I am currently doing some political organizing with 1199 SEIU in New York City and on May 3rd the union brought in Senator Barack Obama to speak with the staff and Executives to talk about his campaign.
We were told at the start of the event that questions were reserved for the Executive members of the 1199 staff (I’m not an Executive!), but that didn’t keep me from raising my hand during the question and answer period. At one point during the Q&A session, Barack said he wanted to take questions from the general audience and I guess because I had been raising my hand, he pointed to me for my question.
I began by introducing my blog, “AskThisBlackWoman”, and myself but before I could launch into my comments and question, Barack said, “You have a blog called AskThisBlackWoman?” “Yeah, well so does my wife. If I have to do anything, I need to ‘ask this black woman'”…or something to that effect. It was very funny, but things got more serious when I began my comments. I have to admit, I was VERY nervous. I began by telling Barack that I was concerned about his earlier statement that “Bloody Sunday” was not just a Black thing. Barack said that the political achievement of the historic “Bloody Sunday” during the Civil Rights movement was an achievement for all people not just African-Americans. I took that as a watering down of Black political achievement and detracting from the important political courage it took for Black people, non-Spanish speaking, native-born Black people, to organize against and confront racist oppression.
I then mentioned the recent controversy in the news about Barack Obama characterizing native-born African-Americans problematically and what some consider to be too harshly. Essentially, Barack was quoted as spouting off some “pull yourself up by your boot straps” conservative, Bill Cosby-ideology that many are not happy about.
After quickly mentioning that, and being really rushed by Patrick, I got out the question: what was he (Barack) going to do about the nearly 50% unemployment rate among African-American men in NYC?
In response to my concerns that he detracted from African-American political treatment, his disparaging comments about African-Americans and the stratospheric rate of unemployment among African-American men, Barack said he was dismayed by the “broken 40 oz. bottles” in black neighborhoods, but would work to amend the felony laws that lock ex-offenders, especially African-American men, out of employment, and he thought good jobs for African-American men would be insulating or “greening” old housing in places like Brooklyn or the Bronx. I guess those jobs have the potential of being good jobs if they actually went to African-American men instead of immigrants both legal and illegal.
While Barack’s message about African-American issues was peppered with comments about these bleak employment and poverty trends affecting all of us (which is true), he did concede at the end of his comment that while we should work on improving the lives of all people, some groups needed special attention.
You should definitely watch the video for yourself. I will tell you this, when he made the comment about “broken 40 oz bottles” in black neighborhoods, I had an immediate reaction. I felt that his comment was a disrespectful one and reflective of a person who was out-of-step with the way Black people, native-born, non-Spanish speaking Black people, live… holistically. Not all Black neighborhoods are littered with broken 40 oz bottles… apparently the ultimate symbol of African-American political complacency. And, broken 40 oz bottles do not reflect the desire of African-Americans to achieve the same dreams his Kenyan father had upon stepping foot in this country. That’s not to say I didn’t agree with 90% of what the Senator said, I just thought that particular comment was a “dis”. Otherwise, I thought his answer to my question was on point.