Melissa Harris-Perry | February 17, 2013
>>> we're talking about president obama 's speech on gun violence and poverty. specifically, the moment when he said, quote, we should do more to promote marriage and fatherhood.
>>> cleo is with me. he is, also, by the way, a native of chicago's south side . matt welch and thea, elan white is a comedian and creator of this week in blackness. a look at race, politics and pop culture . you have heard my take, what is your reaction?
>> i'm interested when the president talks about his daddy issues. it happens in a predominantly black audience. it's one that can happen. it happened in the bush administration promoting marriage. it's a moment which we were saying what are you going give somebody an extra benefit because they are married? what are you going do? it's disrespectful for the people who can't get married or don't want to get married. to force it, i understand what he's trying to do. i don't know that in practice it works. i think it's a moment which, you know, he can come as a liberal and join as a conservative.
>> it's interesting. there's multiple president obamas. there's the one doing the bully pulpit , which he does in church rather than i'm here to make a policy speech. it felt uncomfortable to me in this moment.
>> the president always try anglated being of the left and carve out space in the center. he's absorbed the rhetoric of the right. the trickle down economics and trickle down racial justice. the solution to urban and equality and the audacity of hope turned on the notion that liberals and civil rights leaders have had their heads buried in the sand on the causes of poverty. he linked them to cultural behavior , it's the poverty we have been wrestling with since the 1960s .
>> i would go back further.
>> yes. but to our national political discourse, it's been front and center. more importantly, this is not a politics responsibility of a person who works in the white community. we don't hear the president describe the structures of white households and the poverty that ensues those communities. we know for a fact, we know for a fact that marriage is a dying institution.
>> for everybody.
>> for everybody. rates of children growing up in single parent households are through the charts in white america .
>> there's no way that he can articulate a politics of responsibility just for blacks and somehow say that he's doing this as a president of all the united states .
>> i guess part of what i say, he did not racialize. he's standing in a racialized space. there is, on the one hand a critique of president obama . i guess it's less interesting to me than the critique that i experience not so much about what president obama says, but the reception of it. the audience that says yes, this is what is wrong with us. what is wrong with us is us. we need to do better. if we do better, everything will be all right. my angst is whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. does it keep you from asking about the war on drugs and keep you from asking about things other communities feel free to ask for.
>> the way i look at it, it's more complicated. the reason why the audience was so happy is it's a conversation that's happened within the community all the time. the idea that fathers are not there. i did not have my father around. i understand where that's coming from. but, what happens is, as president, coming from that stance, he has a lot more riding when he says it. so, he's saying something that we have heard in the church, in the communities over and over and over. it's because he's the president. in all honesty, we asked him. talk to everybody. when we does it, everyone is like thank you, yes. if the guy we look toward in certain parts of the community look toward as an example, maybe it will change how things work. i thought he reached his old black person card. old black people say that all day long.
>> that's true. that is certainly true. he may be doing his bill cosby act but it matters because he's president.
>> chief of executives of countries. president of policy, the bully pulpit and moral persuasion. you are right in your set-up of all this. policies matter and contribute to this and they are terrible and need to be changed. that is an urgent, urgent problem. you have a high percentage of poor, minority or lower class minority or white, whoever, men ensnared in the criminal justice system . it's going to affect the cultural impact. of course it does. when you have so much prohibition, it creates black markets attractive to people without a lot of choices or they become ensnared by the fact people can chase them down. they stop and frisk in new york. you have to address that proactively. look at the policy that is come after these calls about restoring the family. policies like welfare reform . it led to the government in the business declaring people the father of children of mothers they never met. it happens. it's a surprise to a lot of americans to hear. because of welfare reform , if you have a name that is consistent with the name of a guy they remember meeting ten years ago, you might get a letter.
>> i got a letter one time. when i was 17 years old, my mom got a letter about me being the father of someone. my mom, knowing her child said did you get this girl pregnant i said no, she said i know. she put the letter down and kept going.
>> it doesn't necessarily end there.
>> it doesn't.
>> i want to look a little bit. the single mother thing is -- i think part of my reaction to it is having spent the majority of my daughter's life as an unmarried mom. i have a little bit of this reaction. when we look at single moms living in poverty. we know it's associated with it. single moms, overall, 41% live in poverty except when they have full time year round work at which point single moms a 14% poverty rate . this isn't so much an issue about the opportunity of good paying, full time work and family structure.
>> i agree. i think what's happening is the president's policies blind everyone to the fact that we should be asking about a politics for economic equality . it's different. you don't have to think about that. if you are part of the women who work all the time, you are okay. part of it is economic peace. he's not speaking of that.
>> he did.
>> what happens is everybody forgots that piece and it goes back to the respective piece.
>> i want you to respond to the history. valerie is the adviser to the president talking about gun violence in chicago . she said this about the community she remembers growing up in.
>> when i was a young child growing up, not far from where this girl was killed, if i went down the block and got in trouble, my mother got heard about it. it comes from the community being involved and raising children. we have to partner with faith based institutions.
>> this is the great politics and respectability narrative. back when i was a kid, it was totally different. we have to be able to do that again.
>> couldn't be further from the truth. as black folks moved into places like chicago , the rhetoric of crime, the stigma of shame, being a danger to the communities wasn't as ver lant and viral as it is today. in fact, it shaped the landscape of chicago 's neighborhoods, creating pathways for white immigrants who had been previously tarnishes with the strokes of being criminals. the very communities, this sort of community -- it's struggling from racism. there's a big difference. that was an era of industrialization. people had jobs. we live in the same neighborhoods. my mother went to hyde park academy. the place he spoke at is where my mother went to high school . it's 63rd and wood lawn is the end of the line . the elevator railroad ends there. the point is these are the same communities. they once had work. they don't have work anymore. when work disappears, the great social science of the university of chicago matched the very communities and looked at the occupational structures based on profiling a zip code . you come from wood lawn , you can't get a job as well as somebody else can who is black.
>> that's where we will come to after the break, which is social science and the university of chicago . when we come back, i'm going talk to a social scientist about the argument for marriage. is it just a guy thing?
>> happy birthday melissa and happy birthday to the staff of the show. there's going to be many, many years i will say these messages. melissa, you are probably my favorite roommate that i have ever