President Obama’s speech to the NAACP was equal parts encouragement and tough love. I found this passage to be refreshing, in that it broadens the reality of discrimination and thus implies common cause:
“I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009. And I believe that overall, there probably has never been less discrimination in America than there is today. I think we can say that.
But make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.”
To be honest, the “their God” part grates on my ear a bit, but I wholly applaud the sentiment. But Obama spent a lot longer talking about what Government can’t do for peole who are discriminated against, especially the black community. From the speech,
“Government programs alone won’t get our children to the Promised Land. We need a new mind set, a new set of attitudes — because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way we’ve internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little from the world and from themselves.
We’ve got to say to our children, yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. But that’s not a reason to get bad grades — (applause) — that’s not a reason to cut class — (applause) — that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. (Applause.) No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands — you cannot forget that. That’s what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. (Applause.) No excuses.
[...] To parents — to parents, we can’t tell our kids to do well in school and then fail to support them when they get home. (Applause.) You can’t just contract out parenting. For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn. That means putting away the Xbox — (applause) — putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. (Applause.) It means attending those parent-teacher conferences and reading to our children and helping them with their homework. (Applause.)
[...] It also means pushing our children to set their sights a little bit higher. They might think they’ve got a pretty good jump shot or a pretty good flow, but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. (Applause.) I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers — (applause) — doctors and teachers — (applause) — not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice. (Applause.) I want them aspiring to be the President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
I want their horizons to be limitless. I don’t — don’t tell them they can’t do something. Don’t feed our children with a sense of — that somehow because of their race that they cannot achieve.
Yes, government must be a force for opportunity. Yes, government must be a force for equality. But ultimately, if we are to be true to our past, then we also have to seize our own future, each and every day.
And that’s what the NAACP is all about. The NAACP was not founded in search of a handout. The NAACP was not founded in search of favors. The NAACP was founded on a firm notion of justice; to cash the promissory note of America that says all of our children, all God’s children, deserve a fair chance in the race of life. (Applause.)
This is the same message that leaders like Bill Cosby have been preaching for years, but coming from Obama, living embodiment of what is possible, the message has much more weight. I think that the failure of leaders like Al Sharpton or Rev Jesse Jackson to articulate such a basic message of self-reliance with such clarity, and to undermine it with their habitual appeal to victimization status, has set the African American community back decades, and indirectly contributed to the losses of generations of black youth to violence and crime, all because they did not have a reason to dream. The symbolic importance of Barack Obama saying these words, now, cannot be overestimated.
Incidentally, Obama’s speech demonstrates that to woo the black vote, you only have to engage in meaningful dialogue with the black community. Obama wasn’t there to tell black voters what they want to hear, in fact he was preaching a fundamentally conservative message to the assembled. Contrast this with the essentially meaningless, pointless outreach strategy of the Republican Party, with hapless Michael Steele at the helm.
Full transcript of Obama’s speech is available at the White House site. Also, here is the complete video of Obama’s speech:
Related: I still dream of Bill Cosby as the head of the NAACP.