WASHINGTON: Barack Obama visited a predominantly black college Saturday, making the case that the last decades and his presidency had brought substantial improvements for African-Americans.
Acknowledging that more needs to be done to reduce inequality, Obama took head-on the issue of race relations that have sometimes appeared to fester under his administration.
Since Obama came to office in 2009 as the first African-American President, a strain of opposition to him has emerged that often appears racially driven.
Meanwhile, cities from Ferguson, Missouri to Baltimore, Maryland have exploded amid the killing of young black men at the hands of white police officers.
African-American men are still far more likely to have served time in jail and to earn less than their white peers.
But Obama insisted progress had been made. “America is by almost every measure better than it was when I graduated from college,” he said, looking back to 1983. “Race relations are better since I graduated. That’s the truth. No, my election did not create a post-racial society, but the election itself and the subsequent one — because the first one, folks might have made a mistake… was just one indicator of how attitudes have changed.”
“Racism persists. Inequality persists,” he told graduating students at Washington’s Howard University, while offering a litany of examples of how things had changed for the better.
“When I was graduating, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T,” the burly, Mohawk-wearing former professional wrestler. “Rap and hip-hop were counter-culture, underground. Now, Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night, and Beyonce runs the world. We’re no longer entertainers, we’re producers, studio executives. No longer small-business owners, we’re CEOs, we’re mayors, representatives, Presidents of the United States.”
In a nod to the lingering problems that have spurred the Black Lives Matter movement, Obama insisted that anger at injustice was not enough.
“You have to go through life with more than just passion for change,” he stressed. “You need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion [but]you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness but action. Not just hashtags but votes. You see, change requires more than righteous anger.”
There was also a call for young black graduates to put themselves in the minds of others, police officers who may have bias or “the middle-aged white guy” who “you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change and feels powerless to stop it.”
“You got to get in his head, too,” he said.
Amid an election that has seen millions of white Republican voters embrace Donald Trump’s populist message, Obama tried to offer a strategy.
“There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view or disrupt a politician’s rally,” he said. “Don’t do that. No matter how ridiculous or offensive. My grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk.” AFP