Feb 22 2013
President Obama faced a daunting task when he stepped up to the podium to speak at Hyde Park Career Academy in Chicago last week. He was tasked with changing a widespread perception of gun violence in his adopted hometown from that of a uniquely urban pathology to one of national significance—and one that can be impacted by national policy change.
Reactions to the speech have varied. But some observers have noted that while the president did address substantive policy change, he also alienated some of his most ardent supporters by focusing on black family structures rather than leaving the spotlight on structural inequities.
“I’m a robust supporter of the president and there are things to really like about the speech, but my vote does not vacate my critique,” says Rutgers University scholar Brittney Cooper, who is co-founder of the influential blog Crunk Feminist Collective. “We deserve to have a set of public policy solutions that don’t traffic in age old stereotypes about black families.”
Cooper was among a number of black commentators who were put off by the president’s speech.
“Obama’s remarks are still shallow,” says David Stovall, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Federal authorities appear to be fearful of addressing tangible, long term solutions to job creation, tenants’ rights [to address displacement], and quality education not in the form of charter schools.”
Last week’s address came amid a groundswell of voices calling for an end to the violent deaths of black and Latino youth in the city. An online petition initiated by the Chicago-based Black Youth Project captured 50,000 signatures urging the president to come to Chicago and draw national attention to the complicated ways in which gun violence exists in urban centers.
The president’s speech did highlight some of those complexities and connect them to solutions he’s put forth in his broader second term agenda, such as universal pre-kindergarden and job training to lift struggling families out of poverty. These ideas were however overshadowed for some by the president’s focus on black fatherhood—a recurring theme when he’s addressing black audiences or discussing race.\