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Obama’s Personal Responsibility Snake Oil


United States president Barack Obama appears to never pass up an opportunity when addressing Afrikan Americans to shift the responsibility for their success to personal effort and not the removal of structural barriers that are connected to white supremacy, sexism and capitalist exploitation. The American Commander-in-Chief tried to pass off a personal responsibility bill of goods to his most loyal demographic group, “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.” Obama made that declaration in his May 19, 2013 commencement address before a graduating class of 500 men at the all-male, predominantly African American Morehouse College.

Obama like other members of the African American petty bourgeoisie or national political class are under the illusion that his occupation of the White House is an indication of a new and better day across America. However, the reality paints a much more sobering picture of the depressing indicators of social and economic well-being for African Americans. A recently published report revealed that African American male college graduates have an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, while the joblessness figure for the their white male counterparts stood at 3.8 percent.

2008 study on the race of the managers and their racial hiring patterns reveals that white, Asian and Hispanic hiring agents tend to select less African Americans, while African American supervisors hire more of their racial compatriots. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reported on its website that in 2003 African men in the United States with a bachelor’s degree earned only 82 percent ($41,916) of the median income ($51,138) of their white counterparts.

Yet Obama had the gall to attempt selling these Morehouse men the following economic snake-oil, “You’re graduating into an improving job market. You’re living in a time when advances in technology and communication put the world at your fingertips. Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it.” Many of these African men do not have control over events within the labour market. There are entrenched racist, gendered and class-related employment barriers that are resistant to personal effort and responsibility on the part of these prospective racialized, despised and stereotyped jobseekers.

I look forward to the day when Obama will tell it like it is to ruling-class white men that there’s no longer time for excuses for their promotion of institutional white supremacy (and other forms of oppression). Furthermore, I would like to see the display of intestinal fortitude on the part of the president in declaring to largely white graduating classes that they should not blame immigrants for taking away “their” jobs, social assistance or welfare recipients as the reason for high taxes or the capital gains tax as an impediment to job creation.

We are more likely to see Obama insulting and race-baiting African Americans so as to demonstrate to whites that he can be tough on a constituency that gave him 93 percent of its vote in the 2012 presidential election in spite of experiencing an unemployment rate of 13.7 percent in September 2012 (almost double the national joblessness figure). Therefore, please do not hold your breath in anticipation of Obama critiquing racism (capitalism and sexism) as an explanatory factor behind the oppression of African Americans, especially those from the working-class.

Obama could not help administering his personal responsibility snake-oil solution without visiting the conservative realm of family values. According to this smooth-talking 21st century Piped Piper, “Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important…. I was raised by a heroic [white] single mom…. But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved.” This first “black President” must not have received the memo from Africa that “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

There are policy options that could facilitate the development of a mature and generous social welfare infrastructure in the United States. Mr. President, social and economic justice action speaks louder than your eloquent words! If Obama would like to make it easier for parents to have the ability to raise children as well as to give force to his claim, “My job, as President, is to advocate for policies that generate more opportunity for everybody.”

The people deserve prompt and immediate attention to the questions below.

What about providing a national childcare programme that would allow parents to pursue education or employment opportunities?

What about instituting a liveable minimum wage that would allow parents to better care for their children?

What about a national guaranteed minimum income that would allow mothers and fathers to provide for the material well-being of their children?

What about providing 90% of one’s recent income as unemployment income or benefits so that jobless parents are to provide for their children?

How about a livable social assistance (welfare) income that would allow working-class parents to better attend to the needs of their children?

What about a single-payer national heath system that is paid for out of general revenue so as to allow families to better attend to their healthcare needs?

How about going after racist and sexist employment barriers that contribute to the lower earnings of African Americans and other racialized workers as well as women?

Obama should take personal responsibility for his failure to champion social and income-security programmes that would help working-class African Americans, other racialized peoples and women in the United States. Personal responsibility is a two-way thoroughfare, Mr. President!

Ajamu Nangwaya, PhD, is an academic worker and Membership Development Coordinator with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity in Canada

Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is an educator, organizer and writers. He is an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.

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