Jesse Jackson made an utter fool of himself last week with his crude comments on a hot Fox mike. He must know there is no big job waiting for him in the new Obama Administration.
But he raises an important point about the government’s responsibility to end racism, and end the conditions for poverty in urban areas that fuel the sort of despair that Obama then focuses on at the level of individual responsibility.
This debate is perhaps the next chapter following the battle between Bill Cosby and Eric Michael Dyson a couple years ago. This debate is not going away, and it is an important one to have.
I saw Cosby speak in Baltimore a couple years ago; it was in a black church in West Baltimore. Nearly everyone there (but me) was black, and over 90% of the crowd was male. The gist of Cosby’s talk was that black men have to take personal responsibility; they need to be dads and they need to be present in the household. He received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response.
Obama’s message is roughly the same.
At the same time, just this morning NPR had a story about driving while black “dwb,” where about 70% of the stops on Rte 95 are of black drivers. This is not an issue of personal responsibility; it is an issue of government responsibiity.
In Baltimore, young black boys are street fodder, particularly during summer. The main reason? nothing to do. The lack of jobs, summer enrichment programs or summer school is not the result of personal responsibility; it is the result of a lack of government responsibility
The lack of jobs for black males in Baltimore and the poverty of Baltimore City’s public education system create the conditions for the sort of lack of personal responsibility that Cosby and Obama preach against.
Personal responsibility is important. I don’t think that Dyson or Jackson would disagree. But when conditions beyond the control of any single individual diminish the quality of one’s social existence, it is simply unjust to harp on the issue of personal responsibility without also giving equal time to address these policy problems.
So, Obama is partly right; Now he needs to present his urban agenda; his agenda for public education– beyond saying NCLB needs to be fixed (quite frankly it needs to be replaced); and he needs to present an agenda to getting real, well paying jobs (sustainable wages), with health insurance, into Batimore’s east and west sides.