During President Obama’s touching farewell speech in Chicago on Tuesday evening, the president took a rare pause to reflect on the state of race in America, making several strong statements that until now, he had kept a safe distance from.
The president led up to his comments by calling on people of all stripes in the U.S. to try and see others’ experiences, even calling on people of color to try and find allies in White America, a tall order.
The president said that those in power often seek to divide and dominate by forcing the have-nots to fight among themselves, pitting poor whites and poor blacks in opposition when they could really be uniting against the elites who put them both at a disadvantage.
“For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.
We have to pay attention and listen.”
Then, the president launched into a defense of minority groups who have begged, pleaded, fought, and died for the simple equality that the rest in America expect and know. The president said that when a black person asks for equality, that is not a cry for “political correctness,” but merely equal treatment.
“For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”
Despite being bi-racial, or maybe because of it, President Obama has been careful during his eight years not to make “too much” about racial issues in the interest of maintaining the peace. Of course, now that racist Donald Trump has won the presidency, it’s clear to see that Obama should have charged ahead anyway, racist outcry be damned.
At least now, in his final days, he has addressed the elephant in the room and given a rousing call to action to both sides of the conversation, calling on all of us to seek unity, rather than division.
Pres. Obama on race relations: “We’re not where we need to be, and all of us have more work to do.” https://t.co/QvaUrNoJXq
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 11, 2017