.
July 14th, 2008
09:20 AM ET

Jesse Jackson’s truth

Faye Wattleton
President, Center for the Advancement of Women

There is a lengthy legacy of politician striking the wrong tone on the role of African-American men in the family. There tends to be more you-shoulds and not enough I-wills. The question remains whether politicians have the will to change the paradigm by which black men are viewed (or not) and judged. Save the unnecessary vulgar references to presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson’s “off-the-mike” comments Wednesday weren’t so off-the-mark.

Rather than attacking only the personal responsibility of African-American fathers, it is essential to continue to address the systemic changes needed to eliminate the conditions sustaining the epidemic of absentee fathers, which isn’t exclusively a “black” phenomenon.

Mr. Obama has written and spoken extensively about growing up without a father, which gave him a personal perspective of the impact of a fatherless household. As he acknowledged during his Father’s Day speech in the forum of the predominantly African-American Apostolic Church of God, growing up in Hawaii, with supportive grandparents and scholarships to some of the best schools isn’t quite the same as being a black child in a single-parent household in today’s world.

In the wealthiest nation of the world, black children are the sons and daughters of fathers who attended substandard public schools that didn’t prepare them for a global frontier. Yes, it’s good that children read books, but the future of the information age is in the multi-faceted media, which our children must navigate if they’re to successfully compete in a multi-national world. African-American fathers face subtle and not so subtle workplace discrimination because of their race, leading to a substantial income inequity. Their families experience an alarming disparity in access to equitable healthcare leading to higher incidence of chronic disease and shorter life spans. African-American families live in every day more disintegrated neighborhoods, where young black men are victims of racial profiling and everyone is subject to shocking incarceration disparities.

Mr. Obama doesn’t have to be born again in a poor African-American family to experience this plight that, at every socio economic level, is the experience of most slave descendents. Instead, use of the presidential pulpit is a powerful platform to set forth his vision for a presidency that will help black parents become educated, stay healthy, secure fair employment and live free of a criminal justice that continues to target and incarcerate a disproportionate number of African-American males. He should specify how his policies will enfranchise fathers as active participants in raising their children for the 21st Century.

“Talking down” to black folks isn’t new.Mr. Obama has the opportunity to use his unique position as the first African-American presidential nominee, to reflect a vision that is relevant and powerful for African-American families, regardless of his composition.

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Trasa, Tx

    I don't see anything wrong with Obama's comments and although it's true across all ethnics groups, but so prominent in the black community. I would like to tell a brief story of my mom, who was discriminated against that kept her from higher pay and even getting jobs, and all she was trying to do was support her 3 kids. My father up and decided he wasn't going to contribute and stopped working all together. My mom despite the adversities still made it, without help from the government and without help from her family. So, if she can do it and I understand it's an individual thing, then black men should get up and support their children. If you don't want kids, either get fixed, use protection or stop altogether. Some black men will use excuses it's society not giving them the advantage and discrimination and I would say to them, my mom went through the same thing and she found the strength to keep going and always told us that nobody owes you anything, you have to work for it.

    July 15, 2008 at 2:43 am |
  2. Leroy

    For the life of me, I can't understand why Jesse would find fault with Obama's stance on fathers being responsible for their offspring. Jesse's dissatisfaction must be about something else. Shame on you, Jesse!

    July 14, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  3. Dan Phillips

    In my humble opinion it's about 12 years past the time where JJ should have retired to an island somewhere without access to any forms of communication.His once illustrious career in the trenches of the civil rights movement had reached the point of diminishing returns and if he'd kept his pants on his financial house would have been in a state that he could have bowed out on top. Now he's debased himself becoming nothing more than a race bater attempting to create an issue of any kind to stay in the pubilc eye. He should read more of that black leather bound book that he prominently waves around when it suits his cause de jour and attempt to humble himself before God. At least then he'd have a chance to take pride in his son who, by my record, has already accomplished more positive change than JJ ever did..

