Ask Black America: Was Obama Afraid of Being Labeled an “Angry Black Man” during the Debates?

Post By RelatedRelated Post

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

This week, I heard one of my esteemed colleagues, Michael Eric Dyson, throw out the possibility that President Obama’s poor debate performance may have to do with his race.  Dyson argues that the stigma of being labeled “an angry black man” may have caused the president to hold back when he should have been taking charge.  It appears that some might believe that the president’s reputation as a bridge builder, consensus seeker and the guy who makes folks comfortable could have caused him to embarrass himself in front of 40 million people.

“Obama has just been subject to the Fox News treatment of ‘angry black man’ again,” said Dyson. “Let’s not forget this. Lest we pretend that that doesn’t make a difference to the specter hanging over his neck that ‘I can’t come off as too vigorous, because then it looks like I’m being an angry black man.’”

Dr. Dyson’s assertion is not entirely off-base.  Most of us know about the stigma of being labeled the angry black man, and Fox News is the best in the business when it comes to taking advantage of white America’s fear of courageous, intelligent black men.  The highly successful company, “Dangerous Negro” is a perfect example of what happens when Ivy League educated black men assertively embrace their right to equality and dignity.

I remember  few years ago, when Bill O’reilly spent a week labeling me “the angry black professor out of Syracuse.”  He showed an image of me, with no audio, wearing all black clothing and looking downright mad.  He even changed the shape of my face (Fox News is known for doing this to their enemies) to make me appear mean, unlikable and flat out unAmerican.

Of course I didn’t pay attention to what Fox was doing.  I acknowledged it, but I refused to back off my point.  My point was clear:  Bill O’Reilly had no business making jokes about lynching Michelle Obama.  I had no shame in being angry, because I had the right to be.  I can’t say that my colleagues at Syracuse saw it the same way, since I received quite a few “interesting” phone calls as a result of that little incident.

But while we can accept that being angry and black can lead to stigmas and punishments from white Americans, we should take notes about the risks that come with embracing large scale conformity as our path to success.  The more you climb the ladder of artificiality, the harder you hit your head when you fall.  By becoming America’s favorite black man by presenting himself to be as mild as a cute puppy dog, our president (according to Dyson) has backed himself into a corner where his alleged greatness as a black man is highly contingent upon him being something that he is not and sacrificing a large part of his own humanity in the process.

As to whether or not the president was holding back, I am not sure if this is the case.  It’s not as if Barack Obama is a squirrel trying to get a nut or some little guy seeking out his first opportunity.  He is PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.  If that doesn’t give him the right to get angry on behalf of the American people, I don’t know what does.  Also, President Obama did a wonderful job of debating Hillary Clinton four years ago, and this issue never came up.  The truth is that Barack Obama got his butt kicked and he knows it.  Now, it’s time to stop making excuses and prepare for the next debate.

Barack knew what he was signing up for by entering the racist and volatile game of American politics, so if he can’t manage these racial double standards, then he should have remained a senator.  It is also ironic that the president who has conveniently sprinted away from any racialized explanation for American disparities, suddenly has surrogates who are allowing race to explain why their president didn’t do a very good job at the most recent debate.  Barack can’t tell the rest of us to stop complaining, while at the same time have others complain on his behalf.

Bottom line:  Barack’s team needs to stop complaining and get ready for the next debate.

I took the matter to my Facebook page to see what others thought about the issue.  The responses are below.  You are welcome to join the discussion.  I don’t have room for anymore new friends on Facebook, but subscribers are able to comment.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and creator of the Building Outstanding Men and Boys Family Empowerment Series. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


  • Curtis McLean and more excuses people r coming up with I see….
    2 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Marwan Tomodachi it’s definitely not an MED idea, plenty of studies, as tricia rose has stated, points to black men feeling this way, navigating this hurdle daily. now, MED is on my shyt list for sellin out like al sharpton, so his words i now consider specious, whether he’s right or wrong. I reject that the debate was poor, but if he did lose…i chalk it up to him feeling he didn’t need his “A” game for such an idiot
    2 hours ago · Like · 3
  • Marwan Tomodachi president’s poor performance re poverty was due to said fear as well. How being “forceful” became being an angry black man i’m not sure. but classic debates of Malcolm X show how one can be forceful, yet not angry
  • Edward L. Jordan I think certainly think it’s a major factor Boyce. The problem is Obama has been getting props from smart Negroes from day one about his ability to be “cool” and not fire back? They’ve thought it to be “cute and clever” for three years now. So in a sense his performance was quite predictable.
  • Timothy Allen Ivy Nah. I blame it on the fact that he wasn’t raised in the hood.
    2 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Afia Cayee’ No. I think the president was relaxed and knew that his opponent would try to provoke him to move out of character so that they would have something to talk about. He didn’t feed into the negativity and thus, the media and opponents were upset because he didn’t give them much to feed on. I think it was strategic and the right way to start the race. He choose not to make it a pissing match and just kept to the facts.
    2 hours ago · Like · 4
  • Frederick A Mason Yes I agree with Dyson’s thought. An assertive black man may be perceived as aggressive, arrogant or angry. Clearly if the POTUS acted like Mitten “Chameleon Man” Romney, his assertiveness would be used against him…. However, as one could see the Mitt had no problem coming into the debate, taking charge to the point that even Jack Lehrer couldn’t control Romney or the debate.
  • Jeff Williams I don’t think so…..I’ll have to disagree with Michael Dyson on this one.
    2 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Donald ‘Hasani Heru’ Woods Not at all…The whole political process is a show…A rehearsed show…
    2 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Evah Wonder Hillary blistered him during the first campaign. She spends a lot of time abroad…..

    As far as Romney being on the attack that’s all the GOP’s been doing since they day he took office.

