Monday, June 16, 2008

Open Letter to Senator Barack Obama

From Dr. Boyce Watkins

Dear Senator Obama,

I recently read about your Father’s Day comments at a predominantly black church. In your remarks, you mentioned that too many black fathers are absent from the lives of their children. “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception” were your words.

As a boy whose father abandoned him at birth, I applaud your commitment to strong fatherhood. I also agree 100% with your commitment to personal responsibility, for this is how I’ve lived my life, as I’ve sent my God daughter and little brother to Ivy League institutions. I do, however, have some questions for you:

1) If you have a message about the value of fatherhood, why did you wait to speak at a predominantly black church to give the message only to black parents? As a man who has taught mostly non-black students at the college level for the past 15 years, I can assure you that black parents do not have a monopoly on bad parenting. If I didn’t know you better, I would believe that you somehow feel it is OK to criticize the black community, while the courage to “tell it like it is” wanes when you are speaking to an audience that is not black.

2) While we’re attacking black fathers for the poor choices of some (not all) individuals in this group, did you make an equally valiant effort to hold the non-black community accountable for their extraordinarily high and equally devastating divorce rates? Divorce is arguably more detrimental to the well-being of a child, since one solid, consistent parent can be better than having two parents who fight like hell, rip your family apart and abruptly reduce your standard of living. I am not a bible thumper here, but it seems that if you are attacking black men for what some of us do wrong, you would construct an equivalent message to be shared with everyone. In fact, based on my experience working with CNN, part of me believes that if 99% of black men did everything right, the media and politicians would find joy in focusing on the 1% who make bad choices. That’s why Michael Vick will always get more airtime than the hundreds of Morehouse Men who graduate from college every year.

3) Is Father’s Day a time to celebrate the actions of wonderful fathers or to become obsessed with the choices of neglectful fathers? In spite of what you and others may lead the media to believe, black men have just as much of a commitment to black youth as white men. I would encourage you to be more optimistic in your Father’s Day addresses in the future, as those of us who try to do the right thing find it ironic that politicians want to paint us with the brush created by men who do the wrong thing. I didn’t spend Father’s Day complaining about the one man who abandoned me. I spent that day celebrating the five men who were strong enough to take his place.

4) While you seem to have moved away from almost any discussion of race in your campaign, we as a black community (including myself) have continued to support you. However, I find it odd that one of the few times you feel comfortable mentioning race is when it is time to paint the entire black male community as a pack of neglectful fathers. I would have no problem with a message on the importance of good fatherhood were it delivered in a mixed race venue and left out the word “black”. I know a lot of men who aren’t black who could use such a message. In fact Senator Obama, I would prefer that you not even mention race in this election. I will continue to give you my support if you are race neutral, for I truly understand the political damage of you being painted as the “black candidate”. However, if you decide that one sided attacks of African American males (who are already attacked, disdained and misrepresented by nearly every segment of society) is a way to get more votes, then I cannot give you my support.

Yes, black men can do a better job, but so can white men, white women, black women and everyone else. The message of “What’s wrong with you brothers?” is getting old and neglects personal responsibility that all of us play in the plight of our society. I am part of an organization (Brothers of the Academy) with hundreds of black male PhDs who are negatively impacted by these consistently harmful messages. To be honest brother, we are getting sick of it.
As I mentioned before Senator Obama, you have my vote. But I expect the same respect you give everyone else as you move forward with your candidacy. If you can give blanket affirmation to Israeli policies against the Palestinians, and you are not allowed to criticize White America for failing to even apologize for the atrocities of slavery, then I expect you to remember that many black men care for our children, just like everyone else.

We sir, are not animals. The same group of black men who created Flavor Flav and Willie Horton also created Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Boyce Watkins and Senator BARACK OBAMA. I hope you will keep this in mind.

Be well,
Dr. Boyce Watkins


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that Barack took the opportunity to address the void of Black father's in our community. AS usual as soon as someone attempts to finally speak the truth about the reality of our situation, here come another brother holding him to the silent treatment. Talk about it Barack and these so call leaders who thinik they have something better to contribute, let them make their contribution. We want you as our next leader, not them. A mother of A 28 year old African-American son.

RhondaCoca said...


Good for you, the next topics should be how...

Black youth have nothing to contribute to society.

Young black men are all gangbangers.

Black women need to close their legs.

Black people need to stop telling the youth that learning is "acting white". (Oops...he did that one)

Black people need to stop feeding their children cold Popeyes for breakfast (oops he did that too)

Like my white professor said in class, "black men are incapable of being fathers...I guess its genetic...hahaha!" As if my black father, grandfathers, uncles, friends' fathers, friends, cousins and neighbors amongst countless other black men don't exist.

