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Obama and Iowa's Urban Issues

Sen. Barack Obama speaking in Des Moines Sunday. (AP).

It was a rare scene in Iowa: an audience that included a large percentage of minorities.

After a two-day swing through western Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama held a forum on urban issues at a Des Moines high school, packing the gymnasium with 500 Iowans of every variety. He fielded a series of questions that touched on race - not a common topic in this overwhelmingly white state, and one that Obama, by his own measure, views from a rare perspective.

In one exchange, the Illinois senator tackled the steep obstacles faced by inner city youth. He said he would dispatch nurses or social workers visit "at-risk parents," to "meet with them and talk to them about you've got to read to your child...Here's how you talk to your child. Don't tell them to shut up. Let them ask questions, that's what children do."

When Obama was asked how he would use the bully pulpit as president, he returned to the subject of parenting, and noted that his father wasn't present during his childhood - a challenge that many single mothers face today. "I will tell them, look I know what this is about," he said. "I know how hard it is for a lot of young men, who basically don't see a role model and don't have direction. But you know what, that's no excuse."

One woman lamented how some inner-city kids don't know how to dress for a job interview. "Pull up your pants!" Obama interjected, as the crowd laughed. "Pull up your pants!"

Appearance is key to urban youth succeeding, he stressed. "You've got people coming in, heads hanging down, hat cocked. They're mumbling. [Obama mutters a few nonsensical words.] You can't understand what they're saying. The employer asks them to do something and they've got an attitude. Why do I got to do it? Why didn't you ask Pookie to do it? They come in late. The employer says, why are you late? I don't know."
The crowd laughed and cheered as Obama spoke. But people turned silent when Annette Brown, an African-American woman, told Obama of her struggle to integrate into the community, after moving to Des Moines from Chicago.

"I come from a diverse background. I have people of every race in my family," Obama responded. "When we were at Thanksgiving, you looked around and everybody tried to figure out, how do all these people fit together? I see a lot of different perspectives. And one of the things that I truly believe is that the vast majority of Americans want to do the right thing. They want to live together. They believe in diversity...They believe everyone is American. I truly believe that is where America wants to be."

He continued, "But here's the thing that I've said before and I'll say it again. We do have a legacy of racism in this country, and we see it in our daily lives. There's a reason why African Americans are more likely to be incarcerated. There's a reason why Hispanic Americans are more likely to be without health care and in low-wage jobs. It has to do with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination. And even if people aren't discriminated against now...that legacy still persists. And one of the things that we have to do is finally acknowledge that legacy and go ahead and try to make it right. Not by calling each other by names, not by acting suspicious towards each other, but rather simply saying, let's go ahead and solve this problem in this generation, so it doesn't persist for the next generation."

--Shailagh Murray

By Post Editor  |  November 25, 2007; 9:21 PM ET
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Next: Oprah to Hit Trail For Obama on Dec.8


Barack Obama is the first African American candidate for President who has earned the right to talk about race. Obama is a Black man and an American. He is not a black man who happens to live here.

Posted by: glclark4750 | November 27, 2007 5:15 PM | Report abuse

LOL! Folks, this Dude is from Hawaii.

On the Rock, he is called Happa Haole!

That's derogatory!

It means, Half White!

LOL! Barack Hussein da Happa Hoale!

Posted by: rat-the | November 26, 2007 8:47 PM | Report abuse

And another thing: If a white kid acted like that, and his white dad wanted him to make a good impression at a job interview [or anywhere else], and said "pull up your pants!" then that would be considered right and proper behavior. Yes, there's racism, there's an awful legacy of slavery, but don't just give in and look like a hood because "that's what they think of me anyway". That's not doing anybody any favors. And yelling "racist!" when someone tries to point that out - THAT is not doing anybody any favors.

Posted by: Ph0ebe | November 26, 2007 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Ok, when you say he'd be called a racist for saying "pull up your pants" if he were white, do you think he IS racist?
And: If nobody can tell these fools to pull up their pants, what is this crazy world coming to?

Posted by: Ph0ebe | November 26, 2007 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Wake up! Wake up! apparantly slumbering people of color have no opinions of their own - they must vote black or else they are asleep at the wheel or afraid....

The Reverend Obama is a self serving fraud and needs to step off Mr. Holier than tho...

Isn't about time we were all given permission to vote for whomever we want - regardless of color and gender?

Posted by: drileyadkins | November 26, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

In your opinion can Obama touch on minority Social issues that other Candidates cannot address for political correctness, such as "Pull up your pants!"?


Posted by: PollM | November 26, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Obasama is being Enigmatic, rather than informative, and playing a bunch of saps like a Violin!

When asked about ANYTHING, he pauses reflectively, then plays out some worthless but "Connecting" Anecdote, but NOT an Answer!

