Obama Fatherhood Speech Was Dishonest

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Given Obama’s disillusionment with his absent father, the senator’s speech was not worthy of his otherwise commanding grasp of the overriding importance of , “the big picture“. At its worst, his address, exhorting Black fathers to return home and parent their bereft children, sunk to the same depths of self-righteousness and intellectual dishonesty, as the rants of Bill Cosby.

[Notes From The Frontline]


Can we have a president who’s just a little elitist and even moderately cerebral? Please?

Has your heart function or general health ever improved because you either, consumed just as much as ever, or even started to ingest more?

Right now, our country’s fish stocks are plummeting. Coral reefs are similarly disappearing, and still President Bush proposes opening off shore sites and Alaskan wilderness for oil and gas drilling. It’s supposed to decrease our dependence on foreign oil---about a decade from now. But hey Mr. Bush, why stop there? We’ve got libraries and museums all over the land crammed full of old pictures and dusty books. While you’re at it, why not, just as logically, and more quickly too, pulp and burn this ready source of domestic energy?

“The devil is beating his wife!” When we were kids, that’s what old people said whenever the sun shone amidst rain showers. Sunday, it’s that kind of morning on 125TH Street, as a lively, dedicated group of 20 Harlemites demonstrate. Shouting, “Save the Record Shack! ”, they are out to prevent eviction of respected, long-term merchant Sikhulu Shange, from his well known shop.

Headed home from church, or out window shopping, most people express sympathy for the plight of those who fear growing displacement.

Referring to the dignified, well spoken, 6-foot 4-inches South African native, Mr. Shange, bedecked in a colorful, comfortable- looking thin mull dashiki, a passing teenager comments, “ I didn’t know before about them tryin to put out Black people. But that man there is very informative and he looks really nice too. ”

What we wear, how we look, sure that’s pretty important, right?

Glancing at Vogue or the Times Style Section, the crucial part Blacks play in introducing fashion trends, might not always be readily apparent. But, innovators and rule-breakers, of longstanding, African Americans, have made as many significant contributions to what’s considered to be stylish, as we have to what’s acknowledged as the hottest dance steps or hippest music.

Compared to issues of substance though, the war, the economy, education, displacement or health-care, how much can issues of mere style really matter? “A great deal!” insist accomplished Black designer, Michael Mc Collom. “ So much of what people are permitted to do, is dependent on how they’re perceived. As a Black man. Obama, and to a lesser degree his wife, they both have to be careful, not to inadvertently somehow scare or threaten whites. For example, they can’t wear anything that makes them seem too sexy. There’s no more potent negative stereotype in American history, than super-sexed Blacks! ”
 
Three years ago, Michael Mc Collom and I co-curated Black Style Now, an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. It was the first ever museum display in the United States, devoted to the impact of Black popular culture on the fashion world.

No doubt, Mc Collom’s long and intimate involvement in fashion, that includes his successful little book about Blacks and our unique style sense, What We Wore, contributes to a biased point of view?

Yet, only the other night, sitting at the bar, listening in the dark, to my favorite singer, unfailingly, Michael Mc Collom’s words came back to me, along with this question, “What becomes a legend most?”

When it comes to sultry song stylist par-excellence, Ms. Eartha Kitt, who’s featured at the elegant Café Carlyle, on Madison Avenue at 76th Street, until July 5th, the answer is easy enough. Now, as in seasons past, Ms. Kitt has her dressmaker whip a half-dozen versions of the same evening gown. They only vary as to color.

Accentuating an ageless, always sleek, though diminutive, silhouette, her dark, draped velvet frock is subtly embellished by glittering beadwork. Deeply slit and lined with scarlet satin, with every move, it becomingly reveals remarkably marvelous legs.

Crooning in her distinctive way, 81 year old Eartha Kitt floored her fans with a song from her forth-coming one-woman show. Written by her musical director, Daryl Waters, it’s sure to become to Kitt, what My Way was to Sinatra.

Celebrating the overall sweetness of a tumultuous life, Ms. Kitt’s anthem places an uncomplaining emphasis on good fortune. According to the song, it was lucky, in an era when 30 was seen as the outer limits of attractiveness, “to be beautiful, still, at 40.”

Only, no way! Anyone who’s followed Ms. Kitt, who’s at all aware of her hard work at preparation and disciplined physical regimen, knows that advantageous genetics was, at best, only the start of her eventful sojourn. Moreover, for someone like Eartha Kitt, even looking and sounding so good, is just the beginning, at best, only a small part, of what it is that makes them great.

It’s January 18, 1968. President Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Dr. King have all been slain. Robert Kennedy’s candidacy, much like Barack Obama’s, is seen as a beacon of hope, in a sea of troubles. But, Kennedy’s murder, is mere months away. America’s beleaguered, neglected, Black ghettos are in disarray. Some, are even in flames. So, what was Eartha Kitt expected to say?

