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Michael Gerson: Obama's race speech was needed, but it didn't go far enough

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  • Bob K porland, OR
    July 24, 2013 12:38 a.m.

    Fine but fails to cite Mr Obama's main obstacles in bringing up race himself, rather than relying on Congress to do its job on the subject.
    1-- if you read comments, including those on DN articles, you read over and over direct or indirect reference to his only caring about Black people. Millions of Americans believe what my cousin said in 2008: "When the Blacks get in, they give everything away to each other" Even his recent statements brought many of those comments.
    2-- the present Republican strategy of doing whatever is necessary to have him fail means that the same things get debated over and over (I think the House has taken 37 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act), so it is hard to introduce more programs.
    3-- let's get real about race: when Republican figures kept saying he was Kenyan, when one suggested that Mrs Obama (a stellar first lady) is related to gorillas. (get the point?)

    Is it not disingenuous of this paper, in a Stete which elects people who want to stop him at every turn, to suggest he ought to do more, rather than noticing that co-operating with the President is the American Way?

  • SLars Provo, UT
    July 24, 2013 2:10 a.m.

    "Social divisions are deepest when it comes to African-American boys and young men:"

    One of the biggest problems for young black men is finding a job. The Black American Leadership Conference has called upon the President and congress to stop the "Immigration reform". It will only make life more difficult for this group. Obama needs to look in the mirror to and hear the door click to realize he is part of the problem.

  • Edgar Samaria, ID
    July 24, 2013 6:30 a.m.

    Michael Gerson properly identifies a paradox in which the president has found himself since the day he took office. As the nations first African American president should he use his standing to agressively address the long standing divisiveness that continues to plague our country 150 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Should the president have been more forceful in his first term in talking about race relations in America? I would suggest that even Mr. Gerson would have been critical of him for doing so because there were so many other issues afflicting the nation - especialy the economy - that his focusing on race - a subject for which he is more qualfied to speak than any president before him - those who have proven to be his reliable enemies would have used that as an indication that race relations was all he cared about.

    The Travon Martin case was settled by a jury. George Zimmerman will not be tried again, no matter how much protest there is across the nation. Nothing can be done to bring Travon back to life. But that case can provide a context for further discussion about race in America. The conversation should continue.

  • Beverly Eden, UT
    July 24, 2013 7:54 a.m.

    On average, more young African American men live in poverty, are under-educated, are raised by a single parent, and are unemployed than whites or Hispanics. These statistics amount to a formula for criminal conduct. Our solution has been tougher and tougher criminal penalties - that have filled our prisons with young African American men. It cost more to send a person to prison than it does to send them to Harvard University. Every American, every year, pays over $4,000. for our criminal justice system. We can and should do better.

  • Joan Watson TWIN FALLS, ID
    July 24, 2013 8:05 a.m.

    President Obamas' address to the nation certainly did not go far enough! It was in fact a 'poor me because I am black' excuse, sympathy, and cover.

  • happy2bhere clearfield, UT
    July 24, 2013 8:50 a.m.

    This is an African American problem, and they are the only ones that can solve it. Why? Well when white Americans try to offer any solutions, they are called all the names, insensitive, out of touch, and even racist, for the opinions they may have. I saw that on a news show last night. A white journalist asking and offering answers to a black leader, and the only thing the black leader could say was, we have to have a conversation about these issues, implying the white guy didn't know what he was talking about. Many in the black community seem to want to hold onto the past rather than change what can be changed, namely the future. Unless a time machine is invented and slavery is changed from American history, the black community is always going to have that in their past. What good does it do for them to continue to focas on what they can't change instead of changing what they can?

  • JoeCapitalist2 Orem, UT
    July 24, 2013 8:57 a.m.

    Every young black American needs to hear the message loud and clear that respect is something that must be earned. While it may not be someone's fault that they were born into a poor household, never knew their father, and were raised by their grandmother because their mother was still a child herself, that is not an excuse for a life of crime, dropping out of school, and perpetual government handouts.

    Unfortunately, the media, the community, and President Obama do not want to deliver them that message. They are constantly told that they are victims and that it is someone else's fault that they are in their current condition.

    As a Mormon, I always knew that there were a lot of people out there who would dislike me and treat me poorly just because I was a member of the church. But I was always taught to "live my life so that they don't have an excuse for treating me that way". If every young black person had that message engrained in them, most of the problems facing the black community would disappear.

  • Craig Clark Boulder, CO
    July 24, 2013 9:09 a.m.

    Being America’s first African-American President is deeper than Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. But there is a corollary in that both Robinson and Obama were painfully aware of the historic significance and felt under pressure to get it right lest their failure have a damaging effect for their race.

    Obama came into office knowing that he was to be President of all the people, not just African-Americans. A civil rights activist or any other kind of activist can afford the luxury of speaking out openly on a single issue. Boat rockers serve a useful purpose in society. But a President must be a boat steadier. Overall, I believe Obama has tried hard and succeeded in striking the right balance.

  • Lowonoil Clearfield, UT
    July 24, 2013 10:17 a.m.

    "Typically, President Obama's 18-minute remarks did not aspire to memorable rhetoric."

    This statement struck me as funny because it reminded me that his predecessor's rhetoric is memorable only because it was comedy gold.

  • wrz Pheonix, AZ
    July 24, 2013 10:24 a.m.

    "The problem of African-American boys and young men is a complex mix of lingering racial prejudice..."

    No. The problem with African-American boys and young men is they still refer to themselves as 'African-American.' They are American. They should drop the 'African' and identify themselves as American and things will vastly improve. None of them, zero, nil, nada, were born in Africa. The main cause of segregation is the continued use of references as a segregated community.

    "...urban economic dislocation..."

    Whaaat?

    "...collapsing family structure..."

    Now you're onto something. Seventy-three percent of all Black births are out-of-wedlock. You wanna see disaster when these babies grow to young manhood? That's the cause. They have no father in the home to add discipline and direction of young lives into avenues of success and social acceptance. Instead they learn the fine art of forming into gangs, robbing others, drugs, and killing themselves as we can see happening in Chicago.

    "...failing schools..."

    Schools are not failing. What's failing are families supporting the schools, disciplining school children, insisting on a thorough and complete education.

    "...and sick, atomized communities."

    Whaaat?

  • Alfred Pheonix, AZ
    July 24, 2013 11:03 a.m.

    @Beverly:
    "We can and should do better."

    Perhaps you can supply ideas of ways we can do better.

    And perhaps I can help you... Cohesive families with a married father and mother are the root of a civilized society. The black family society has hit rock bottom... becoming nonexistent. Their leaders, including our black president, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton. et.al., should step up and provide solutions. But no... they sit back to moan and complain about mistreatment. And the president, when he has an opportunity to address the situation, completely fumbled it. They want to perpetuate their condition for some reason.

    @happy2bhere:
    "Well when white Americans try to offer any solutions, they are called all the names, insensitive, out of touch, and even racist, for the opinions they may have."

    Black Americans don't want solutions. They want sympathy. And some, like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton don't wanna jeopardize their money making schemes from racism and segregation.

    "I saw that on a news show last night. A white journalist asking and offering answers to a black leader..."

    I saw it too... Bill O'Reilly's The Factor. They don't want answers.

  • SCfan clearfield, UT
    July 24, 2013 11:11 a.m.

    Lowonoil

    You want comedy gold? Obama and Biden have said things that even the writers on Saturday Night Live could not have thought of. More like comedy platinum.

  • Lowonoil Clearfield, UT
    July 24, 2013 11:42 a.m.

    "You want comedy gold? Obama and Biden have said things that even the writers on Saturday Night Live could not have thought of. More like comedy platinum."

    I'm sure that's true and we could trade examples all day, but I really must get off the internets and get back to putting food on my family.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    July 24, 2013 12:08 p.m.

    Gerson is not dealing with the reality of the massive opposition Obama encountered when he became president. Any focus on race issues by Obama would've hyper-charged the atmosphere.

    It will be interesting to see what Obama does once he is no longer president.

    Re:JoeCapitalist2
    "As a Mormon, I always knew that there were a lot of people out there who would dislike me and treat me poorly just because I was a member of the church. "

    And how could one tell you were Mormon? By the color of your skin? Are you asked for ID whenever you go to visit your parents living inside a gated community? When you are pulled over by police (while adhering to the speed limit) do they search your car? Are you followed when you go in stores?

