Are you listening, black people? The first black president is speaking to you. Some of you said he wasn't paying enough attention. Well, he paid plenty of attention Monday night on ... Black Entertainment Television.
(Pause to let that sink in.)
BET titled the interview "The President Answers Black America." It aired at 7:30 pm Eastern, pre-empting the regularly scheduled hip-hop video show "106 & Park," BET's "flagship" program, which is a favorite of the eighth-grade set.
The actual interview offered some important insights. My favorite is below; by all means read the full transcript here. (You know, just in case you weren't watching BET on Monday night.)
Why not target the African-American community? Why not say then, “This is for you. This is for African-Americans?” If there was a banking crisis, then you’d target money for the banks. If there was a national disaster, you’d target your money for the National Disaster Relief.
No. That’s not how America works. America works when all of us are pulling together and everybody is focused on making sure that every single person has opportunity. And so when we put forward a program like, for example, the Health Care Bill, our focus is people who don’t have health care. Now it turns out that the majority of folks who don’t have health care are also working families, and are disproportionately African-American and Latino, but that doesn’t mean that it’s only for them. There are a whole bunch of folks all across the country who need help. And we are going to help every single person who needs help. And if there are communities that are especially hard-hit, we will focus on making sure that those communities get extra help. But it doesn’t mean that we go around saying that we’re going to have a special program for whites, or we’re going to have a special program for Hispanics, or we’re going to have a special program for blacks. We’re going to make sure that we have a program that helps to raise everybody’s prospects...
This quote highlights the difference between Obama and almost every other black Democrat in Washington. Last weekend, Obama spoke at the convention of the Congressional Black Caucus--which has been screaming for Obama to "do something" for black folks. Obama told the CBC to work with him to make things better. But the CBC's ideas on how to make things better are fundamentally different that Obama's. The CBC wants things like job training and money going straight from the federal government to paying salaries for new jobs. Obama believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. And he doesn't say this, but he appears to believe that advocating for one specific group is "bad politics"--which means, as I understand it, that it would cost votes.
I wonder if the average white independent voter--the ones who Obama does not want to alienate with overtly racial rhetoric or policies--knows Obama's opinion on "how America works" when it comes to helping his fellow black Americans.
Yesterday a few Ebonicisms caught my eye, when a Mike Vick quote was de-ghettofied and President Obama was quoted as "telling black people to stop complainin'." That missing G means a lot. So much, in fact, that the writer Karen Hunter told MSNBC that AP is racist for accurately transcribing the president:
I don't get the 15-yard flags like everybody else do." (It was changed to, "like everybody else DOES.") I think that if you don't want to quote someone's bad English, just paraphrase them. But to change what's in between the quote marks is to change reality.
Here's the segment with Hunter n'em. Long Live Ebonics.
This post is for everyone who, like me, jumped on the headline this weekend in which President Obama told black people to "quit complainin.'" I urge you to read the full transcript of his speech here. The speech lasted 28 minutes and is about 3,500 words on the printed page. "Quit complainin'" was in the second-to-last sentence. Should that have been the headline? If Obama is speaking to the Black Caucus, is he really speaking to "blacks" in general, or to "black Democratic politicians"? If Mike Vick goes on TV tomorrow and says, "I need to quit complainin'," will his quote be printed with a G on the end? You be the judge.
As a Noo Yawk native and Giants fan living in Philly, I eagerly went online this morning to hear Mike Vick complain about the hit that broke his hand yesterday. I watched the ESPN video of his comments (which appears below), then read the story to see if anybody was telling him to man up and play. And I noticed that the pull quote corrected his grammar.
In the video, Vick clearly says, "I don't get the 15-yard flags like everybody else do." (It's below, at the 1:58 mark.) But the written story quotes him as saying, "Like everybody else DOES."
(Vick also says in the video, "Everybody seen the game," but this does not appear in the text story. And in another story, he's quoted as saying, "There's no reason for me to go into a big dissertation about why I'm not getting the calls"--so he's clearly got some vocabulary to work with.)
