Yvette Carnell: Obama Tells Morehouse Grads They’re on Their Own in Fight Against Racism

The president spoke at Morehouse College’s commencement on Sunday. He did what he’s been doing to black people since 2008 — pathologize black behavior. He said, in part:

Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there’s no longer any room for excuses.

After he used the word “excuse” four times, I stopped counting.

Then he goes deeper:

Every one of you has a grandma or an uncle or a parent whose told you at some point in life as an African American you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by.

I’ve heard this “twice as hard” speech a thousand times, but never from a person with the power to change the structural landscape that breeds racial inequality. When an elder gives you the “twice as hard” speech, it makes sense. It’s a defense against racism. When the first black president says it, it makes him look like a walking contradiction.

If he can’t be the black president when it’s time to help the black community, then he shouldn’t be one when it’s time to offer black sage wisdom.

This sort of “tough love” speech is reserved for African-Amerian audiences. In our racialized society, it is assumed there is something inherently backward in black culture. But what’s backward is Obama’s tacitly acknowledging the racism of “twice as hard” and his refusing to offer a policy prescription for it.

Unless he’s willing to improve his own performance, Obama has no right to tell Morehouse graduates to be twice as good. He refuses to discuss issues that disproportionately impact the black community — such as double-digit unemployment — for fear of raising the ire of right-wing hacks like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. He should fight income inequality so those on the bottom, many of whom are black, can earn a bigger chunk of the pie. That’s a policy prescription. Telling black grads to work twice as hard puts the onus on them to right the historical wrong of racial inequality.

When asked by members of the black community to do more to aid blacks during the recession, Obama recoiled, saying he is the president of all of America, not just black America. Fine. If that’s the case, Obama should act like it.

If he’s not the president of black America, then he shouldn’t have brought stories of working “twice as hard” to Morehouse. If Obama can’t be a black president all the time, then he shouldn’t be a black president part of the time. If he can’t be the black president when it’s time to help the black community, then he shouldn’t be one when it’s time to offer black sage wisdom.

Something like Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford would’ve been much more fitting from our first post-racial president.


Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Yourblackworld. You can reach Yvette via Twitter @YvetteDC or on Facebook.

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