    Far as I’m concerned it ain’t about him; it’s about how low the GOP can take this country and everyone in it.
  • Kevin M. Oliver Total and complete FOOLISHNESS. The problem was the President was following a strategy that was designed to keep him from looking like a desperate election candidate. It would have been risky too attack Romney too much. I think the goal was to establish a contrast between one person who can theorized, and another who’s actually doing the job and making the tough decisions. I don’t think his performance was poor at all. It’s just that he didn’t play the game the way people expected.
    2 hours ago via mobile · Like · 2
  • Darryl Forbes That’s partly true. Like him or not, we have to acknowledge that the president has to walk a straight line. If he had cut across Romney, and ignored the moderator like Romney did, he would have been labled angry are any of many code words for angry black man.
  • Terry Jackson Phd Just as Ali used the rope a dope strategy to defeat Foreman I sincerely think the same rope a dope strategy is being employed to defeat Romney.
    2 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Darryl Forbes that too. LOL
  • Champion Nichols The performance was due to a touch of hubris and the fact that the man has a full time job. Romney was better prepared. Period.
  • Robert Ahmad I am too tired to write but i will say this, we must remember dyson is a sellout and a biblical sellout for the libreal agenda. his statment is somewhat true. Remember being black in america is dehumaning in what ever we do and it is sad to see that even in a postion where the fate of millons is on your shoulders you can still can’t be human cause the white priviledge system is set up that way.
  • Darryl Forbes Obama gave Romney plenty of room unchallenged so he could let the nation see how many lies Romney could tell.
  • Donna Turner Yes, that was my first thought. Amazing how stereotypes about blacks always favor white people. Either way, I need him to take his gloves off next round.
    2 hours ago · Like · 2
  • Anthony Quinn Just like Mitt Romney was waiting for the president to bring up the 47% comment. However, he never did. Therefore, it left Romney to go on Hannity the next day in front of a much smaller crowd to apologise for the 47% comment and claim he is for 100%.It blunted the effectiveness of the apology when 2 million only heard it compared to 70 million.
    2 hours ago via mobile · Like · 3
  • Darryl Forbes For historical reference. in the last 5 out of 6 times where there was an incumbant vs a challenger, the challenger wn the first debate. That’s a fact.
    2 hours ago · Like · 1
  • Donna Turner Interesting strategy analysis. ^
  • Frederick A Mason Besides the “race” question which I believe would be used by the Republican right, there is something to be said about being the incumbent POTUS. As Rachel Maddow carefully explained on her MSNBC news show…since the beginning of televised debates incumbent presidents have not “won” the first debate…except for Pres Clinton over challenger Republic Senator Robert Dole. The POTUS is “head” of state, and “chief” of state, thus the dynamics of the Office do change the one occupying it….
    2 hours ago · Like · 5
  • Keith Ridley IV yes as well as his handlers were in his ear
  • Anthony Quinn I can hear it now from Romney if had the chance at the debate, “Mr. President I mispoke. As you are well aware in these long contests such as running for President those things will happen (insert dig about “typical white people” or “they cling to their guns and religion”). My life and my missionary work is a testament to my true feelings on this matter and I have strive to help others (insert Massachusetts healthcare). I would like to take this moment to tell the American people that I’m deeply story for those comments. Now Mr. President can we end this class warfare that has kept D.C. in a standstill for your entire term?”
  • Boyce Watkins But the president debated Hillary Clinton and did just fine. So,are we making excuses for a lack of preparation?
  • Virgil Scott He cant win with the anne coulters and rush limbaughs of the world.he ‘s either too arrogant or the angry black man.i hope he is more forceful the next debate.
  • Darryl Corey That or he is just too polite and meek
  • Africa Leroy Jones He won’t talk to us and he won’t talk about us so who cares how well he performs. Let the Jews and Latinos fret about it.
  • Donna Turner I really don’t see how he could possibly not have been prepared. I just think he needed to get a feel for how his going in on this particular candidate might come off to viewers. Maybe we should review his debates with McCain to get a better comp.
  • Mark Allen Nope, The President was doing his political version of The Muhammad Ali “Rope-A=Dope”
  • Tommy Lockhart I think his entire first term and 2nd term campaign as been about that…
  • Kevin M. Oliver I’m sorry but I simply do not accept this assumption that the President was unprepared.
    about an hour ago via mobile · Like · 3
  • Anthony Quinn Honestly, from his prior debates I never thought he performed that great. He did best in the town hall format. Maybe because that is more of a classroom setting he us custom to. Whereas the format from the other night is more akin to the business world that Romney is a part of.
    about an hour ago via mobile · Like · 1
  • Anthony Quinn * he is accustom to…
  • Michael Ford Yes. If he gave them that view of himself, the GOP will use it to alienate undecided voters. It’s the “Birth Of A Nation” scare tactic.
  • Collegiate African American No I disagree. President Obama was prepared. I was not too pleased either, however, I believe his strategy was to allow Romney to say things he would have to defend to the American People later and he wanted to be clean and presidential. I do think that he did not expect, why wouldn’t he, Romney to attack the way he did and that shocked him. I think he left his A-game for the next one. On another note though I think he had his 20th Anniversary Party on his mind. lol
  • Maurice Green I agree. It is a constant concern for him.
  • Jackie Howard Carey I really just think, he didnt give a damn!!
  • Sylvan Aaron I disagree. I think was the large amount of lies he had to face
    about an hour ago via mobile · Like · 1
  • Gina SatisfiedSista Mahogany Well……I hadn’t thought of that. I need to marinate on it. Be back.
  • Adisa A. Alkebulan Dyson’s job is to be a surrogate of Obama. Everything that comes out of his mouth is in service to the Obama campaign and therefore any and everything that comes out of his mouth is suspect… even if it is true that Obama does everything in his power to avoid a discussion of race.
  • Mark Holmes No. Its hard to be passionate about talking points that someone else wrote for you. But it’s easy to be passionate in debate about something you truly believe in. I think his poor debate performance was more from a lack of conviction.
  • Pascal Robert Obama is a horrible debater and always has been. David Axelrod in his own book said that Obama hated political debates, was not good at them, and hated preparing for them. This “angry black man” nonsense is nothing but a pretext to give cover to his sheer failure in his first debate against Romney.
  • Lori Metevia No-he is probably just being pressured by the elite and he feels a little vulnerable right now.
  • Deb Guinn Donatti Obama was already labeled the angry black man… and a liar, and a Muslim, and a Kenyan and not an American, and a Socialist, and a Marxist, and an elitist, and Hitler, and the devil incarnate, and the lazy persons Jesus Christ… and about a million other bad names.
    So now you are going to go after Dyson too? Maybe Dyson is one who has come to his senses, and sees the crap antagonists have piled on Obama, and no longer wants to be a part if it?
    39 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 2


49 Comment

  1. Brillanttttt.All day long lying, put it on blast as the children say. Our president
    is shrewd and intelligent.Let the people hear it and see it for themselves.don, t.
    complain, vote, or watch out big bird your ass is grasped……Elmore, you too.