How someone speaks says a lot about that person. I enjoy Ebonics, of all kinds. I like that Vick's inflections on this classic Ebonicism strongly underscored his frustration. I like that when he says "in general," the phrase ends with a "W" sound. This style of speech reminds me of a lot of enjoyable experiences, people and places. I think Vick should have been quoted exactly as he said it. There are only a few reasons why the quote would have been changed, and ... ain't none of them good.
An interesting and unique perspective on what it will take to solve America's racial problems:
He's not. Some black people might disagree, though. And I have been disturbed by a few things this nice young blond boy has said, including a remark yesterday about the brown people who work in Dunkin Donuts. It makes me question the conventional wisdom that racial bias will fade out because young people today see race differently that previous generations.
My family lives in a suburban town that's about 95% white. When we moved in four years ago, the welcome extended by our neighbors, all of them white, was extremely warm. The first day, four neighbors came by to bring cakes, pastries, a case of beer, and kind words. As time went on, they helped us navigate our new surroundings and invited us to this and that, including to become members of the private swim club (although that club is a story for another day). We do have four other black families living within a block or two of our home, although as you get deeper into the neighborhood, farther from the commercial thoroughfare and into the more expensive homes, it gets whiter. I have never heard any racial remarks or felt any hostility whatsoever. Overall, this is a nice neighborhood for my wife and I to raise our children.
The only remarks I'm aware of have come from Frankie (I have changed his name). He's the same age as one of my sons, they both love sports, so they play all the time. He's a nice kid, polite, and his parents are friendly. A few months after we moved in, my son came back from his house with a funny look on his face. "Frankie said black people are bad," my son told me.
Oh, word? I called Frankie's house and his mom picked up. I calmly explained my son's story to her. She was mortified. "We're not that kind of people," she said. At this point, my wife and I had a decision to make. We chose not to excommunicate Frankie from our lives. He probably didn't know any black people. Somebody had to teach him about reality. We did, however, ban our son from setting foot in Frankie's house.
The months and years passed, and Frankie and my son remained friends. Not best friends, but they played together all the time. The no-Frankie's-house ban was eased slightly. During this time, my son has related two other remarks to me. One day we were discussing why so many football and basketball players are black. He said, "Frankie says black people are taking over sports." Another time, my son said he was describing a bike camp to Frankie, where they ride throughout the city, which is about 50% black. Frankie was like, "Are you crazy? You're not afraid of getting shot?"
Of course I talked to my son about all these remarks, why they were off base, and what might lead his friend to make them. I advised my son that his friendship could help educate Frankie, because now he knows a black family that includes a doctor, a judge, lawyers, bankers and business owners. And I took it upon myself to wordlessly educate Frankie about black people. When he rides in our car, I play either NPR (because we don't just listen to rap) or rap (because we do like rap, not all of it is destructive, and this is what good rap sounds like). When he's at our house, I ask him to spell stuff, or to do some mental math. When we go to the hood to play basketball, I let him tag along. (But not into the *deep* hood, because his folks would be shook. Come to think of it, my wife probably doesn't want our son there either.) And Frankie never seemed fazed for a second. The kid is a super athlete, and when he's the only white kid on the court, he doesn't act scared. Not even his first time playing with us, when a big kid blocked his shot twice in a row, each time with the comment "get that shhh outta here!" Frankie just grinned and ran back on defense.
Then came yesterday. On the way to school, my son and I stopped at Dunkin Donuts, and I asked him why he thought so many Southeast Asian people work there. After school, we took Frankie with us to hoop at the gym. On the way home, we passed that same Dunkin Donuts. Frankie spontaneously said something like, "They need to do something about all those Indians in Dunkin Donuts. You can't even understand what they're saying!"
I'm not mad at Frankie, or at his parents. I don't want to label them racists. This is a guess, but I think Frankie's family is just living life as it comes, paying no special attention to the way society creates and promotes racial stereotypes--like fish unaware that water is wet. Frankie is just one kid, in one town, and there's no way to tell if his remarks mean anything bigger or not. But he does make me wonder about the hidden aspects of America's undeniable racial progress, and whether ignoring race, instead of educating people about it, will get us where we want to go.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com