On MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday, the host and her panel discussed President Obama’s Friday speech, “specifically the moment when he said, ‘We should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood,’” Harris-Perry said.
Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said that she always found it interesting that President Obama discusses fatherhood primarily in front of African American audiences. “I just think it’s really disrespectful to people who can’t get married for one reason or another or don’t want to be married,” she said.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, said, “This is not a politics of responsibility that works in the white community. We don’t hear the president describe the structures of white households and the relationship between those structures of white households and the poverty that ensues in many of those communities.”
“We know for a fact that marriage is a dying institution,” he went on, adding that the rates of children growing up in single-parent households are “through the charts in white America. So there’s no way he can articulate a kind of politics of personal responsibility just for blacks and somehow say that he’s doing this as the president of all the United States.”
Harris-Perry said she was actually more interested in the reception of the president’s remarks than the remarks themselves, because the target audience appears to believe that “what is wrong with us is us.”
“My angst there is, whoa whoa wait a minute, does that then keep you from asking for the end of the War on Drugs?” she said.
“Policies matter and contribute to this, and they’re terrible and they need to be changed and that is an urgent, urgent problem,” said Reason magazine’s editor-in-chief, Matt Welch, who went on to say that incarceration of men “of course” is going to impact families.
“When you have so much prohibition, prohibition creates black markets that are attractive to people who don’t have a lot of other choices, or they become ensnared by the fact that people can shake them down and just do stop and frisk in New York. So you have to address that proactively,” he added.
Harris-Perry said that as she has spent most of her time with her daughter being an unmarried mother, she bristles at negative discussions of single motherhood. She then went on to cite statistics, which find that while 41 percent of singe mother families live in poverty, only 14 percent of single mothers with full-time, year round work live in poverty.
“So that’s an indication to me that this is as much an issue about economic opportunity, about the opportunity for good-paying, full time work” as family structures, she said.
Harris-Perry said she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president, who said in short that families were different when she was growing up because communities were more tightly knit — the “back when I was a kid” mentality.
“The truth is that when black folks starting moving into places like Chicago over a hundred years ago, the rhetoric of crime, the stigma of shame, the trope of them being a dangerous newcomer to these communities was as virulent and as viral as it is today,” said Muhammad.
The difference, he said, is that there used to be jobs, but, “They don’t have work there anymore.”
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