by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Since the shooting death of 15-year old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, millions of black and brown eyeballs have turned toward the White House, wondering if there is a racial disparity between our beloved president’s reaction to the deaths of white vs. black children. Millions saw the president cry in front of the press after the tragedy involving the kids in Sandy Hook, but have watched him respond coldly to the slaughter of over 500 black children on the south side of Chicago. If those kids in Connecticut had been black, I dare say that the whole gun control conversation never would have happened.
Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/Push and other ministers are now calling for President Obama to come to Chicago to speak on gun violence in the same way he went to Colorado and Connecticut. Rev. Jackson recently made this statement:
Chicago is in a state of emergency. Lives are being lost. Fear is growing. Local officials, ministers and community activists are working diligently but cannot break the cycle. We’re seeing more than one funeral a day. Our children are traumatized. Many are afraid to go to school.
In this crisis, we need the president’s leadership. President Obama can provide the knowledge, vision and inspiration to bring us together to address the crisis. He can speak to the children to calm their fears.
“We are making this call collectively that the president bring the weight of his bully pulpit and bring resources,” T. Lane Grant, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said.
“We have a modern-day Sandy Hook every day in Chicago. We didn’t have 20 kids killed in one place. But we had 26 kids shot at Harper School alone,” Bishop James Dukes, Helping Hands of Englewood, said.
Pendleton’s death struck a cord with many because they can’t find a way to explain away her murder: She wasn’t a gang banger, she wasn’t “running with the wrong crowd,” and she wasn’t hanging on the corner in the middle of the night (black kids are rarely considered innocent victims, for they are not allowed to make mistakes). Hadiya was just a good student, waiting with her band mates for her mother to pick her up. You see, people (even black ones) have a way of concluding that when a black child dies, it’s somehow his/her fault. This is how many of us become convinced that black kids deserve the violence around them, thus giving our leaders a reason to pay more attention to dead white kids.
The “blame the black child” racism is sickening, and what’s saddest is that it usually comes from black people seeking to excuse Obama from performing his presidential duty. The three-fifths clause, which once declared black people to be far less than human, is still administered by some of “us” who believe that we don’t deserve the same respect and attention that the president has served to gays, illegal immigrants and white people. The president’s decision to compare a fight in a gay bar to the civil rights march in Selma Alabama is a firm reminder of just how little he and Valerie Jarrett think of the black struggle for real equality.
The mere request for equality, even if made humbly, is often blasted by those who seek to discredit the messenger rather than actually determine the validity of the message: For instant Obama defenders, the words “I care about Hadiya Pendleton” will surely be replaced by the words ‘I hate Jesse Jackson.” Or, perhaps they will blame Hadiya for living near a neighborhood where black people are killing each other, without recognizing the fact that white people kill each other too.
Oddly enough, we’re being more than generous to the White House by only asking that black people receive equal attention relative to other groups. The fact is that we actually deserve MORE attention, since we gave the president MORE support. For some reason, this logical math equation doesn’t compute for those who seek to worship Obama rather than simply support him: When you give more, you get more, unless you are naive and ignorant enough to ask for less.
“The area of Roseland and Englewood is where he was an organizer, so it would be so meaningful. So we reach out to him not as a political challenge, but as a moral appeal,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
Even a request presented as humbly as the one stated by Jackson is likely to be met by vitriol from those who would rather talk about how much they dislike Jesse Jackson than to speak up for the poor little girl who died. Suddenly, some of us have decided that we don’t need Rev. Jackson’s voice any longer, and have gladly traded it in for a voiceless man in Washington who doesn’t even care to say a peep about nearly depression-era black unemployment or a documented discriminatory effort by the prison industrial complex so astonishing that it has ruined most black women’s chances to find a suitable husband (Clinton or Bush would never be allowed to get away with such a thing). This is the era of Black McCarthyism, an odd period in history where even those who voted for Obama are handily persecuted by those who feel that we must bow to the president as if he were Jesus Christ himself. I reject this notion entirely and believe that all truth-tellers must make it clear that no one man’s political success is more important than the protection of our community.
President Obama, who earned the extraordinary distinction of being the first bi-racial president in American history, is at risk of having his legacy in black history tossed into the trash. Even more interesting is that I don’t think he really cares, not unlike the man who wonders why his mistress loves him so much when he rarely picks up the phone to call her. The black community, who supported Obama more than any other group, has sat to the side and quietly allowed the White House to put every group in the front of the line except for us. The meaningless chants about Obama being “everybody’s president, and not just the president of black America” have even been echoed by the president himself. I dare the White House to respond to calls for support from gay rights groups by saying, “I’m not just the gay president,” or tell Latino groups that Obama is not the president of illegal immigrants. If he were to do such a thing, they would never give him their votes.
Of course, there are those who might read my words and somehow conclude that I’m a traitor because I refuse to worship any politician. They might be livid over the fact that I’ve openly questioned whether a bi-racial man raised in Hawaii by white people can truly connect to many parts of the black experience. As much as we hate to admit it, Obama may have cried for the white kids because he was once a white kid himself. Obama was never a poor black boy on the south side of Chicago.
I respond to the critics by saying that anyone who will let black children die in the midst of an unnecessary mandate for silence is not a friend to African American advancement. Those who refuse to speak up for Hadiya Pendleton might as well have put the bullet into that little girl’s back themselves, since countless deaths of children living today can be avoided if the president takes decisive action. In spite of what we have been led to believe, black children are people too, and those who care must strike the fear of God into those who dare act as though the suffering of our children is irrelevant.
It’s time for black people to show the self-respect that the Obama Administration believes we do not possess. If the Obama Administration’s treatment of black Americans does not match that which is provided for other constituencies, then one can only conclude that his presidency has been a disaster for the black community. When even the NAACP president (long a strong ally of President Obama) says that African Americans are far worse off under this president, we can see that the cat of racism has been let out of the bag. Racism is most sinister and destructive when it has a black face. I challenge anyone to present evidence to the contrary.
Dr. King reminded us that people must be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. This also goes for Obama and the binder full of white men who shape his presidency. It’s time to open our eyes.