On black issues, Obama plays the white card

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The Article

“We are living in a new time, where people are behaving in abnormal ways and calling it normal…No longer is a person embarrassed because they’re pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child”

—Bill Cosby, speaking to African-Americans at St. Paul Church of God in Christ, Detroit, July, 2007.


s Mother’s Day approaches, it seems a fitting moment to point out the truth of Bill Cosby’s observation. Left unsaid but well understood by him: This “new time” and these “abnormal ways” have produced uneven social results, to put it mildly.

Over the past few years we’ve seen a stream of movies—occasionally poignant, but essentially light-hearted—about accidental or unwanted pregnancies, such as Waitress, Knocked Up, Juno, Baby Mama and the upcoming Then She Found Me, in which a happy ending involves a mother and baby, but not necessarily a father.

In each case, the film presents no downside to single motherhood. If the extremely flawed bio or adoptive father—who range from dim-witted and infantile to downright abusive—shapes up to meet the mother’s criteria, she’ll tolerate his continued presence. If not, that’s OK too. Fathers are dispensable in Hollywood’s glowy view of mum and child as a viable family.

Of course all these spunky single moms are mature, white and middle-class. Their money, education, marketable skills, social networks and readily available admirable male role models, it is implicitly understood, will ensure an outcome indistinguishable from those produced by traditional households.

None of these movies would be quite so entertaining if the ending leaped 13 years, and the credits rolled over adolescents in drug gangs rather than cooing babies: that’s to say, if the films’ protagonists represented a far more numerous and problematic group of single mums in the U. S.—black teenagers with no money, skills, education, social networks or decent male role models, let alone committed fathers.

Fatherlessness, not white racism, is arguably the single greatest influence in preventing blacks’ rise to social and cultural parity with whites. Teen births amongst U. S. blacks are 63 per 1,000, more than double the rate for whites. The social pathology these figures represent cries out for reform through moral leadership. Where is Barack Obama on this critical issue? Voting “absent.”

Having embraced the theoretically “healing” strategy of post-racialism, Obama studiously avoids addressing specifically black cultural concerns in any prescriptive way. When he does address a black issue, he toes the same party line as white politicians.

In a debate on Martin Luther King Day, for example, Obama and Hillary both trotted out the politically correct myth that police racism is the cause of black men’s disproportionately high incarceration figures. It isn’t. Blacks do commit a disproportionate number of crimes. One can see why Hillary pandered—black crime is a third rail for white politicians—but Obama had a choice, and he chose not to choose. That’s unfortunate, because admitting the truth on black crime is a necessary prelude to addressing the social scourge producing it.

Pandemic black fatherlessness and its consequences is an issue only authoritative black leaders can address with credibility. Obama should take a lesson from Cosby’s motivational, self-help tours of black American communities.

For Bill Cosby has been finding success amongst black audiences, even though he refuses to blame whitey for their problems. “Men? Men? Men!Where are you, men?” he rails. Cosby drives home the message that fatherlessness, hip hop and crime add up to cultural suicide. It’s tough love, but the full houses that greet him indicate it’s a message blacks are ready to hear. The “Afristocrat in winter” has tapped into a significant, hopefully more representative, vein of black realism than Jeremiah Wright’s conspiracy theories and blame-shifting.

Both Cosby and Obama were abandoned by their fathers and raised by mothers. Both know there is nothing cute or charming or easy about mothers raising children alone, and both know the potential consequences from the emotional vacuum fatherlessness creates.

In a November Pew survey, 85% of all African-Americans considered Cosby a “good influence.” Obama? He is considered a good influence by only 76% of American blacks. There’s a message here. Mainstream blacks will respond positively to liberating truths when they trust the truth-teller.

If Obama really wants to “heal” America, he could find no better place to start than by exercising the unique power that is, amongst the candidates, in his gift alone: to encourage the restoration of social and cultural health to black families.

Barbara Kay
Latest posts by Barbara Kay (see all)

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