Monday, June 16, 2008

What Obama Didn't Say on Father's Day

By Joe Sims
In a widely acclaimed speech yesterday at an African American church on Chicago's South side to commemorate Father's Day, Barak Obama gave a presentation that while acknowledging the racial challenges of the past, gave great weight to the themes of personal responsibility and moral uplift confronting African American men. The central theme that resonated through the presentation was "stop making excuses" for your own failings to be fathers.

Lamenting the growth in single parent households, the number of which in the Illinois Senator opinion has doubled in recent years, Obama called for greater moral fortitude to reverse the erosion of the Black family.

"Yes we need more jobs and job training and more opportunity in our community," he thundered from the pulpit, "we know all that." "But the change we need is not just going to come from government... it's going to come from us," he continued to applause. Obama lambasted absentee fathers and men who "act like boys." "Responsibility just doesn't end at conception," he said, going on to pan "any fool can make a baby." A little bit over the top there, in this writer's opinion.

"We can't just write these problems off to past injustices," he claimed while scolding, "Some of it has to do with a tragic history, but we can't keep using that as an excuse."

Obama who obviously had a strong personal motivation for the Father's Day address as his own dad was absent during his "wonder bread years," seemed to speak openly and honestly about his own personal feelings, while also keeping in mind constituencies he hopes to win in the general election. Apparently he hopes to assuage certain fears that he is captive to "special" interests and that by standing above the fray and "telling it like it is," he will appear presidential.

But is that really how it is? Is the central problem in the Black community the lack of responsible Black fathers? I grew up in a Black community on Youngstown Ohio's south side. On West Marion ave, dozens of African American families raised their families on paychecks earned laboring in the town's steel, electric, and auto factories. In ninety nine percent of them dad was there. I remember, Mr. Goler, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Tinslee, Mr. Kilbron, Mr. Mosley, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Bell, Mr. Sanki and of course, my dad, Mr. Sims. Sure, there were some families headed by single mothers, but they were the exception not the rule. Today however, on Marion ave., that same constellation of families no longer obtains. What happened?

Anyone who is honest knows the answer. And you don't have to look far to find it: The economy collapsed with the mass closing of factories in the early 1970's. Youngstown's African American families collapsed along with it.

God, moral fortitude, personal responsibility etc had nothing to do with it. Corporate profits did. How are you going to be a man if you don't have a job? And herein lies the dilemma. Young Black men are told time and again, "Be a Man, Be a Man," and yet the means of "manhood" are placed largely beyond their reach. As a result, my nephews and nieces have grown up in a community where three generations have never worked. Listen to what my nephew recently said to me, "Get a job? That's not for people like me."

And added to this is sad fact that with the cost of living in today's service economy you cannot raise a family microwaving burgers at McDonald's.

Over a decade after the Million Man March, ending "Welfare as we know it," Bill Clinton' chastising Black people for acting with "reckless abandonment speech" and Bill Cosby's more recent campaign with similar themes, Mr. Obama knows better than this. At the heart of the crisis in the black, brown, and white working-class communities of today lies lack of decent paying union jobs that would afford a standard of living adequate to raise a family. That is what is different from 20 or 30 years ago! Try ending the export of jobs abroad and invest a home Mr. Obama. Tell black fathers and mothers, you will stand with them for a new manufacturing and industrial policy. That would be a Father's Day message all would hear.


Harold said...

This "personal responsibility" nonsense is a page out of the Republican playbook - the right has been using the same garbage for years to take the focus off of the government massive attack on the working class. The sad thing about it is that the working class buys it, and preaches it to those that try to tell them that they are victims of the governments corporate tendencies. Joe Bageant talks about why this is in his book Deer Hunting with Jesus, which, if anyone is interested, is an outstanding contribution to working class literature.

And Obama's march towards the center continues, as he leaves behind more and more of the voters that got him where he is today. It started at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, where this former honest and harsh critic of Israeli and American policy in the Occupied Territories and throughout the Middle East proclaimed himself a "true friend of Israel," and continued yesterday on the South Side of Chicago.

March on, Barack - anyone who is honest won't truly be disappointed when you're elected, because we've seen this coming from along way off.

Anonymous said...

Barack Obama's and I may add John McCain's ever changing positions are reminiscent of Jimmy Durante's description of an old vaudeville act. The performer on the right side of his mouth on the trumpet played, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and on the left side of his mouth on the clarinet he played, "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and through the middle he spit out the pits.

But, that's what the two parties offer. By analogy, McCain says he'll stay in Iraq if necessary for 100 years. Obama will get us out in the sweet bye and bye.

Anonymous said...

Joe is very right about Obama's speech. He is also right about the points we should be emphasizing. There is a larger social responsibility that must be in place for families to function.In the slum that I grew up in in the South Bronx, our the tenement supers were African Americans from Georgia. They couldn't read and write. They raised their large family in a dedicated way and were very good parents from everything I saw. A few of their children became went on to get respectable working class and civil service jobs. Two because of the poverty and the lure of the streets became criminals.
Over the last thirty years, things have really gotten worse, particularly for the class that I came from and the neighborhoods in which I grew up. Mass homelessness, the gutting of social services and protections for the poor are what Obama should be talking about in uniting the people. My view of his speech was that he is trying to create some separation between himself and especially the African-American poor, to portray himself as representing both the "middle class" and "middle class values," even though in this case it means moving away from those who gained him the nomination. It is the wrong foot to get off on and Joe was right to both criticize him for it and not to make the criticism polemical, since we have got to fight to keep Obama oriented toward progressive politics without fighting him
Norman Markowitz