The Obama Theory On Black America: The Greatest Enemy Is Not Institutional Racism?


Aura Bogado’s recent article for The Nation, entitled “The First Couple’s Post-Racial Bootstraps Myth” does an excellent job of explaining the myopia in the Obamas’ treatment of the issues faced by black Americans based on their recent speeches given at two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing for The Atlantic, wrote a similar article on the same topic, entitled “How The Obama Administration Talks to Black America”.

From Bogado’s article:

Graduation is often a time for inspiration, not attacks—although that may have been lost on the first couple. Still, neither Michelle Obama nor Barack Obama could possibly fail to grasp that their words echo beyond commencement services and to audiences far and wide. In that respect, the speeches they’ve shared were written for all of us, and perhaps for black youth in especially, who are at once being bombarded with insulting stereotypes, and being blamed for a reality they haven’t constructed or can easily benefit from. As the president is being rocked by a right-wing-manufactured scandal, he might consider searching for support from the imaginative movements that helped bring him to power—movements that recognize that it’s not black people who are failing to succeed, but that a long-entrenched power structure fails to fully recognize the value of its entire people.

Arguably, the central issue here is that there has never been a president of the United States as well versed on the effects of institutional racism in America, and how it affects black America, in particular, as Barack Obama (this was pointed out by Coates in his essay for The Atlantic). Yet, even though the US has moved on from the likes of George W. Bush, who, as Kanye rightly pointed out “doesn’t care about black people”, Obama seems to have forgotten, perhaps strategically or in the wake of his own privilege, how his own administration is complicit in the oppression of American’s black population.

Bogado and Coates comprehensively enumerate the Obama administration’s actions toward perpetuating black oppression, but I will add the following: Obama’s top choice for the US Secretary of Commerce was Penny Pritzker. Pritzker’s actions, up until this point, have been summed up by journalist Dennis Bernstein [emphasis (bold) added]:

 “Her pioneering sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior for a billion-dollar cost to taxpayers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed.”

In case Bernstein’s words aren’t clear, Pritzker actively engaged in activities that lead to the financial destruction of colored communities, which includes black Americans. And yet, Michelle Obama thinks black teens have problems because they’re simply more interested in video games and TV than not being oppressed by institutions that are backed by the government administration of which she is a member.