Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Words associated with Michelle Obama during her husband's campaign for president have included ingrate, ingratitude, ungrateful, and spoiled.

This disturbs me.

I gather that these comments come from people who believe that Michelle Obama owes the United States gratitude because this black woman is an Ivy League graduate with an enviable standard of living.

And since I am, like Michelle Obama, a black American woman from a relatively modest background who is using higher education to attain professional and economic success, I am taking these words personally. I will not argue that the United States is not a place where there are many opportunities. But I submit that the opportunities that are available to me as a citizen of this nation are mine by inalienable right and not by charitable grant.

To the extent that I have had any help in becoming a viable and productive citizen of this country, besides my Lord there are many, many people and organizations that I can thank. Among them are my parents, teachers, scholarship sponsors, educational institutions, clergy members, civil rights agitators, black and female professional pioneers - I could go on and on. Yet this gratitude has nothing to do with whether or not I love my country or whether or not I am patriotic or whether or not I am now, or have ever been, proud of my country.

When I hear people accuse Michelle Obama (and me) of being ungrateful, it reminds me of a sentiment I have encountered too often in America. Black people should be grateful that of all the things that could have happened to our ancestors, ours were privileged to have been taken from Africa and brought to the states. We should be grateful that slavery was abolished, Jim Crow repealed, integration ordered, and Affirmative Action enacted. In the name of gratitude, we should be happy and uber-patriotic Americans. We should not criticize our country's policies or conditions. We should reach for material possessions and feel satiated on having reaped the promise of the American Dream. We should get over the history of how blacks were treated in this country and the fighting that our forebears had to do to make our citizenship meaningful. We should turn our backs on the reality of how many blacks are still not reaping the full benefits of that citizenship in this country today, blame them and their ungrateful excuses for their plight, and turn away from the unpatriotic idea that we have any solidarity with these, our countrymen, for fear that we will be seen as militant and ungrateful. To be good (but never authentic) Americans, this is what upwardly mobile blacks in America must do to show our gratitude. Any action to the contrary would insult everything that this country stands for and the good (benevolent white) Americans within it.

The problem with people like Michelle Obama is that they exercise their rights as American citizens to have and express their own opinions. Unfortunately for some, such a wholeheartedly American independent streak is bound to conflict with the above litany-of-all-things-grateful. How terribly inconvenient it must be for some that this highly educated woman fully understands and exercises her right to do what any American has the right to do - question authority. It is an entirely American right to question whether or not you should be proud of your country, warts and all. It is an entirely American right to reserve your pride for those things which you feel are pride-worthy. A truer measure of gratitude for America is to preserve its ideals by keeping them alive through such exercises - freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of speech - freedoms which Americans, in particular black Americans, hold dear.

Calling Michelle Obama ungrateful is more telling regarding the deficiencies of the speaker than it is a fitting indictment of Mrs. Obama herself. The connection being made between the level of her pride in this country and the level of her gratefulness for her successes isn't even logical. Shame on those who subscribe to the litany-of-all-things-grateful (and patriotic). Such thinking endangers our country, being more reminiscent of the groupthink of Orwell's 1984 than of the spirit of independence that birthed this nation.

Women as accomplished as Mrs. Obama didn't make it through all of those years of education just to smile demurely all the time and then kiss folks' posteriors whenever given a chance to speak. That's not how this works. Get over yourselves.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


First and foremost, I love and respect my father. He gets no cookie for being and staying married to my mom and raising me - that would be an insult to his character and upbringing. It was a given. Not an extraordinary feat. In his view of the world, and thanks to him, in my own view of the world, being my dad was not an option, but a God-given mandate and a blessing. What is extraordinary is what he did with his opportunity as a father. There is nothing he wouldn't do - no science project too onerous, no word too long to help me with its spelling, no lecture that wasn't worth the time, no passion he wouldn't help me chase. In the sixth grade, when I talked about how not being able to jump double dutch was the bane of my existence on the playground, it was his idea to take me and my mom to the park so I could literally learn the ropes with practice. Yet he was my biggest critic - and his praise has always meant so much more to me because of it. His morality remains with me, his reverence for God will never leave me. His belief in me means the world to me. I love him. And one greeting card feast day just isn't enough to show how much - so I tell him every time we speak that I love him.

I really do.

There's two other fathers that I want to give a shout out to, though. Earl and Tiger Woods. I love their story. I love the story of Earl Woods fostering his son's passion and talent until he became the best - unquestionably the very best - at what he does. Did anyone see his performance in the US Open tonight? My gosh. Recovering from surgery and everything! I'm blown away. This is like when Michael Jordan (raised by the late James R. Jordan Sr., which whom he had a special and enduring relationship) led the Bulls to victory when he was weak with the flu. Nobody does it like Tiger. Even from behind, they couldn't count him out.

And did you see this commercial?

I was touched. It reminds me of my dad.

Barack Obama is right about taking absentee fathers to task, though. He isn't saying anything I haven't already heard during my upbringing from various elders over the years. He isn't saying anything I haven't thought on my own as I continually meet people who have absolutely no relationship with their fathers. It is the responsibility of both parents to make a good upbringing for their children, and it is the responsibility for mothers to choose and commit with good fathers as opposed to just incidentally procreating with boyfriends. Creating life is not supposed to be incidental. And neither is deciding to leave your child, leaving the entire responsibility of raising your child to their mother, just because you and the child's mother can't get your relationship to work. Every child needs what Earl Woods gave his son. Every child needs what my daddy gave me - still gives me.

Happy father's day.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Pass the Kleenex

I know what I just said. But I hadn't heard Obama's end-of-primary-speech yet. And damn if I'm not crying a little bit. Whew.

Congratulations, Senator.

Get to work, fellow countrymen.

No party at my crib.

There are a few reasons why I’m not jumping up and down today about Obama and the Democratic nomination. First, the Clintons are formidable and crafty - I don’t care if she concedes tonight or not, the convention hasn’t happened yet. She doesn’t strike me as a line-tow-er, and I expect fireworks in August. In addition, provided she doesn’t pull a rabbit out of the donkey’s posterior at the convention, Clinton will be seen, in retrospect, as easy in comparison to McCain. Republicans. go. hard. The general election will be a tough one. Obama’s got problems with overt and covert racism, class warfare, character issues, and a perception that he is not detailed and knowledgable enough for the job. He will have to overcome these issues. And, I hope they step up his and his family’s security - right NOW.

One more thing: moments like these remind me of when they let Mychal Bell free on bail in Jena, or when OJ Simpson beat his case. Ain’t no check coming to black folks’ mailboxes just ’cause a black man isn’t getting shat on today. Having a black presidential nominee will be cute for the record books, but ultimately useless if he doesn’t win in the general. In fact, having a black president is useless if our people still get ignored after the election, like other presidents have been known to do. We hope things will be different because of who Obama tells us he is… but we won’t really know unless and until he wins the election and either gives us his ear or shows us the door. He can’t be a black president for black people only - in order to make it to the White House, he has to be an American president for all Americans, and he knows it. I just hope he doesn’t try so hard for the latter that black concerns get pushed to the side to preserve his claim that he’s not biased.

Happy as I am at the possibilities involved, I will not be content just to see Obama get the nomination. I require more.