    July 14, 2008 at 10:47 pm |
  4. Keith lafayette la,

    Jesse has old school mentality tha all white,s are out to minipulate, beat ,an run over the blacks.He sure don,t represent me an many others feel the same as i do.I,m a young black male an OBAMA said it correct everyone needs to step up an take care of the responsability that each of us created mainly of kids, An quit leaning on the Goverment to bail us out because that welfare an gov, assistance is a road that leads to nowhere,s a dead end street,,,,,,,,,,,Jesse Needs to ride into the sunset an go care for his ligetmate kid he need to step up instead of worrying about who,s talking dowm,,,,,,,,,,,

    July 14, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  5. Ratna, New York, NY

    Dear Faye Wattleton,

    I know that Obama has grown up in a father-less household which is typical for a Black family. But I also think that he should avoid reflecting his resentment about his father's abondonment to other black men in his political surroundings and the common African American folks. He needs to rethink his disposition, otherwise he will piss off more Black leaders.

    I don't blame Jesse Jackson for being angry; He should not have had that off-microphone conversation, but for an observer like me it is an eye-opener.

    This "Black" phenomenon can be explained as a historical development by the way African American men have been alienated from the Christian patriarchal social structure which is a frame for the American social-economic structure today. African Americans have not completely adapted to this social structure and racial profiling and discrimination makes it very hard to do so.

    So, I need some more sensitivity and understanding from Obama on this issue.

    July 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm |
  6. Mari, Salt Lake City

    I agree with Cindy, at the top of the page. All that Sen. Obama has said is true. Now if African-American men don't want to hear it nor agree they are free to disagree.

    Jackson, is SO out of line. Please, Jesse, retire.

    July 14, 2008 at 8:02 pm |
  7. Jim-

    Obama was not talking Down to anyone But doing what the Preachers from the pulpits have FAILED to do which is give men of ALL races a good swift kick in the rear end & make them realize THEY need to be responcible for the children they bring into this world. 100 years ago if you got a woman pregnant guess what
    you married her & you took care of Her & the Children you BOTH created.

    July 14, 2008 at 7:30 pm |
  8. Caycee

    Jackson's perception of the tone and slant of Obama's message isn't what I believe is the biggest issue here. Jackson's legacy as a civil rights leader and a reverend is being dimished by his own jealous, irresponsible self-inflicted remarks. Who wants to give credence and respect to a man whose message is that he'd like to inflict bodily harm to another person whose views differ from his own? We've had decades of that kind of leadership and activities. Now, all we've go to show for it is a collapsing economy, an horrific war, and a deeply divided country sniping at each other instead of trying to find workable compromise and solutions. Trying to hurt another to prove a point does not work. But apparently, the beings who do have the power to work things out for US are still playing the same old con on US and I for one am not having it.

    July 14, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  9. Jane, USA

    It's horrifying that there are people here who think that men don't have to be responsible for protecting themselves and that it's women who are the problem. If a man doesn't want to have to pay child support, he should wear a condom, they're cheaper and far easier to get than birth control pills. All this whining that it's evil, conniving women who are the problem only serves to infantalize men and make it seem like men are, in fact, animals with no will of their own when it comes to sex. It's appalling and, frankly, embarrassing.

    July 14, 2008 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Dasha, USA

    I agree that this is a serious issue in the Black Community, however, no one ever stands up and tells White men they have to be responsible too. When I'm reading articles about "Men's Rights Activists" and men who are so angry that they can't bareback a woman without the fear of getting her pregnant that they are getting vasectomies and I see that few, if there are any, are men of color, I see a serious problem with all men.

    And Mike, slavery is not an excuse, Blacks have been in the United States for 600 years and have only had anything approaching equality for 50 of them.

    July 14, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  11. sj

    The truth about all of this is that times are changing. I respect the Civil Rights era and pay homage to it, but that time has come and gone. The problems identified during this time period as being a Black issue, have tranformed themselves to a national issue. This is one of the "benefits" of progress, all have the right to succeed or fail. Fatherless homes, crime, lack of education, miseducation, poverty – these issues spread across race and ethncity. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and others fail to understand or admit this. America is going through a new era of classism, where one's socioeconomic status is what determines who you are, what you are, and what obstacles stand in your way, not perceived race and ethnicity. There are several non-Blacks who can relate more to the "Black experience" than I ever will solely because of economics. When the "politicos" and the public are willing to admit this shift in prejudices, American policies will begin to change, and so to will lives.

    July 14, 2008 at 4:23 pm |
  12. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Rve. Jackson is so jealous of Obama he can't stand it. that is painfully clear~

    July 14, 2008 at 4:02 pm |
  13. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Karen I would have to agree. It takes two to tango and women should be more responsible to whom they open themselves up to. I feel like having a baby is becoming the latest trend. Well what happens to all these children when the trend is no more?

