Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson criticized President Barack Obama
for avoiding racial issues last night on MSNBC:
"I think that we should push the president. This president runs from race like a black man runs from a cop. What we have to do is ask Mr. Obama to stand up and use his bully pulpit to help us. He is loathe to speak about race."
Michael Eric Dyson is my homeboy and one of the single greatest reasons I chose to engage in black public scholarship
in the first place (Dr. Julianne Malveaux
was the other). I love him like a brother and respect all that he has to say (even when I disagree). While I personally didn't want to take a sledgehammer to the head of the White House during my commentary on the Reid situation
, I love the fact that Dyson's comments, while certainly inflammatory, likely caused the heads of White House staffers to shoot up like a dog hearing a funny noise. In other words, he got Barack's attention and called him to the porch like a 10-year-old yelling insults at another kid's mama.
Let's be clear on the following facts: 1) Yes, Obama is afraid to talk about race, for good reason.
Dyson is right, but to be clear, President Obama doesn't run from race like a black man runs from the police. He runs from race like a black politician running from angry white voters. The only exception to Obama's race-neutral strategy was the "debacle heard around the world," otherwise known as the Henry Louis Gates Case
. In that situation, Obama's desire to protect his Harvard homeboy exposed some very disturbing elitism on the part of the president (he never would have spoken up for a poor black man shot in the street, but would yell and scream for a Harvard professor who was inconvenienced). It also wasted a valuable opportunity to intelligently and respectfully address race. By saying that the police "acted stupidly," even though he didn't know all the facts and that he was "admittedly biased" about this otherwise insignificant occurrence, Obama not only insulted every fair-minded American watching the press conference, he blew his right to talk about race for at least another year. In other words, white people put Barack Obama on punishment. The president doesn't address race because HE CAN'T address race and still keep his job. His license of racial trust has been revoked and he must now become a president who just happens to be black. America will have it no other way. 2) I am not waiting for Barack Obama to talk about race and neither should any of us.
I personally don't want or need President Obama to take charge of the national conversation on race. That's not in his job description as president, nor within his capability set. We've created TheNationalConversationonRace.com
as a vehicle for the American people to honestly and openly discuss race without the hidden agendas, ignorance and partisan biases that come with most American politicians. Obama had to defend Harry Reid's ignorant remark and he had to pretend that Vice President Joe Biden
never insulted him last year by applauding the fact that he is "clean" and "articulate" (unlike the rest of us, I guess). I don't expect, nor do I even want Barack Obama contributing to the National Conversation on race, because when politicians are too heavily involved in anything, they end up mangling the critical issues. This debate belongs to the American people. 3) Both Barack Obama and Michael Eric Dyson should focus on doing their jobs.
It is my greatest hope that I can convince my friend Michael to keep doing his thing without expecting that Barack is going to join the Political Soul Train. Give it up brother, Obama ain't buying a ticket. Barack has his own sense of blackness, but that must be balanced with the fact that the whiteness in his blood needs to be acknowledged and respected as well. Additionally, the brother has to keep his job, and he's not going to be able to do that by wearing a dashiki to work - nor would he be willing to sacrifice his political power for African-American causes. At the same time, Barack Obama must realize that many African Americans are not going to patiently allow him to dismantle and undermine meaningful struggles for civil rights to open the door for him to play politics with those who hate us. So, Mr. President, if you are going to throw black men under the bus with condescending church speeches upholding racial stereotypes, then don't be surprised if we throw you under the bus as well.
The National Conversation on Race has begun. The President and other politicians are not invited until they are willing and able to do what's best for the American people. President Obama's interview with Roland Martin
might lead him to believe that he can shut down the inevitable conversation on race caused by the Harry Reid remarks, but he doesn't have that power. The conversation on race starts and ends with the citizens, and we aren't running away from anything. Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.