Obama NAACP Speech

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sherrilyn Ifill, civil rights lawyer, University of Maryland law professor and author of The Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century, offers analysis of the NAACP centennial and President Obama's speech. Read The Speech Transcript Here


Sherrilyn Ifill

Comments [53]

mj from NYC

Great Obama - now come up to my neighborhood (125th and Lex Ave) and give that speech where it is really really needed. Not sure you had the right audience for your speech, as the NAACP already gets it.

Jul. 19 2009 11:37 PM
Owen from Oakland, CA

What makes this different from the Cosby comments is the tone, the language. Cosby was audibly full of contempt and even hate for his audience, while Obama was speaking from a place of love and solidarity.

Jul. 17 2009 01:36 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Williamsburgh, Brooklyn

walked by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue late yesterday afternoon and saw lots of cops and people near it. The cops were talking to passers by and the people were holding up their cell phones to take pictures. President Obama has come to town to give a speech to the NAAPC at the Hilton. I had a strange sort of thought: Wouldn’t it be great if he could stand in line with me and the other people at the soup kitchen on 51st. between Park and Lexington? He could share one of our white plastic bag meals and talk to us, listen to our stories. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg could join him and give him a tour of the church. The St. Bart’s soup kitchen is only a block away from the Waldorf. I know the NAAPC is important, but when will our turn to be seen come? We are sometimes paid a little bit of attention, but not much. Many of us have been homeless; some are still homeless, pushing carts all over town with large plastic bags full of Pepsi and Coca Cola bottles to trade for a few dollars. Even if you have been without a home for a short period of time, it’s still a bad and horrible thing to go through. The experience leaves a mark that, in many cases, cannot be erased, even if you later are lucky enough to get back on your feet.

Jul. 17 2009 12:34 PM
Irina from NJ

My qiestion to Cornell Green from NYC

I came from Russia in 1987. My ansestors were slaves. If you don't know, slavery was over in Russia only 4 years earlier than in America. I don't whant to talk about represions in russian history. (asked to be brief).Now I'm american citizen. What did I do to you? Why I'm responsible?

Jul. 17 2009 12:31 PM
Glenn from Manhattan

How about black kids who deride or exclude from their groups other blacks who try to make something of themselves, be the best they can be, and get good grades, etc? I see it every day.

Jul. 17 2009 11:30 AM
Dennis from Toms River, NJ

As an African American male I found myself in agreement with much President Obama had to say last night. Here are a few of my thoughts about the speech;
1)I absolutely agree that African Americans certainly must take much responsibility for the paths we choose in our lives, and the corresponding results of those choices.
2)The structural inequalities that have been created by America's system of skin privilege that effects all non-whites (and whites to a much lesser degree) is alive and well. Those who still benefit from this system must be continuously reminded that until these inequalities are eliminated Utopian ideas of a "post-racial" America are short-sighted, hypocritical, and frankly ridiculous.
3)All African Americans and other persons of color have ever wanted was the same thing white Americans have had in spades; The chance to succeed or fail miserably solely on our own merits. You know, to be "human" in a supposedly enlightened society.

Jul. 17 2009 11:18 AM
lawrence from scotch plains, nj

Lawrence from Scotch Plains, NJ

I was brought up liberal, I am a white male. Obama's speech did not address prejudices of african-americans towards whites, or other ethnicities. I guess they are still entitled to excuses for those attitudes.

Jul. 17 2009 10:58 AM
doris serheev from piscataway, nj

I would ask Obama where is the child care?
How many people need to work in the family just to get by? My daughter's mortgage and property taxes are constantly going up so they've decided they can't have more than one child? This is America of the future?


Jul. 17 2009 10:56 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

hey "cornell green from nyc"-
you are the problem whether you know it nor not. most white people in this country have absolutely NOTHING to do with slavery, jim crow laws, etc...immigrants that came here had NOTHING to do with those evil institutions. as long as you think of whites as the "bad guys" then you will always have a SELF-OPPRESSED community. do you think some mexican guy who fought to get here and works 3 jobs is a racist?

Jul. 17 2009 10:55 AM

while there are structural issues- racismi is certainly not what it once was. when young black men use the word "nigger" evry 5th or 6th word and can pull their pants above their penises, that's a problem that you can't just easily blame on "the man". those people aren't going anywhere in life and don't respect themselves. where does that come from??

Obama's comments that not every kid can grow up to be a rapper or basketball player are appropriate, for example. why must white and black liberals get so offended by anything which asks something of the black community?? and I say that as someone who is very liberal...

what I heard of the end of the NAACP speech by Obama was fantastic. why have you not played the last minute or two- that was clearly the best part?

Jul. 17 2009 10:55 AM
Robert from NYC

So we'll never find out if the Ifills are sister?

Jul. 17 2009 10:55 AM
Steven Mark from Manhattan UES

There will come a point where the "No excuses" mantra will necessitate a reduction in programs that tend to help the African Ameriican community. After all, at some point it is a lack of responsibility and not a lack of resources that will hold people back. But Pres. Obama is the Phillipe Petit of speakers.

Jul. 17 2009 10:53 AM
Tara from New York, NY

What is up w/the fake southern baptist preacher accent? He needs to quit that!

Jul. 17 2009 10:53 AM
Doug from Inwood

Everybody keeps saying that Obama was "preaching." To my ears, he sounded like a guy who grew up in Hawaii shouting at the top of his lungs.

Jul. 17 2009 10:53 AM
aliveinNJ from New Jersey

I found the President's speech to be balanced and vintage Obama--praise for an expanding American democracy and progress and clear awareness of work yet to be done. On the other hand, the analysis reminds of congregational response to the Sunday service where the listeners pick and choose the parts that apply to the "other" sinner. For example, one white male TV commentator was angry that the President wasted twenty minutes before he began his "lecture" until twenty minutes into the speech! It remains true, we hear what fits our presuppositions. The president was speaking to all Americans!