It is unfortunate that everything that is showcased about the black community must be all about negativity yet all the positives are left in the dark. In doing this esp. on a national stage, it makes it seem as if there is nothing positive about blackness or black people.

This is the reason why my cousin who was visting his family from Cornell was dragged out of his BMW and embarassed on a main road by cops!. This is what happens when you constantly give attention to the 1 in 9 black men who are in prison instead of the other 8.

You obviously missed the message of what Boyce Watkins was saying. He wasn't saying that it does not exist but why is it always the negatives about blacks that must be publically ridiculed.

You could do this to no other group of people. Trust me!

Latino girls have the heighest rates of teenage pregnancy but Richardson or the govenor of L.A. will never be forced to address it.

I grew up most of my life in a white neighborhood. Mostly all the the white kids I knew had messed up family situations due to divorce. It really affected them yet nobody publically discusses it. The divorce rate amongst whites it over 50%. Its nearing 60%. That's a moral issue. However you will not hear anyone address it.

What happened to his race speech were he pretty much said that he did not believe in black and white issues but American issues? What happened to him being race neutral or does it only work when whites are involved so that he can lie to them about the past and present?

It is not the message, it is how it is framed and how it is presented.

I wish Obama could take the time out to talk about some other things too...

Anonymous said...

Dr. Waktins I totally agree with you assessment of Sen, Obama. I have to let you know that I am not a Sen. Obama supporter and I a Democrat I do not even know if I will vote for him.
I did give him props when I first read this transcript for his speech but upon first review I came to some of the same points you did. One of the reasons is that Obama, like any other political figure is so slick is not even funny and I feel that many black people are being taken for a ride

Elrancho78 said...

I agree too although I'm saddened by it all. I want Obama to succeed more than anything but it will be an empty victory if he bows to the pressures and disowns reality in the way the majority of America will want him to. I suspect much of what he says may be the words of his scriptwriters. I don't know..?
If only he would employ Dr Boyce as his chief advisor. Then we would be in business.

RhondaCoca said...


I agree, I have been saying for a while that some of his advisors are not the best esp when it comes to dealing with blacks and black issues.

Dr. Roby said...

Dr. Watkins,

Are you kidding me?!? What a selfish, opportunistic, ill-timed rant you have posted. Black fathers ARE disproportionately absent from the lives of their children. Mr. Obama was at a black church addressing a black population. It would have been a wasted opportunity to address some other group. We in the black community need to get our act together. To hell with other ethnicities. I am less worried about other ethnicities, I want black men to be MEN. Who else besides Mr. Obama could turn so many heads and get so many to thinking and talking but the man who is about to become the next leader of the free world, who happens to be black and who, despite his own father's absence, happened to succeed?

Dr. Watkins, Your letter seems insincere at best. At its worst, you sound childish, like the kid who says, "Jimmy said a bad word, too! Why doesn't he get his mouth washed out?" The typical answer in my black household would have been: "because I'm dealing with you right now and we're not raising any filthy-mouthed children in this household. Don't you worry about Jimmy unless you want Jimmy's punishment, too."

Dr. Watkins, on that day, Mr. Obama was addressing "us" and not "Jimmy." There are plenty of opportunities to talk to "Jimmy" if people like you in positions of reverence in our community don't sacrifice our greater good for your own personal benefit. If you were truly sincere in your criticism and weren’t looking for your next story and opportunity to get on television, you would have sent the letter only to Mr. Obama.

Please, no more “open letters,” Dr. Watkins. Think about the little boy with the absent father whose world might change in January when he looks at the President of the United States and sees himself. Think of our greater good.

Dr. Teshia Young Roby

Elrancho78 said...

I think you're right rhondacoca. I can imagine that even the party elite are fairly insensitive to how this kind of talk effects black people. I hope I'm wrong - but these days I'm never too impressed with career politicians and strategists when 'winning' is probably the only thing on their minds. While that is understandable, by 'playing to the (white) gallery' in such a way that is derogatory to the black community, they're doing themselves and everyone else a serious diservice. If Obama is going to bring a new style of decency to politics, he should start now - not later. Having said all this, I think we must be as supportive as possible in these difficult and extremely important days. We must not forget that right now he really is the one and only hope for a more decent America for your children.

Anonymous said...

I don't want Barack saying anything white people want to hear just so he can get elected. We might get a black president, but we will lose everything else. We have to respect ourselves because if we don't, white people will just walk all over us.

Aaron Edlow said...

Dear Dr. Boyce Watkins,

I recently read your open letter to Barack Obama regarding his remarks on

My response to your letter is as follows:

Please hold any future "open" letters that you would write to Barack Obama of
this type until *after* he's been inaugurated.

