If Barack Obama doesn’t represent the end of respectability politics, nothing does.
If the way that man dropped his middle name and lost all accent and did limbo—drinking in Irish pubs and eating sloppy joes and casseroles and killing Muslims and keeping the military industrial complex’s wars and not taking Billy John’s guns; toning down his own swag and terrorist fist bumps, no longer brushing off his shoulder—did nothing to make whyte America feel safe, there’s no argument to be made for appeasing the boogey men in the minds of whyte folks. There’s no PhD that can match the degree of servitude Our Shining Black Hope expressed over eight years in the face of the fears of ignorant, pre-logical, post-factual whyte folks.
The only thing that matches his kowtowing at their runaway imaginations is the utter contempt they showed by coming out of their Middle American caves to the polls two months ago. The only thing that matches the amount of way he gave them is the amount of power rich whyte men wielded to make sure that his crowning achievement would be passing the baton to the least worthy of them as if to say, “A monkey could do this job; an abject failure—more of a failure than the buffon who came before Obama can do this job.”
No, America: This replacement is not of equal or greater value. Maybe the Russian prostitutes are not a fact, but the way you’ve urinated on the legacy of Hope is all too true.
Barack Obama—President 44 of the United States of America Barack Obama—was a Good Negro. So good that some of us in the field saw him go into the House every night while the slave patrols murdered us in the streets for snuff films and left our bodies out in the street like Willie Lynch letters and we still meme’d him and loved him and wanted him to win and are praying to this day and every other of his life that he dies the natural death of a man, not that of a King on a balcony.
President Barack Obama pulled his pants up so high we couldn’t see his eyes; just his smile. He crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s and spoke the Queen’s English so well that his words smelled like tea and crumpets and tasted like Marmite. Love it or hate it, he spread his obsequiousness all over their daily bread, knowing where his was buttered.
Barack Hussein Obama II, 44th President of the United States spoke the Lie of Progress in the only way a whyte folks will hear it; in the way that says, “We will be patient and submerge our desire—our right—to be treated as men and women and human children to your comfort. We will not ask anything of you that disturbs your predilection for treating our cultures and religions like fashion accessories and glurges.”
He spoke the Lie of Progress in living rooms and in schools, at farms and on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts, wearing bullet-proof suits that covered the whipping scars on his back, his pants up to his eyes so that no one would see him cry.
He spoke the Great Lie to those who asked for his birth certificate, to those who asked what he did for a living and how he earned that car he was riding in and marveled at how articulate he was while telling his wife to go back to Africa to dance with simians because they were her family.
Through it all, 44—the Man, the Legend, the living history and culmination of so much Hope—smiled, rarely giving glimpse to the enervation borne of submission. In that way, he was like us, and we saw ourselves in him.
So, now what do we see? What do we see as he walks into the pages of history, retreating to the relative protection of his legacy and status and opportunity while the worst of our lifetimes is about to happen? How well-dressed and smart must we be? Is it possible to be well-dressed and smart and articulate enough to assuage the fears of whyte folk who think that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is prediction while thinking that 1984 is not?
We’re not that good.
In spite of his flaws, and because of the way he carried them, Barack Obama was twice as good as at the best of us and he got half the respect of the worst of us. He got half the respect and is being replaced by a guy who would not be the smartest man in the room were he the only man in the room.
When they believe that the top pick of the Talented Tenth is equal to a man who is one-tenth of his predecessor; that a man who sits on a gold throne in a gold tower at the bottom percentile of emotional intelligence can occupy the same seat as Barack Hussein Obama II, 44th President of the United States—how good must we be to gain their respect?
Why would we even want to?
About Christian Fabien
How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans
The country’s first black president never pursued policies bold enough to close the racial wealth gap.
Dr. Darity is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice
Over the next few weeks, The Atlantic will be publishing a series of responses to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s story “My President Was Black.” Readers are invited to send their own responses to email@example.com, and we will post a sample of your feedback. You can read other responses to the story from Atlantic readers and contributors here.
