Once again a major public figure has said something awful and has been forced to go through the standard media cycle of clarification and apology. This time around it is Jesse Jackson’s turn.
After an interview with Fox News, Jackson apparently did not realize that his microphone was still live. He remarked that “Barack, he’s talking down to black people” and apparently expressed a desire to cut Obama’s nuts off.
One thing that seems to have set Jackson off is that Obama has been critical of the alleged failures of black fathers. To be more specific, he has spoken of the need for absent black fathers to be more responsible.
While Jackson’s response might have been motivated by a general concern about Obama’s remarks, it is possible that his reaction was much more personal. Jackson himself had a child with his mistress and she has been critical about his behavior as a father in the past. As such, Jackson might have taken Obama’s remarks as hitting far too close to home. In any case, Jackson certainly has not provided a moral example of how a man should behave in this matter.
Naturally, there are also concerns that Jackson is jealous of Obama’s success and the fact that Obama seems to be less beholden to the “old guard” than they would like. People who enjoy the spotlight and power are, of course, often very resentful when the light shines on another. Some have even suggested that Jackson is worried that Obama’s success will undercut the traditional focus on victimhood that has allegedly served as a significant basis for his political influence. This is, of course, mere psychological speculation.
While the ongoing tension between the old guard and Obama is politically important, it does tend to obscure a rather important concern about black fathers.
The usual stereotype of black men is that they are irresponsible fathers. They are quick to have children as proof of their manliness and even quicker to duck out on their responsibilities. This stereotype has been played up in the media and has even been accepted to a certain degree by some black leaders.
While this matter has enjoyed a significant amount of media coverage, there is still a clear need to investigate the facts properly. It is easy to buy into a stereotype. It is much harder to sort through the data and draw a proper conclusion. One factor that makes doing this difficult is that accusations of poor parenting against black men tends to make headlines. In contrast, evidence in regards to good parenting tends to be left languishing in obscurity. I would certainly encourage more investigation into the facts of the matter and a greater effort to make positive findings known.
While I disagree with Jackson’s approach to the matter (cutting off another man’s nuts is not something I can endorse), I do agree with some of his follow up comments regarding the dual aspect to responsibility.
While an individual father has a moral obligation to act responsible in regards to his parental duties, the all members of our society also have a moral obligation to address factors that can impede a person’s abilities to act in accord with those duties.
As has been noted in a previous blog, many black men are in prison. This obviously makes it difficult for them to be good fathers. While the reasons why so many black men are in prison are no doubt many and varied, some of them most likely include factors that could be corrected. Naturally, the main focus should be on factors that push people towards crime. If these factors could be dealt with, this would probably help with the problem at hand.
Another factor (which probably connects to the prison factor) is economics. While the economic woes of today slice across the color lines, black Americans have been facing economic hardships for quite some time. Such economic woes can significantly impact such things as the payment of child support and the ability of a family to spend time together.
A third factor is cultural. As many have argued, our current American culture does not greatly emphasize personal responsibility and solid moral values. While we are not the moral wasteland that some would claim, we could obviously do better in regards to our moral education. While individuals have an obligation to learn the good and act in accord with it, there is also an obligation to teach people the proper values and to shape them so that they live in accord with those values. As a nation, we can do a better job, but it is something that we need to work on together. After all, this is not just a black problem, or a male problem. It is a concern for all people who value family, responsibility and a good society. Looking at it as specifically black problem that blacks need to solve on their own is actually part of the problem.