Obama Marks NAACP’s Centennial With A Few Compelling Words

On July 16, President Obama gave a speech at the NAACP Centennial Convention to mark the oldest civil rights organization’s 100 years.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 by a multiracial group of people including scholar W.E.B. Du Bois after the Race Riot of 1908, where white citizens of Springfield, Illinois burned black-owned businesses and killed black citizens for two days after the county’s sheriff released two black men from prison. The organization’s mission is “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

Obama’s speech recalls the early struggles of civil rights activists, both legendary and anonymous citizens who banded together to fight for equality, whether it be registering voters, sitting at whites-only lunch counters or boycotting buses. “Because of them I stand here tonight, on the shoulders of giants.”

But while some proclaim that the U.S. with an African American Commander-in-Chief is now “post-racial,” Obama offers evidence to the contrary:
“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.”

However he notes that the biggest obstacles of all are not individual acts of discrimination, but rather the structural inequalities that have formed because of the historic legacy of discrimination.

How to go about tackling discrimination and the barriers it creates? Obama advocates both government and personal responsibility. He outlines a number of programs and legislation aimed at improving education, health care and other issues for the overall well-being of citizens, but adds, “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.”

Obama goes on to say, in what seems to be the most compelling part of his speech, “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 give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands.” 

Most of the mainstream media outlets have seemed to frame President Obama’s speech as a sort of stern lecture to the African American community about how they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That interpretation is a comfortable one to accept, allowing Americans who are not black to absolve all responsibility of fighting discrimination and the structural inequalities it creates, but it is far from accurate. Instead, his speech conveys a sense of concern yet optimism. It demonstrates that the United States as a nation has come so far in fighting injustice, yet still has a way to go in achieving equality, and that such a weight rests on the shoulders of everyone, citizens and government alike.



dAlbert M.
dAlbert M8 years ago

I agree with you entirely ! "RACE IS IN THE EYE (and by extension BRAIN) and MIND (COGNITION) of the BEHOLDER !! There are MANY WHITE ,BLACK, HISPANIC, ASIAN RACISTS out there. Unfortunately we cannot turn them all around into accepting plural societies with many ethnic groups from diverse cultural backgrounds in 1,2,3 or even 4 GENERATIONS but it is all UNAVOIDABLY INEVITABLE even though the very thought might give ALL, INTOLERANT RACISTS, APOPLEXY ! Afterall, I repeat "WE ALL COME OUT OF AFRICA, ACCORDING TO DEVELOPMENTAL GENETICISTS! "LUCY, has been identified by archeologists as having been our COMMON 'Grandma'some 4 million years ago in the 'Great Rift Valley''.Some 47 million years ago Neda associated us with the 'Bush Babies'and Lemurs of Madagascar ! By now the 'puritanical RACISTS must be have developed 'DOUBLE (Right and Left side) STROKES to hear that ! My apologies Ma''am for sounding so melodramatic !!
_dÁlbert Matlhoko ,

dAlbert M.
dAlbert M8 years ago

dÁlbert Matlhoko says,
Ofcourse 'BLACKS' as you refer to "THEM"over-react, DO ÖVER-REACT",EXACTLY THE WAY YOU ARE OVER-REACTING NOW , under circumstances even LESS AGGRAVATING TO YOU PERSONALLY because like me you are : -(i).Anonymous and not scrutinised by tthe World's Media day-and-night; (ii).You bare no 'Ultimate Social Responsibilities' to events that might develop momentum of their because LIKE ME, YOU ARE NOT A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES ! (iii).Your very language attests to the fact YOU ARE INDEED INTOLERANT and DO OVER-REACT, and where The Language used by the President of The United States was a little unfortuante, it was his ill-advised INTERVENTION that was even MORE UNFORTUNATE ! PERSONALLY, I,(dÁlbert Matlhoko) wish he had acted a little more prudently , and left it to "LESSER MORTALS LIKE YOU AND ME", COMMENT on the Professor Gates incident !
(iv).YOUR GENERALISATIONS about suppositions on "Black Behaviour" clearly reveals what your own clearly sterotyped, dangerously misinformed attitudes about "Blacks"are ! If Professor Gates (QUITE UNDERSTABLY IN HIS OWN OWN) reacted, ön the spur of the moment ( which I suspect YOU do more often than him) , it was NOT BECUASE HE WAS BLACK, because it was a "HOME OWNER BEIING APPRENDED IN HIS OWN HOME". by "LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS ENFORCING WHICH LAW ?? I suspected you are likely to have reacted in an even more vituperative manner than Professor Gates ! I (v).The President should

B. M.
Bette M8 years ago

Since Obama made this speech as a man who then sounded all fair to all.

I was wrong.

I was wrong in light of the Gates melodrama. Apparently Obama will stick up for his personal friend Gates before he knows all of what happened & he did so just because Gates is black. One believes their own before they even care to listen to the other side.

Isn't it possible blacks over react, flail, carry on, stomp, scream & become very aggitated all in the name of what they perceive as racism?

Seems that way & it is that way. And, the only difference between Obama & Gates is Obama has a much cooler demeanor & is in the spotlight all the time. And, Gates is on the fringe of those black elitest.

Isn't Obama supposed to be the president of all the people & not just to a select few among his own?

Plant trees for life.......................