    July 14, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  14. Kevin Leo (Jonesboro, GA)

    At the age of 10, my parents separated and later divorced, leaving myself and siblings under the heading of single parent household. While my father was around, I never developed a relationship with him after that point and at the age of 41, I still do not have one. Having said this, I fully agree with Sen Obama and commend him, Bill Cosby, and others for demanding our African-American fathers to step up and take personal repsonsibility.

    I fully respect Faye for all that she has done over the years, datring back to her time at Planned Parenthood, but she is wrong on this issue. SenObama has long spoken about society's faults and problems in this regard. You can go back to his historical speech on race to see just recent comments in this regard. However, his Father's Day speech was about what we, as African-American males needed to be doing. You must cater the message to the audience and that day he needed to address the men for what they have and have not been doing. This was by no means talking down to anyone but speaking to men as a man, eye to eye and from experience.

    July 14, 2008 at 3:42 pm |
  15. Larry

    What did Sen. Obama say that had not already been said by Dr. Bill Cosby?

    That right arm move by Jesse to simulate the cutting off of Sen. Obama's testicles should have led to his arrest; you can't just go around threatening bodily harm to the next potential POTUS and expect to get away with it.

    July 14, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  16. Karen

    We will start achieving equality when we start holding Black women as responsible for unwanted pregnancies as Black men. Instead of assuming that Black men who don't support their families are bad, why don't we look at the reasons why Black women chase Black men away? Yes, men need to take more responsibility for their sperm and practice safe sex. But stop pretending that men aren't weak-willed creatures that can be coerced into having unprotected sex by conniving big-butt girls. Poor Black women used to have babies to get a welfare check. We dismantled welfare and replaced it with child support. We did very little to change the attitudes of these women who associate a baby with income, regardless of whether that income comes from a man or the State. Let’s save our sons and teach girls to keep their legs (and mouths!) closed. (Married mother of very young boys shocked by what young girls will do these days!)

    Orange County, California

    July 14, 2008 at 3:05 pm |
  17. Harrison Neal, South Carolina

    Kim in New York, thank you for that. People seem to think that discrimination is just for blacks, but it is for all races. Like you say there's just as much people in other races who receive government help, but there not broadcast as much as blacks.

    July 14, 2008 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Harrison Neal, South Carolina

    I feel if a men took his Fathers Day speech as a low blow it's because they're not real fathers. His speech wasn't gared towards all black fathers just the ones who are not doing there jobs as black fathers. If you're doing your job as a father just continue, but if you're not man up and take care of you rsponsibility.

    July 14, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  19. Cynthia

    Senator Obama was correct in his speech and it applies to all fathers who are not being fathers. I think it is time to move on to something else.

    July 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
  20. Fay, CA

    African-American fathers face subtle and not so subtle workplace discrimination because of their race, leading to a substantial income inequity. Their families experience an alarming disparity in access to equitable healthcare leading to higher incidence of chronic disease and shorter life spans. African-American families live in every day more disintegrated neighborhoods, where young black men are victims of racial profiling and everyone is subject to shocking incarceration disparities.

    In spite of the progress that African Americans have made over the years, these particular problems persist and they clearly illustrate why racism is still such a huge issue in the lives of many African Americans today.

    July 14, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  21. Tony - Louisiana

    Once again another liberal blaming the government yet advocating for its greater involvement when the root of the cause is an individual's selfishness and disregard for responsibilities.

    July 14, 2008 at 1:28 pm |
  22. GF, Los Angeles

    "...live free of a criminal justice that continues to target and incarcerate a disproportionate number of African-American males."

    There is a disproportionate number of African American males in jail NOT because the police targets them but because they committed a crime! I can't believe that the justice system and police are just throwing black males into prison just for the fun of it. Enough of this victim mentality – opportunities exist for all to be success in this country – it's up to us to choose to take advantage of them or choose to be a thuggery as a career.

    July 14, 2008 at 1:24 pm |
  23. Larry

    Why is it when they show marches of the civil rights movement that all the leaders are black men; where are the women?

    July 14, 2008 at 12:41 pm |
  24. JC- Los Angeles

    I would suggest that instead of asking if "politicians have the will to change the paradigm by which black men are viewed" you ask if black men have the will to be viewed differently.

