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Was the Obama Administration Motown Event Insulting to Black People?

February 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Black History, Ent., Music, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) I have the interesting privilege of being on an email list owned by the White House. Whenever the administration holds an event that they believe to be of interest to African Americans in media, they shoot out an email to all of us. This week, at least two times in my email inbox, there was a message from the White House bragging about the administration’s Black History Month celebration of Motown music.

I saw news of the event everywhere. Most interesting was the image of President Obama dancing with Michelle and his kids with Stevie Wonder,  Smokie Robinson, Jamie Foxx and John Legend crooning in the background. The president, who appeared to be doing his best, had the stiffness of a corpse, and the posture of a 92-year old woman, but the nation appreciated his effort.

Interesting,” I thought to myself. “The president is a really bad dancer, but I’m impressed that he can shake his butt to Motown while simultaneously dealing with the most complex foreign policy matters known to man. The man is really focused.”

In addition to giving the president credit for at least trying to boogey to the music around him, I also wondered why the White House had worked so hard to promote their Motown event. This email, like many others before it, focused on things that appeared to be symbolic, rather than substantive matters in the lives of black people. Sure, we all love Motown, without a doubt. But in light of the fact that black unemployment continues to be in the double digits, and the White House’s insistence upon ignoring people of color on almost evrery relevant policy issue imaginable, it is ironic that the one time the administration is willing to publicly claim a connection to our culture is when we are dancing for them at the White House.

Yes, I have to say that I was a wee bit insulted.

After the Obama Administration finishes dancing to the sounds of Detroit, perhaps they will have the same sense of urgency when dealing with the horrifically high unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates of Detroit (which are far worse than the national average, even among black people). After that, I am hopeful that the administration will send me another email stating that they’ve decided to declare a state of emergency to save all of the failing public schools in Detroit and every other urban area around the United States. Our horrible school systems and economic inequality are a fundamental violation of our human rights, and as our president is given permission to celebrate Motown, he must also be given permission to deal with real racial inequality in America.

I saw last week that the Obama Administration took a very bold legal position on gay rights, effectively stating that they would stop defending a law that bars gay marriage. The gay community applauded the move loudly, for their president and attorney general had stood by them in their time of need. All the while, black people are facing the highest bankruptcy, jobless, incarceration and high school drop out rates in the entire United States, yet our president appeases us by dancing next to Stevie Wonder. I love Stevie and I love Motown, but I also love the black people who are struggling to pay their rent. Given that Obama Administration officials have not given the president the right to even utter the words “black man,” or “black woman” in any meaningful public forum, I find myself wondering whether their love for black people goes deeper than the fact that we can sing. In that regard, the White House becomes The Cotton Club all over again, with a black man in charge.

After the Motown era, there was another song the president might want to learn by Beyonce Knowles, called “Say my name.” If the Obama Administration wants to show that the president’s Motown event is anything more than Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show, they should say our names in public and make our historic suffering into a national issue. There is no better time to do this than during Black History Month. I will be carefully reviewing my next email from The White House to see if it contains anything more than the typical politcal song and dance, but for some reason, I sincerely doubt it.

Written By Dr. Boyce Watkins

Official website; http://boycewatkins.com/


6 Responses to “Was the Obama Administration Motown Event Insulting to Black People?”
  1. Quit blaming says:

    Dr.Boyce, I totally disagree with you on this one…Our President isn’t God nor Jesus…I was an ex con with a felony that changed my ways became a special educator working with the autistic population. Now if I can change my life around anyone can…for 10 long years no one would hire me!!! Folks have to step it up and stop waiting on a handout…education is the key!!! and whats wrong with celebrating Motown since its.part of the black experience! sheesh nothing this, president does without black folks wining!!! I bet you wasnt wining like this under Bush!!!

  2. Staff says:

    You speaking the truth James… The blame game is so old now…


  3. James says:

    I saw the show on PBS and as a black American I can comfortably say that I was not insulted. I actually enjoyed the performances and I look forward to future events. The President can’t parent every child in America and ensure they do their homework every day. We have to take some responsibility for ourselves. The opportunities offered to black Americans are endless IF you take the time to educate yourself from grades 1-12. If you WASTED the 12 years playing around, partying, or hanging out on the street corner, then you have only yourself to blame. You can’t blame mean ole white America if you’re now 18 and can’t pass College Algebra 101 – you had TWELVE years to learn the material.