  2. I agreed with Dr. Dyson that night and I still do. I know the President is a scholar, they don't like confrontation. They want to teach, not beat up on someone that disagrees. He was not President when he debated Hillary, remember. I am A/A and I have been a teacher for 45 years. I could be angry at the President because many people in my family are unemployed or working in low paying jobs, but I know it is not the President's fault. I know that " black folks are last hired, first fired" is still true, as it has been all my life. I help my family in everyway I can, and encourage them to go to school and I pray for my family and the President and his family. I also pray that we as African Americans will not engage in the "crawdad" thinking that has hurt us all my life. If you don't know about crawdads, ask an elder. We need to support each other, no one else will.

    • Your crawdad thinking was integration you idiot.

    • Cazie, you need to crawl back under your slimy rock, if you are unable to adequately participate in a necessary debate.

    • How is the debate necessary? Blacks have been debating for years and have not gotten anywhere yet. We should be tired of debating. Where's the action?

    • Cazie Perry Jr. Your comments suggest that you are irrelevant, and only capable of immature insults. Maybe if you illlustrated that you are more intuitive, you might get some action, but what you post makes you appear demented, maybe autistic, definitely out of touch with the reality.

  3. Obamas downfall, to come out hat in hand, looking like he's seeking permission to speak, from his critics. I like to see more black leaders speak like Louis Frrakhan. They may criticize him but respect his straight forwardness.

    • See that exactly what I am saying….like "Step and Fetch-IT"…he looks real weak…and it is because of the white supremacy syndrome sickness…and the very fact that he didnt surround himself with intelligent black/white leftist thinking people…real oppositition to the Bush/Cheney usual status quo players ….I must ask….those of you whom oppose this .."DO YOU ALL REALLY WANT CHANGE…DO YOU WANT BETTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE SEEN IN THE LAST 15 YEARS….WE ARE STARVING BROKE…WITH OUR OFFSPRING LOOKING TO LIVE WORST THAN WE HAVE…I always thought we wanted our children to do better…we cant pay our bills and I mean basic life stuff .."LIKE FOOD SHELTER EDUCATION …JUST BACIC WELFARE AND WELL BEING…We have more of us not being able to even see a level playing field…our young people are coming out of college with no prospect of employment … we spent more on war and on Israel than any other thing! In the last 15 years we have promoted war …. and white supremacy…thats not what Dr King nor Malcolm or Medgar …fought for for all /

    • When you keep people starving and in poverty, you control their destiny, you never have to worry about them rising up and trying to live next door to you, because they can't afford it. You know their standard of living and where they reside at. This is the reason welfare is given to control black upward movement to discourage family cohesiveness and dysfunctionalism.

  4. My mom lives in CO and she said his tired dragging demeanor was obviously because he has only arrived in Denver at 2-230pm. She said anyone who comes to into their 5000ft above sea level elevation exhibits what we saw from the President. That sluggish, sleepy type listlessness. Romney had been there for several days to practice and acclimate to the altitude. Ultimately, Obama just has to do better..and he will. I don't necessarily think we should lay it on fear or racism.

    • 'interesting…

    • I just say it was the fact that it was him and Michelle's 20th anniversary… he had other things on his mind.

    • Excuses, excuses. I see that Blacks are still making excuses. He got his butt kicked that's all. Tell it like it is. He does not give a damn about you anyway.

    • I don't understand why it is expected for the President (or contender) to entertain us?

    • @ cazie..we are KNOWN as AMERICANS, african americans to be factual STUPID! Get over DUMB-DUMB..the president will be re-elected by every race of americans who are the voters "WE THE PEOPLE"!

    • I agree the altitude in Colorado can make you appear to be sluggish. I am from Kansas. I went to Santa Fe New Mexico last year and ended up in the hospital for altitude sickness. I believe it will all work for good, because God is in charge.

  5. Interesting article.

    • He got his butt kicked. Why is Black People still worried about White People punishing them. It sounds like slaves to me. That is what happens when you integrate.

