Obama delivers striking speech on fatherhood

It was striking alright…striking in as much as it smacked a whole bunch of black folks who are trying to make lemonade with lemons right in the mouth:

Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Mr. Obama said, to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

More here.

The term “striking” doesn’t come from me but from the New York Times. Thing is that others have delivered “striking” speeches like this. Bill Clinton comes immediately to mind. As does Bill Cosby. Listen closely to the Minister Louis Farrakhan and you hear the same thing. In fact, the pastor of my wife’s church delivered the same message. This is the “courageous speech” that among other things tells listeners–not the people in the audience but potential voters–that he isn’t black like that. That says he isn’t a knee jerk liberal willing to blame racism for the ailments of black men. He adds a canard or two about more job training–these speeches usually include SOMETHING. But that’s about it.

It makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear it. Every time I hear someone give it. Unfortunately, given today’s intellectual climate critics like me will only be “proven right” when the same economic crises hits everyone else…and dads go AWOL. But of course then it won’t be cultural.

These are the types of speeches that make me want to stay home come November.

Update. Racism Review has the best analysis of the speech I’ve read.

  • http://subrealism.blogspot.com cnulan

    The profligacy AND the violence statistics track together. In fact, you could argue they’re inseparable. All these pandering muckitty mucks are just lying because lying is the sine quo non of increasing one’s own status level within the prevailing establishment.

    Farrakhan is the outlier here, because he’s built a feudal establishment that doesn’t depend on constant high levels of violence for continuity, a very interesting and increasingly less atavistic construct compared with the street level alternatives.

    There’s much more to all this than meets the eye. On the street level, anytime prior to 1968, you probably had more to fear on a 1-to-1 basis from the white guy. That’s returning with a vengeance. On a macroscopic scale, it’s because of what’s always been going on in the world but is now re-entering a period of extremely heightened “activity” a renaissance or revival – if you will.Some folks are straight scurred of it, other folks are in avoidance and denial mode. Some of us recognize it for what it is. During the Tokugawa shogunates in Japan, for a period of centuries, Japan experienced almost zero population growth. Japanese high-culture was optimized for sustainability as against no increases in agricultural production or societal net energy. That all changed with the Meiji “restoration”. If folks don’t recognize gangsterism, outlawry, etc…, for the beginnings of the return of that old fuedal samurai/cowboy isht, and they don’t like to read, at the very least get some zatoichi or sergio leone movies and refresh your imaginary conception of elevated levels of routine pedestrian violence as a normative feature of culture.

  • http://www.ilivetoshop.typepad.com Ruth Ferguson

    well I wondered on digg how long would it be before those who attacked Dr. Bill Cosby would speak out against Sen. Obama’s comments today.
    I thought perhaps that speaking as a person who lived through single parent childhood – he would receive a little slack. Clearly I was wrong.

    I won’t attempt to debate the issues – smarter people than I have tried. I just want to point out that I am not an intellectual, a college graduate or the product of a single parent home. But I listened to Sen. Obama’s speech and cannot understand how encouraging children to set high standards for themselves, for parents to be involved in the lives of their children beyond sports is a bad thing.

    I do not have any children, but I do have plenty of friends who are raising their sons alone – I see the disappointment of those boys when Dad chooses to not participate with them, but takes care of his “new” family. I worry about those boys because the frustration of the mother is too easily shared with her kids and although my family was terribly dysfunctional – in some regards there was a level of security in having a working father in our home.

    Because you did not elaborate or link to previous comments on the subject I am left to wonder – do you find acceptable that fathers create children and walk away. I do agree that when you look at the history of blacks in America sometimes this idea of mothers raising kids alone in the BLACK community is emphasized as if it is a new creation – in fact it goes back to slavery. However, blacks also have a history of stronger families at least in the first half of the last century than they do now.

    Regarding your consideration of staying at home in November – I hope you choose otherwise, if you vote for McCain. To not participate in the priviledge of electing local, state and national leaders when so many risked and some gave up their lives for said priviledge —- says more about you than the candidates.

  • http://www.ilivetoshop.typepad.com Ruth Ferguson

    I meant “even IF you vote for McCain.

  • The Good Doctor

    I won’t attempt to debate the issues – smarter people than I have tried. I just want to point out that I am not an intellectual, a college graduate or the product of a single parent home. But I listened to Sen. Obama’s speech and cannot understand how encouraging children to set high standards for themselves, for parents to be involved in the lives of their children beyond sports is a bad thing.

    when you say that you aren’t an intellectual, a college graduate, or the product of a single parent home…does that mean that you don’t know much about the history of rhetorical arguments about the causes and solutions to poverty in general, or to black poverty in particular? or are you saying something else?

    whatever the case, i’ve written a number of posts that i’ve tagged with black family. check them out…and then come back. single motherhood isn’t the problem. POVERTY is. UNEMPLOYMENT is.

  • http://www.ilivetoshop.typepad.com Ruth Ferguson

    Good Doctor,

    My “qualifiers” were related to the fact that in the past those who strongly criticized Dr. Cosby – in my loose following of the discussion – were described as upper middle class blacks looking down on those still in the hood.

    thanks for the link I will take a quick look at these – and likely comment again

  • Mark

    Single motherhood strikes me as a symptom, rather than the disease itself. Even with a father in the house, children from poor families in poor areas aren’t going to be doing all that great either. I’d like to know if anyone has actually attempted to compare the two in a controlled study.

    I don’t think anyone can argue that a cohesive family doesn’t have benefits, but to call it a panacea while ignoring the far more immediate causes is pretty shortsighted.

    As for Obama’s pandering, the “uppity negro” has to convince some of the racists and “rational discriminators” sitting on the fence that he isn’t a crypto-Muslim Manchurian candidate. Given that he’s running for president and not on a for-profit speaking tour, I can tolerate it. After all, half the country is dumber than average, and electoral college technicalities aside, he needs a majority to win, so if it gets him the necessary votes, so be it…

  • http://www.newsoula.blogspot.com eric daniels

    Same ole speech, Obama in his ‘Sister Souljah’ moment lecturing to black men so he can “get the jump” on Mc Cain and win the election by convincing white folks he will “stand up to those people” patheic and typical. I will be voting for Mc Kinney or Nader.

  • AS

    Interesting. I think on some levels I agree with the sentiment. And I’m really irked by Obama’s pandering but I have to keep reminding myself he’s running for president and he’s a politician so there’s going to be some shuffling going on.

    On this particular issue I’ve always looked at it this way: I cannot stop institutional racism. I can’t do anything about poverty. I really can’t do much about education as an institution. BUT, I can raise my children right. I can TEACH them what I believe they should know. I can do my best to provide for them as best I can. Despite racism, despite poverty despite poor schools. Do I think all those things should change, of course. But I can’t go change them myself. So I do the things that I can do. And I agree Doc, you get that single mother all the resources she needs and she can raise those kids just fine. But until that happens, you need all hands on deck to make sure the child gets what they need. That includes fathers. And there’s nothing wrong with Cosby, Obama or anyone else saying so.

  • http://www.newsoula.blogspot.com eric daniels

    AS, let me ask the people who supported Obama’s speech doesn’t it take two to tangle? Are we saying that single African- American women from the projects or suburbs are so stupid that they can’t purchase sexual protection aids from Target, Wal-Mart and Rite- Aid? If Obama is going to criticize Black Fathers who are absent then he better lecture Black Women are making better choices in the men they date/sleep with, and if the Brotha is not “father material” then it is up to her to “jimmy up” herself.

