Two weeks ago, our First Lady, Michelle Obama seemed to have caused a hornet’s nest of controversy with her graduation speech to the students of Tuskegee University. She was the wrong messenger, with the wrong message, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
It was very difficult to listen to our First Lady rant on about the travails of being the first Black First Lady. She travels around the world on a private jet, has maids and housekeepers at her beck and call, has a security detail and sends her kids to one of the most expensive private schools in the U.S.
But yet her speech centered on how racist America is.
Somehow she failed to talk about how America is racist enough to elect a Black man to be president; America is racist enough to create super wealthy people like Dave Steward, Oprah Winfrey, and Bob Johnson; America is racist enough to have a Black attorney general; America is racist enough to have a Black who owns a professional basketball team (Michael Jordan); America is racist enough to have over 200 Black owned newspapers; America is racist enough to have over 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Though these students were about to receive their university degrees, they seemed totally unaware that many of those coming behind them may never have the chance to finish their degrees or it may take them longer to receive and might be more costly because of Obama’s husband.
Mrs. Obama received several thunderous applauses during her speech, but there was no mention of the devastation reeked upon HBCUs by the policies of her husband’s administration. Based on conservative estimates, HBCUs have lost $ 150 million in funding during his presidency which has caused at least 28,000 Black students to drop out of school due to lack of money.
Obama was right, America does have a racist past and some of its vestiges continue rear its ugly head on occasion. Slavery and racism are still the biggest blemishes on American history; but because we are Americans and showed resolve, we also have one helluva story of redemption to tell. We have come a long way from the days of slavery and Jim Crow. We have Blacks making millions of dollars in sports, music, business, science, and education. Blacks have been to the moon and back. And did I mention, we even have a Black president?
This graduation should have been a time for Obama to inspire and motivate these students about the best of America; to challenge them to take up the mantle of progress and take it even further. She could have used America’s racist past to celebrate our nation’s journey down the path toward redemption.
Now juxtapose Obama’s speech with that of actor Denzel Washington. Earlier this month he spoke to the graduating class of Dillard University in New Orleans, LA, another HBCU. Obama’s speech was just over 26 minutes; Washington’s was just over 12 minutes.
Washington gave one of the best graduation speeches I have ever heard; it was very powerful and motivational. His speech centered on his faith in God and his realization that many, many people are responsible for the success he has attained in his life. His achievements were not his alone.
He challenged the students to “put God first in everything you do;” to be humble and try to make a difference in other people’s lives; not to just be about material gain for oneself.
I sometimes think liberals continually want to obsess about America’s racist past and conservatives continually want to obsess about pretending that America has no racist past.
We should all be able to agree that America has come a long way over the past two hundred years or so. America is not as bad as it used to be and not as good as it can be.
So, my problem with Obama’s speech was she chose the wrong time, place, and message for the occasion.
Washington’s speech made you want to go out and make America better, whereas Obama’s speech made you want to condemn America’s very existence.
If liberals like Obama continue to think America is such a terrible, racist country despite all that America has given to her and her family; I can only hope America becomes even more racist.
Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC is an internationally recognized political consulting, government affairs, and PR firm based in Washington, DC. Jackson is an internationally recognized radio talk show host and TV commentator. He has coined the phrase “straticist.” As a straticist, he has merged strategic planning with public relations.