Sunday, February 2, 2014

Preaching 'personal responsibility' to African-Americans

With the audacity of hope, I encourage you -- and my conservative friends especially -- to read Coates's article about how African-Americans struggle to relate to President Obama as "The Man" and his calls for blacks to exercise personal responsibility. Try to understand in particular the last three sentences quoted here [emphasis mine]:

"I am not raising 'nothing niggers," my mother used to tell me. "I am not raising niggers to stand on the corner." My mother did not know her father. In my life, I've loved four women. One of them did not know her father and two, very often, wished they didn't. It's not very hard to look at that, and seethe. It's not very hard to look at that and see a surrender, while you are out here at war, and seethe. It's not hard to look around at your community and feel that you are afflicted by quitters, that your family—in particular—is afflicted by a weakness. And so great is this weakness that the experience of black fatherlessness can connect Barack Obama in Hawaii to young black boys on the South Side, and that fact—whatever the charts, graphs, and histories may show—is bracing. When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever. 

My mother's admonishings had their place. God forbid I ever embarrass her. God forbid I be like my grandfather, like the fathers of my friends and girlfriends and wife. God forbid I ever stand in front of these white folks and embarrass my ancestors, my people, my dead. And God forbid I ever confuse that creed, which I took from my mother, which I pass on to my son, with a wise and intelligent analysis of my community. My religion can never be science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it

In other words, we should not expect to hear the lessons that we teach our children repeated back to us by our elected leaders, as if we are children.  We don't elect them to be our parents or pastors; we elect them to solve problems that we as individuals or individual communities cannot.  As for the rest of us, as a body politic, we cannot preach "personal responsibility" to each other and thereby wash our hands of our society's problems. If only it were that easy.

(And if you don't believe there are any problems that individuals or communities cannot solve by themselves, as many Tea Party conservatives say, then you should really consider not voting in federal elections at all, since basically all Washington does or can do is "meddle" in our lives.)  
The above applies to the socio-economic strife of blacks especially. 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
January 31, 2014 | The Atlantic

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