Media Blog

West vs. Wasserman-Schultz and the ‘Angry Black Man’

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post:

Wow, get this dude a Xanax. And some perspective. Wasserman Schultz’s House speech was critical, but a “2” on the flame-thrower scale. What is “vile, unprofessional, and despicable” is West and his lack of decorum. Where does he think he is? London?

What’s more interesting to me is that Capehart wrote a long piece on “Angry Black Man” syndrome to explain why President Obama doesn’t show more emotion when under attack. Capehart argues that even if Obama wanted to get mad, he “can’t” get mad. After re-reading what he wrote in June of last year, the issue is that West isn’t playing along with Capehart’s favored social-scientific theory contending that black leaders can’t show emotion. Here’s Capheart:

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you saw your black male colleague, especially if you’re in a white-collar profession, show anger or rage in public? My hunch is never. There’s a reason for that. African American men are taught at very young ages (or learn the hard way) to keep our emotions in check, to not lose our cool, lest we be perceived as dangerous or menacing or give someone a reason to doubt our ability to handle our jobs. Think of the emotional corset women in leadership positions are expected to maintain to ensure they never cry in public or show TOO much compassion for fear of raising the same doubt and seeming weak.

I pose this question because over the last two weeks, I have watched and listened with increasing frustration to the criticism that President Obama hasn’t shown enough emotion, enough rage over the ceaseless flow of BP oil choking the Gulf Coast. Sure, I, too, have asked the president to connect more with the American people over this disaster. To show a little emotion. But I have never and would never advise Obama to do what movie director Spike Lee advised last week on CNN: “One time, go off!”

We all know one of the reasons why Obama won’t “go off.”’ He’s just not wired that way. Despite the feisty interview he did with NBC News’s Matt Lauer that aired this morning, overt expressions of rage (or any overheated emotion) are not in his personality. That’s why Maureen Dowd has consistently dubbed him President Spock. And Obama’s cool, “say what I mean and mean what I say” demeanor is exacerbated by his reliance on the TelePrompTer.

But he can’t “go off.” And I want to talk about why.

Doug Graham, a Facebook friend from Birmingham, Mich., sent me a note after my post on Obama’s third trip to Louisiana last Friday. His words gave voice to my frustration and anticipated this piece.

What the media does not comprehend about Obama and his response on the Gulf Crisis is that he is responding in anger the best that he can!

Black men, especially educated black men, grew up with images of non-violent protests in the face of aggressive policemen, consequences of actually “displaying anger” like the Rodney King situation and are conditioned not to “act out” in crisis situations. Even in sports, you see “fits of rage” with black athletes, but even that is more controlled than, say, hockey, where if black athletes were to display that level of rage — it would be called a riot!

If Obama were to display anger he runs the risk of Angry Black Man syndrome, becoming too scary or threatening to the public, immediately non-presidential!

And . . .

“Blacks at that level have to operate like that,” Rev. Al Sharpton told me, “Whether you’re Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas or Dick Parsons.” That was an intriguing slate to ponder. Powell, Thomas and Parsons are three very different men. And yet the way they operate in their respective professions is very similar. “You grew up in the time when Sidney Poitier was the prototype of how you operate in a white world,” Sharpton said, “cool and smooth.”

“You and I are held to a somewhat different standard in the way we comport ourselves in professional environments,” a black Democratic strategist with close ties to the business community said. “We are oftentimes held hostage to the myth of the ‘angry black man’ in ways that constrain us.”

You see, “blacks at that level” do not have to operate like that. Capehart finally has a black politician who doesn’t act according to Stifled Black Man stereotype, and rather than embrace this, he suggests that West needs to be drugged back into compliance.

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