The latest episode in the president's tanking telenovela series ("I've Got a Pen and a Phone!") debuted yesterday with the Biblical title "I Am My Brother's Keeper." Aimed at paying lip service to the plight of minority youth, it managed to totally ignore the role that the American Ruling Class continues to play in causing and perpetuating institutional racism. The star-studded cast chosen by Barack Obama to headline his event told the real story before he even uttered his first maudlin word.
Because nothing inspires black and brown boys invited to the White House to pose as the extras in a PR stunt like the living specter of ex-Mayor Michael "Stop & Frisk" Bloomberg of New York and The World. His devotion to racial profiling is topped only by an ongoing partnership with Goldman Sachs, that places cynical bets on minority youth's prison recidivism rates. And then there was Chicago's Rahm "Mayor One Percent" Emanuel, fresh from his marathon crusade to close more than 50 public schools in poor, predominately black and brown neighborhoods. And don't forget General Colin "Lying Our Way Into War" Powell to provide that sweet, tasty layer of Shock and Awe frosting on top of the inspirational cupcake.
In framing his Brother's Keeper remarks around his own self-portrait and substituting inspirational autobiography for actual policy, Obama simply once again confirmed what Adolph Reed, Jr. had just recently observed in an interview with Bill Moyers:
BILL MOYERS: I can imagine that if President Obama were sitting here talking with you or you were at the White House talking with him, he'd say, Adolph, I understand your diagnosis. But what you have to understand is that pragmatism can be and often is an effective agent or tool or weapon in the long-range struggle for social justice.
And I know you're impatient, I know you believe in this restructuring of society, but we're not going to get there with the wave of a wand. And it takes just as it did in the civil rights movement, a long time for me to get here to the White House, it's going to take a long time for this country to get where you would take it.
ADOLPH REED: Right. Oh, I am absolutely certain that he would say something like that. I admit that this is kind of treading maybe, into troublesome water, but among the reasons that I know Obama's type so well is, you know, I've been teaching at elite institutions for more than 30 years.
And that means that I've taught his cohort that came through Yale actually at the time that he was at, you know, Columbia and Harvard. And I recall an incident in a seminar in, you know, black American political thought with a young woman who was a senior who said something in the class. And I just blurted out that it seem, that the burden of what she said seemed to be that the whole purpose of this Civil Rights Movement was to make it possible for people like her to go to Yale and then to go to work in investment banking.
And she said unabashedly, well, yes, yes, and that's what I believe. And again, I didn't catch myself in time, so I just said to her, well, I wish somebody had told poor Viola Liuzzo, you know, before she left herself family in Michigan and got herself killed that that's what the punch line was going to be, because she might've stayed home to watch her kids grow up. And I think--
BILL MOYERS: This was the woman who on her own initiative went down during the civil rights struggle to Selma, Alabama to join in the fight for voting rights and equality, and was murdered.
ADOLPH REED: Right, exactly. I'm not prepared to accept as my metric of the extent of racial justice or victories of the struggles for racial justice, the election of a single individual to high office or appointment of a black individual to be corporate CEO.And proving Reed's point, here are some of the look-at-me, inspirational money quotes from Obama's "Bro" speech the other day:
And the point was I could see myself in these young men. And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe. I had people who encouraged me -- not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders -- and they’d push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself. And if I didn’t listen they said it again. And if I didn’t listen they said it a third time. And they would give me second chances, and third chances. They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.
Of course, in the case of Obama, the protections of class were at work. Race was not a factor in his expensive private school experience. And since the president is denying that there is even such a thing as the class war, his "doing what we can" is limited to free-market solutions. The rich shall not be taxed to pay for better education, enough food and improved shelter for black and brown youths and their struggling parents. The rich shall merely be asked, politely, to appear at photo-ops, to sit on task forces studying the plight of black and brown youths, to write reports to the president about the black and brown youths they are helping, to voluntarily agree to glance at the resumes of black and brown youths, to occasionally "mentor" and "empower" black and brown youths. All of this largesse is of course predicated upon black and brown youth being willing to take responsibility for their own miserable lives and pull themselves up by their own frayed bootstraps. Bro-keeping does have its limits.
