretary of Education a guy who, while “CEO” of Chicago’s Public schools, closed down public schools abruptly, building privatized ones in their stead; permitted the army to invade the sacred spaces of the classroom; and notoriously butted heads with the Teacher’s Union–a guy you, President Obama, didn’t trust enough to hand your kids over to. Again, the plot thickens quite a bit.

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