Over the weekend, President Obama took time out of addressing graduates at the celebrated, historically-black, all-male, private college, Morehouse, to remind about black men who make bad choices, chalking up failures to The Man and myriad other excuses.

“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: ‘excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.’ We’ve got no time for excuses – not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured – and overcame.”


But why do a roomful of young, black male college graduates, in particular, need this admonishment against excuse-making and expecting goodies they have not earned? Surely our Commander-In-chief would argue against conservative charges that real racism is dead and that his America is rife with lazy, irresponsible and demanding (black and brown) “takers” Why, then, do his speeches to black Americans so often warn against creeping pathology? (For instance, the 2008 Father’s Day speech that centered on shiftless and absent black sperm donors, instead of men who take the role of fatherhood seriously and are present and active in their children’s lives, whether or not they are part of a married couple.)

Of course, our President isn’t the only person seemingly subconsciously invested in the idea of inherent black dysfunction. In Michelle Obama’s speech to graduates at historically-black Bowie State University, the First Lady complained about young, black students with dreams of hip hop celebrity and urged parents not to accept failing schools. Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliantly addressed hand-wringing over hip hop aspirations in his piece, “How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America.” But it is also worth noting how offensive it is to suggest that the average black parent needs to be told to seek the best education for their children. And why lecture black college graduates, who have clearly demonstrated a belief in the power of education?

Hyperfocus on alleged black faults and how “we need to do better” is an outgrowth of the way black people have absorbed the race biases and stereotypes of the majority culture over centuries, combined with our desire to prove our own decency.

This isn’t just about the President and First Lady. I’ve sat in many a pew and auditorium seat, wedged between other black folk, wondering why a speech meant to inspire me instead sounds like an unspoken accusation or a caution against some sin I never dreamed of committing. There is something about a chance to speak to a room full of fellow African Americans that seems to make the siren song of respectability politics nigh irresistible. And amidst the “show ‘em you’re one of the good ones” boot-strapping oratory is always a clutch of disturbing implied messages: Mainly that WE are the ultimate problem; not centuries of systemic racism or classism or educational and prison systems rife with inequality. And that, deep down, we are who they say we are. That even the best and brightest of us are one good, finger-wagging speech away from every affront to mainstream Judeo-Christian, middle-class, patriarchal American values. (Of course, the only values that matter.)

This sort of thinking reveals itself in many ways. For example, the entire let’s-teach-black-women-how-to-be-marriageable industrial complex hinges on the idea of inherent black, female dysfunction. But this scolding of black America is even more problematic and damaging when conducted by our country’s leader–the person ultimately in charge of education, healthcare, housing and countless other systems. Black people don’t need Barack Obama to lecture us about why education is important for our children; we need to know what steps his administration is taking to ensure that our children have an equal shot at good, accessible education. And we don’t need a black president tacitly confirming the worst ideas of the African American community by using nearly every engagement with us to urge us to fix ourselves.

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  • WhatIThink

    The hypocrisy of all of this is so blatant it is ridiculous. Why is it now that after the civil rights movement in America (and all over the world) these corporate shills want to tell us that the primary beneficiaries are going to be Asians and other non African folks. Why is it that they are lumping everyone else with Africans even though the only reason these doors are open is because of the movement and struggle of African peoples? Just like when Obama when out of his way to praise homosexuals and immigrants as the prime example of civil rights, but not one word for black folks. So black folks do all the suffering and struggling and everyone else gets the prize? The point being we are talking about opening doors for people not part of the “current mix” in Western countries and even African countries. Why is it that now we want to bring them into the mix, even after the issues related to the “current mix” haven’t been resolved? I mean without exception, most of these millions of new jobs are not going to be created in India and China. Most of these jobs are going to either be in Western countries or in global companies originally started in the West. This is just another justification for moving the goal posts and setting the expectation that the system owes nothing to black folks even as the current economic system that is making all these “global’ jobs wouldn’t be where it is today without the suffering and struggle of black folks in and outside of Africa. And this is nothing but a ploy to make sure that Africans continue to get denied the benefits of this economic system even as they continue to be a large part of the population exploited by it….. And we are supposed to pretend that everyone who has success just “earned” it and black folks simply don’t cut the mustard? Really? So if I said all the parasite foreigners should leave Africa because they are blood sucking leeches would they agree? Of course not. Its OK for them to leech and suck all the essence of anybody they want when they want but when black folks try and get something, all of a sudden these people are so concerned about “fairness”….

    These folks are sickening.

    Yes there is dysfunction in the black community. But there is dysfunction in all communities, from China to India and in Europe. That has nothing to do with the fact that the people most exploited historically have in no way shape or form EVER gotten “something for nothing” out of the system. If anything the opposite is true. So from that perspective President Obama and other corporate shills need to get their facts straight.

  • m

    The president has a low opinion of black Americans. He believes they lack drive and ambition. He would never give such a speech at the University of Nigeria. The same black Americans who he believes are lazy turned out in record numbes to vote for him. Many waited in line for hours. He really needs to stop talking down to black people.

    • BlackBeauty

      You are talking apples and oranges!

      The President does not have a low opinion of Black Americans, The President never said he thinks black americans are lazy! He only stated that which is true!!! Why is that so hard for some of us to hear?