    • Whatever American Public University System was, you have demeaned the hell out of it!

    • Sure you right!

  6. We cannot ignore the role that Jim Lehrer played in all of this. I believe that he deliberately allowed Mitt Romney to dominate the discussion just by virtue of the imbalanced amount of verbiage he got in by ignoring the limits. Romney then used this freedom afforded to him by his race and gender to try to "bait" Obama into the an "angry Black man" performance, i.e. to "lose it" and come near to cursing him out, maybe? That didn't work so well with Hillary, because she was a woman, so the fears of females kicked in, and also perhaps kept her from abusing the time limits. It is a tricky business, dealing with racism and gender issues, and Romney used it to his advantage. I expect him to try the same strategy in the next debate. Obama won when it comes to substance, but I don't hear much fact checking going on — another media ploy.

    • Obama had more time than Mitt to speak, so what is the problem?

    • Obama did have 4 extra minutes. He was not great in 2008 in the debate setting. He'll need to be better next time. I know he will.

    • I agree with the difficulties In navigating race. One of the few things you cannot be in America in an angry Black man. When I see some of the most successful cross over African American males such as Tony Dungy, Colin Powell. President Obama, I see men with a preternatural calm (relative to their peers). The Samuel Jackson only works in the movies.

    • If he's not better, it's over

  7. Black people give Obama too much credit. Think about it Obama never ran anything in his life but for office, he is debating economics and business with a CEO that lead to the most successful Olympics the US ever had. Obama has no clue on how to run this economy that's why he let others draft the stimulus bill, also the Obamacare which we still do not know what is in the bill. Come on, we must leave that he is black like me attitude out of this election because it is too important now. Has Obama ever in his four years of being president went to the inner cities to talk to black youths and our people about crime in the communties, no. I have the next question Boyce should ask black america, do you think the job report of 7.8% for September is correct? Or do you think it is made up to make Obama look better because he look so weak from the debate. Obama could not read from a TV what someone else has written for him so he was lost. Do we want to keep black people with the highest unemployment rate including illegals, or do we change and pull ourselves and families up and out of the Obama welfare crack program. What's up.

    • @Leroy, did you miss any of the Fox News talking points? Geezzz! You got your head so deep up in the teabaggers ass that you cannot think with any common sense with your question on the 7.8% job report. Ask yourself genious, if Obama has control over the number, then how come he allowed the number to stay above 8% which made him look bad for over a year? From your twisted logic, the number is correct when over 8%, but incorrect if 7%! Wake up Sambo!

    • Leroy now you said a mouthful…YES!! this is very on point…..

    • The jobs report is made to make Obama look better. That was an easy question. The few jobs that are being created are part time jobs. How can I raise a family with that? Oh yeah for the record, I have a good job.

    • Please share with us documented proof that the jobs report is made to make Obama look good. You're an idiot..if true then why wouldn't Obama put out a score of 2% if he's in control. you should tone in to Fox News for some better talking points

  8. God had much to do with the President's performance during the debate. President Obama promised "change." He has never been predictable. He made something out of nearly nothing during each stage of his presidency, and has represented well. Undoubtedly, the President is angry about many things, but knows how to manage that anger. Therefore, he has a pass on the debate as far as I am concern. Moreover, I am confident that he will continue to define himself; not the GOP or us. Hang in there Mr. President, this 74 year old Black MAN is extremely proud of you.

    • I believe that God is in charge and that is why I know anything that looks like a" stumbling block" to us can be used as a "stepping stone" if we have faith.

    • Are you kidding? You really believe that Obama is for us? Wow talk about delusion.

  9. ..nope I don't beleive that at all, the president is SMART, what he was doing was writing down every untrue comment Gov. Rob=ME was stating, to be used against Gov. Rob-Me in the last weeks of the Presidential race.