    Sorry, being Mormon isn't akin to discrimination based on skin color. What an ironic comment coming from a member of (our) church which once discriminated against blacks.

    However,
    Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison recently recounted what he told his children. He told them their (paraphrasing) behaivor has to be better than average--exemplary--to make it easier for those who come behind them.

  • happy2bhere clearfield, UT
    July 24, 2013 12:46 p.m.

    Lowonoil

    Please don't put the food "on" your family, it would be better used in them. And by the way, if you really are low on oil, then Big Oil ought to be just the ticket. Maybe you are really low on green energy.

    Truthseeker

    Being identified as a Mormon is very easy if one is representing the Church and living the standards. JoeCap was referring to people who know him, not necessarily strangers. And the last time I read it, discrimination based on race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, ect.... was all considered the same. So, yes it is akin to being discriminated by skin color. At least as far as the federal government is concerned.

  • tenx Santa Clara, UT
    July 24, 2013 1:38 p.m.

    If BO would stop stirring the racial pot things would get better not worse. He needs to get busy creating some jobs for Blacks especially those in the 25-30% unemployment rate. Jobs not rhetoric.

  • FT1/SS Virginia Beach, VA
    July 24, 2013 2:33 p.m.

    The speech was designed to riled up his supporters, and make the country forget about his scandals. The biggest problem the black community has, is the black leadership. They acomplish very little for them.

  • JoeCapitalist2 Orem, UT
    July 24, 2013 2:34 p.m.

    Truthseeker who said "Sorry, being Mormon isn't akin to discrimination based on skin color." (I guess because strangers can't necessarily tell I am Mormon right away just from looking at me)

    I'm not sure, but it seems like in the past you have railed on people for descriminating against gays and denying them civil rights and compared it to racial descrimination. Since not everyone can always tell who is gay and who is not just by looking at them, are you going to use this same argument there? Or do you want it both ways?

  • Lowonoil Clearfield, UT
    July 24, 2013 2:38 p.m.

    happy2bhere: "Please don't put the food "on" your family, it would be better used in them."

    I guess not everyone recognized I was speaking in Bushisms.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    July 24, 2013 3:51 p.m.

    I am bewildered by some of these comments.... stuff like "If BO would stop stirring the racial pot things would get better not worse."

    Two things here... it is highly unlikely this person even listened to the speech other than some small snippets.... and second, exactly how often has Obama raised up race? When was the last time before this?

    In fact, in his speech, he said race issues is not something that government can effectively deal with. What - did Fox/name your conservative infotainment outlet not play that clip?

    The only people who are inserting race comments here ... are the posters here. Obama simply stated some simple facts about growing up black. Just like when I was young, most of my peers had some level of belief that Mormons still practiced polygamy.

    For complexionly challenged people to even pretend to think they know what it is like to grow up black is as strange as a Hindu saying they know what it is like to be a mormon.... because they saw an interview on TV. Whites people... ( an bizarre term) are just as good as placing the race-bating game as are blacks (equally bizarre term).

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    July 24, 2013 4:13 p.m.

    re:JoeCapitalist2

    The issue with gays primarily involves same-sex marriage--equal treatment under the law, allowing gays the same federal and state benefits given to married heterosexual people and rights against discrimination. Until recently, if a gay marine mentioned he had a boyfriend, it was grounds for discharge. Blacks (and women) were denied rights under the law which was changed with the 15th/19th Amendments and the Civil Rights Act.

    Despite the evolution of laws we still have problems of racism and prejudice in our society. The election of Obama--while a big milestone--also exposed the ugly racism that still exists. There's a difference between criticism of policies/procedure and perpetuating conspiracy theories about one's citizenship/country of birth. Racism isn't confined to just black people. White people can be victims of racism--I've experienced it first hand--once. Unlike people who are brown or black, mostly my family can live free of being judged by the color of our skin.

    We have a shameful history in our country when it comes to the treatment of minorities--American Indians, Japanese, Latinos and African Americans. Early on, Mormons also experienced prejudice/fear.

  • Darrel Eagle Mountain, UT
    July 24, 2013 4:50 p.m.

    I listened to his speech it was very well reasoned and thought out.

    He explained that the accused had a right to trial by jury, the jury was properly instructed and acquitted. That was the final say.

    He said he didn't think a national discussion on racism was necessary because it wouldn't be productive, and largely he was right.

