Vanessa Williams, Washington Post, May 20, 2013
Trevor Coleman thinks it’s time for President Obama to get a new speech for black audiences. The personal responsibility finger-wagging, delivered most recently Sunday at Morehouse College’s commencement, is getting old.
During the speech, Obama admonished black men to take care of their families and their communities and told the graduates that despite the lingering legacies of slavery and discrimination, “we’ve got no time for excuses.” Obama also used the occasion to talk about his own life, touching on the fact that he was raised by a single mother and that growing up he sometimes blamed some of his bad choices on “the world trying to keep a black man down.”
The half-hour speech in Atlanta drew a rousing response from those who had sat in pouring rain waiting for the president to speak.
Coleman, a former speechwriter for former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, said that although parts of the talk were strong and lofty, including passages honoring Morehouse graduate Martin Luther King Jr., he was disappointed that Obama almost always defaults to the clean-up-your-act message when talking to predominantly black audiences. First lady Michelle Obama issued a similar tongue-lashing last week at Bowie State University’s commencement ceremony. She told graduates at the historically black Maryland school that too many young people are “fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”
“The first couple of times, it was okay, but I and a lot of other people are beginning to grow weary of it,” said Coleman, adding that the message was particularly galling at Sunday’s event at the historically black Georgia school. “What made it so gratuitous was this was Morehouse College! In the African American community, the very definition of a Morehouse man is someone who is a leader, who is taught to go out and make a difference in his community.” (The White House declined comment.)
Obama has been making this point — and stirring controversy — since he was a candidate in 2008. Jesse Jackson Sr. was incensed by what he saw as Obama’s “talking down to black people,” yet it was Jackson who was criticized. Many in the black community believed that Obama’s chastisements were necessary to make himself politically palatable to white voters.