Born in 1953, I am a child of the waning years of legal segregation in the United States. My parents, on the other hand, spent about 40 years of their lives under Jim Crow, and all of my grandparents lived most of their lives under official American apartheid. At the time of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, my mother and all four of my grandparents were deceased. But my father was alive and well—and absolutely thrilled to have lived to see the election of a black man as president of the United States. Usually deeply cynical about American politics and politicians, my dad could not comprehend my deep reservations about Barack Obama’s leadership. Indeed, he viewed any criticism of Obama as bringing aid and comfort to white supremacists.
My father hardly was alone among black Americans, across all generations. The near complete unanimity of passionate black American admiration for Obama carried with it an absolute resistance to hearing any complaints about the black president. And, indeed, there was much to admire: an exceptional resume, an attractive family with a black wife who is his professional and intellectual equal, handsome and greying toward distinguished maturity, a strategically wise moderate progressive political position, and a place as the—sometimes self-professed—messianic fulfillment of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. For many black Americans, the ascent of Barack Obama to the presidency was equivalent to the moment of jubilee.
An extraordinarily disciplined individual, Barack Obama preempted the smallest hint of scandal by admitting that he had smoked pot during his youth. He even crafted a narrative of a rise from adversity—growing up successfully by the efforts of a single parent despite a missing father—albeit a white single mother with a Ph.D. whose own parents were affluent residents of Hawaii. With every drop of respectability in place, his somewhat icy intellect coupled with his enthusiasm for basketball and for black music across a half century of styles, he was an inordinately appealing candidate, with an ideal combination of the cool and the rational.
Nevertheless, some of those white voters who did not vote for him took his eight years as president as license to assert that the country is post-racial, even while attacking him with both veiled and overt racial slurs. But racism is organic to American life, and it sits at the core of persistence of racial economic inequality. In his fascinating profile of Obama, Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to the “mark of a system engineered to place one on top of the other”—to place white over black. He offers some examples: the facts that blacks with a college degree have an unemployment rate almost as high as white high school graduates, that completion of a college education leads blacks to carry twice the level of student loan debt than whites four years after the degree, that blacks experience a significantly higher default rate on their loans, that black households have one-seventh of the wealth of white households, and that black families with $100,000 or more in income reside “in more disadvantaged neighborhoods than white families making less than $30,000.”
Estimates generated from the 2013 round of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances indicate that black households have one-thirteenth of the wealth of white households at the median. We have concluded that the average black household would have to save 100 percent of its income for three consecutive years to close the wealth gap. The key source of the black-white wealth gap is the intergenerational effects of transfers of resources. White parents have far greater resources to give to their children via gifts and inheritances, so that the typical white young adult starts their working lives with a much greater initial net worth than the typical black young adult. These intergenerational effects are blatantly non-meritocratic.
Blacks working full time have lower levels of wealth than whites who are unemployed. Blacks in the third quintile of the income distribution have less wealth (or a lower net worth) than whites in the lowest quintile. Even more damning for any presumption that America is free of racism is our finding that black households whose heads have college degrees have $10,000 less in net worth than white households whose heads who never finished high school. As we point out in our report, “Umbrellas Don’t Make It Rain”, studying hard and working hard does not enable blacks to eliminate the racial wealth gap. Doing the right thing is far from enough.
I had a queasy feeling about Barack Obama’s candidacy from the moment I heard his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that lifted him into national prominence, a speech that Coates summarizes in the profile. Toward the end of the speech Obama observed that black families in urban centers realized “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn … that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” “The acting white” libel—a myth that will not die—argues that low school performance for black students is a product of a culturally based black opposition to high academic achievement.
The “acting white” libel is symptomatic of a more general perspective—a perspective that argues that an important factor explaining racial economic disparities is self-defeating or dysfunctional behavior on the part of blacks themselves. And Barack Obama continuously has trafficked in this perspective. Of course, there are some black folk who engage in habits that undermine their potential accomplishments, but there are some white folk who engage in habits that undermine their potential accomplishments as well. And there is no evidence to demonstrate that are proportionately more blacks who behave in ways that undercut achievement, especially since it is clear that blacks do more with less. Nevertheless, Obama consistently has trafficked heavily in the tropes of black dysfunction. Either he is unfamiliar with or uninterested in the evidence that undercuts the black behavioral deficiency narrative. These tropes, in my view, do malicious work.