RAT being Barack Hussein: How would I bring our Troops back from Iraq?

I have talked with some of the Troops. I have heard their experiences, and I feel I can relate to their issues. To be in Harms way far from home must be terrible. I feel they are doing a great job. I admire all of them for their efforts!

How would I handle Health Care?

I have talked with People who have suffered from very Painful Afflictions. These people have been through what I feel is a Horrible experience. I truly hope they are able to get back on the road of recovery, and have meaningfull full lives! MY heart goes out to all of them!

Yada Yada Yada.....

Hey Obasama-Say something real, or STFU!

Posted by: rat-the | November 26, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Oh, come on law guy and peter dc, what are you saying? Obama does explain about the legacy of racism that is holding black youths back. Don't you read the whole article? And the summary dismissal of every good thing that Obama did was just for himself, is ridiculous. Especially when you look at the ambition of politicians like Clinton and Giuliani, who take the credit for everything that happened when they did nothing themselves... such as Hillary claiming that she was the face of foreign policy in the Clinton Administration and Giuliani who fired his exceptional police chief Bratton because Rudy wanted all the glory for himself. That is being self-centered, not Obama. Obama was on the streets organizing and he did get legislation passed that helped the people he cares about. Your claims are baseless.

Posted by: goldie2 | November 26, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I always love the double standard regarding how Obama campaigns. For a long time he's been attacked as too professorial on the stump, too willing to launch into a long, detailed discussion of policy rather than going for the sound bites that Hilary and Edwards love so much. However, when he makes one joke in an effort at levity before responding in depth to a very emotionally charged question he is attacked. Creating a sense of rapport with the people he is campaigning to is important, and I'm not sure why his remarks are drawing such ire on this message board.

Posted by: ayost | November 26, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I haven't always agreed on Obama's politics or views, but on this subject I agree with him greatly. But, I do agree that if a white candidate would have told an inner-city african american to pull up thier pants and talk correctly, he might be nabbed a racist. To take a stand on campaign issues, visit its a great site!

Posted by: tenniswrestler | November 26, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Obama's remark about baggy pants is very glib, inappropriate, and demeaning. Hopefully, he does not believe that the reason inner-city kids are not getting jobs is their attire. His comments might get some laughs, but overall he is ignoring the very difficult reasons that inner-city kids do not get good jobs. Obama has once again demonstrated that he does not have a firm grasp of the complexity of the issues he will have to face as President.

Posted by: lawguy0000 | November 26, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

It always amazes me when people give someone like Obama credit for giving up money to serve people without looking at another reason he did so.

Obama wanted a politcal career and that was the way to get one. He actually was in such a rush and that he lost that first race for Congress because he was to eager and didn't do him homework.

He married well to a lawyer who makes good money and found the way to make great extra money by writing auto-biorgraphies before he really did anything to write about. His most recent book was written to correct some inconvenient truths in the first one and to set him up to run for President. He has made a million dollars on it. Good for him.

Now I accept all that and don't deny him any of it. But let's cut the garbage about how he did it for others. He did it for himself. No problem there- politicians do that all the time.

But in reality there is not much that he accomplished in any of his roles except to advance his career to the next level. There are community activists who are happy to make a career of that in a selfless way. That is not Barack Obama. There are politicians willing to serve in the vinyards for many years putting together a string of great accomplihsments before they ask the public to elect them to higher office. That is not Obama.

So I congratulate him on being Charismatic and upwardly mobile, and having the smarts to take advantage of opportunity to advance himself.

But Barack Obama has done this for himself - not for anyone else. Actually, if he loses this primary fight, we will see what he does for others and if he stays the line and does the real hard work required to make a difference for people.

Posted by: peterdc | November 26, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse


Oh. Finally, on the issue of him never having an intimiate relationship with "urban black people"? How about his wife, who grew up in South Chicago. I think I remember her as being black. This is one of the most erroneous claims I've ever read on a comment board.

Obama's tenure in the Illinois state legislator is remarkable; his resume is one of community organizing in South Chicago for low income workers. I think it's safe to say that Obama has enjoyed, for his own credit and betterment, a more intimate relationship with urban blacks, not to mention urban whites, Latinos, Asians & beyond, then any candidate running. His resume is filled with him working in direct contact with people afflicted by gentrification, unemployment and capital exploitation. No one else's resume comes close: power to the people; Obama 08.

Posted by: arspading | November 26, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse



You need to study race relations on some level larger than conservative talk radio. It's important for all demographics to have people from their own communities providing leadership and calling out harmful trends.

Obama here is echoing sentaments similar to those by Frederick Douglass, heroic abolishonist, friend and advisor to President Lincoln.