  10. It should have be angrier and shown more Leadership and control sooner….its been ridiculouse to watch how he just played along and back the wrong agendas….I don't dislike the man…I dislike his performance….he act scared and I blame the black community whom have act like the usual house n_ggers..for real….you know exactly what I mean…this is so so the reason why he looks bad…I smell fear on him…he should have been just as assertive in change, the platform he campaigned on last time…he looks scared and compilicant….to the status quo….the fervor that GW Bush/Cheney had at pushing their agenda he should have had…in pushing what he claimed to be his…..this has been lack luster and suspect…

    • Sooo is that an endorsement or a death wish? You trying to gain votes or lose them? I'm just saying, as I sit here praying for my nation as this election comes near… With supporters like this, who needs enemies.

    • The decided have already decided. The undecided might get this mis-message as a reason to vote for the lesser alternative…. Hmmm….. That isn't good.

    • I am stating my opinion as you do…I love the man..but to pretend that this is an honest campaign from either side is to be a bullcrapper too…we are in dire times and as much as I want to just pick the lessor of the two evils …"I sincerely want "CHANGE"!!! Lets stop messing around….lets really face whats wrong and change… Please get out and vote but in your movement …..make it clear what we want for our future….We want real CHANGE …REAL FORWARD MOVEMENT…we want change for all people ..this is status quo…for real…FOR REAL! STOP GOING ALONG TO GET ALONG….Because it doesnt sound goodNOR DOES IT LOOK GOOD! Sister the performance he gave could very well sway the would be voters THE WRONG WAY…..SAY WHAT YOU MEAN AND MEAN WHAT YOU SAY..(smiling)……….. he has to be just as assertive … HE NEEDS TO PUSH! THIS IS CRUCIAL… He didnt look like a winner..and it was said from both sides and you know it.! You know it! being mealy mouth and looking weak ..wont help! He has to be a bulldog right now…SISTER I LOVE YOU AND I AM ON YOUR SIDE! We just have different strategies! Ok Sis…..leave it there please!


    • They are bold in their propaganda and agenda!! Come on now!

    • Ms. Jackson, let's remember that Obama does what the real rulers tell him to do. He has to go where the money is. It's Blacks that were fooled. People do not stop and think, since when has White people put a Black person in a position to tell them what to do with their money? Think about it.

    • I done told all of us whom has slaved to get this man elected not to repeat the same mistake twice … I do not support nor shall I vote for him in this upcoming election Aisha … really… it is time to know when we as black African Bloods are being mistreated and being treated with indifference from a malotto…I aint voting for none of these fools!

    • Lia….I am wth you…..mo more no more…..I aint gonna be Pontias Pilates either….

  11. I think President Obama was more shocked at the Lieing Romney, who showed up, than to what was said…

  12. Some of you REALLY don’t get it do you? Obama is not a true black person, but 50 percent black and 50 persent white, unless you are foolish enough to still try to be going with that old one drop foolishness of long ago, just to try and make yourself happy about having a black president. This guy is a Mulatto president, and not truly black. And he’s NEVER going to be strongly black, because he doesn’t really want to be more black than being both of what he really is. And if he wins, we are going have more of this same mess that he’s doing now, when it comes to issues of great importance to blacks. Stop trying to get him to be what is is not, and does not want to be. I’m sadly supporting him because Mitt Romney is unfil for being a boyscout leader, but I no longer have any real hope or confidence in Obama, anymore, in terms of his being a REAL black man and too much helpful to blacks alone. And especially since he is under the absolute control of David Axelrod and a bunch of other Jews, who are really in control of him and the White House. Obama has no power there, he’s only sitting in the president’s seat, and saying and doing what he’s told. — Rev. George Brooks

  13. Hell yeah he was, an he was exposed, when Romney brought the pressure. I see people in here trying to say he was just being calm no, he was looking out for his white voters, Romney was whupping that behind and he was afraid to alienate his white side. Darkskin man vs a white man in a room full of white people what yall think? Yall black folk better wake up.

  14. Hell yeah he was, an he was exposed, when Romney brought the pressure. I see people in here trying to say he was just being calm no, he was looking out for his white voters, Romney was whupping that behind and he was afraid to alienate his white side. Darkskin man vs a white man in a room full of white people what yall think? Yall black folk better wake up. Its sad how far some of yall are gone, some of yall in here talking about it was God, God gonna do away with all that mess, if u believe in that sort of thing.

  15. OH no u didn't say nothing about God. All Obama got around him is white folk an u talking about God.

Leave a Comment

Email (will not be published)