Commentary: Are the Obamas Speaking Hard Truths?

Some critics say the first couple are talking down to African-Americans.

Posted: 05/24/2013 11:26 AM EDT

Nearly a week has passed since President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama delivered commencement addresses at Morehouse College and Bowie State University, but heated debates all around the nation over the tone of those speeches are still going on.

Some people believe that parts of their messages were condescending. They don't like it that the first lady said too many young African-Americans "can't be bothered" to pursue an education, or that they fantasize about being ballers or rappers instead of teachers or business leaders.

Others were offended by the president's challenge to young people to not allow racism to be an excuse for not achieving their goals. A caller into Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show on Thursday asked why the president doesn’t go to predominantly white institutions and tell them to end the racist behaviors that keep others behind.

I've been wondering if some of the backlash is because their remarks cut too close to home.

The president and first lady want Black kids who are lucky enough to receive a college education to be examples of excellence as they have been for them. They addressed the graduating classes as peers and have frequently shared the challenges they faced along the road to success and they did so because they care.

More important, if they don't speak up, who will?

Who is talking to the kids here in the nation's capital that I see on their way to high school in the morning with a joint in one hand and no books in the other?

Who are the role models for the elementary school boys I see on the Metro with a hole in each ear filled with a one-carat-sized fake stone?

And I can't imagine who's setting an example for the boys and men who, decades after the questionable style came into fashion, are still walking around with the bands of their pants hovering several inches below their waists, underwear exposed.

So many more opportunities and technological advances abound today than when the president, first lady and I were coming of age. And we had it much easier than those who came before us and endured verbal and physical abuses to get an education.

Yet, there are times when I look around and fear that in some ways, in some communities, African-Americans are moving backward instead of forward.

Some believe that instead of keeping it real, the Obamas are airing dirty laundry in public. I say that staying silent would be supremely irresponsible.

If you see something, say something, right?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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