Barack Obama’s speech before the Congressional Black Caucus was one of the president’s first in his sure-to-be rough trail toward the 2012 election. It also served as a response to the wave of criticism he’s taken from the African-American community as of late. Outspoken Princeton professor Cornel West partnered with news pundit Tavis Smiley for a much talked about “poverty tour.” West and Smiley drove around the country to interview African-Americans and bring light to their struggles with joblessness and growing income inequality.
While Obama is often loath to respond directly to his critics, his remarks at the CBC gala dinner were not indirect or vague. The president told the high-profile crowd that it was time to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying,” and instead to get to work.
As you might imagine, backlash to the president’s speech was swift. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a senior member of the CBC, called Obama’s remarks “curious.” “I don’t know who he was talking to,” she said on CBS’s Early Show, “because we’re certainly not complaining. We are working. We support him and we are protecting that base because we want people to be enthusiastic about him when that election rolls around.” For his part, Smiley asked, “How does he get away with saying this to Black folk?”
While it may have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, Obama’s “stop crying” speech wasn’t all bad. The fact of any discussion about America’s political class is that some African-Americans, like some people of all races, prefer to simply whine about their lot in life rather than actually doing the real hard work it takes to get make things better. That said, it’s flat wrong for the president to talk about Blacks as if they are all whining instead of working.
Fault-finding and criticism are what lead to progress, and if West, Smiley and Waters are willing to put in work following their criticism of the Obama administration, there’s really nothing wrong with their so-called “complaining.” If anything, people who are willing to work hard to better themselves and their community should keep complaining. It keeps the president on his toes and it lets him know that people aren’t willing to stand for simple lip service. Eventually, we need to see results.
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