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On her July 27, 2014 show, Melissa Harris Perry shared with her Nerdland audience that her parents were unmarried and that her father was not in the home. This made me reflect on my piece from 2013 in which I responded to her claim that President Obama has "Daddy Issues." Here is that piece:
On February 15, 2013, President Obama traveled to his home of Chicago to speak on “strengthening the economy of the middle class.” Despite the official title provided by the White House, the media billed this as a “speech on poverty and gun violence,” perhaps because it is the topic du jour or perhaps because Hadiya Pendleton, the young woman who was killed as a result of gun violence not long after performing at President Obama’s Inauguration, was from Chicago.
The video of President Obama’s speech can be seen here
. The nearly thirty-minute speech touched on a myriad of issues including gun violence, growing our economy, education, and stabilizing our communities. I watched the speech live and viewed Twitter reactions as it was happening. Melissa Harris-Perry, whose show can be seen on weekend mornings on MSNBC, tweeted this
Sigh...the fatherhood thing is distressing for me President Obama. I know you don't mean to say single moms cause gun violence, but...
This tweet seemed to come right after the President said,
There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families -- which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood.
There seemed to be a disconnect in my mind, and the minds of many on Twitter, between what the President said and what Harris-Perry heard. Was the President, a product of a single mom himself, saying that “single moms cause gun violence?” That seems hard to believe, especially since he continued by saying:
Don’t get me wrong -- as the son of a single mom, who gave everything she had to raise me with the help of my grandparents, I turned out okay. But -- no, no, but I think it’s -- so we’ve got single moms out here, they’re heroic in what they’re doing and we are so proud of them. But at the same time, I wish I had had a father who was around and involved. Loving, supportive parents -- and, by the way, that’s all kinds of parents -- that includes foster parents, and that includes grandparents, and extended families; it includes gay or straight parents.
Not surprisingly, Harris-Perry's Twitter Mentions erupted with the tweets of many who were as confused as I was about her interpretation of what the President said. She later said on Twitter that she had been “vilified
So if I have a critique of even one element of the President's speech than I should be vilified? Interesting.
Now the President’s speech about the economy was somehow about Harris-Perry. Interesting indeed. Not only do I have a problem with what Harris-Perry said, I have a problem with when she said it. She did not even wait until the speech was over before critiquing it. Instead, it seemed that Harris-Perry had a knee-jerk reaction and was projecting her own former circumstances on those the President was discussing. Harris-Perry has been open about her divorce, the five-year period when she was a single mom to her daughter, and her subsequent marriage. It is well known that certain events or words will trigger issues for people. It seems that happened here. Once those triggers are activated, it is hard to keep listening to anything else that has been said or even stay in the moment. When you set your mind to what you expect to hear and bring along personal baggage that perhaps has not been resolved, misunderstandings and misinterpretations can occur.
President Obama’s speech was not about marriage. In fact, he only said the word “marriage” twice in his speech: once that I have quoted above, and the second time here:
So we should encourage marriage by removing the financial disincentives for couples who love one another but may find it financially disadvantageous if they get married. We should reform our child support laws to get more men working and engaged with their children.
That’s it. How did this somehow become a speech about “blaming” and “shaming” single moms, the ones he just called heroes, as was said on the Melissa Harris-Perry show today? When did President Obama do that? Just as important, *why* would he do that and, by association, blame and shame his own mother? On the contrary, it seems that he was blaming and shaming his absent father, if anyone, and encouraging other men to fulfill their duties as fathers and father figures. Since when is promoting fatherhood mutually exclusive from demanding social change about the prison system and ending the war on drugs?
Harris-Perry attempted to say on her show today that, due to the character limits of Twitter, she was unable to fully express her thought about President Obama saying “single moms cause gun violence.” But she is no Twitter novice. She is well aware that if you are going to say something as incendiary as her comment, it makes sense to complete the thought at that time, lest you be misconstrued. It definitely makes more sense to do it then rather than two days later on your television program.
On her show, Harris-Perry conflated the position Mitt Romney took during the Town Hall Presidential Debate in 2012 about marriage being important before having children with the President saying that we need to remove the impediments to marriage for those who “may find it financially disadvantageous if they get married.” Are these issues the same thing? Why are we comparing President Obama and Mitt Romney at all? Their backgrounds certainly are not similar.
The Melissa Harris-Perry Show has done a good job of consistently presenting opposing viewpoints with respect to various issues. There is often a Republican or a conservative on her panels in an attempt to balance what many see as liberal-leaning viewpoints. But that was not the case today. All five of her panelists regarding this issue seemed to be wholeheartedly agreeing with her, after she felt “vilified” for expressing her opinion on Twitter. One definitely had the sense that there was a Sunday “Amen Corner” on her show, stacked with guests who either agreed with her or were not interested in disagreeing with her stance. None challenged either her tweet or her overall position that President Obama was blaming single moms for gun violence.
Harris-Perry entitled the first segment of her show regarding this issue: “The Problem with Daddy Politics” and made specific mention of President Obama having “Daddy Issues.” This phrasing seemed unnecessarily emasculating of the President, a Black man, who has apparently struggled for decades with not having a father present in his life. But it is also concerning because Harris-Perry has had young men of color on her show to discuss issues affecting them and their community. Would she say they had “Daddy Issues” too if they were being raised by single moms?
President Obama has been criticized for being too aloof, too impersonal. What I saw on Friday was the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, being open and vulnerable about the lack of a father figure. How often do we hear Black men, especially those who may be role models for others, saying that they wish they had a father in their life? Anyone looking at President Obama would think that he has it going on pretty well, and understandably so. Look where he sits. So for him to acknowledge that, despite his success, there is a hole in his life that can never be filled, is important. The President specifically said that he reached out to young Chicago male youth: “these guys are no different than me, and we had that conversation about what does it take to change.” The President was speaking directly to these young men, some of whom may look up to him, and yet Harris-Perry said on her show that President Obama was doing a “Bill Cosby impression.” How condescending. Instead, why couldn’t President Obama have been speaking his heart, identifying with many of the young people in the audience?
Many have spoken out about the President’s supposed lack of focus on issues affecting communities of color. People begged for him to come to Chicago, his home, to speak about the poverty and gun violence affecting their city. While President Obama chose this venue, it was the media and Melissa Harris-Perry, not the White House, who billed this as a speech about poverty and gun violence. But even as the President opened up publicly regarding some deeply personal issues, it was still not enough for some. Some on the Melissa Harris-Perry show even question whether he is the right persons to “criticize single parent households,” as another of her segments was entitled. It is just not clear to me what more President Obama is supposed to do. He speaks on the issues that are demanded, but is then ridiculed for his “Daddy issues.” It seems that nothing he does will ever be enough for some.