Apart from black dysfunction, Obama does acknowledge that ongoing discrimination is a partial factor explaining racial inequality and says that anti-discrimination enforcement is the type of black-specific measure that he can endorse. Of course, anti-discrimination laws do not operate exclusively on behalf of black folk. They really are universal measures intended to contain all forms of discrimination, and, while effective enforcement can improve black employment opportunities, it will do little to address massive, inherited racial wealth differences.
Obama’s general position is racial equality can be achieved—or at least approached—via policies that uplift all Americans experiencing poverty and deprivation. Obama has said that “as a general matter, my view would [be] that if you want to get at African American poverty, income gap, wealth gap, achievement gap, that the most important thing is to make sure that the society as a whole does right by people who are poor, are working class, are aspiring to a better life for their kids: higher minimum wages, full employment programs, early childhood education, those kinds of programs are by design universal but by definition, because they are helping folks who are in the worst economic situations, are most likely to disproportionately impact and benefit black Americans.”
But these particular programs—all, even in their diluted forms likely to be under assault under the new regime—are incremental and display no boldness of spirit. Obama’s evocation of the notion that “better is good” and his own acknowledgment that “maybe I’m not just being sufficiently optimistic or imaginative” is testament to his inveterate cautiousness. The timid nature of these policy changes dooms their disproportionate benefit for blacks to be marginal at best.
Admittedly, there is one major initiative that the Obama administration has inaugurated that is black-specific, but it is the exception that proves the rule. It exposes all the issues at play. My Brother’s Keeper is a program premised on the view that young black men constitute a social problem and need interventions that will alter their outlook and actions. The focus is on reforming young men rather than directly increasing the resources possessed by and the constraints faced by their families and themselves. Again, the underlying ideological motivation is the belief in black cultural deficiency, and, again, this type of initiative is another expression of failure to pursue bold policies that confront the fundamental causes of racial disparity in American society.
And the emphasis on exclusively universal programs yields the spectacle of a black president who opposes the most dramatic black-specific program of all—reparations for African Americans. This opposition ultimately seems to amount to a matter of political expediency. In his conversation with Coates, the president appears to acknowledge that there is a sound moral and philosophical case for reparations, particularly if—as Coates presses him to concede—incremental changes in existing social programs will not close the gaps, especially the racial wealth gap. The president ultimately takes the position that it is politically untenable to enact a reparations program. If so—or if nothing comparable can be realized—then I contend that it is impossible to close the racial wealth gap.
But why does the president believe it is impossible? He says “it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence [of] historic wrongs we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time, to make that right.” The United States has taken a small chunk of the nation’s resources over a short period of time to try to make right on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy has taken a large chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to correct the inferior position of the native Malays. However, the native Malays are a numerical majority in their country who also are the recipients of the wealth redistribution program conducted there.
After all, it may be the case that the president simply is wrong about the impossibility of making reparations happen. His deference to achieving “the better” over the determination to achieve “the best” may be a mistake. There are times when the effort to get to “the better”—the marginal change that appears to be an improvement—is so exhausting that its accomplishment becomes a barrier to getting to the best. Mark Gomez at the Haas Institute at Berkeley has said time and again in municipal struggles for minimum-wage increases that the “fight for 15” is easier than a “fight for 10.”
And sometimes Obama’s careful assessments of the political landscape are wrong. For example, he has said repeatedly that you do not win elections by telling the American people that things are going wrong. But that is precisely what Donald Trump did in winning the most recent presidential campaign. Black reparations can become a legitimate policy claim if and when a majority of Americans are convinced that it is an idea with merit. As Obama’s two elections demonstrate it does not necessarily require a majority of white Americans to support such a program. The political challenge is to forge that national majority, presumably with approximately 40 percent of white Americans on board.
Having a black president oppose reparations does not help the cause, particularly when that black president makes the case that an important source of black disadvantage is black folk’s own behavior. But black America should have paid attention to the experience of post-colonial black Africa and the Caribbean; leaders who look like you do not necessarily act in ways that benefit you. So be it. The struggle for reparations—and for black lives and justice—must and will continue, with or without Barack Obama in the fold.
America vs. the World
The word imperialism fell into disuse in recent decades. If it seems slightly retro, that is only because there aren’t enough Americans committed to telling the ugly truth about their government.
