TNC is less than enthusiastic about the tone that the Obamas struck in their recent commencement speeches:
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.”
TNC even goes on to call Obama’s defense of and call for personal responsibility and fatherhood “targeted scorn”. Good Lord. Why so defensive? The importance of personal discipline and responsible fatherhood are surely central to many of the issues facing black America. Without them, it is hard to see how African-Americans are going to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace or leave behind some of the family breakdown that has so contributed to poverty and crime. Fallows is more forgiving:
We all take a different tone in setting expectations for “our own.”
I can hold Americans overseas to a different standard than I would Russians or Japanese; I can harangue (and have!) my colleagues in the press about why we should do better; I expect something from myself and my kids I wouldn’t expect from you and your kids, and so on. The challenge for Obama, exactly as Ta-Nehisi pointed out, is that he is simultaneously addressing all Americans as his own (apart from those who consider him alien) while also in this speech addressing as his own the most historically distinct subset of our population. …
I increasingly think of Obama as walking a tiny, little rope suspended across a Grand Canyon. Through four and a half years he has mainly kept his footing, in a way that becomes cumulatively surprising — and I say that even while disagreeing with many of his policies, notably including the recent security-state extensions. Every now and then, as with this speech, we see how hard what he is doing is.
And how unforgiving and touchy his audience can be. My thoughts on Obama’s speech here.
(Photo: Graduating students with rain soaked mortar boards, listen as US President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during a ceremony at Morehouse College on May 19, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. By Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)