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“A Stranger To Whom?”: President Obama Has To Work Pretty Hard To Feel Much Empathy With People Like Chuck Todd

We all know by now that Chuck Todd thinks of President Obama as The Stranger. That narrative fits pretty well for a lot of DC pundits who see him as aloof, cold, distant and remote.

But I suspect that description would come as a surprise to the young people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation.

When President Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in June, he and first lady Michelle Obama emerged stunned and emotional from a meeting with six students who spoke of lives affected by homelessness, alcoholism, poverty and suicide.

“I love these young people,” Obama said shortly after meeting them. “I only spent an hour with them. They feel like my own.”

The Obamas emerged from the private conversation at a school in Cannon Ball, N.D., “shaken because some of these kids were carrying burdens no young person should ever have to carry. And it was heartbreaking,” Obama said.

The meeting spurred Obama to tell his administration to aggressively build on efforts to overhaul the Indian educational system and focus on improving conditions for Native American youths.

You can read the rest of the article linked above to get details on the action this meeting with tribal youth spurred.

The very same thing happened when President Obama met with youth involved in the Becoming a Man program in Chicago. The result was the launch of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative where he pointed out that “I’m not that different from Roger.” Here was my reaction that day:

What we’re witnessing for the first time in this country’s history is a President who knows these struggles – just like we now have a Supreme Court Justice who embraces the fact that she grew up poor and Latina in the Bronx and an Attorney General who speaks openly about what it means to have “the talk” with his own teenage son following the shooting of Trayvon. The world looks different when viewed through the lens of those who have lived these experiences. I suspect that means an awful lot to young people like Roger.

I would suggest that President Obama has to work pretty hard to feel much empathy with people like Chuck Todd. But he very naturally gravitates to young people like this. Michael Lewis says that its a pattern for him.

His desire to hear out junior people is a warm personality trait as much as a cool tactic, of a piece with his desire to play golf with White House cooks rather than with C.E.O.’s and basketball with people who treat him as just another player on the court; to stay home and read a book rather than go to a Washington cocktail party; and to seek out, in any crowd, not the beautiful people but the old people. The man has his stat­us needs, but they are unusual. And he has a tendency, an unthinking first step, to subvert established stat­us structures.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 6, 2014

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Chuck Todd, Native Americans, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Infinite Circle Of Black Responsibility”: Part Of The Privilege Of Whiteness Is You Don’t Have To Have Responsibility For Anyone Else

In 2006, after being a United States senator for one year, Barack Obama made an appearance on Meet the Press. After talking about the Iraq War for a while, Tim Russert asked Obama this: “I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?” Obama said he never uses Nazi analogies, but people are concerned about striking the balance between privacy and security. Russert pressed on, asking Obama to take a position on whether some insulting things Belafonte had said about George W. Bush were “appropriate.”

I thought of that interview today as I watched another interview, this one with Bill O’Reilly interviewing White House aide Valerie Jarrett. I bring it up not because it’s important to be mad at Bill O’Reilly (it isn’t), but because it’s yet another demonstration of the rules both prominent and ordinary black people have to live with. Unlike white Americans, they are subject to an entirely different and far more wide-ranging kind of responsibility. A black senator has to answer for the remarks of every black activist, black musicians are responsible for the actions of every wayward teenager, and black people everywhere carry with them a thousand sins committed by others. That burden isn’t just psychological; as we’ve seen in cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, it can be deadly.

Yesterday, President Obama held an event at the White House called “My Brother’s Keeper,” to encourage people to help create more opportunities for young men of color. Afterward, O’Reilly told Jarrett that on “the streets,” there’s a problematic culture. “It’s not just blacks—it’s the poor, and the hard core, what they call ‘gangstas.'” He went on: “You have to attack the fundamental disease if you want to cure it. Now I submit to you that you’re going to have to get people like Jay-Z, all right, Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers, to knock it off.”

You may laugh at the idea that disproportionately high levels of incarceration among young black men can be laid at the feet of Kim Kardashian’s husband. And I’m pretty sure that crime in America predates “Straight Outta Compton,” though we might have to look that up. But the truth is that Bill O’Reilly could hear a rap song about butterflies and rainbows, and the first thing to pop into his head would be “gangsta rap!” because it’s black people rapping.

And in this, O’Reilly resembles Michael Dunn, the man who gunned down Jordan Davis over his music. Over and over in his jailhouse writings, Dunn references the “culture” around rap music as one of criminality and danger, citing it as the source of crimes committed by black people. So naturally, when he heard that music coming from the next car over, he thought he was about to be the victim of a drive-by, and the only alternative was to pull out his gun and start firing first.

