CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama on Monday urged blacks to take more responsibility for improving their own lives, standing firm on a tough message that has been criticized by some African Americans.
Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, was accused by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson last week of “talking down to blacks.”
“Now, I know there’s some who’ve been saying I’ve been too tough, talking about responsibility,” Obama told the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. “I’m here to report, I’m not going to stop talking about it.”
Jackson and others have criticized Obama for discussing the problem of absent fathers in many black families and urging black men to become more involved in their children’s lives.
In urging more engagement by black fathers, Obama often talks about his own experience being raised by a white Kansas-born single mother and his grandparents after his black Kenyan father left the family when he was two years old.
He often tells black audiences they must spend more time doing homework with their children and avoid letting them watch too much television.
Obama, who is running in the November 4 election against Republican John McCain, stressed these themes in speech in a church on Father’s Day last month.
The presumptive Democratic nominee received a standing ovation for his NAACP speech which discussed the personal responsibility topic.
But in the speech, Obama also highlighted what he said was the failure of Washington and Wall Street address economic ills affecting blacks such as lack of affordable health care, inadequate public schools and income inequality.
“We’ve got to demand more responsibility from Washington. We’ve got to push aside those special interests and let the voices of the American people ring out,” Obama said. “We’ve got to demand more responsibility from Wall Street.”
“But you know what, we also have to demand more responsibility from ourselves,” he added.
Jackson told CNN last week that Obama has given what amounts to “lectures” at African-American churches.
“I said it can come off as speaking down to black people. The moral message must be a much broader message. What we need really is racial justice and urban policy and jobs and health care. There is a range of issues on the menu,” Jackson said.
Obama told reporters on Saturday that he had spoken with Jackson before about his concerns.
“I told him that I absolutely believe that we have structural inequalities in this country that have to be dealt with,” Obama said. “We have no disagreement there — my argument is simple that it’s not an either/or proposition it’s a both proposition.”
Some analysts have said Jackson, who is 66, may feel that Obama, 46, does not fully appreciate the struggles of the older generation of civil rights leaders.
But Obama paid homage in his speech to many leaders of the civil rights movement, including the slain Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Julian Bond, 68, the current chairman of the NAACP.
Reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Jackie Frank