Monday, February 16, 2009

Acting White: President Obama Angers Black Press

President Obama accomplished many things at his first press conference last week, including rubbing some of his home-folks the wrong way. Of note, he invited representatives of both the black and Puerto Rican-press to sit up front and knock elbows with 50 year correspondent Helen Thomas, the Associated Press (AP), and Reuters. However, getting a prime seat and getting on the questions list are not the same.

After being frozen out of the questions, Hazel Edney, a black reporter from the Black Press of America exclaimed, “we were window dressing”. Another anonymous black-press reporter said of Obama, “he ought to be ashamed.” Normally, minority press representative can be found in cheap seats, or standing in the entryway, so the angst is somewhat understandable, but not really.

Here we have a president wading into the alligator-infested waters of the country’s problems, and the last thing he needed was a ‘black’ question. What are you going to do about blacks with this, that, or the other problem? I understand the focus, but the probability of these types of questions assumes Obama’s perspective and solutions are white-only, and represent the old-school. He is everybody’s president and we should take his word until proven otherwise. As they feel each other out, it is up to the black-press to convince Obama that they are not out to embarrass him or grandstand at his expense.

The first thing they can do is drop the chips on their shoulders that cause them to feel slighted if they are not treated above non-black organizations. The comment by Ms. Edney ignores that there will be more briefings where, with her current admonishment of the president, she is now likely to be standing back in the entryway. No Obama press staffer wants to be the one who gave clearance to a person who embarrassed the boss.

Rather than seeing the seating as a positive gesture and encouragement to move beyond the confines of speaking only for the black community, these journalists returned to the status quo of taking shots at the president. What they ignore is that as long as his solutions encompass the widest swath of the citizenry, the public does not care about the nuance of his operation. The professional press, on the other hand, should care very much that he is juggling more inclusive access. The comments of the black-press are exactly the reason why caution is warranted. Their shirtsleeve-emotional responses show a lack of professionalism toward cultivating this important invite. In-your-face confrontation and insults are not the way to win a front-row seat or spot on the next question list. Time to turn over a new professional leaf.

James C. Collier


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boukman70 said...

Everybody's so quick to outrage these days, it's no surprise that the black press is already screaming. It's not as though he answered everybody's questions BUT theirs. Then I could understand if they'd been pissed. But he only answered about 6 people's questions. They just didn't make the cut this time around. I think they're outrage is simply autopilot reaction. They just need to realize that we all have more pressing issues right now. The economy and our different wars are everybody's problem. If he somehow solves those, or at least makes some progress, then he's gone a long way in solving a lot that plagues blacks and Latinos. They should understand that and get a grip.

Anonymous said...

well given the dummy that asked about A-Rod do you think he would risk another question to them???

James C. Collier said...

Ruthdfw, please elaborate, and what do you mean 'them'?

Anonymous said...

LOL Ruthdfw, that's exactly what I was going to say.

I wouldn't call on a black reporter either if they were going to demonstrate bone-headedness and possibly embarrass me. You, as a black reporter, have the opportunity of a lifetime to interview the first black president, in his first press conference and then ask about A-Rod? I mean, c'mon.

Autumne said...

I clicked onto this blog because of the title. I was interested in reading about an experience that I myself have lived through aka the whole "acting white thing," for lack of a better description at the moment.

Well my issue with this has always been the generalizations that people make, such as the typical assumptions about what I think, want, dislike, and enjoy as a woman of color.

It seems to me that with this post you have taken liberty to apply your own generalizations.

"last thing he needed was a ‘black’ question. What are you going to do about blacks with this, that, or the other problem?"

I won't assume to know what you would do, but if I were in that front row seat and I read a post as yours, I'd be insulted...

James C. Collier said...

Raynejole: I take it you did not see Michael Fletcher's/WAPO question regarding Alex Rodriquez steroid mess. That was a stupid and 'out-of-place' black question. Again, the black press professionals proved my point in their ill-advised reaction to not automatically being placed at front of the press line.

Egy Azziera said...

First off we would like to congratulate you on your fine public speaking skills. It looks like those who said the Obama Administration would strike while the iron is hot may have been correct, and the Administration may be doing it in a way that does not require them to even get a vote in Congress.