Obama’s Preaching Doesn’t Reach

Interesting article from Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches.

For the record, she is an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and an African-American woman.

While I continue to support President Obama, I have my concerns as well.

He’s been much friendlier to Wall Street than Main Street…

He doesn’t seem to “dance with the ones who brought him” too well.  Sometimes, it’s almost like he’s ashamed to be seen with us.  He had to be pushed and pushed to take action on Gay issues, but he did take action.

Now he’s pushing some buttons with another core constituency.

I hope he’s had a true realization- on the Road to Damascus, so to speak- and this isn’t just fear driven based on recent polls.

If he had pushed the agenda he was elected to pursue, instead of tilting at the windmills of compromise with the GOP, we wouldn’t be having this dialogue…

Here is an excerpt from Dr Butler’s column and a link to the full version:

Obama’s performance of black preaching may play well to church folks who love him no matter what, but to those critical of his policies that have placed African Americans at the highest unemployment rates, the president’s fake whooping rings hollow. Why is it that every time the president speaks to a predominately black audience, he goes into a preacher’s cadence, and starts to speak as though he were at a pulpit? Why is it that he never gets “righteously angry” with the white folks as often as he does at the black folks?

If you think I am harsh, consider a segment of the president’s 2010 CBC speech: “I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods to go back to your workplaces, to go to churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops, and tell them we’ve got more work to do.”

Damn. I think most black people I know do more than just work, go to church, and get their hair done.

Let me say it more bluntly. The president said at the end of his CBC speech: “[I] expect all of you to march with me and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on.”

That was the moment that the president turned into a jackleg preacher. A jackleg preacher is an untrained preacher who relies on tried and true tropes to get his audience to respond to preaching. If a jackleg is really good, he or she can get the money or whatever else they want by hitting the sweet spot, that emotional place where the congregation always responds well, because they recognize the feelings and emotions the jackleg preacher wants to evoke. Referring to taking off the slippers and putting on marching shoes is a tired racist trope, and besides, isn’t Snooki the person who wears her slippers in public? I don’t think she’s African American.

There is a history with Obama’s speeches to predominantly black audiences that either try to use respectability or shame to change steroetypical behavior. Obama’s 2008 speech excoriating absent black fathers at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, and his comments on the campaign trail in 2008 in Beaumont, Texas urging black parents “not to feed their kids cold Popeye’s chicken for breakfast,” are just two examples of how Obama deploys this racially-coded rhetorical strategy. The president’s behavior since taking office towards the African American community has been either to tell black folks to get in line and get to work, or gee, I love ya’ll, but I need your vote. If only he would speak to Republicans and Tea Partiers in the same harsh manner.

MORE:   Obama’s Preaching Doesn’t Reach | Religion Dispatches.

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