      It is past time for us to acknowledge that there are some issues, and we need to address them. Someone has to step out and tell the truth! Not talking about all black people, but far too many are not productive. This is the truth! Far too many black parents are not parenting.

      And speaking of Nigerians, the ones I know who have come to the USA for education and opportunity are all doing well. They took any job, they took advantage of education, they worked hard. They were a success! They are black.

      No matter if black people stood in line for hours to vote for him or not, it has nothing to do with many of us not taking advantage of the opportunities that are out here for us, and the opportunities are out here IF you want them.

      What makes the difference in those black folks who have educated themselves, (self & formal), works hard at whatever they do, and make a positive contribution to themselves, their families, and community, and those who will not? They all live under the same racism.

      Stop making excuses. Stop placing blame on everyone except yourself. Accept what is the truth, help where ever you can, and do better!

    • “Stop making excuses. Stop placing blame on everyone except yourself”

      can you provide an example of any one here doing this behavior? who, exactly, is it that is making excuses?

      if you cannot point out a person who is making excuses then who are you talking to and why?

      BTW : just WHO is responsible for opening up the opportunities that your nigerian immigrants are taking advantage of? when you come to a place and take advantage of opportunities provided by others, that makes you a parasite.

      the brainwashing is complete…

    • Tracy

      Nigerians doing well, not in my city

    • M, Obama used the same condescending tone in Ghana, so I think its likely that he would give the same tired lazy stereotypical speech to Nigerians too. But he would never attempt this foolishness with white students or AIPAC. kzs

    • nope

      Have you seen what Ghana looks like? It’s not very pretty. He didn’t say that Ghanians or Nigerians were lazy. But both groups need to do better, there’s no reason why these countries can’t look like Sweden or Taiwan.

    • nope

      Really? Nigerians? They are very hardworking people, but their country doesn’t show it. If it were a true as you say Nigeria should look like Sweden or South Korea.

  • Furious Styles

    Yeah. We are a tough crowd.

  • talaktochoba

    you’re completely dished–what the President was referring to was the snooty “the-world-owes-me-something-because-i-am-a-Morehouse-alum” attitude graduates there have held since the college’s inception;

    • And with that attitude they have captains of industry, civil rights champions and educator’s of men and women. I think I will take that type of arrogance everyday over the self loathing attitudes of some of you on this blog.

    • talaktochoba

      captains of what industry, Morehouse grad?

      not even hip-hop!

      and who is the last civil rights champion to graduate from Morehouse–Eldrick Woods?


      do you really think Morehouse graduates would stoop so low as a career in public education?

      that’s the kind of elitist attitude too many of your graduates take, and that is exactly what the President was referring to;

    • Ask_ME


      Don’t hurt them too bad with the truth. God forbid someone should point out that this school has gone straight to hell in the last 2-3 decades.

    • Get to the Choppa

      You know nothing about Morehouse or it’s legacy, please stick with topics that you are at the very least remotely familiar with.

    • talaktochoba

      really, Choppa?

      well, my son applied to Morehouse–he’s pretty good at engineering and math–but what he saw was so disheartening that when he got home, he really didn’t mind how they turned their noses up at him, seeing as he wasn’t in Joseph A. Banks suits, Brooks Brothers shirts and like shoes;

      and his first question was why did everybody have to go Greek to be black?

      Morehouse nearly turned him off from HBCUs altogether he’d been looking forward to since eighth grade;

      so don’t tell me again what i don’t know about Morehouse;

    • Ask_ME

      @Get to the Choppa

      Please…I know plenty. And anyone that wants to read about the modern day men of Morehouse need only do a Google search or watch the news. The school has gone to hell and even the alum think the legacy has been lost.

    • Get to the Choppa

      @talaktochoba … I don’t know what happen son’s intial visit, but are you trying to say that he was turned away because he didn’t follow the dress code that was set up for prospective students? Because they do not require you to wear a suit everyday Morehouse requires you to ne dressed in workday casual which is dress pants and a collared shirt. I’m also wondering about the accuracy of for story because Morehouse is a liberal arts college, which means that they do not have a school of engineering. But when I came through the AUC, Morehouse had a joint program for engineering with Georgia Tech so are you talking about that?

    • talaktochoba

      he referred to the black bourgeoisis atmosphere pervading everything, the clubby attitude affected by almost every organisation on campus down from the administration, as if it were mimicking Rhodes or Cauis or some such-not to mention being told on the phone there was an engineering discipline on campus shared with Ga Tech, only to get there and find he HAD to be seconded to Ga Tech as you mentioned;

    • Get to the Choppa

      @Ask Me I am a alum of the school. Just because you read an article or two doesn’t give you a insight on the pulse of the school. Like I said above you know nothing about my alum.

    • talaktochoba

      didn’t take much to smoke you out as an alum, did it?

      you know EXACTLY what i’m talking about, the pretentious snooty airs like they’re still in Reconstruction times and so better than other HBCU grads the world owes them something; now if that brown bag testing, Talented Tenth posing, Scandal TV show putting on is your cup of tea, good for you; just don’t try fool the rest of us who’ve seen this kind of shining before and are not in the least moved by it;

  • Get to the Choppa

    @Ask Me: Just because you write long rants on blog pages and use the emotion of pain to relate to others does not make your point anymore pausible and/or factual.