During the Cold War era we were told that communism increased in influence via a domino effect, knocking down nations one by one and forcing them into Moscow’s or Beijing’s orbit. In the 21st century there is a new domino theory which puts every part of the world into America’s cross hairs.
Barack Obama has succeeded in expanding America’s influence in ways that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney could only dream about. The neo-conservative project for a new American century has reached full fruition under a Democratic president, who now has many notches on his gun. He and the rest of the NATO leaders began the trail of destruction with Libya, tearing that country asunder under the guise of saving it.
Using lies and their servants in the corporate media, they constructed a tale of a tyrant and a people yearning for protection. That evil success emboldened them and their Gulf monarchy allies further and they decided that Syria would be the next domino.
That plan didn’t work quite as well as Obama and the rest of the murder incorporated team thought it would. When the British parliament said no to new military adventures Obama was left sputtering on national television. He was forced to back down from an adamant position he had taken just days earlier.
The semi-comedic setback was only temporary because the monster must be fed at all cost. The system can no longer sustain itself and brute force is the only out. There is nothing old fashioned about imperialism. This malevolent force is still alive and well.
George W. Bush made efforts to overthrow the democratically elected Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela when he plotted with the opposition against the late Hugo Chavez. Obama is clearly more committed to violence than his predecessor and has helped to stir up right wing Venezuelans who want to rid themselves of Nicolas Maduro. Maduro has been weakened by the ginned up protests and is now forced into talks with an opposition that won’t be satisfied until he is dead and gone too.
The Venezuelan people have voted for their revolution numerous times. The U.S., a country that never ceases to call itself a democracy, has thwarted their clearly expressed will time and time again. But that is the essence of empire after all.
While armed force against Syria was temporarily blocked, the West, the Persian Gulf monarchies, Israel, and jihadists have not given up their effort to topple the Bashir al-Assad government in Syria. The savage war has made thousands of Syrians homeless and starving refugees, all because the empire needs its next domino.
Not only does the United States meddle in its own backyard, it also relentlessly interferes on the other side of the world in far away Ukraine. Popular discontent against that country’s president became a successful effort to bring that country into the western sphere of economic influence but with the awful strings of austerity attached. Ukraine has the choice of going bankrupt or being bailed out and dying a slow death à la Greece.
While the machinations were afoot, president Obama warned Vladimir Putin away with threats of sanctions. The scenes of sometimes violent street protests in Ukraine made a fortuitous tableau for the United States which claimed the infamous “responsibility to protect” which never protects anyone who actually needs help and which has brought so much suffering to people around the world. Every invasion, occupation and disruption in recent years can be laid at the feet of the United States and its allies. Iraq has been destroyed quite literally, Iran has been destroyed economically. Libya was taken out and Syria is on the brink.
The United States quite openly makes it clear that it wants to have its way in the world. If Russia attempts to use its influence then it is vilified and caricatured as a cruel dictatorship controlled by a tyrant. No matter how many elections Chavez and now Maduro won, they are called dictators by American talking heads.
A superpower can foment conflict anywhere it wants to at anytime it chooses. Venezuelans must knuckle under or face the prospect of more turmoil and violence. Ukraine must sign onto economic policies which have already proven disastrous. The United States leaves its fingerprints in these and many other places and that is the essence of imperialism. It is all about control with the rawest brute force available.
The United States hasn’t officially made Venezuela or any other a colony but it doesn’t have to do that. It just has to show that it is boss and the dominos will fall wherever it chooses.
The First Lady and the President of the United States have officially told all the Negroes that they are not here for your lazy, hoop-dreaming, rapper-fantasizing, video-game-addicted, blame-it-on-the-white-man, media-whorish asses. They are over your excuses and they don’t want to hear it and they say no one else wants to hear it either. You ain’t getting reparations and they gives zero fucks about whatever legacy left you in the condition you’re in. Fuck institutionalized racism and stop-and-frisk and stand your ground and the prison industrial complex and inherent wealth disparity and inherent resource disparity and government persecution and government antipathy. Fuck yo’ couch, nigga. Fuck yo couch! Fuck all your excuses. If Oprah and Tyler can do it, any Negro can do it: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps—whether you have boots or straps or just bare feet. Otherwise, ain’t nobody got time for your sob story. Peace out!
