Response to Commentary on the Obama Step Video

Category: , By Christian
This week, a Kansas City teacher was suspended over a video posted on the internet that showed a group of boys performing a pro-Obama step routine. In the aftermath of this incident, many inflammatory words have been written and spoken concerning the video. (Both the video and reporting on the incident can be found HERE , and the entire transcript of the step routine can be found at the end of this post)

Of highest concern to me is the incessant reiteration that this is somehow linked to Nazi/Fascist indoctrination techniques that were used on children during the height of those movements. Ross Blano, one of my fellow Midwest Voices columnists, made this connection on the Kansas City Star’s editorial blog . Brian Hanson posted the video on facebook along with the commentary that it reminds him “of the fascist youth movements started by Hitler and Mussolini”.

I found both the nature and frequency of this paradigm to both trouble and anger me to the point of response, both on my blog and on facebook.

First, a few concessions…

• Teachers at schools that use public funds should not endorse individual candidates, much in the same way that churches should not endorse candidates since they are tax-exempt.
• Generally, I think Americans overuse military symbolism. We use it in church. We use it in sports. Our kids spend hours upon hours playing violent military-themed videogames. Eventually we come to the point where we use the symbols so much that they loose the power of their meaning through desensitization.
• Though step groups often wear camouflage and boots in their performances (regardless of subject matter), I can see how a person viewing a performance for the first time would jump to certain conclusions about these particular outfits. However, before voicing these inflammatory conclusions, it is important to do some background work and fact checking.
• It is generally not constructive to have kids recite talking points from a policy briefing. As educators, we should teach children how to think and not just what to think.
• The first two minutes of the step routine come across as much more authentic, in my opinion. When the boys launch into the portion about Obama’s healthcare initiative, it just seems a little more mechanical and a little less inspired. Again, in my opinion, it was probably a mistake to include that portion if it was not something that the boys researched and came up with themselves.

Having made those concessions, I vehemently disagree with the assertion that this incident is anything like “the fascist youth movements started by Hitler and Mussolini”. To make this assertion is at the very least negligent, and shows a lack of understanding for both the practice of step in the African American community as well as the importance that the Obama campaign has in the identity formation of black boys. Some who have made connections between this step and Nazi/Socialist fascism are undoubtedly sinister and malevolent in their intentions.

The roots of step in Black American culture go all the way back to the tribal dances of Africa. The very moves and rhythms have been both preserved and developed as a symbol of our cultural heritage. Step can inspire. Step can inform. Step can persuade. Step can convict. It is a powerful artistic medium that takes both skill and effort to do well.

It is not shocking that black boys would utilize as the basis of a step routine what, for them, is perhaps the most inspiring speech given by a black man in their lifetime. I applaud black boys who voice a need for increased personal responsibility, a renewed connection to the struggles of the past without succumbing to the victim mentality, engaged fatherhood, and scholastic renewal. It was a call that was desperately needed, and one that I am glad to see resonate in the hearts and minds of black boys.

I completely understand that there are a lot of people in this country who will vote for someone other than Obama on Election Day. McCain will get a lot of votes. Nader, Paul and Clinton’s names will receive tallies. I hear there is even a movement to write in Jesus for President. That’s the great thing about everyone getting a vote. You can use it however you wish.

But I ask you to understand that even if you are categorically opposed to every one of Obama’s paradigms, his Presidential campaign has been formative for black boys. 11 of the 12 boys I work with do not have consistent and constructive relationships with their fathers. Most of the images of black men that they look up to are glorified because they have the ability to bounce/throw/catch/shoot a ball, or spit 16 lines over a sampled beat while half-naked women dance behind them. Conspicuously absent from their lists of role-models are poets, artists, writers and academics who look like them. In Obama, they are able to see an articulate black man who demonstrates that education and family are attainable goals. In an environment where they all too often see people solve problems with violence, they are able to see someone try to solve disagreements with grace and dignity.
Some will dismiss this point as some kind of messianic mindset. But as we look back on our lives, I think we can each pull out instances where we emulated someone who had been elevated to some type of pedestal. As an adolescent, I went through a Dr. Dre phase. I purposefully bought the same armband that Michael Jordan wore. It’s something we do. It’s part of growing up.

If you feel that Obama will socialize too much of the government, I encourage you to voice that opinion with grace and dignity. If you have questions about how he will lead us out of economic crisis, then ask those questions with grace and dignity. If you want to address how he did in the debate last night, then do so with grace and dignity.

But please do not compare a teen step routine to Nazi indoctrination. It’s an asinine assertion that speaks poorly of you as an individual, as well as our ability to engage in the democratic process with civility.

Renew and Restore

Because of Obama, I’m inspired to be the next doctor.
…Automotive technician
…Chemical engineer

Yes We Can
Obama speaks on Race in America: “Yes We Can”.

Embrace the burdens of our past without becoming the victims of our past

Take more responsibility for our home lives…yes we can

Have our own dreams [indiscernible words] at the expense of your dreams...yes we can

Teach others that while they may face challenges of discrimination in their lives, they must never succumb to despair. Yes We Can.

As Americans we believe that we write our own destiny…Yes We Can

Demand for our fathers that they spend more time with their children by reading to them and teaching them. For we have a choice in the country. We can accept things that bring division and create conflict, or we can come together [indiscernible words]…yes we can

“Obama’s healthcare plan will include coverage of all necessary medical services”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will provide all participants minimum copay for deductibles”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will simplify paperwork for providers”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will provide subsidies for families who cannot afford Medicaid”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will be able to provide participants the ability to move from job to job without taking their healthcare coverage”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will extend coverage of young adults up to the age of 25 through their parent’s plan”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will not turn any American away from any insurance plan”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will offer health information technology”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will reform our market structure to encourage competition”
“Obama’s healthcare plan will offer federal reassurance to employers”

2 comments so far.

  1. alicia 9:50 AM
    Christian, yes I totally agree. I was thinking the same things while I watched the coverage of it on the news last night. Great way of putting it.
  2. Dorothy Suter 11:43 PM
    I agree that the first part of the video was more inspiring - when you see the young men inspired by Obama, I'm all for it. To hear them spout aspects of his politics sounds like something the teacher trained them to do, and yes, less authentic.

    We give kids full rein to express themselves and their commitments, and yes, they get inspired to become entrepreneurs, architects, doctors, etc. Watch the video at:

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