Presently, we are in the midst of a national election, in which Mr. Obama is
running for the office of President.

This is a high-stakes election. A game-changer. And there is practically no
room for errors (Around the way, we say, "No mistakes allowed.")

Mr. Obama is on high-wire, doing a delicate balancing act with no net, and
he's half-way across to the other side.

Don't be the cross-wind, Doctor.

Barack Obama would be able to do much more to address you and your concerns
as "President" than he could do as "Senator".

Meanwhile, if you feel that you have any information of a critical nature that
you feel would be helpful to Barack Obama during this election, please
*direct* your comments to his campaign. The website is

Thank You, and Best Regards,
-Aaron Edlow

Anonymous said...

I love how Aaron above feels that it's ok for us to degrade ourselves just so we can get into the White House. That's like a woman giving up pussy to every man that she thinks might marry her. In the end, she gets no ring, and the men treat her like even more of a hoe. You have to have self-respect.

Anonymous said...

How much compromise is really worth it end the end? We are a needy people, in desperate need of a true and uncompromised leader. All of America is needy at this point, and the black community is even needier. How much can Barack Obama stay true to the black community in order to successfully govern all? Maybe he should just stick to the economy and the war and let someone else speak directly to the African American community about it's morality issues, esp while he's campaigning for Pres. and is not allowed to speak to all ethnic group's moralities by the same standard. There is no doubt he would be a great ally in the White House and an outstanding Pres. for all America, I just hope he doesn't devalue it for what his Pres. would mean for us black americans, as a symbolic and practical matter.

Thanks Dr. W, and for the record, I understand that you're not arguing against the substance of what Obama said, bc we do need to get our acts together, just other aspects of his speech.

But I think now we should take initiative to do something to better our communities.

Anonymous said...

Barack Obama has won consideration for President of the USA. While Dr. Boyce Watkins has and continues to be admired and respected by me and many others, he does not represent the voice of all Black Folk he can be disagreed with, and needs to put down the Pouncer role for a minute. Of all the Black Folk in the country, he has taken it upon himself to repsond, ponce, and give advice to everything Barack says or does. Chill for a minute Boyce, let the brother breath. He was addressing a Black Church, he is a Black Man, Black Father, and is entitled to his opinion, just like you. As much as I admidre you, I was shocked that you would entertain being a guest on a show like Wendy Williams. But you did, and it's kool cause its what you wanted to do. Give Barack some room to be who he is, and make choices of his own with out you poncing on them. Peace

Anonymous said...

It's exciting to have a cross section of folk engaging in communication in this political process. That being said, Barack has done what no other African American, has done. He has secured the presumptive nomination for Presidency of the USA. And he did it because he is representing, all folk. Initially he was not black enough, then he was too black, now he needs to be careful what he says about the reality of too many Black men in our community. Give him and me a break. With all our education, medical, law, and science degrees, surley your able to disquish between the specific and generalizations. He is a Black man, abandonded by a Black man, and a Black man and father of two children, before he was a Presidential candidate. He is entitled to speak to the Black community about whatever he thinks needs to be addressed concering our issues". He is unlike, any other presidential candidate, which is why he won the nomination. Please don't block him in with your non-change views and opinions. YES WE CAN!!!!!!

RhondaCoca said...

The people on this thread obviously dont get that it is not the message, it is the timing, the place and the way in which is was delivered. Nobody is protecting deadbeats however I am sick of the face of black fatherhood being absentee fathers. Why dont we showcase real black fatherhood? Why dont we teach my example to those who drop the ball rather than public ridicule to an America who culd care less about the black population? This convo is not new. It is always had in our community. Why is it only ok to tell blacks "as it is" but lie and pander to everyone else?

I am still in support of Barack but I will be critical at all times like I would with any other politican.

Dr Boyce Watkins, have you seen this:

Click Here

I heard that Bill O'Reilly had a field day with this whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Where to begin. Dr. Boyce, I am saying this out of love and a person who has followed your work. This is a disappointment.

This really reminds me of an episode of "when keeping it real goes wrong." Or better yet "keeping it real stupid."

Dr. Boyce, you have become what you hate.

Is this the same person here?

I have respected your thoughts. But this was uncalled for and seems ill. You fell victim to the Tavis Smiley - Syndrome

The irony is so thick, given that you have criticized Tavis Smiley for this same type of rhetoric.

The fact that you are airing an open letter and calling this an "attack" on Obama is telling.

You see my friend, there is a difference between constructive criticism versus destructive dissent. There is a difference between criticizing or calling to task out of love than being pessimistic for the sake of being negative.