Love, the most powerful black couple on the planet.
“Today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of ‘separate but equal,’ when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school, only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree.” – First Lady Michelle Obama, New York Daily News
“I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: ‘Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.’ Well, we’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil — many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did — all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.
Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”– President Barack Obama, Wall Street Journal
If you are, then you understand the problematics. If you’re not, then you don’t.
But we should all know one thing for sure:
“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – Maya Angelou
How the Obama Administration Talks to Black America
“Convenient race-talk” from a president who ought to know better
TA-NEHISI COATES The Atlantic MAY 20 2013
The first lady went to Bowie State and addressed the graduating class. Her speech was a mix of black history and a salute to the graduates. There was also this:
But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of “separate but equal,” when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.
And then this:
If the school in your neighborhood isn’t any good, don’t just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children’s promise. …
And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that.
There’s a lot wrong here.
At the most basic level, there’s nothing any more wrong with aspiring to be a rapper than there is with aspiring to be a painter, or an actor, or a sculptor. Hip-hop has produced some of the most penetrating art of our time, and inspired much more. My path to this space began with me aspiring to be rapper. Hip-hop taught me to love literature. I am not alone. Perhaps you should not aspire to be a rapper because it generally does not provide a stable income. By that standard you should not aspire to be a writer, either.
At a higher level, there is the time-honored pattern of looking at the rather normal behaviors of black children and pathologizing them. My son wants to play for Bayern Munich. Failing that, he has assured me he will be Kendrick Lamar. When I was kid I wanted to be Tony Dorsett — or Rakim, whichever came first. Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it. What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don’t extend past entertainment and athletics That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direst result of American policy.
Enacting and enforcing policy is the job of the Obama White House. When asked about policy for African Americans, the president has said, “I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of all America.” An examination of the Obama administration’s policy record toward black people clearly bears this out. An examination of the Obama administration’s rhetoric, as directed at black people, tells us something different.
Yesterday, the president addressed Morehouse College’s graduating class, andsaid this:
We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”
We’ve got no time for excuses — not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and overcame.
This clearly is a message that only a particular president can offer. Perhaps not the “president of black America,” but certainly a president who sees holding African Americans to a standard of individual responsibility as part of his job. This is not a role Barack Obama undertakes with other communities.
Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people — and particularly black youth — and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that “there’s no longer room for any excuses” — as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of “all America,” but he also is singularly the scold of “black America.”
It’s worth revisiting the president’s comments over the past year in reference to gun violence. Visting his grieving adopted hometown of Chicago, in the wake of the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, the president said this:
For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect. And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building. When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.
Two months earlier Obama visited Newtown. The killer, Adam Lanza, was estranged from his father and reportedly devastated by his parents divorce. But Obama did not speak to Newtown about the kind of community they were building, or speculate on the hole in Adam Lanza’s heart.
When Barack Obama says that he is “the president of all America,” he is exactly right. When he visits black communities, he visits as the American president, bearing with him all our history, all our good works, and all our sins. Among recent sins, the creation of the ghettos of Chicago — accomplished by 20th-century American social policy — rank relatively high. Leaving aside the vague connection between fatherhood and the murder of Hadiya Pendleton. Certainly the South Side could use more responsible fathers. Why aren’t there more? Do those communities simply lack men of ambition or will? Are the men there genetically inferior?
No president has ever been better read on the intersection of racism and American history than our current one. I strongly suspect that he would point to policy. As the president of “all America,” Barack Obama inherited that policy. I would not suggest that it is in his power to singlehandedly repair history. But I would say that, in his role as American president, it is wrong for him to handwave at history, to speak as though the government he represents is somehow only partly to blame. Moreover, I would say that to tout your ties to your community when it is convenient, and downplay them when it isn’t, runs counter to any notion of individual responsibility.
I think the stature of the Obama family — the most visible black family in American history — is a great blow in the war against racism. I am filled with pride whenever I see them: there is simply no other way to say that. I think Barack Obama, specifically, is a remarkable human being — wise, self-aware, genuinely curious and patient. It takes a man of particular vision to know, as Obama did, that the country really was ready to send an African American to the White House.
But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.)They wil weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have beenrun of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.
I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their vote went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite a concerted effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.
TA-NEHISI COATES is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle