Saturday, July 18, 2009

Obama urges black Americans to aim for higher goals.

It was a similar theme to the one which he took with him to Ghana. It's the notion that bad things might have been done to you - and I will help you overcome that - but, somewhere down the line, you must make sure that you don't use your legitimate grievances as a way of holding yourselves back by always blaming those who oppressed you for the position you know find yourselves in.

The difference here is that Obama was making this speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), on its hundredth anniversary.

Again, it was a speech which only he could have made.

"No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands, and don't you forget that. That's what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. No excuses," he said. "We need a new mindset, a new set of attitudes - because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way that we have internalised a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little of ourselves."
He touched on all of this several times during his election campaign, this notion that years of prejudice has allowed black citizens to lower their expectations and to blame prejudice for their every failure. And, in a similar theme to the one which he laid out in Ghana, Obama is saying that he can level the playing field, but that individuals need to step up to the plate.

Obama also urged African-American parents to raise their children's expectations by looking beyond dreams of becoming basketball players or rappers.

"They might think they've got a pretty jump shot or a pretty good flow but our kids can't all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a supreme court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States of America," he said.

Obama did not shy away from addressing some of the modern ills that have contributed to keeping many African-Americans in poverty and making life a struggle for others, such as unemployment and the housing crisis. The president said that he was not attempting to suggest that racism and discrimination, and its consequences, no longer matter.

"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's probably never been less discrimination in America than there is today. But make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America," he said. "By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."

But, Obama said, change in the past had come from people taking the initiative and standing up to injustice.

"We have 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 neighbourhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not. But that's not a reason to get bad grades, that's not a reason to cut class, that's not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school."

As I say, it's a speech which no previous president could ever have made. Just as no previous president could have made the speech which Obama gave in Ghana.

He's saying it as clearly as he can: "No excuses, no excuses". Yes, there has been and there still remains real discrimination in some quarters against blacks in the United States. But lowering one's expectations because of that only hands victory to the bigots. Defy them, he appears to be saying. When they try to hold you down, aim even higher.

Confound their low expectations of you, and don't for God's sake allow it to become part of your mindset.

Only he could say this and be applauded for saying it. Because he is the perfect example of the theory which he is espousing.

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