ChicagoFatherhood in black culture is laced with explosives. President Barack Obama seems to have a taste for pyrotechnics.

On Friday, he hit his old Chicago stomping grounds to speak at Hyde Park Academy. The hot button issue in the Chi these days continue to be guns and violence, but Obama didn’t spend much time on gun chatter to this group. He talked about fathers in black communities.

“For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect,” Obama said. “And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building.”

OK, well, he didn’t single out “black fathers.” He merely spoke to a school resplendent with brown faces about absentee fathers underpinning the urban dysfunction in their neighborhoods.

It was pointed and unmistakable. It was redundant.

This isn’t the first time Obama has taken black men to task. At a Father’s Day speech in 2008, again in Chicago’s South Side, he bore into them again:

“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.”

Cool, no problem there. Then it got interesting:

“I know how hard it is to get kids to eat properly,” Mr. Obama said. “But I also know that folks are letting our children drink eight sodas a day, which some parents do, or, you know, eat a bag of potato chips for lunch. Buy a little desk or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework.”

Bill Cosby undoubtedly smiled. So did the mostly black church audience that day. It’s a familiar trope: Put the heat on the individual, espousing the bootstrap, making the story easier to swallow and the real issues of poverty, systemic decay ignored.

It’s one thing to promote fatherhood and community in the context of overcoming and pushing for riddance of systemic ills. It’s another to sell the merits of dads as panacea. That’s irresponsible.

Black and white fathers abandon their children, yet I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a speech like this given to children living in Newtown, Conn. Statistics are often reported to justify this strategy, but one side doesn’t have a monopoly on favorable statistics.

In 2007, a study conducted by Boston University reported that black fathers who don’t reside in the home are more likely to sustain regular contact with their children than fathers of any other group. This isn’t to exonerate black men who neglect their duties, but to emphasize how collective the issue is.

More engaging fathers is only one hurdle. There are still other more daunting obstacles (public education, job attrition, rising college tuition) that stand in the way of reversing urban decline and building sustainable models of success.

It’s more than fathers who are failing children. How are guns flowing through our areas? How are guns getting in the hands of our youth? It ain’t Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Obama’s speech went against an accepted narrative about his political roots, that he was familiar with his old base in Chicago’s South Side. That since he made his political bones there, he has insight where others don’t.

His continuation of the hackneyed black pathology rhetoric of his political predecessors is more than disappointing. It’s a sobering reminder that when it comes to uprooting the ills of urban black America, the leadership in this country still lacks a clue.

  • Mademoiselle

    So white children get murdered, and he’s moved to pass gun legislation without delay. Black children get murdered, and he’s moved to lecture black parents? It’s times like these that make me feel like he’s just a white man in a black man’s skin. How many of our white politicians would love to stand in front of us and tell us to our faces (with rounds of applause, no less) that we’re our own problems and our only salvation is to pull ourselves out of our own ditch?

  • Guest1234

    This is ridiculous. Since when is it an attack to tell people to get control of themselves? True. There are issues plaguing inner-city communities that are outside of individual control. Fatherhood is NOT one of them. The quality of parent one decides to be is ENTIRELY within that individual’s control and NOONE ELSE’S. And deciding to be an active, present parent is the best thing in the world ANYBODY can do for their child. Kudos to President Obama for saying so!

    I’m glad to see the president say that people need to take responsibility for the children they bring into this world. What’s wrong with saying that? The mere fact that you think THAT’s some kind of attack betrays a troubling attitude with Americans these days – one of incessant, insidious victimhood. Black men are not victims of Obama’s words. Please stop painting them as such. They are grown men who aren’t going to break down and fall apart just because somebody speaks a bit of truth to them once in a while. Stop coddling and babying them, please. I think we ALL know that such coddling hasn’t done them a damned bit of good over the years. It’s okay for the president to address the young men of his community as men. It’s okay for him to have greater expectations of them than to give up on themselves, their lives and their children just because their communities aren’t perfect. My guess is that if more people did that, more young black men would rise to the occasion.

    Black men are just that. MEN. And it’s high time somebody started treating them like it. I have no doubt in my mind that the President has reached at least one young man. And his concern has changed at least one life. And that’s reason enough to keep doing it. I’m not going to listen to any of this crap about how black men shouldn’t be confronted about absentee fathering so long as life’s not fair. Life will never be fair. But there ARE things that they can control such as being a present, good father (and that includes treating the child’s mother well, AND/OR using a condom to prevent unwanted pregnancies.) And I applaud anybody that says so out loud, and calls people out on their BS. Our children deserve better than that. Period.

  • kylieky

    I don’t understand your dismay at his speech. To solve a problem, you need to get to the root of it and that is what I believe he was doing. If these same boys running around Chicago had decent fathers at home to begin with, then they wouldn’t be shooting each other like animals. The issue is not that he is reiterating the message, it’s that enough people are not reiterating it.

    I also don’t understand you Connecticut analogy. Why the hell would he be giving a speech like that in Newtown Connecticut? Do you know the demographics on families there?

  • kylieky

    Would you deny that we are our own problems when our children are running the streets?

  • Apple

    But I thought lack of fathers was part of the big problem ? At least that’s the theory I’ve been hearing for over a decade

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