Fresh from a triumphant portrayal of the seductive, sexily growling, Cat-woman, on TV’s Bat-man series, sex-kitten Kitt, whom Orson Wells had called, “the most exciting woman in the world!…”, was invited to lunch with 50 other ladies at the White House. Their purpose was to bring attention to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s proposals to combat crime in urban areas.

“What makes American youth so disaffected?”, Mrs. Johnson innocently ask Ms. Kitt.
“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed…They rebel in the street. They will take pot, they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam… ”

This was the outpouring of one mother’s anguished outrage over war. It would cost her plenty too, including a decade long spot, topping the entertainment industry’s black list.

As an historian, sometimes, I wonder, are any Black people today, the same brave folks we used to be? Faced with the challenges of our forbearers, would we be as capable of standing tall, of speaking truth to power? Have we any of us, any hope at all, in the 21st Century, of ever emulating the valor of Medger Evers, Bayard Rustin or Eartha Kitt?

In these days, when so few are willing to risk speaking up, notwithstanding all our current turmoil, it’s Eartha Kitt’s role as an anti-war activist, that’s won her a place in the history of American civil rights. Wow, imagine the power of such stirring words emitting from so delicately made and exquisitely turned out, a woman of mixed American heritage!

“We are mighty fortunate, to be encouraged recently, by the inspirational and positive message of Senator Barack Obama”, says Eartha Kitt, modestly.

Famously, “articulate and bright and clean and a nice looking guy…”,Obama is seldom seen without a coat and tie or at least, a proper, long-sleeved, Oxford-cloth shirt. Alas, style-wise, as Obama’s been at some pains to remind the public about all aspects of who he is, “ no one is ever perfect”.

This is a fact that was made crystal clear when the senator attended a formal dinner. He wore evening clothes, white tie and tails, but, without the requisite, white waistcoat. “Almost obsolete in America, outside of movies”, explains style authority, Grafton Threw, “such formal attire is like a uniform. One may not correctly, either add to, nor subtract from, any of formal male apparel’s customary components. ”

“Easy and athletic looking, the chic of Michelle Obama is never off the mark”, praises Threw, elaborating, “Few things are as difficult to pull off, as her kind of casual styling, that though impeccable, looks as if it were quickly thrown together, without a care. But, that’s only possible because of much thought and time you put into how you look before you ever leave home. ”

“My brief, as I see it”, stresses Malcolm Harris, who was just commissioned to create some dresses for Mrs. Obama’s highly scrutinized wardrobe, is to merely enhance her already well established, classic simplicity.”

Yes, young and fit, smart but playful, few couples have ever so looked the part of a perfect presidential pair. “There’s been none like them”, says Harris, “since the Clintons, or better still, since the Kennedys!”

Ironically, for many, how they look, will both help and hurt the Obama’s chance at the White House. For a few, they’ll never be Black or progressive enough, to suite some racial test. While for others, all the Kennedy allusions and fine clothes in the world, can never act to erase an overpowering and an intimidating, dreaded Blackness!

However, in the end, what we return to is the question of what has either color, personal style or good looks to do with one’s ability to lead and govern? Have any of these things, any correlation whatsoever, with the, “content of ones character”?

Especially for men, the physical nature of stuff plays a big part in our initial interest or attraction. Even many women, have been known to fall in love for all the wrong, or sometimes, superficial, reasons. Yet, whatever causes us to make a commitment, the time is sure to come when we’ll experience disappointment. Sometimes, the annoying way one’s chosen squeezes the toothpaste, is only a substitute for greater, unexpressed discontent.

Whatever form disenchantment assumes, ultimately, it’s the inevitable test of dedication. True devotion only comes once one realizes, how they admire someone, despite being aware of their flaws.

For me and my backing of hopeful Barack Obama, the moment of truth was Father’s Day. However understandable it might have been, given Obama’s disillusionment with his absent father, the senator’s speech was not worthy of his otherwise commanding grasp of the overriding importance of , “the big picture“. At its worst, his address, exhorting Black fathers to return home and parent their bereft children, sunk to the same depths of self-righteousness and intellectual dishonesty, as the rants of Bill Cosby.

Let’s just assume for a moment, that somehow, Cosby and Obama, these poor youth turned gentlemen of property, power and privilege, have a valid point. And, what then? What if, all Black fathers married their children’s mothers and lived with their families? Then what? Would this, necessarily, change high Black dropout statistics, in failing and under-funded schools? Where, given outsourcing and their own interrupted educations and criminal records, would these fathers work?

Given gentrification and a lack of affordable housing, nation-wide, where might they live? Should their kids miraculously make it out of secondary school, how would they ever afford college? If any of these happily united family’s members becomes ill, what, could they be expected do then, besides suffer or die?

No, until America learns to support and value families, family values and efforts to unite two unthinking former sex-partners, will mean little or nothing. That’s true no matter who says it, or even however much they might attempt to dress it up.

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