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

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 b**t 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 p*****g 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 d**n!!
  • 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 c**p antagonists have piled on Obama, and no longer wants to be a part if it?
    39 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 2

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

  1. Rev. George Brooks November 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    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


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