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The Real Problems with the Tuskegee Speech

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a now infamous commencement address at Tuskegee University a couple of weeks ago. I read the speech transcript and for the most part it was boiler plate graduation speech. It was when Michelle decided to empathize with the audience that things went off the rails. It was a mistake but not for the reasons primarily cited by Fox and its conservative friends. 

The two gripes I heard were that Michelle recited a litany of black victimization and that she exaggerated. I heard stuff like “puhleeze, Obama went to prep school. Nobody was dissing Obama on racial grounds.” There were also accusations of not being “grateful” for the assumed affirmative action that Michelle was no doubt the beneficiary of. 

This all misses the point. The otherwise ordinary speech became a travesty for two reasons. First, Michelle chose a joyous event to tell these students essentially “no matter what you do, to whitey you’ll always just be a n—–.” This is what the predominantly black class will need to overcome. Is that really what Martin Luther King Jr. died for? After all the struggle and suffering culminating in the election of the first black president, Michelle’s message was that they should ignore  all the whites who voted for her husband and assume whites will give them the shaft. How inspirational!

The second problem is the “they” in Michelle’s attempt at empathy. “They” who cross the street when “they” see you coming. “They” who follow you around the store assuming you’re a thief. The “they” of course is white people. This reminds me of Obama at a San Francisco fundraiser talking about “clinging to guns and religion” or Romney and his 47% comment. Did it not occur to Michelle that her not-secretly-recorded speech would be seen by lots and lots of WHITE PEOPLE? Did she think she was having a private rap session? Does she not understand she is the First Lady of these white folks? Do they not have feelings? Do they deserve gratuitous offense from the best known woman in the country?

Six years ago I was seething with anger about the way some white folks were treating Barack Obama. I wrote then,

Well guess what folks! He is our President! Barack Obama is our President. He is your President if you voted for him. He is your President if you did not. He is your President if you are black. He is your President if you are white. He is your President if you are progressive and dammit, he is your President if you are conservative. He is OUR President.

Now I find myself needing to remind our First Lady that blacks are your people and whites are YOUR PEOPLE. ALL AMERICANS ARE YOUR PEOPLE! 
A hat tip goes to one of my readers who pointed me to a video by the YouTube host of “ZoNation” who touches on a couple of these themes. 

Michelle Obama owes the deservedly proud graduates of Tuskegee an apology for putting their accomplishments against a backdrop of racial discord. She owes America an apology for highlighting what divides us. It was beneath the dignity of a First Lady of the UNITED States of America.  

What do you think? The bar is open. 

An aside: I DO believe the government should  heavily subsidize the education of everyone. I do NOT agree with some of the points made in the video by Alfonzo Rachel. But that’s for another post. 

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Two More Thoughts on Baltimore

Now that the riots in Baltimore have died down, there isn’t sufficient drama for the media to stick around so it has faded into the woodwork like most of our problems. When it stops being sexy, we lose interest. Before the Baltimore phenomenon gets too stale, I wanted to throw two ideas out on the table for opinions and debate.

Mandatory High School Graduation

The minimum age at which a child can drop out of school varies state to state. We say as a society that we want our youth to be prepared for life yet we give them the option to not even finish high school (or secondary school as it is sometimes called). I suggest getting rid of the age based limits and make the mandatory requirement grade based. This means every student in the United States must complete grade 12 and receive a high school diploma. Until that time, they will be considered truant if they don’t attend and their parents will be liable. This encourages kids to stay off the street and guarantees a minimum level of preparedness for employment if college is not pursued.

Since the notion of a free college education is no more (both my parents had one), I can’t suggest a mandatory 16 years of education. It is just not practical. Still, better subsidization of college and vocational programs must be pursued.

In Baltimore we’ve got kids with no prospects and nothing to keep them engaged. Education is the antidote to the idle mind.

If Cops Are in a War Zone, Treat Them Like the Military

There has been great disturbance around the militarization of the police in several urban areas. While I understand this, I think the problem is more subtle than the ostentatious armored vehicles. In your most troubled urban areas, police are operating in a domestic war zone. They don’t know from suspect to suspect if they will be fired upon. The stress of this kind of service must be profound.

While we are far from perfect at it, we try to limit the length of time of a single deployment of a soldier in the field. I suggest we start doing the same thing with police in high crime areas. They should be rotated in and out. Perhaps assign them to different neighborhoods every six months. One argument against this would be that it prevents a particular cop from bonding with the community he protects, but let’s be honest. That bonding is not happening now. What we have are burned out cops facing a daily challenge few of us would sign up for. Are there bad cops? Sure there are. However, I suspect there are many well-intentioned cops who have lost their way from sustained exposure to a sick environment. Perhaps if we find a way to give them a break, we can also preserve their sense of humanity and see more humane treatment of suspects as a result?

What do you think? The bar is open.

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Murder by Drone and the Legacy of a Myth

Murder by Drone

As I watched Barack Obama “take responsibility” for the death of Warren Weinstein, I momentarily left my body and inhabited that of his widow. I thought, what does it mean that you’re taking responsibility? How can you possibly compensate me for my loss? Will you go to jail for my husbands murder? If not, who will?

Weinstein, a USAID worker died in what can only be honestly called a Keystone Kops operation. What’s more shocking is that it is Keystone Kops by design. This was not a botched attempt to rescue Weinstein. It was not even an attempt to take out specific Al Qaeda personnel. This was a “signature strike”. A signature strike, as I understand it, is a drone attack on a target that shows terrorist activity, comings and goings. However the folks who are coming and going are not identified. The target simply meets the signature of bad guy activity. They didn’t know Weinstein was there. Two terrorists killed in this attack were killed entirely by accident. Again, not knowing was a feature of the operation, not a bug.

There is already controversy about the collateral damage done by drone attacks against known human targets. To expand this carnage to operations where we don’t know who we are killing seems a step too far. How did we get here? It’s the impersonal nature of the technology. It’s high stakes video gaming.

At the White House Correspondents Dinner, Saturday night, Obama promised to bring jailed Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian home from Iran. All I could think was, “if we don’t kill him first.”

The Legacy of a Myth

Michael Brown did not deserve to spark a movement. He was a juvenile delinquent destined to be a blight on society barring unlikely effective intervention. Yet the myth of Brown’s demise in Ferguson, Missouri (hands up, don’t shoot) has indeed been a game changer.

No matter how much the true facts of Ferguson were twisted, the Ferguson incident has laid down a new marker. There is a “mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore” mood on the streets of many urban neighborhoods right now. The war zone behavior of some police (justified or not) will no longer be tolerated.

Bottom line, “fair” or not, a white cop better have a good reason for killing a black suspect or there will be marches and in the cases of Ferguson and Baltimore, cities will burn. That is the new reality brought about by the undeserving standard-bearer, Michael Brown.

What do you think? The bar is open.