    Some Black people act like Black Women are so blinded by the Black Penis it robs them of all rational thinking, I think Black Boys and young men need to show more responsiblity and sexual respect for women and either buy condoms so they won’t get caught up on Maury or some other stupid show, Obama’s speech was a ploy as usual to tell white voters ‘he ain’t like those niggas’ like Bill Clinton he is a politcal opprountist who will use anything he has to become President. Are we that willing to sell our souls out to see that this “biracial hustler” run a game on Black America? And As, I have heard this rhetoric from black people for nearly 30 years, the time for marching and giving phony speeches from the pulpit is over whether it’s Cosby, Obama or anyone else. it’s either roll up your hands and do something or let poor black people go and meet their own fate.

  • AS

    “AS, let me ask the people who supported Obama’s speech doesn’t it take two to tangle? Are we saying that single African- American women from the projects or suburbs are so stupid that they can’t purchase sexual protection aids from Target, Wal-Mart and Rite- Aid? If Obama is going to criticize Black Fathers who are absent then he better lecture Black Women are making better choices in the men they date/sleep with, and if the Brotha is not “father material” then it is up to her to “jimmy up” herself.”

    — It does. And I’m not blaming anyone for anything, though there is plenty of blame to go around. Everyone has responsibility. To themselves, to each other, to their children and the community. But it seems to me that “some people” overlook their own and their communities’ responsibility because “the man” or whoever is “holding them down.” This may be true. And I’m not debating whether or not situations of exploitation exist. My point, is that as people we can’t shirk our own personal responsibility to ourselves and our communities because the government or whoever isn’t fulfilling theirs.

    “…Obama’s speech was a ploy as usual to tell white voters ‘he ain’t like those niggas’ like Bill Clinton he is a politcal opprountist who will use anything he has to become President. Are we that willing to sell our souls out to see that this “biracial hustler” run a game on Black America? And As, I have heard this rhetoric from black people for nearly 30 years, the time for marching and giving phony speeches from the pulpit is over whether it’s Cosby, Obama or anyone else. it’s either roll up your hands and do something or let poor black people go and meet their own fate.”

    I’ll concede a little on the first point. And I’m disappointed in it because as the “post-racial” candidate he didn’t really need to say anything on the matter. But I’m not sure I like the implications of the second point. It sounds like the only people who can save “poor black people” from “their own fate” is….. who? It most certainly doesn’t sound like you are empowering them to take charge of their own destiny. I think that’s the difference between the Good Doc’s argument and people like Cosby and now Obama. I agree that there are institutions in this country that should help but let’s be realistic. They don’t currently exist. Or at least aren’t as effective as they should be. Sometimes you just have the suck it up and make due. Given that reality is there no other hope for them…. and us?

  • http://blackoncampus.com Black on Campus

    I am not sure why Obama made this speech, but I tend to think it will ingratiate him more to older Black voters than it will to any constitutency within the white population.

    As for the sentiments expressed, I think there is a huge difference between what Obama expressed and what Cosby did (and continues to do) in his hit and run campaign on American cities.

    I think this is all quite difficult to parse. I just learned that 2/3 of Black college grads in the most recent year for which statistics exist are women. I think this points to the difficult for young Black men of growing up without their fathers in their lives. I don’t know that speeches will change the high rate of single motherhood in Black communities, but I am not upset about the substance of Obama’s comments. I think they are accurate.

    Granted, a number of Black men remain in their kids’ lives, either as in-home fathers or as very active single dads (whether or not they are the custodial parent); but too many of our kids grow up without their fathers and fathers matter a lot.

    The commenter before me says that ” as the ‘post racial’ candidate [Obama] didn’t really need to say anything on [this] matter.”
    You know, I don’t really agree with that. I live in Oakland, CA, and I can tell you that in the Black community here, fatherless kids are a MAJOR issue. I am not sure how I would feel if he did not address those issues that were key in our communities. I think it would have been better if he had made this statement, and then followed with some concrete policies that he would institute for changing this phenomenon.

  • Vince Spence

    Very simple. At about 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday, either go to the white people’s mall or the one that used to be the white people’s mall. Count the number of black females alone (or with other black females) with their children. Count the number of black males walking with them. If you get more than 10%-15% black males, you miscounted.

    Do the same with whites. Asians. Hispanics. Stop making excuses and refusing to accept facts. It’s a serious problem and it is getting worse. It may be the single biggest reason the black race in America is still in the starting block.

  • The Good Doctor

    vince what are the numbers of out of wedlock births for whites over the last ten years? does it trend upward or downward? what accounts for the trend?

    what accounts for the trend among blacks?

    how do other countries deal with this issue?

  • http://www.newsoula.blogspot.com eric daniels

    Going to mall is the measuring stick of how many Black Families exist, Vince stop with the simplistic responses to a complicated problem. Has Obama or any liberal or conservative advanced anything but empty rhetoric and no ideas except make those men come home and marry the girl. Vince you like Obama are part of the problem when it comes to this issue. I have yet to hear a plan of how to deal with these issues and Dr. Spence is right, white american out of wedlock births are nearing 50 percent and rising and where is the debate for …

    1. Enforcement of child support laws
    2. Set up an infastructure that will identify and make men pay
    3. DNA services to identify paternity
    4. Parenting lessons for single mothers and fathers
    5. Pentalies for lying about paternity
    6. Sexual Education for kids and teenagers
    7. Counseling by trained professionals to deal with the mental problems of why young women want babies before their time
    8. Why do men and boys feel the need not to take care of their offspring

    Obama’s rhetoric and Vince’s mall assertions are just simplistic rants that have no intellectual currency but are based on anger and emotion. Single -Parent children are now an American problem and does not have a racial or cultural malfunction. Obama needs to stop watching “Bring the Pain” and more on substance.

  • raha

    you all have the right to critique, but it in reality it was a speech not, a treatise. It’s not possible to get all the different aspects of an issue in a speech. It was also delivered in black church, not a mixed community like Mr. Cosby’s original “inflammatory speech.” That should count for something.

    Yes, there is a lot of blame to be placed on outside the black community, but that doesn’t mean people should not be encouraged/chastised to do better regardless of what is around you.

  • The Good Doctor

    In order:

    1. Because it isn’t possible to get at all aspects of the problem in a speech, it is essential to hit what you feel are the most important “beats.” For Obama the most important “beat” here was fatherless homes in black communities, even though the most pressing problem that black community faces–poverty–actually CAUSES rather than IS caused by fatherless homes.

    2. Cosby’s speech was delivered at a predominantly black event celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Brown vs Board of Education ruling. And both Cosby and Obama’s speech was quickly picked up and broadcast in various mainstream media outlets. In fact one CNN broadcaster noted that Obama delivered the speech to show “voters” that Obama could be hard on black audiences. What exactly should this count for?

    3. When you talk about forces “outside” of the black community, what exactly are you talking about? Where do black communities get their water from? The food they eat? Who paves the roads they drive on? Who builds the schools they use? The houses they live in? It isn’t about “outside” and “inside”, rather it’s about “public” vs. “private.”

    4. Given this, what should be the proper role of government? During the sixties, government took an active role in ensuring that people didn’t fall through the safety net. Through creating programs like HeadStart they ensured that millions of children were able to get the nutrition they needed to develop properly. These programs worked, regardless of what conservatives might say. Why should government get into the “chastise black men” business as opposed to building on previous efforts to create more opportunity for taxpaying citizens and their progeny?

  • http://www.newsoula.blogspot.com eric daniels

    Raha, when Obama speaks before white, hispanic jewish or other groups he is wooing there is always has a plan to tailor their communities with no lectures on behavior or pathlogies. Only when Obama talks before Black auidences he lectures us as children not voters to woo or any constructive plans to help the situation but to either bash black people usually on t.v. for talking heads to critique.