Shannon S.
Shannon G8 years ago

Sir Walk...not all white americans are racist. It may be hard to believe but some people do not see color they see the person. If all whites were racist then we would not have so many inter-racial couples would we? The problem is that people will always go back to race when something happens to a person of color...why just use BO's latest statement of police officers acting stupidly without having all the facts. That my friend was racist lets call a spade a spade. Bring it if you are going to call me a racist, because you know what I am, racist against people like you lumping me into a category of a bunch of faceless people that you have never met. But then again, everyone has to have someone to hate and look down at because it makes you feel like less of a loser.

Delores Diamond
Delores Diamond8 years ago

Hooray for d'Alberts' commentary. Years back I had a young man who stayed with us for awhile and he himself did not like the word black.He use to laugh and say he was brown not black and I in return would say i had never really seen a pure white person either.We all have a pink or olive or other tints to our caucasion skin.As far as the term African American I only wish everyone could her the great Bill Cosby's remaks on that .
He has to be one of the most down to earth celeberties men I have ever heard .Too bad he didn't run for president.

B. M.
Bette M8 years ago

Never was B Mutiniy or bird whatever.

Sir Walk F.
Sir Walk F8 years ago

Oh, BM (formerly known as Bird Mutiny or something like that), it always is fun to read posts like yours below.

You really do lack the substance to comprehend the complex and multifaceted issues of race in this country.

Most "Blacks" recognize that Obama's Speech was actually FOR people like you, and not the black community in general.It was for white folks who dont understand the difficulties of being "Black" in the US, and who think that simplistic notions of "Self Determination" are the only thing holding them back from success.

So, yes, you are right. If a white person had said what Obama said it would indeed be racist, as well as classist (since thats all racism really is-classism) because that is the DEFINITION of RACISM.

Now, I know you like to think Racism just means "Bigotry", but that just isnt the case. Racism, BY DEFINITION, is INSTITUTIONALIZED BIGOTRY and CLASISM--not just one race disliking another.

So, Obama, as a member of the African American Community, DOES indeed have the opportunity to speak as an "insider" to that community.

Is that REALLY that hard for you to understand? Or are you just SOOOO mad that you cant say what he said without being (accurately) labeled a Racist?

See, the thing is |BM| (formerly B Mutiny), is that as white americans, we all ARE racist, so stop fighting it, and just accept it and move on!
Try again...

Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner8 years ago

I support the President. He ran a campaign on Change. I voted for Change. And now he is making Changes. Why is everyone so upset? Did you not believe him when he was running for the Presidency? Did you think it was going to be an easy cheap "wave the the Presidential wand" and everything was going to be "hunkey dory". Come on people wake up!!! We have someone fighting for the little guy now. Ohhh our childrens chlidren will be paying for it. Poor people and Middle Class people have suffered countless abuses from the rich historically and globaly. Finally someone is fighting for us the little guy and we complain. I believe the lower class and the middle class just like to complain. We really don't want Change we just want to complian. My 3 year acts more mature than most Americans right now. Don't listen to the Media, Republicans or Democrats. No one is going to let the USA fall off the map. We have a chance for respect. We have a chance to change things. Listen to the President. Read the Presidents Book "the Audacity or Hope". I believe he is the most genuine politician I have seen in my 40 years of life. Remember ALL business that include healthcare make trillions of dollars from us. Health care big business controls the Media, Republicans and Democrats. Health care big business wants Health Care reform destroyed because they will lose millions by giving us comprehensive affordible health care. If you can't see this point of view then we will lose.

B. M.
Bette M8 years ago

One of the things I find amazing is perception of what one sees & hear and want to believe for their own benefit or cause.

Let's suppose a white president said exactly all of what Obama said verbatim. He is & will be perceived a racist to some degree by blacks.

Obama's words/speech is heard as advice & a directive to everyone & blacks in paticular. He is not perceived a racist.

It is not at all racial, it is more about differences in perception, cultural differences & what many think they hear. Or, is it more about what they think they hear because of handed down thinking by the generations on either side of the color line?

I do believe Obama has bent over backwards to keep race out of his administration. But, we have people who want to misuse Obama's presence in office for their own agenda's, and that does include blacks.

Obama must serve all of us and not just those who scream & holler the loudest.

Plant trees for life on earth........

P.S. If I've put my foot in my mouth between the two posted comments made then just sometime we all have dual thoughts on any one subject.

Mary B.
Mary B8 years ago

Liza King, it's no wonder you are sick to your stomach.Even Your body is repulsed by the hatred and lies you are spreading.You can't even tell a stereo-type from real life people.The garbage you're believing and spewing goes beyond just a difference of opinion. Your intent is ill will to all in the lower income brackets because you think they are the ones who have 'been takeing'. You would not have what you have if those who were paid less for their work were paid more.The lies are being exposed so I'm not surprised people like you are frantic.Not only are you going to have to face that you've been duped, but you may well find yourself living in poverty , working 2 jobs just to keep a roof over your head, with no health care, and a welfare system that is not the cushy free ride for freeloaders you, in your arogant stupidity thinks it is. You think Obamas the Devil? Take a look in the mirror, honey. And by the way, I'm a white, middle aged low income woman who has managed to do more with pocket change than uncreative whiners like you could even imagine.