One Last Thought on iPads and Xboxes


Yglesias links to Obama's rather lengthy history of arguing that video games, and electronic entertainment represent a unique threat to the youth of America, and specifically a certain subsection of American youth:

During the campaign, I believe lines like this tended to focus group very well. It strikes me as significant that the target of this scolding is often specifically an African-American audience, which speaks to the fact that one aspect of Barack Obama's political appeal has always been that a segment of white American seems to have a deep-seated yearning to deliver a stern talk to black America but feels it would be inappropriate for them to do so and likes the idea of Obama as a black proxy. I feel like slipping the iPad--the hot yuppie gadget du jour and not something people associate with "irresponsible" minority youth--into the line is scrambling the intended message and causing it to be heard in a different light.

My sense, in reading about Obama before he was a national politician or even a politician at all, is that this kind of cultural conservatism is genuine and not a ploy. There's a section in The Bridge where, having graduated from Columbia, Obama becomes a kind of ascetic and basically tries to remove himself from all the worldly things that tend to tempt men. It reminded very much of the kind of thing you see black men go through in prison, the most obvious being Malcolm X. Indeed, I've always thought there was something of Malcolm in Obama--the mix of humor and sternness, the notion of re-invention, the cultural conservatism--which I'll flesh out a later point.

I get the sense, from my own reporting, that he married into the kind of black family that held similar values--a belief in the Puritan work ethic, a faith in the liberating power of formal education, in the family and God above all. You might get the sense, from the national conversation, that this is a hard thing to find among black people. In fact it's very common--and I know this because I've been arguing with these Negroes all my life. The first debates I had about the welfare state weren't with white conservatives, but with barber-shop and street-corner conservatives. I know these Negroes, and trust me, they are legion.
Lastly, I think it's worth remembering that Obama is the child of teen mother and a deadbeat father. I think a lot of us react against our parents, and often not for the bad. Obama has been criticized for taking this line by quite a few black folks who think he's basically showing out for white people. I don't know. I suspect it does poll well and there is a political upside, but I think this is more than cynical Sista Souljahism. 

I get the sense that he'd be saying this whether there were cameras there or not. Indeed, I get the sense that he was saying it before there were cameras there. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if he picked up some of this from Jeremiah Wright. I think it's his actual world-view. Now, I have problems with that world-view--indeed, I've been arguing with it, in one form or another, since the day I entered first grade. I'm just too much of an individualist. But I think, much like Cosbyism, it is, in fact, sincere.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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