John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


On the President’s Remarks Last Week

Posted on July 22, 2013

The President, who is half-black and half-white (father and mother pictured) decided to completely disown his white side, as if it weren’t there.

In the same week that Detroit declared bankruptcy, the President opined on George Zimmerman and the state of race relations in this country.

The President should have spoken up on the Zimmerman verdict, which has become a festering national wound, although I thought his remarks were incomplete at best, needlessly adversarial at worst.

The fact that Barack Obama can stride up to the podium in the Brady Room, tell Jay Carney to take a seat, and start opining on race relations in front of the whole world tells you all you really need to know about the state of race relations in this country.

A black man, even a black man with a funny name and Muslim father, can be anything he wants to be in America, even President of the United States.

And all anybody can really ask for is a shot to make it to the very top of the heap.

Black people and white people marry each other at the highest rate in our nation’s history. They do business together more than ever.  With gentrification, they live together in more communities than ever before.

Of course, a lot of black people and white people still hold hatred in their hearts for folks of another color, but there is no law that can stop that from happening.

The only thing the law should do is to give anybody a chance to make it to the top if they have the talent and the ability.

The President didn’t acknowledge his special place in the history of race relations in this country, that he got elected and reelected, despite the fact that 70 percent of the country is white and only around 15 percent of the country is black.

He talked about the burdens of being a black man, and yes, there are some burdens.  You get followed around in a store on occasion, you get profiled, it’s hard to get a cab, and sometimes, you get incorrectly treated like the wait-staff.

I don’t doubt all of those things happen, and I think all of them are regrettable.

But those burdens do not keep you from ascending to the top office in the land if you have the right talent, the right connections, and the right ambition.

What keeps you from achieving your dreams and goals is being gunned down in a gangland murder.  What keeps you from achieving your dreams and goals is attending schools where none of the kids share your dreams and goals, and none of the teachers understand what it takes to get you there.

Institution racism is not the thing that keeps black people from becoming successful.   And polls show that most African Americans no longer believe that institutional racism keeps them from their dreams and goals.

But that is not to say that other factors have not conspired to snuff out the dreams for far too many black kids in this country.

Which brings me to Detroit.

Detroit is a city that has still not recovered from the race riots of the 1960’s.  It is the most liberal city in the country, politically speaking.  It is 80 percent African American.  It is a cesspool of corruption, crime, drug abuse and poverty, not necessarily because it is 80 percent African American.   But because it has become such a cesspool, just about anybody else who can afford to escape have escaped.   The rest are stuck in a city that no longer works.

It is fair to say that most white folks don’t feel safe venturing into most parts of the Motor City.   And I bet you plenty of black folks say the same thing.

Was it racism that killed Detroit?  After all, white business owners pulled out all of their money and let the city die a slow death over the last  35 years.

But money goes where money can multiply like rabbits.  And if there were any business opportunities within the confines of Mo Town, (other than drugs and rap music), I don’t think simple racism would have kept that investment income out.

It doesn’t matter what color investors are.  They care about one color, at the end of the day, and that color is green.

But Detroit faces in total what other cities faced in part:  A breakdown of family structure.  The rise of a drug culture.  The normalization of rampant crime.  And deeply corrupt governance.

Couple all of that with liberal policies that make things easier on gang bangers than on victims, easier on government unions than on businesses that pay the taxes to fund government, easier on criminals than on cops, easier on the teacher’s union than on the kids, and what you get is Detroit.

That’s not racism.  That’s just a damn shame.

The President in his remarks didn’t talk about Detroit.  He glossed over the very real fear that many people feel when it comes to crime in this country.  While he said that African-Americans aren’t “naïve” to crime, he didn’t acknowledge the fact that a very high percentage of crime (statistically) is committed by black kids who are just about Trayvon Martin’s age, which very much gave George Zimmerman more than a superficial reason to at least keep an eye on Mr. Martin.

The President, who is half-black and half-white and actually had more experience growing up in the white culture than in the African American culture, decided to completely disown his white side, as if it weren’t there.   I think that was a mistake.

I think he could have done the country a great service by simply acknowledging that those ladies who clutch their purses more tightly do so not because they are racist, but because they are legitimately worried about their safety, and until the crime rate among black men starts really going down in a more dramatic fashion, they have a justifiable reason to be concerned.

The President said that what the country doesn’t need is another conversation on race, and on that point, I agree with him.

We don’t need to talk; we need action.

And we need action to deal with the fact that the unemployment rate among black kids who drop out of school is 50%.  We need action to reverse the trend of single-mother parenting.  We need to focus like a laser beam on those kids who most need our help because they need real leadership from this President.

These kids have to start understanding that their path to security and wealth doesn’t start with rapping into a microphone or dunking a basketball, but by reading books and understanding basic math.

These kids have to start understanding that you don’t get respect by being disrespectful, you don’t get ahead by falling behind on your school work, you don’t get the girl in the end by getting her pregnant when she is 16, that you don’t get a job by wearing jeans that don’t cover your back side, that you don’t get out of the ghetto by acting like you want to stay in the ghetto.

Only the President can make the moral and practical case to these kids.

He is the President, and as he himself pointed out, he is African-American.

Members of the black middle class are victimized by the crime of association because white people (and other people who may or may not be white), practice instinctive profiling.  When they see a black person, they immediately assume the worst, as a defensive mechanism.  They clutch their purse, they lock the doors, they follow them in stores.   It’s not just white people who do this by the way.  It’s Korean store owners, it’s black cops, its Hispanic females.

If I were a member of the black middle class, or an elitist like Barack Obama, I would find this to be terribly frustrating.  Just because a person is black doesn’t mean that person is a criminal.  And for so many African-Americans who have struggled their whole lives and finally achieved a piece of the American dream, it must be deflating and in many ways completely infuriating when their colleagues, their neighbors and the taxi cab driver practice instinctive profiling. Instinctive profiling makes life harder to live.

But being angry about a cultural reality isn’t going to change anything.  Being pissed off about the soft bigotry of low expectations isn’t going to fix this problem.

What is going to fix this problem is a concerted effort to stop gang-bangers from killing one another.  What is going to fix the problem is a focused effort to save teen-agers, to get them to stay in school, to get them jobs and to get them to act like men.  Men like Barack Obama.

You can say what you like about Barack Obama.  You can disagree with his politics.  You can hate some of his policies.  You can fight tooth and nail against his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare.  What you can’t do is fail to give him credit for his remarkable achievement of becoming the first African American president.  You can’t say that he isn’t a remarkable role model.

Of course, I do disagree with him on many things, and I had some real problems with his remarks last week.  For example, when the President said that these societal problems stem from legacy that stretches back to slavery, I think he misses the point.     Mr. President, that was a long time ago, and in most of the worst places to live as a black man (Chicago, Detroit, Newark), there was no slavery, and in fact, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey all fought on the anti-slavery side.

You can try to make a sociological/historical analysis of how things went so wrong, but that doesn’t solve the problem of here and now.

And the problem of here and now is we need to stop black boys from the killing one another and from filling our prison systems with their crimes great and small.  And don’t give me excuses about a racist legal system.   We need to stop the crime so that we can make some real strides in racial reconciliation and, more importantly, get everybody to share in the American dream.

The President has basically ignored these issues throughout his time in office.  Mr. President, that problem is not going away.  I am glad you finally spoke out.  Now, do something.

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