    There was no rile up the crowd, the speech was given in a very matter of fact way of speaking.

    If you disagree, please cite your reasons.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    July 24, 2013 5:02 p.m.

    re:JoeCapitalist2

    The issue with gays primarily involves same-sex marriage--equal treatment under the law, allowing gays the same federal and state benefits given to married heterosexual people and rights against discrimination. Until recently, if a gay marine mentioned he had a boyfriend, it was grounds for discharge. Blacks (and women) were denied rights under the law which was changed with the 15th/19th Amendments and the Civil Rights Act.

    Despite the evolution of laws we still have problems of racism and prejudice in our society. The election of Obama--while a big milestone--also exposed the ugly racism that still exists. There's a difference between criticism of policies/procedure and perpetuating conspiracy theories about one's citizenship/country of birth. Racism isn't confined to just black people. White people can be victims of racism--I've experienced it first hand--once. Unlike people who are brown or black, mostly my family can live free of being judged by the color of our skin.

    We have a shameful history in our country when it comes to the treatment of minorities--American Indians, Japanese, Latinos and African Americans. Early on, Mormons also experienced prejudice/fear.

  • Badgerbadger Murray, UT
    July 24, 2013 5:33 p.m.

    I guess the message I got from the president's speech was different than others.

    I heard that really unfair things happen to African Americans, and when African Americans do really unfair violence on total strangers who are white, we need to be understanding. This was 90% of what he talked about. The 10% talking about the verdict and being guardedly supportive of the jury, just seemed very underdone.

    I guess I just wanted to hear him say that beating up people for being white is just as wrong as beating up people for being black. But that message was completely absent.

    Alfred is right. They don't want answers. The activists just want to nurse their anger and hate, and tell us they are justified in it.

  • Miss Piggie Pheonix, AZ
    July 24, 2013 7:34 p.m.

    @Truthseeker:
    "We have a shameful history in our country when it comes to the treatment of minorities--American Indians, Japanese, Latinos and African Americans. Early on, Mormons also experienced prejudice/fear."

    Ask yourself where many of those minorities would be had they not come (or been brought) to America. For example, the NFL and NBA are full of minorities making millions with millions of admiring fans. Would they be playing football/basketball living in expansive houses and driving expensive cars in Africa?

  • Tekakaromatagi Dammam, Saudi Arabia
    July 24, 2013 9:47 p.m.

    @Miss Piggie:
    I respectfully disagree with your comments that blacks playing in the NFL and NBA should be thankful that their ancestors were stolen from Africa and brought to the US. At most, they should be thankful for their ancestors who suffered and that should build in them a desire to succeed. But they should not be thankful for the people or the system that did it to them. What was done to their ancestors was slimy and despicable. I don't know the statistic, but something like half the people who were brought over on slave ships died in passage.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    July 25, 2013 6:29 a.m.

    @badger.... where did Obama say "I heard that really unfair things happen to African Americans, and when African Americans do really unfair violence on total strangers who are white, we need to be understanding.?

    Please.... how did you interpret that from that speech? Where, anywhere did he talk about crimes between races? I would love to understand what part of the speech you drew this from.

  • Mickey Kovars Tampa, FL
    July 25, 2013 3:33 p.m.

    Once young black men stop being responsible for a wildly disproportionate percentage of street crime, people will stop being afraid of them and the problem will take care of itself. However, as long as 70% of them are born out of wedlock and are growing up without fathers, the problem will only get worse. The black community has to get its own house in order, and that means bringing back intact families, and probably God. White people can't make this happen, but Obama could do much more than he has done to help this process along.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    July 27, 2013 7:58 a.m.

    Mickey.... I completely agree with you.... the problem does need to be fixed within the african american community. The good news is the percentage of blacks living "middle class" lives continues to expand... and except poverty.

    But because the media loves stuff like this so much, it is not hard to see how a young black man can feel that the justice system does not operate the same for them, as it does for others. There are numbers to back some of this up.... when you compare outcomes of trials. So perceived, or real, there is this perception in balance in the justice system.

    But you also need to remember that this is the same state that found a young mother innocent of killer her daughter - when just about everyone felt she had responsibility. Somehow that trail was able to fade into our memories.... while the media love to fed the flames of racism.