Ask yourself if Jeremiah Wright or any black preacher said the same thing, would you see it as an "attack?"

I'm really curious, Is not a presidential candidate "qualified" to speak on black issues ---as a black man? Please, tell me who could reach more people? This is bigger than you. This is really the wrong time to have an oppositional identity. You know more than anyone how things can get twisted and turned in the media....(i.e. fox news)...I cannot fathom why the hell you would deem it appropriate to write an "open letter."

I didn't see Obama's comments as an attack on Black Men or Black Fathers. It was him speaking the truth about Black Men who are absent in their children's lives. I have a black son. I am in our community and work hard at this issue, just as I assume you do...

It's a very real problem in our community. I'm an attorney and I see black men go to jail EVERYDAY at the court house. I deal in reality and not the blog world.

Would you rather this conversation take place in front of a white audience? I'm confused. Were you proposing that he expound on the ill's of white couples? Part of the problem with "us" is precisely that, comparing ourselves to the majority. He did well in addressing issues that affect us...I don't give a damn if the white fatherless rate is 10 times worst...we STILL need fathers.

You are free to disagree, but as Thurgood Marshall said "What is the Quality of your intent?" Why do you find it necessary to write an open letter with a safe harbor clause of "but I still support you."

I must also point out, that you were being intellectually lazy in attempting to lump issues together issues that may have merit within their own right. (i.e. Israel).

Further, the fact that there are good fathers is also mutually exclusive to absent fathers.

There are good neighborhoods with positive communities, but their are also ghetto's and a crack epidemic. The two worlds coexist. The Former must acknowledge and assist the later --which seemed to be what Barack was doing. A church is the single biggest place he could go to reach out to the community so I disagree about the forum (surely he couldn't go to a hip hop concert without being associated with the artist or some ridiculousness).

Asinine statements like "We sir, are not animals," to somehow suggest that Obama would allude to Black Americans as such, are the kinds of statements that will cause you to lose credibility and your opinion to become less respected. Just ask Tavis.

I would hate to see the credibility of your scholarship question because of your "people's scholar" mentality. You are not with the people on this one.

And stop responding anonymously. We who have read your emails know when you are writing them. (you can also check the IP the comments about "pussy" where from the same IP address).

Anonymous said...

Baby girl, this person on this thread is very clear about the message, and again don't agree with you or Boyce regarding it. Some of us support Barack's position some of you don't, it's not that deep and it's not due to a lack of understanding we just don't agree, get over it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Doc, but I totally disagree with your assessment here, and I believe you are trying to pass the buck.The truth hurts, doesn't it.

Sen. Obama's message is one that needs to be heard over and over and over again until we begin to see a change. The breakdown of the Black family has reached epidemic proportions and this, in large part, is why we are failing as a community.

Too many of our men are indeed abandoning their kids, "baby mama's", and wives when the going gets tough, and that includes brothers with PhDs, M.D.'s and other degrees. Their educational level means absolutely nothing because many of them are no different than the dead beat "street hustlers".

Both Black men and Black women can share the blame for this breakdown, but, as men, you all are supposed to the leaders of our community and our families. You want to feel as if you are "the man", but too many of you run from your responsibilites or can't handle it.

At this point, Sen. Obama is the best person to speak on this issue. This man is about to become the 1st Black president and for the first time in history, we will have someone in office that can fully relate to our challenges, and someone who actually gives a damn. So instead of attacking the man, how about supporting his message and do your part. As an "educated" Black man, why don't you help to spread the message to better our community, instead of sticking your head in the sand and passing the buck. I agree with a comment below, that Sen. Obama is damned if he speaks on Black issues, and damned if he doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Senator Obama's comments were atrocious and degrading to the African American population. For the world to hear, he pronounced negative racist opinions concerning African American men and hence the African American community. As a people we have internalized oppression to the extent that many of us do not realize that we were deeply wounded by Obama's insults. He has fed into the world's horrible stereotypes regarding African Americans. It is a sad day when we would allow ourselves to be attacked in this manner and dare ourselves to speak concerning it. At this rate, the long term damage will be severe.

Anonymous said...

Obama's negative comments aren't going to get us anywhere. Black men don't need to hear one more reason that we are screwed up. Perhaps encouraging these brothers with positive examples can get them motivated to overcome the challenges to fatherhood. Also, many brothers have a hard time being fathers because the child support system kills their paychecks! If you fall behind by a little bit, you might go to jail. With all the brothers already dealing with the criminal justice system, that's one more headache for men, even the ones trying to do right.

Black women will never know the fear of possibly getting locked up because you can't come up with the $500 this month to pay a bill.