Politics

President Obama Says, ‘Post Racial’ America Was ‘Never Realistic’

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By Hazel Trice Edney

(TriceEdneyWire.com)In a tearful televised address before a passionate and exuberant crowd of 18,000 in Chicago, President Barack Obama gave his departing speech Tuesday night, imploring African Americans and others of diverse races and backgrounds to empathize with each other for a “more perfect union.”

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

Amidst the pain of racism and discrimination for Blacks and other minorities, the president’s departing message was that among the clearest strategies for progress is the ability for all people to change their hearts toward each other.

“For Blacks and other minority groups, it 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 advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change.  We have to pay attention, and listen,” the President said to applause. “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.”

With thousands in the audience at the McCormick Place convention center in his adopted hometown of Chicago and millions more watching via television, President Obama came full circle, discounting any notion of the so-called “post-racial” America that was discussed when he was first elected eight years ago. These years have been marked by some of the worst racial strife since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, largely due to the rise in hate and White supremacy groups in response to his election and to the increase in videotaped police shootings of Black people.

“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America.  And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.  Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.  Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say,” he said.  “But we’re not where we need to be.  And all of us have more work to do,” he said to applause.

The incoming Republican President-elect Donald Trump is among those who exacerbated racial tensions during the Obama years. During his candidacy, which was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, Trump never apologized for his long-held contention that Obama was born in Kenya, though he did finally acknowledge his birthplace of Hawaii.  Trump’s public mockery of the handicapped, women, prisoners of war, Muslims, Hispanics and others fanned fumes that hate experts, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, now credit for more than a thousand race hate incidents since his election.

But, Trump appeared to change his tune after his election and his first meeting with Obama. He publicly called President Obama a “great man” and said he would seek his counsel after a victory speech in which Trump called for the country to unite. Likewise, Obama, taking the high road after campaigning vigorously for his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has repeatedly said his greatest desire now is a “peaceful transfer of power” — a tenet of American democracy.

Eroding race relations was one of three threats to democracy” that President Obama focused on in his final speech to the nation. Though some pundits expected him to boast on his record of accomplishments, he mainly dealt with those issues that represent those threats and outlined ways to progress.

The other two threats he outlined were the mixtures of terrorism and economic deprivation, such as during the season of Sept. 11, 2001 and the separation of ideas without compromise.

“Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders argued.  They quarreled.  Eventually they compromised.  They expected us to do the same.  But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one,” he said.

He described Sept. 11, 2001: “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.  And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.  In other words, it will determine our future.”

First Lady Michelle Obama looked on from the audience with their older daughter, Malia, beside her. Sasha, the younger daughter, was home studying for a science test, the White House reported.

Obama’s most emotional moment appeared to be when he looked out into the audience and spoke of his family. It was a moment punctuated by applause that followed every other sentence.

“Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side for the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humor.  You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.  And the new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.  So you have made me proud.  And you have made the country proud,” he said to fervent applause.

“Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women.  You are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion. You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily.  Of all that I’ve done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.”

First Lady Michelle has said she will continue to work to improve the education of girls around the world as well as continue her nutrition and health projects. The President has not been specific, but promised that he will continue to work for America’s democracy. Meanwhile he appealed to all Americans to look within.

“Hearts must change.  It won’t change overnight.  Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change.  But if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us needs to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch —who said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” he said.

He concluded, “My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.  I won’t stop.  In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.  But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.  I’m asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours. I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:  Yes, we can.”

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