Dear President Obama,
My name is Ja’han Jones and I am a 21-year old journalist studying at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. More pertinent, however, to my purpose for this letter is that I am a Black man; a young, occasionally angry, frequently frustrated, ever-aware Black man living in these United States of America. I am “the problem” of which we speak so often in this country: I am he whose disposition in prisons, and out of classrooms and spaces of professional power, is eagerly welcomed as a predisposition rather than the result of more sinister manipulation. To endure these types of characterizations is unfathomably demoralizing; it—contrary to popular belief—is a contributing factor in Black male depression, not the remedy for it. As I write to you, I do so as one—one young man, with one set of ideals, voicing one sentiment—but I may very well be one of many.
To be a Black journalist in the age of the Obama Presidency demands a duality for which I am not ashamed. I am not immune to the pride which whelms me as I watch you saunter about the White House. That walk is one of confidence—the seeming walk of a man in his own home—and to suppress that pride would be my futile attempt at inhumanity. Nor am I ignorant to the inevitable space you will one day occupy in the famed halls of Black, American, and world history. I, today, am fully aware of the busts of your likeness soon to be made in high volume. Troubling me, however, is the reconciliation I must make between the pride I’m granted by your occupation of the White House and the frustration I encounter when reminded of the persistence of racial disparity throughout the span of your presidency.
Your position, Mr. President, is in some ways unenviable. Demanded of you is a juggling act of sorts, in which your number of identities need be in constant movement; never may you embrace anything—particularly, your Blackness—too directly and for too long, lest your political operation cease to work as it does. Broad appeal is the necessary artistry for obtaining and maintaining residency on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In this vein, I suppose your latest “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, designed to “build ladders of opportunity and unlock the full potential of boys and young men of color” is admirable. Yet, still, I am wanting. I want so much for the prognosis of Black manhood to be coupled with a direct indictment of the racism which afflicts it; I want so much for the fervor of healing racism to exceed the fervor with which we seek to transform Black masculinity; I want so much for the path of many forlorn Black men to be acknowledged not as a deviation from American intent, but rather a designation.
Black men are not hauled to prison in droves as a result of predisposition, as you have noted. No. The pitiful reality is that even those of us who avoid prison face damned prospects; prospects in which we, having earned a college degree, are less likely to be hired than our white brothers without; prospects in which we, when succumbing to the same ills of addiction as our white brothers, face more stringent sentencing than they. Prison, Mr. President, if I may, is not as troublesome as our inability to detect where its walls end. We’re hungry.