Life may suck for black and brown youth, proclaims Obama, but as he humbly proclaims:
Now, to say this is not to deny the enormous strides we’ve made in closing the opportunity gaps that marred our history for so long. My presence is a testimony to that progress. Across this country, in government, in business, in our military, in communities in every state we see extraordinary examples of African American and Latino men who are standing tall and leading, and building businesses, and making our country stronger. Some of those role models who have defied the odds are with us here today -- the Magic Johnsons or the Colin Powells who are doing extraordinary things -- the Anthony Foxxes.And let him make himself perfectly clear, as clear as a reassuring dog-whistle to Wall Street can be: Being your Brother's Keeper is not gonna cost you one red cent, plutocrats and political donors! Because, as Uncle Ronnie said, government is not the solution, it's the problem. As Bubba Clinton so valiantly chimed in, "The era of Big Government Is Over!"
Now, just to be clear -- “My Brother’s Keeper” is not some big, new government program. In my State of the Union address, I outlined the work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth and opportunity for all Americans. We have manufacturing hubs, infrastructure spending -- I've been traveling around the country for the last several weeks talking about what we need to do to grow the economy and expand opportunity for everybody. And in the absence of some of those macroeconomic policies that create more good jobs and restore middle-class security, it’s going to be harder for everyone to make progress. And for the last four years, we’ve been working through initiatives like Promise Zones to help break down the structural barriers -- from lack of transportation to substandard schools -- that afflict some of this country’s most impoverished counties, and we’ll continue to promote these efforts in urban and rural counties alike.Moving at the hyper-capitalistic speed of light, traveling all over the blighted landscape, never stopping in one place long enough for people to pay attention or ask probing questions. It's a promise, it's a zone, it's a charter school, it's private profit at public expense.
We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it's not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life. (Applause.)Get married and lift yourselves out of the poverty created in large part by deregulated predatory financial markets. Otherwise, the de facto policy of incarcerating more black men in American prisons today than there were slaves on plantations will continue. America is the Brother's Jail Keeper. Personal responsibility trumps government malfeasance every single time. It's, like, totally Biblical. Puritan, Calvinistic, Cotton Mather Biblical. And that is why, out of the thousands and thousands of Bro People languishing in prison for minor drug offenses, President Mather righteously commuted the sentences of only a token eight of them. One of them, oh so coincidentally, just happened to be a cousin of the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. To whom was added the lucky, randomly-chosen seven.
So often, the issues facing boys and young men of color get caught up in long-running ideological arguments about race and class, and crime and poverty, the role of government, partisan politics. We've all heard those arguments before. But the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of those old arguments and focus on getting something done and focusing on what works. It doesn’t mean the arguments are unimportant; it just means that they can't paralyze us. And there’s enough goodwill and enough overlap and agreement that we should be able to go ahead and get some things done, without resolved everything about our history or our future.Gloss over all the official complicity and malfeasance and corruption. Protect the political criminal and financial class at all costs. Make them part of the pretend solution to the very social ills they had a starring role in creating. Look forward, not back, just like we did with the Bush-Cheney Chamber of Torture Horrors. In other words, keep maintaining the status quo of misery while we talk ourselves to (your) death.
So today after my remarks are done, I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies, and with local communities to implement proven solutions.More neoliberal, meaningless words were never spoken in just one little paragraph. He is ordering the government to not spend any more money on social programs for brown and black youth. Like it really needed reminding.
*Update, 3/1: Here is contributor Pearl Volkov's "TimesPick" response to Charles Blow's column on Fathers and Sons:
Mr. Blow: Even having a father in the house, doesn't solve the problems his children face if he can't find a job, or has to work at a menial position due to lack of education, or keep his children healthy with proper nutrition or pay for medical help when necessary. Often, such fathers suffer from guilt and depression as a result, when they wish nothing more than being able to function fully. This is especially true among minority groups and I fault President Obama for refusing to deal with the needs of so many citizens. To me he does not represent the role models of the black men and women who marched for civil liberties, who try and fight injustice and neglect despite the obstacles. I am haunted by the hopeful, tearful faces of all those black voters who watched his inauguration with such joy in their eyes., He speaks of the sadness of fatherless families but I question his sincerity. He could and should have done so much to turn things in a different direction. He had the choices of the kind of people to surround and advise him, to organize citizens in work jobs badly needed instead of casting blame on the Republicans when he could have instituted constructive possibilities for people in need.
I appreciate your column Mr.Blow and your admirable attempt as a father to guide your children. But let us face facts and recognize that President Obama does not represent the kind of leadership black fathers can rely on. His recent speech was an insult to them.