This is about the collectivization of every misdeed committed by a black person, the way all black people are implicated and have responsibilities imposed on them. When a white man beats his children or kills his wife or robs a liquor store or commits insider trading, nobody tells Bill O’Reilly that he, as a white person, needs to do something about it. And he sure as hell doesn’t go on the air and say that white people need better role models. There isn’t a thing called “white on white crime,” but there is a thing called “black on black crime,” because crimes committed by black people are black crimes, born from blackness and soiling all black people, but crimes committed by white people have nothing to do with the race of the perpetrators; they’re just crimes, no modifier needed.

My guess is that if you asked Bill O’Reilly what responsibility white musicians or white politicians have for the thousands of white crimes committed every year, he would have no idea what you’re talking about. It would sound like gibberish to him. As I’ve written before, a big part of the privilege of whiteness is that you don’t have to have responsibility for anyone else. You can be just yourself. The security guard is not going to follow you around in a store because some other white person shoplifted there last week. A TV host is not going to demand that you defend something stupid another white person said, for no reason other than the fact that the two of you are white. No one is going to think that because of the music you’re playing, it might be a good idea to fire ten bullets into your car.

Creating that broad black responsibility doesn’t just happen, it has to be reinforced and maintained. Nobody does it with more vigor than Bill O’Reilly and the rancid cauldron of race-baiting that is the network for whom he works. The real mystery is why the White House keeps trying to court him. They actually invited him to that event yesterday.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 28, 2014

March 1, 2014 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“My Brother’s Keeper”: A Helping Hand For Young Men Of Color

“My Brother’s Keeper” has a much nicer ring than “stop and frisk.” It also promises to be a more effective, less self-defeating way to address the interlocking social and economic crises afflicting young men of color.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that President Obama gets some heat for launching a program whose benefits are aimed solely at African American and Hispanic men and boys. The nation’s first black president gets slammed by critics who accuse him of “playing the race card” every time he acknowledges that race and racism still play a role in determining opportunities and outcomes.

But obviously they do. My Brother’s Keeper, which Obama announced Thursday, is the kind of targeted public-private initiative that might actually do some good, even without tons of new federal money thrown in.

I suppose other critics might ask what took Obama so long. The president bristles at this line of questioning, pointing to the fact that his most ambitious achievements — including the Affordable Care Act — have their greatest impact among disadvantaged minorities.

Obama also understands that even if he had a Congress that would give him carte blanche, solving the problems that face young men of color would take many years of sustained effort.

You’d have to fix broken schools and broken families. You’d have to eliminate the racial bias in policing and the justice system that makes African American and Hispanic men far more likely to be stopped, arrested and sent to prison than whites who engage in similar illegal behavior. You’d have to somehow bring enough commerce and industry back into hollowed-out neighborhoods to provide decent jobs. You’d have to convince millions of young men that the odds are not stacked against them, despite copious evidence to the contrary.

Where do you even start? Down in the trenches.

“We have credibility on these issues because we’ve been working on the ground,” La June Montgomery Tabron, president and chief executive of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, told me over lunch this week.

Kellogg is one of 10 major foundations that have agreed to join business leaders and the federal government in the Brother’s Keeper initiative. Collectively, the foundations are already spending more than $150 million on programs aimed at young men of color. They are now pledging to invest at least an additional $200 million, coordinating their efforts to channel the funds toward approaches that deliver measurable results.

The other participating foundations deserve a shout-out: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the California Endowment, the Ford Foundation, the John R. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the Open Society Foundations, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bloomberg Philanthropies. Thanks and kudos to all.

As the foundations identify factors that either create or destroy opportunity for young men of color, Obama has pledged to adjust federal policy accordingly. One example is the disparity in school suspensions. The Education Department recently issued new guidelines for enforcing “zero tolerance” school disciplinary policies after studies found that minorities were more likely than whites to be suspended for infractions. Students who miss class time due to suspensions are less likely to graduate. And in the case of far too many young men of color, during the suspensions — when they’re not in the relative sanctuary of school — they are more likely to find themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

As Montgomery Tabron reminded me, Trayvon Martin’s home was in Miami, far from the central Florida town where he died. At the time of his fatal encounter with George Zimmerman, Martin was staying with his father for a few days because he had been suspended from school. Authorities had found what they said was marijuana residue in his backpack.

No one is arguing that young men of color are all angels. Obama has consistently preached the need for at-risk youths to take personal responsibility for their lives. Some commentators have criticized the president — unfairly, he feels — for “blaming the victims” rather than the societal forces that work against them.

But the reality is that if you’re male and African American or Hispanic, you can’t afford to make the same youthful mistakes that your white counterparts get to make. For example, blacks and whites are equally likely to smoke weed, according to surveys. But blacks are four times more likely to be arrested and jailed on marijuana charges.

That’s one of the many reasons why this race-specific initiative is so badly needed. My Brother’s Keeper isn’t a solution. But it’s a start.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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