  4. JAG says:

    I think it was more insulting to everyone else watching the middle east burn to the ground.

  5. junior burchall says:

    Afrikan Americans will continue to give the Black, Peace-Prize winning, White House warlord a pass, no matter how far right of center he wanders.

    How can they not?

    They want IN.

    They desperately want to believe the carefully-crafted fiction of American bourgeois democracy – a myth that has been forced into their consciousness since the moment that the shackled feet of their enslaved Afrikan ancestors first touched the soil of that stolen land.

    They desperately want to believe that there, indeed, IS a place for Black folks in a fundamentally structurally unchanged, morally bankrupt, unapologetically imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist nation.

    Couple this with the fact that Black Americans have been told, in ways too numerous to list here, that the pursuit of radical alternatives that fall beyond the pale of that which is deemed acceptable by the state is essentially an exercise in futility that always results in vicious recriminations (Paul Robeson) and/ or death (Malcolm X) and you can begin to see why the ascendancy of this particular state-sanctioned ‘leader’ was met with such an outpouring of adoration from Black folks.

    Unlike the two men whose names I mentioned, brother Barack – Harvard educated, handsome, articulate and, perhaps most importantly, biracial – is SAFE.

    When this Black man finally claimed his cushioned seat in the Oval Office, it was as if the very gates of (white man) heaven opened and God himself was there to welcome Black folks in.

    Obamania had taken firm hold of the public imagination, as both Black and white Americans took his presidency to mean that maybe, just maybe, change could be achieved without addressing the blood-spattered history of genocidal savagery that forms the never-mentioned crimson backdrop of the American creation fable.

    And maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to move forward into a post-racial future pregnant with the possibility of peace, justice and equality without actually having to uproot entrenched systems of unjust authority built around race, class, sexual orientation, religion and gender.

    “well, we’re movin on up (movin on up)…we’ve finally got a piece of the pie…”

    No-one…and NOTHING (no clear-eyed assessment of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy, no challenging of his continued support of Israel, no questioning of his refusal to specifically address the very real needs of Black people) would be allowed to spoil the syrupy-sweet superficiality that has been a hallmark of the Era of Obama since day one.

    As such, any efforts (among Black people) at offering an intelligent critique of the dubious machinations of the Obama administration almost always fell on deaf ears. Black America had made a conscious decision to uncritically embrace the SYMBOL without questioning the SUBSTANCE. Ironically, any criticism of the very oppressive structure that is presently enthusiastically fronted by brother Obama was invariably interpreted by Black Americans as an irrational and unjustified attack on a Black man who has made good and was summarily dismissed as the ranting of criminally out-of-touch, Black-Power era dinosaurs.

    Never mind that this very structure ensures the continued disadvantaged status of Black Americans vis a vis their white American counterparts. They simply ain’t tryna hear it.

    “Go `head with all that talk; he`s doing the best he can! And if we DON`T support him, you’re siding with the Republicans/ Tea Party! Might as well just vote for Palin….”

    Whenever the topic turns to Obama, Black Americans show a disturbing similarity in their response, which has as its main characteristics:

    1) the crude over-simplification of the debate; 2) the ‘race-ing’ of Black support; and 3) the disturbing absence of nuanced analysis.

    This was – and is – the crucial contribution of (too) many in the Black American community to the maintenance of the savage illusion that is ‘America, the Beautiful’.

  6. aamom says:

    Once again “Dr” Boyce is trying to split our community. Obama is not the president of black America but all America. And he cannot produce jobs..he has to incent the business community to create jobs. In addition he cannot guarantee employment. If you dropped out of high school you won’t get a job. Plain & simple. So this is why he is trying to strengthen education. Change does not come easy and it does not happen overnight. Or in a vacuum. Our community bears most of the responsibility to prepare our people for the jobs of the 21st century.

    So yeah, maybe Obama can’t dance but who cares as long as he is working to insure all Americans succeed.

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