President Obama Bums Me Out & A Postscript About the N-Word

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So, yeah. By now, you’ve probably heard all about President Obama’s new My Brother’s Keeper initiative on the tube. It’s aimed, according to a White House blog on the subject published this morning, at “empowering boys and young men of color, a segment of our society which too often faces disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success.” In the blog, the authors drop some alarming knowledge on us  about the state of young Black and Latino men. An example:

For decades, opportunity has disproportionately lagged behind for boys and young men of color – particularly in our African American and Latino communities.  As recently as 2013, only 14 percent of black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys scored proficient or above on the 4th grade reading component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress compared to 42 percent of white boys and 21 percent of black and Hispanic girls. Youth who cannot read “proficiently” by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by 19.

That’s the sad truth. And as a mother of a young Dominican- Haitian- and Black-American child, it’s a downright scary reality to be faced with. I hope that by the time my almost two-year-old is of age, our young men of color will have confronted and overcome the real issue: our collective Identity Crisis, and the lack of diversity and diminishing arts-driven curriculums throughout the country. Until we take a holistic approach to the problem, our young boys and girls—our nation—will continue to suffer the consequences. President Obama can conjure Martin Luther King, Jr. to the point of ad nauseam—and to do that so often is showing how (ironically) out of touch he is with the complexion of today’s America—and nothing will change. It feels dated. (And hey, is anyone else wondering why this initiative wasn’t introduced in his first term?)

Today, on NPR’s Barbershop (Confession: like Colbert, I don’t really tune in to NPR but as I was using el Google to research the topic, I came across this segment), I heard producer/writer Rick Najera say something that made total sense. I had stored away the fact that the Pew Research Center had published last fall: The Obama Administration has deported more immigrants annually than the George W. Bush Administration (WTF you say?! READ all about it here).

Fact Tank: Pew Research Center

Fact Tank: Pew Research Center

So yeah, like Najera, I’m also skeptical. In the segment—listen below—he echoed something I caught when he told NPR’s Michel Martin, about President Obama’s initiative:

It didn’t seem like it was that much aimed at Latino youth…sometimes we look at him as the Deporter-in-Chief because he’s deported more Latinos than Bush did…and even look at the young men behind him—most of them are black…Yes. it’s a good program but let’s not forget the Latinos.

While I am not sure what Najera meant by “Black”—I’m assuming he’s speaking phenotypes because he did mention the exclusion of Mexicans, who have a huge presence in Chi-town where the group of young men standing behind President Obama were culled from, and therefore an exclusion of Indigenous-looking folks—but at any rate, that’s another story. Still, I can relate with his cynicism.

The other topic the Barbershop discussed (at the end of the segment), aside from Spike Lee’s remarks about gentrification, was the National Football League’s consideration of implementing a 15-yard penalty for players using the N-word on the field. The panelists sparred a bit on the point but I think they agree that the NFL shouldn’t play N-word police: you decide. But I did hear one of them express that heads today have re-appropriate the term that “works for them.”

I am not the N-word po-po and have tried to use the term, in a broader context (the earliest record of the word I’ve read was used as a slur against a West African slave in modern day Dominican Republic: see Open Veins of Latin America), to discuss how Latino- and Black-Americans have a (painful) shared history… Regardless, I would argue that the use of the word isn’t a re-appropriation: you would have to know the meaning and context before flipping the definition. I’m not sure that we’ve pushed that conversation far enough yet. And anyways, no matter what position you take, if the cultural leaders we’ve put on a pedestal use it to refer to themselves then I don’t see the masses following suit. But, I digress.



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