  • http://andrelouis.blogspot.com Andre

    Hey Doc,

    Rather than recreating the wheel and trying to come up with a better comment, I’ll repost my response on Racism Review:

    I understand why we black folks are sensitive to criticism about our lifestyles; albeit constructive. When analyses and cultural criticisms appear to be unbalanced and conveniently discount social, economic, and political deficiencies that create the problem, the ‘victim’ tends to get more offended when the blame is placed squarely on them. The unfortunate consequence of this type of critical analysis from Obama — though somewhat on point — is that it can get lost if it isn’t balanced by an understanding and an appreciation of the systemic problems (indiscriminate arrests and sentencing, inequities in pay, etc.) that contribute just as much to this plight. I get that.

    Still, I think that critics of Obama should stop and really listen to the message he was trying to convey; regardless to how poor and incomplete the delivery might be. Being a child whose father bailed on him, I can see why he internalizes this so much. Besides that, I think he’s ultimately saying that some of the self-destructive behavior we engage in contributes to the disintegration of the Black family just as much as the other nefarious forces that exist in this society. It’s no longer Jim Crowism. Now it’s B.E.T. It’s no longer the Klan terrorizing black folks. Now it’s young black teenagers. It’s no longer the racist power structure that works assiduously to keep blacks out of college. We’re the ones voluntarily dropping out of high school. Simply put, in many cases, we’re the ones self-imposing things that threaten our advancement and indeed our very survival.

    Rather than painting black folks as sad and pathetic victims of circumstance, Obama’s speech (at least I think) seeks to empower us to control our own lives. He lays out a challenge for parents to play a more active role in determining how their children are raised. Further, the way I see it is that he’s trying to urge us to be more actively engaged in promoting our OWN development. Frankly, I see nothing about as being Uncle Tom-ish. If anything, I’d say he’s using his “bully pulpit” in a responsible and necessary manner.

    I’m just sayin…

  • The Good Doctor


    1. It isn’t “our” lifestyle. It’s an American lifestyle. We all know professional women who have either decided to have children on their own, and applauded them, or who have decided to terminate pregnancies because they neither wanted nor were ready for children. Just as we all know people who have significant issues balancing their checkbooks. Given this, it is absurd to point to a single group and blame them for behavior that most other groups exhibit.

    2. You are implicitly connecting poverty and economic hardship to lifestyle. Lifestyle doesn’t cause poverty…poverty influences lifestyle. Which means that dealing with poverty should be the central issue, not influencing lifestyle. Families are constructs of the state–as evidenced by the recent attempt to make gay marriages legal. The disintegration of the black family can be traced to any number of political decisions, from zoning laws that privilege “the nuclear family” and punish extended families, to tax laws that allow married individuals to claim exceptions, to decisions about tax breaks that cause manufacturers to leave the country…hamstringing the ability of fathers to serve as breadwinners.

    3. Your comparison to the Jim Crow era signals a belief that racism is no longer the problem, cultural behavior is. But you neglect another possibility–that CLASSISM is the problem. Dropping out of high school is something that poor students (without hope, without good teachers, without good schools) tend to do. We’ve organized to fight poverty before, with great success. Why do we blame the black poor for their circumstance now rather than organizing around poverty again?

  • http://andrelouis.blogspot.com Andre

    Doc, trust me when I say I’m definitely not going in the Michael Stelle direction by placing blame primarily or exclusively on one group (that group being us). And I’m certainly not indicating that racism has been lost in time (I mean, I live in Flint, MI for cryin’ out loud.I know better than to do that.). But to imply that a person — and indeed — a group of people shouldn’t have the onus of self improvement placed on themselves just because of the existence of structural racism is a diss to those who DID make it in spite of.

    Instead of (1) devoting all of one’s time mercilessly tearing down black folks or (2) devoting all of one’s time dismissing individual responsiblity, why not seek an equlibrium?

