I almost didn’t write this response.
I’ve had several rounds of disappointment with the United States since Barack Obama has taken office as president.
I’ve realized, when I watch these State of the Union speeches, all I’m really looking for is a nugget or two that I or my people can relate to. Last year, I was excited when the president used the word “poor” to describe actual impoverished people, as opposed to some colloquialism like “people aspiring to be middle class.” In 2012, it was “nation building” and in 2011 he dropped a simple, ubiquitous phrase: “We do big things.” This year, the president directly recognized “young men of color” as a part of a upcoming initiative. Loved it! (Yes, we still long for “America” to recognize our plight.)
Specifically though, Obama said:
“I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential,” he said in remarks on efforts to offer hands-on training, give colleges incentives to offer better value and ensure that “no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.”
That felt great…like a piece of a piece of a steak after you’ve had decades of hotdogs. Or if you are healthy, salad that has not been genetically modified or sprayed by pesticides.
But, Obama gave no specifics on this ambitious plan. Anxiously, I await the details so it can help my constituents, my friends and my young relatives.
Speeches don’t build nations.
They also don’t create scientists, astronauts, technologists, entrepreneurs or teachers, all of which are needed in Black and Brown communities.
Recently, a good friend of mine told me I need to be more positive about the strides that we’ve made, and specifically referenced my own accomplishments. And, I believe there is some truth to what she said, but I never, ever stop striving to be better. And, for my people, I expect the same. It has been difficult to relinquish certain facts that have become self-evident. These facts have varying degrees of importance depending your walk of life. A lot of people – regardless of color/creed – simply don’t care about poverty, AIDS rates, prison industrial complexes, privatized school systems, ignorance and a litany of other ailments that run rampant like rabid dogs looking to claim another victim.
And it continues.
We’ve seen the rise of a new, covert and despicable forms of racism. We have witnessed the middle class pretend such systemic prejudice no longer exists (passive racism). I’m talking food deserts, walking while Black (Stop-N-Frisk), and environmental forms of discrimination. We’ve watched the economic gains of African Americans be eroded away like the Jersey Shore. We live in an era where Black love is romanticized Jay Z and Beyonce. (If I see another meme that says, “This could be us…” I might release a blood-curdling scream.) And we see that people of color out-index every screwed up situation you can imagine. Hell, we even watched Kendrick Lamar fail to garner a simple Grammy. Sometimes, its the small things we’re looking for – the proverbial moral victory. But then, these small things represent bigger conundrums. Were you listening when Chicago rap artist Chief Keef express a desire to increase the murder rate with his next album?
Honestly, and perhaps pathetically, people of color don’t always have a lot of time to consider the bigger pictures gradually being painted. We still have drone strikes and gross violations of privacy. Voter suppression efforts exist. We have increased mass shootings and gun violence, which president Obama addressed. Our young girls are victims of sexual assault in ways most people cannot fathom and they must contend with the gender inequality that pollutes society.
“We grind from the bottom just to make it to the bottom.”
- Freeway on Beanie Sigel’s “Got Nowhere”
When its all said and done, how did we advance our lives and the lives of those around us? What did we do to make the world better for our kids and our children’s children? I know it sounds cliche, but its real. We, the hustlers of the world, run on a never-ending “Hamster Wheel of Fortune,” seemingly running in place en route to a mythical pot of gold. We juggle our various lives like a Ringling Brothers act, managing careers, personal necessities, and whatever relationships we can muster. And for what? Did you fundamentally change the thinking of a kid in your global neighborhood (which now extends well beyond the walls of your physical location)? I say this to the richest mogul – have you fundamentally changed somebody’s thinking for the better?
I’ll let you think on that if you’re still reading.
“Opportunity is who we are and the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”
- President Obama
I’m not necessarily disappointed in President Obama, if you misunderstood my opening salvo. I fully comprehend that he’s the president of the United States and not the president of what I love dearly. I have a daughter, a niece, a couple god sons and a nation of millions that I serve through AllHipHop, special interests and even social media. Not caring is not an option. Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address had more coded language for African Americans and the poor than those in the past. Perhaps that’s what one White House worker meant when he warned me to wait until Obama didn’t have to concern himself with reelection. Maybe.
I certainly don’t expect anything wild like Mumia getting pardoned or reparations. The point is, these responses to to SOTU have increasingly specified that we look inward for strength, validation and leadership. We get mad when _______________ (fill in the blank with any number of names) gets ________________ (fill in the blank with any number of injustices), but we have no proactive, sweeping agenda or unified plan to address matters. There are deep pockets of resistance that address Detroit’s dire circumstance, gun violence in Chicago and other issues that were not included in the president’s speech. And on the flip side, we’re down with education as a means to sustained change, among other progressive movements.
Finally, I’m glad I took the time to write this piece, regardless. When running a marathon you get tired, questioning “why?,” “who cares?,” or “what difference does this action make?” But, somewhere along the way, you ignore the plain, deepen your focus and hit your stride. Understanding the art of inches in the midst of adversity is paramount. Slow motion is better than none.
I’m convinced – despite brief bouts with pessimism – we’ll get there, as soon as extreme patience marries extreme action.