In comments little-remarked upon by the media, President Obama Monday suggested that too many African Americans are using their culture to separate themselves from mainstream society, and that this should come to an end.
Obama spoke during an event for his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in Washington. I don’t support the initiative: I think its goals are worthwhile, but I believe government shouldn’t be establishing programs targeting specific races. Nevertheless, Obama made many constructive statements to the youth attending the question and answer session, which went on for nearly an hour.
Addressing a question that was actually about Native American culture, Obama said cultural pride could be maintained even as minority cultures wove themselves into the larger society. And then he pivoted to black culture.
As the heads of African Americans in the audience shook in knowing agreement, Obama criticized a penchant within the black community for castigating those perceived as “acting white.”
From his remarks:
There’s no contradiction between knowing your culture — the traditional cultures out of which your families come, but also being part of the larger culture.
And I think that one of the things — this is true not just for Native Americans, but it’s also true for African Americans. Sometimes African Americans, in communities where I’ve worked, there’s been the notion of “acting white” — which sometimes is overstated, but there’s an element of truth to it, where, okay, if boys are reading too much, then, well, why are you doing that? Or why are you speaking so properly?
And the notion that there’s some authentic way of being black, that if you’re going to be black you have to act a certain way and wear a certain kind of clothes, that has to go. (Applause.) Because there are a whole bunch of different ways for African American men to be authentic.
Obama touches on something it’s hard for people – particularly white conservatives who care about the issue – to say: that the real problems of black Americans today stem not from a lack of government assistance or quotas, but from intractable problems within their own culture and community.
It’s hard to say because you get accused of being racist. But it’s important to state because until liberals, black leaders, and African Americans themselves fully recognize the problem, blacks are going to have trouble ascending to full economic and social equality in America.
I don’t deny that part of what is wrong in black culture is due to the legacy of slavery, racism and discrimination. And there’s still some amount racism and discrimination. But that’s not, at this point, what is holding black people back.
What’s holding them back is a culture in which fathers are often not present, marriage is in a state of near-total destruction, the work ethic is not what it must be, and sexual and violent images are pervasive.
Obama is to be commended for delving into this. He talked also in his remarks about the need for hard work, goal setting, networking, and other tools of success.
If only he could see that the dependency on government his policies foster, as well as his divisive rhetoric, are defeating such useful advice.
Here’s some video of his remarks. The portion related to black Americans begins at about 4:30.