For those who may not understand why I had to critique Barack Obama's contribution to the perception of black men being irresponsible, perhaps you can get it now. Fox News recently did a segment about "why black women on TV tend to be angry".
In the segment, they make continuous reference to the "angry black woman", and point to several examples of black women who tend to be angry during interviews. The video clip is at the bottom of this comment. I have heard a lot of brothers write off black women as angry, bitter and nasty, and with equal force, I INSIST that they not characterize the entire black female population by the actions of a subset.
Although I've had much personal experience with negative black women, I choose to describe them as collectively beautiful and marvelous, without allowing bad apples to spoil the bunch. I only ask that the same respect be given to black men, without using the actions of bad men to describe us as a collective. Instead, I am hopeful that you can focus on the many black men who've chosen to "man up" and do what is right with their lives.
I received about 130 emails yesterday from people who had mixed opinions about my article on Senator Obama's comments about black men needing to learn the art of fatherhood. They've been interesting and seem to call for more discourse. I noticed that the opinions were right down the middle and many of them were very strong in either direction. I also noticed that many of the emails came from a position of intense pain: Brothers dealing with "baby mama drama" who wanted to see their kids but were pushed out of their lives, or women dealing with some pathetic man who has chosen to ignore his responsibilities.
I too know this pain personally, as my father abandoned me when I was a child, and I've also fought like hell (sometimes unsuccessfully) to find a place in the life of my own child. I have 7 god children and I mentor dozens of black youth around the country, many of whom do not have fathers or mothers who are doing the right thing, so I know the problem quite well. I will do a video on the topic soon, but I wanted to pose some quick thoughts I had while reading your emails (and yes, I do read my email and try to respond to you. I only ignore people who come off as flat out lunatics, since I don't mess with crazy people). Here are my thoughts.
1) Why do we assume that a broken family implies that a man "ran away from his responsibility"? Is it not also the case that many relationships end due to actions of the woman as well? All of us know of at least one "insane baby's mama" - either you have dealt with one, been in a relationship with a man who was dealing with one, or perhaps you have BEEN ONE! This does not imply that the end of the relationship is most likely the fault of the woman, but it does take two to tango.
3) Yes, I support Obama 100%. Critiquing someone and keeping them honest doesn't mean you hate them. I critique my mama and I love my mama. Also, even though I love Barack, I put him in the same category as most "selectively honest" politicians. If a man loves his pastor and church for 20 years, and then suddenly realizes that he should disown them, I can't believe that he just had the wool pulled over his eyes for two decades. I am not in the business of abandoning those who've remained loyal to me for 20 years straight, that's not how I was raised. That's also why I'll never be a successful politician.
4) Obama has made a commitment to being race neutral in this election. However, if he or anyone else chooses to address race in this election I ONLY ASK THAT THEY BE FAIR. For Barack (or anyone else) to shut down anyone who speaks honestly about racism, and then to contribute to racial stereotypes about black male irresponsibility is not balanced. For those who feel that Obama was "telling it like it is", please remember this: Dr. Jeremiah Wright was also "telling it like it is", but he was attacked, disowned and told that his words needed to be muted. Honesty should not know racial boundaries. If Barack Obama is not comfortable going into a group of white males and being honest about their weaknesses, then it is not acceptable for him to do that to black men. Being bi-racial, Obama has just as much moral authority to speak on the negative choices of white males as he does for black males.
5) There are ALWAYS going to be people in every group who do the wrong thing. White women are not stereotyped by the actions of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. I would never stereotype black women for the actions of a few "insane baby's mamas". So, the notion that it is ok to define black men by the actions of a select few is equally problematic. However, it is comfortable to say "these brothers need to start doing right" because it alleviates anyone else of the guilt of whatever role they play in the breakdown of their families, and it also contributes to the 400 year tradition of defining black men as being socially inferior. A person could just as easily celebrate the great choices of positive black men as he could mulling over the actions of the irresponsible.
Here is the issue: I do not feel that Barack would go into any other venue and paint any other group with a blanket indictment. He would not say "too many Jews support killing Palestinians", or "too many Catholic Priests are molesting little children". So, I am not sure why it is ok to say that "too many black men are ignoring their responsibilities and not being fathers". While all three of these stereotypes may have some element of truth to them and one could claim you are "helping" the group by criticizing their collective behavior, it seems that "truth in stereotyping" is only acceptable when dealing with black folks.
Additionally, one-dimensional analysis is usually incorrect. If I were to define Bill Cosby as "the man who cheated on his wife, had an illegitimate child, abandoned that child to live without her father, and had the child thrown in jail", such a statement could be considered true. However, it would be flawed, myopic and ultimately incorrect. If doing this to one man is wrong, then doing it to 18 million men is damn near criminal. Black men and black women are equally worthy of love and protection and it is only via mutual respect that we are going to rebuild our families. Blaming men for all broken relationships is not the answer, and neither is defining all black women as "angry". We should all spend time looking in the mirror if we want to find the truth.
Finally, racial conversation by political figures must be HONEST AND BALANCED. If you would not say something to a group of white men, then please don't say it to me. I refuse to accept someone else's label.
Dr. Boyce Watkins