The "black man's" problems may stem from the white man, but like any problem of any capacity, it's up to them to take as much ownership of the solution as possible.
Obama's words are important - and yes, they would be judged differently if they came from someone like Don Imus, for good reason.

I don't remember Obama using the phrase "nappy headed hoes", so to suggest any simliarity to Imus here is absurd and proves nothing, except that the author needs to pick up a legitimate book and read it. I recommend Douglass' autobiography, or Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Posted by: arspading | November 26, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse


What in the world are you talking about when you say that Obama has done nothing to serve anyone's interests besides his own? This is the kind of comment that proves one very important point: some people simply don't pay attention.

As a graduate of Columbia & Harvard, Barack Obama could have done just about anything with his life; he could have become a trial lawyer and made millions; he could have joined with the political machine in Washington at an earlier age and sold out to lobbyists.

He instead became a community organizer, rebuilt neighborhoods in very low income areas, and the only "real money" he's ever made in comparison to his peers on stage is from being a best-selling author.

Barack Obama is a once in a lifetime candidate who has hands-down the most selfless resume of any serious candidate running for President. The good thing about people like Juno912 is that if they know this little about the political process, they most likely don't volunteer, and probably couldn't find their polling location.

Posted by: arspading | November 26, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I white man who spoke about black people like that in public would be called a racist and lose his job. )i.e. Don Imus, James D. Watson)
Besides, only someone who never had an intimate relation with urban black people could possibly imagine that what Obama's cartoonish descriptions are true for any more than a very small fraction of ANY group of blacks.

Posted by: duboisist | November 26, 2007 7:19 AM | Report abuse

He embodies the big chance to deal with the old divisions in win win fashion. The ability to critique and address inner city attitudes and ethics is key to unifying this nation in a time of steep global challenge. \
One thing you learn and internalize when you live and travel abroad is how much Americans really do have in common, past the hype and 'Kumbiya'. And how much our rivals throw the race issue in our collective face as a nation, to undermine our claims to broad and moral leadership.

Posted by: empireport | November 26, 2007 6:40 AM | Report abuse

Obama's selfless commitment to service is evident from his college days on. I trust him to do the right thing, by continuing his proven track record of applying common sense and good judgment in deciding which of the available policy options should be pursued for the country. His ability to critically analyze problems and assess outcomes through research, combined with his clear record of service and teaching, suggests to me he has all the experience needed to be very successful as president.

Posted by: DanFromTX | November 26, 2007 4:53 AM | Report abuse

Senator Obama graduated from Columbia University, moved to Chicago, became a community organizer to improve living conditions in poor neighborhoods plagued with crime and high unemployment; Earned a law degree from Harvard, and became the first African American to become president of the Harvard Law Review. He was so gifted he could have enjoyed a luxurious life style, but instead, returned to Chicago to become a civil rights lawyer and to teach constitutional law. He was an Illinois state senator for eight years and created programs like the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which in three yrs provided over $100 million in tax cuts to families across the state; He helped to provide health care to 150,000 families; He pushed through an expansion of early childhood education; and worked with law enforcement to require the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in all capital cases; he fought to help Illinois veterans get the disability pay promised. Just a few examples of what he has done for others, and that was before he was elected to the US Senate in 2004.

Posted by: Katy7540 | November 26, 2007 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Given his diverse background, obama is the one candidate who knows about trying to fit in and maintain some kind of identity.
I live next door in Illinois and outside of Chicago, it is largely a rural state like Iowa. But, from what I hear, the people of Iowa are largely good people and decent. But, probably like Illinois, many are shy of newcomers regardless of race. Hopefully, they can get over this and welcome that young lady into the community.
I think what sometimes passes for being standoffish to someone of a different race may not be so much racism but, not being sure how to approach the person or fear sounding stupid. Insecurity can seem like being unfriendly.
Obama, with his message of unity and ability to reach out to all people, brings out the best in us.

Posted by: vwcat | November 26, 2007 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Obama has done nothing - NOTHING - to advance anything other than his own self interest.

Posted by: juno912 | November 25, 2007 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful message, Obama! Truly a man who understands both the need to be self responsible, but also that a hurtful legacy still persists and needs to be eradicated.

Obama '08

Posted by: gobanana910 | November 25, 2007 10:09 PM | Report abuse

In spite of its reputation, Iowa has an increasingly diverse population. As white kids leave the state, there's an influx of people of color who are helping to support the state's economy. This has unfortunately led to racial tension. Obama should be applauded for raising the issue of race as it is extremely complex and difficult to address. He is the only candidate who can
make a joke about inner-city fashion trends and draw attention to the legacy of Jim Crow at the same time. Go, Barack!

Posted by: tingkun55 | November 25, 2007 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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