As much as many of us support President Barack Obama, it has often proved to be a task to get the first Black president to address issues directly plaguing people of color — particularly those at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole. We can debate the varying justifications as to why that is, but such a reality is irrefutable all the same. Last week, however, after much prodding, Obama returned home to the city of Chicago to offer his thoughts on gun violence that is currently ravaging one of the most-impoverished sections of the city.
Unfortunately, Obama’s point of view harkened more to the hackneyed than anything especially helpful.
The President said to students at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago:
“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. 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.
When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child’s heart that government can’t fill. Only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.”
Considering he worked as a community organizer in that very area once upon a time, it was disappointing to hear a man who’s long proven capable of offering thoughtful, nuanced assessments of complicated systematic issues do so in the most generic if not effectively useless of ways in this instance.
Yes, the Black family has certainly taken a toll in recent decades, and obviously, there have been consequences for the Black community at large. Still, when school shootings take place at predominately White schools in suburbia, why is the narrative often a call for wider mental health versus a character assassination on the parents and communities who produced their own brand of murderers?
I have a hard time buying the notion that Obama would’ve appeared before a room full of White people and say the Fathers of Adam Lanza and James Holmes could’ve prevented their heinous actions.
Moreover, while government can’t “fill the hole” of the heart of a child killer, it most certainly plays a crucial part in creating the kind of nihilistic mind-set that makes so many young Black men feel that empty by its lack of action.
The same can be said of the prison industrial complex, which is very much a key player in the missing fathers, grandfathers, and uncles Obama is calling on to lead by example. That said, even if there were more respectable male figures around, it’s not a guarantee they alone could combat the kind of cycles of poverty and violence that have given way to gang violence in Chicago. Mind you, a pattern of gang violence that is not some new phenomenon to Chicago or other major cities across the country.
I am not excusing the actions of murderers, but I do believe if the White men committing their own mass murders can be given context for their behavior certainly can Black men.
Before Obama delivered his speech, he met with a group of a Black teens and explained:
I had issues too when I was their age. I just had an environment that was a little more forgiving. I had more of a safety net. But you guys are no different than me.
They may be no different in terms of their core troubles, but it makes all the difference that their environment is less forgiving than yours, Mr. President.
That’s why it’s unfortunate to hear Obama following on a rather conservative talking point about urban communities struggling with morality and discipline to curb the violence plaguing their communities.
Obama’s comments aren’t that far away from those made by Paul Ryan last October when he denied the country has a gun problem with the claim:
“The best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities. Is to help teach people good discipline, good character. That is civil society. That is what charities and civic groups and churches do to help one another make sure that they can realize the value in one another.”
If you think Daddies and efforts to be more mannerly will curb urban gun violence, I bet you think drinking cherry Robitussin will cure colon cancer.
If one wants to truly build a better community and is in the position of power to do so, help by giving the people the tools they need. To go before a room full of Blacks and discuss curbing gun violence in terms of “personal responsibility” without talking about poverty, prison, racism, social and economic inequality, and a lack of available mental health resources isn’t just ridiculous, it’s showing you’re not prepared to lead by example.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick