In the wake of the Jesse Jackson "incident," there's been a lot of talk about what the reverend meant when he said Barack Obama has been "talking down to black people." Both in private conversations I've had and in discussions I've observed on the ...
In the wake of the Jesse Jackson "incident," there's been a lot of talk about what the reverend meant when he said Barack Obama has been "talking down to black people." Both in private conversations I've had and in discussions I've observed on the airwaves, there seems to be an assumption that Obama has only stressed personal responsibility and good parenting when speaking to black audiences. For instance, check out Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell's claim on WTTW's Chicago Tonight last Friday that this is "not a conversation he has with white America":
But while it's true that Obama tends to linger on these issues a bit longer in front of predominantly black audiences and that he tends to employ a slightly different vernacular in those settings, Mitchell's assertion that he's not telling white audiences to turn off the TV and encourage their kids to study is false.
For instance, here's what he told an audience in Spirit Lake, Iowa, on December 16 of last year:
Parents, you’ve got to turn off the tvs and shut down the video games. [And] our students have to understand that education is not a passive activity. You don’t just tip your head over and have it pour in....You’re gonna hear me as President not just talking about programs--I’m going to be talking about our obligations to our kids.
And here's what the audience looked like:
In Youngstown, Ohio, on February 18, Obama hit on a similar theme. Indeed, theYoungstown Vindicator reported that he had "admonished parents to do their part by turning off the television, putting away the video games, and instilling in their children a desire to get a good education." As this image from the rally shows, there were plenty of white folks in attendance:
During a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, on May 20, Barack said this:
Change is giving every child a world-class education by recruiting an army of new teachers with better pay and more support; by promising four years of tuition to any American willing to serve their community and their country; by realizing that the best education starts with parents who turn off the TV, and take away the video games, and read to our children once in awhile.
There sure were a lot of white people there:
In the wake of the Rev. Jackson controversy, I urge folks to go back and read Obama's Father's Day speech in full. An impression seems to have formed that because he was speaking at a black church, this was an instance of Barack going out of his way to "talk down" to African-American parents. Lost in that characterization is that the entire speech centered around what "we" need to do -- not "you" or "they." Also forgotten is that he didn't put all the responsiblity on the individual's shoulders, talking at length about the ways in which the government needs to meet struggling parents "half way."
Read the speech and judge for yourself.