    The black community has numerous role models to look up to including Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice, however, it's rare to hear the black community reference their accomplishments.

    Contrast them with how Rev. Wright and his separatist views are viewed and you have a devisive group. Everyday people break out of their countries in search of a better life; many come to America for the opportunities afforded its people.

    How is it that an asian immigrant can land on our shores with nothing, often times having faced persecution at home and within one generation become a successful business owner, spouse and proud parent of graduates of some of our finest universities?

    This type of success has been achieved by people of all races, religions and creeds, however, it's up to the individual to determine how best to spend the gift of life.

    July 14, 2008 at 12:31 pm |
  25. Javier, Los Angeles

    I'm sorry Ms. Wattleton,

    Poverty, discrimination, and abject social conditions are certainly unacceptable in the world's wealthiest economy, and they need to be addressed. But they are NO excuse for abandoning a child–I don't care what ethnicity you are.

    July 14, 2008 at 12:25 pm |
  26. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    "Mr. Obama doesn’t have to be born again in a poor African-American family to experience this plight that, at every socio economic level, is the experience of most slave descendents."

    How long are we going to hear the slavery excuse? Dropping out of school is a personal choice. Having children out of wedlock is a personal choice. Not supporting those children is a personal choice. Committing crimes is a personal choice. How about taking some personal responsibility for those choices?

    July 14, 2008 at 12:23 pm |
  27. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Jesse Jackson's truth is that he is jealous about Obama’s success and mad because he fits in with the fathers Obama talks about with his out of wed lock baby.

    As far as Obama speaking to black fathers I think it is a good thing. Yes there are fathers of all races who are absent from their children’s lives but something seems to plague the black community more than others. Obama has a great opportunity to inspire some of those men to be better and I say go for it.

    July 14, 2008 at 11:35 am |
  28. Michelle

    This is so yesterday's news. Please 360 where is the
    news that actually matters on this day.

    July 14, 2008 at 11:32 am |
  29. Teresa, OH

    Faye, and everyone else, quit EXCUSING the black men. Men know right from wrong. Do black men really need a President to tell them how to behave? Get real.

    July 14, 2008 at 11:05 am |
  30. Susan

    point here is -he never said BLACK fathers – he he said MEN!

    July 14, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  31. Debbie, NJ

    Its about time Jesse Jackson and others stop defending the neglect of the Black fathers in our community. I don't even know where my father is but I'm sure he has started another family somewhere else. This is not the 50's or 60's. The black men who are growing up in the 70's till now have had the same opportunities as Black women. There are plenty of successful black men, and I don't just mean the exceptions. Black men have been employed in every walk of life and some still don't take the responsibility of raising and supporting their children. Stop defending their disfunction. We all make choices in life. You can choose to get out of poverty by getting an education. You can choose change a generation. Me and my family did. We grew up in the drug infested projects in NJ with a mentally ill mother on welfare and an MIA father. My brother, sister and I have changed our next generation by the choices we made. We're not perfect. We have divorce, children out of wedlock and the death of a father in our family but we made sure the fathers were in our children's lives one way or the other and we instill responsibility for your actions on our children.
    Stop the disfunction.

    July 14, 2008 at 10:33 am |
  32. Annie Kate

    Obama's message should be for every household whose father has left regardless of race. There are plenty of mothers of all races trying to raise children whose father has left and sends no support; no matter what race they are the children suffer financially and emotionally and do not have the opportunities that children with both parents have.

    I hope that Obama's conversation about fathers needing to step up and take responsibility for their children is for everyone....if it isn't then it needs to be.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 14, 2008 at 10:26 am |
  33. Kim in NY

    Discrimination and poverty are not owned by the black community. There are many, many poor white families who do not get prime medical care or fair housing. The Irish, the Italians, the Japanese (put your heritage here)..... have all been discriminated against in our country at time or another. You do what you can when you can to feed your family and put a roof over their head. Taking care of one's family is not a racial issue. It is a universal issue.

    July 14, 2008 at 10:20 am |
  34. Cindy

    I don't see anything wrong with what Obama has been saying in regards to the black men needing to step up and take responsibility for their actions. It is the truth. Not talking about it is not going to make it go away. There needs to be more said about it! That's the only way to combat the problem is to face it head on.

    In reality what he is saying needs to be said about and to all races of men.

    Cindy...Ga.

    July 14, 2008 at 10:04 am |