  • http://www.newsoula.blogspot.com eric daniels

    I have not heard one conversation in this debate where is the responsiblity of Black Women in this affair, it takes two to make a baby unless it’s a divine birth. Don’t Black Women have any sense of agency in their behavior to buy condoms or sexual protection aids, or are they so “hot to trot” that the Black Penis makes them blind to all sort of rational reason. If that’s the case then maybe the right wing has a point about African- Americans being morally inferior. But since that’s not the case then maybe and just maybe Black Women need to stop playing the innocent victim and take partial responsiblity for the state of black realtionships instead of “putting their heads in the sand and being enabled by the MSM, Black feminists and Obama.

  • http://assaultonblacksanity.blogspot.com Michael Fisher

    Folks, the question is, why do so many black women and black men behave presently the way they do? Either we, as a people are in fact biologically mentally inferior to white and other people where the pathologies so up in a lesser form, or we are not. If we are not, the source of the pathological behavior must be outside of us.

    That’s only logical.

    If the source of the pathology is outside of us, but is powerful enough to manipulate us against our interests, then that source is extremely powerful indeed.

    If it does not exist then we, on the average, are extremely dumb indeed.

    In any case, I’ve tried to address the question logically.

    I would appreciate seeing some of your thinking on this.

  • albatross


    Does the proportion of unwed births become equal between blacks and whites when you control for income? I looked around for stats on this for awhile, but I didn’t find anything.

    Also, one issue I’ve heard (from a friend in child support enforcement) that comes up with tougher child support enforcement is that it’s not all that hard to father enough kids that you *can’t* support them all with your available skills. Apparently, it’s not all that uncommon to have some guys with three or more judgements against them, and even garnishing the maximum amount they can from those guys’ paychecks (at bottom-tier jobs), they are going further in the hole with every month. I have no idea how to address that. You can kind-of imagine trying to help the fathers get better jobs (we’d want to do that anyway!), but there’s no way to get every guy who manages to knock a few women up into a good enough income that he can pay all that child support and still make ends meet.

  • The Good Doctor

    that’s an excellent question you raise, and i don’t have the answer.

    and the second point gets right to the heart of the matter, given the population of predominantly working class black men that we’re talking about. even if we were to reconstruct families they’d still be poor.

  • Scott Watson

    For me, the bottom line is this: what Obama said is right. It may put us in a bad light, embarass us, or be used by white racists but we have to look this issue dead in the face and address it. It’s like the first step for an alcoholic in a 12 Step program who has to come out of denial to begin to deal with the situation. Yes, there are historical and systemic issues at play, but we, as African American people, have to make positive actions here.

    I say this as one who grew up in the South, where my working class parents and grandparents, reared on the farm, would freely talk about who “weren’t raised right.” They’d also police and discipline other neighborhood children, knowing that the parent(s) would support them in this. Now, this situation is turned on its head. A disintegration of community and the loss of a sense of mutal accountability is a sign of a deep malaise. To kill (or malign!) the messenger, whether it’s Bill Cosby or Barack Obama, is a sign of weakness, not love or racial solidarity.

  • The Good Doctor

    Take a look at this essay when you get the chance. And if you have the time–I understand if you do not–come back and instead of providing a series of clichés, tell me exactly how single parenthood as a problem is more important than poverty…or hardship in general. “We have to look at this issue dead in the face.” “It’s like the first step for an alcoholic.” “We…have to make positive actions here.”

    It sounds like I’m tripping on you. I’m not. You talk to any number of brothers and sisters about this issue this is the type of response you’d get. But the words are literally meaningless, and that is a sign that rather than thinking through these issues logically you are falling back on worn language because you don’t have anything else left.

  • http://twitter.com/LesterSpence/status/167029408622841857/ Lester Spence (@LesterSpence) (@LesterSpence) (@LesterSpence)

    Obama delivers striking speech on fatherhood http://t.co/U5HRNW63