Jul. 17 2009 10:51 AM
Albert K.Cooper from Queens

The president's speech is right on the money. It targets all Americans. Look here, the speech comes on the heels of the comptroller report of the massive and dispropotionate impact the recession is having on African-American. Look here racism is alive and well in America even in NYC. One can understand the impact of the recession on all Americans but there is no honest explanation for the dispropotional (167% increase)impact on this segment of the population. The fact is that in good times, African Americans through the door last and when things get bad they go out first- That is just how things work in our society. The solution is exactly what the president implies in his speech - Personal responsibility, creat your own jobs, control you own community,family .

Jul. 17 2009 10:51 AM
Sheldon from Crown Heights

Derided by who exactly? Actually, most Blacks (privately) agree with Obama and for that matter, Bill Cosby's views of self initiative and personal responsibility. It's only a large percentage of black elites, intellectuals and activists who have a collective interest in keeping the status quo, (note: Jesse Jackson's off the cuff comment on Obama's privates 6 months ago.) The same ambivalence exists for black on black crime. It's always much easier to blame "outside" forces at fundraisers and election campaigns.

Jul. 17 2009 10:50 AM
Jane Byron from Morris Plains, NJ

I lived in Camden NJ when a small group of middle class people was trying to bring the city back to life. I am white and at the time was a single mother of a newborn. I was surrounded by many households headed by single African American women. I rarely saw real disciplining of a child, although I saw plenty of "whoopings." I imagine that the African Americans who are rolling their eyes at the president are much like my neighbors, who thought I was silly for teaching my toddler manners and for putting her to bed at the same time every night.

Jul. 17 2009 10:48 AM
Audrey Montas from Bronx

It is not enough to just tell people that they have to be responsible for themselves and their children. As a high school teacher, there is nothing he has said that my colleagues and I have not already said directly to this population.

Jul. 17 2009 10:46 AM
CBrown from Brooklyn

I've only heard clips of Obama's speech, and for that matter I only heard clips of Cosby's speech. But my recollection of Cosby's speech is that, while I actually agreed with his sentiments, he came off as a cranky old man, ranting about that new-fangled hipity-hopity music and ridiculing black names. Whereas President Obama sounds like he's delivering the same points but with respect and specificity and hope.

Jul. 17 2009 10:46 AM
Paul from Brooklyn

Where does the personal responsibility thing end? Did the black man in south Texas in 1927 who looked at his boss' wife with a knowing glance (in this example a small act of defiance, perhaps), fully aware of the POTENTIAL consequences of such an action, deserve his death by lynching? It's much easier to blame people for actions that look stupid in retrospect because we know their consequences now than to examine complex power arrangements that exist to maintain the status quo.

Jul. 17 2009 10:46 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

what president obabma characterized last night is the crux of the problem with the black community whether black people want to believe it or not. it's a vicious cycle of kids having kids having kids and so on etc,etc...there is a problem and it's getting worse every day. these kids on the street don't care about anything or anyone else around them and why should they? no one in their life ever told them how to act like a responsible person in society. but the first thing that must be pushed is birth control and ending the ridiculous amount of single mothers in this community. end that behavior and move on to the next bad behavior next.

Jul. 17 2009 10:45 AM
Cornell Green from New York City

I find it... interesting that public discussions of race and responsibility in America almost universally ignore the SOURCE of racism, discrimination, and race-based violence.

Instead, even on NPR, we hear about how whites are tired of being the bad guy, instead of addreassing the simple truth that, as far as lynching, redlining, and blatant "whites only" discriminatory practices, policies and legislation - they *are* the bad guys.

"Race" relations in America will never be resolved until we stop just asking how the victims of discrimination will "deal with it now that it's over", and hold the DISCRIMINATORS publicly, legally and morally responsible.

Jul. 17 2009 10:45 AM
eastvillage from nyc

One curiosity about Pres. Obama is he did not grow up as typical african american male in the United States. He didn't mention the parenting he recieved from his two white grandparents and that growing up in Hawaii as a person of color is quite different, in beneficial way, than growing up in Chicago or New York, or Houston or LA. His was a unique and appearantly nourishing upbringing without the many problems, the very blatent racism in America, most african americans are faced with during their youth and, as well, when they become parents.

Jul. 17 2009 10:44 AM
Claire Kimball from White Plains

The "no excuses" comments from President Obama reflect what every African-American person I know say among ourselves. Many people, though, feel that positions such as this should not be articulated in "mixed" company. That is unfortunate because these issues need to be "outed" in order to be addressed fully. I hope Obama keeps up this dialog.

Jul. 17 2009 10:44 AM
Jaimito from Alamos, Mexico

If the phones don't work again i think Brian should just do his Cosby impression for the rest of the hour.

Jul. 17 2009 10:42 AM
Anderson from Richmond Hill

Cosby was a horrible messenger! Nothing has changed. The message is still the same the messenger has changed. Cosby was derided because he was a horrible messenger. Badillo said a similar thing to Latinos. And when Judge Sonia gets up and says immersion is the way to go, we are going to get immersion.

It is always the messenger!

Jul. 17 2009 10:42 AM
Dag Sheepshanks from Brooklyn

You can give him as many accolades as you want but unless there is some capitulation on the other side with respect as to WHY these black males are under-performing to such a great extent then that is all that will ever be accomplished. Great Speeches.

I personally know the point Obama is trying to make but I m tired of the condescension present in the oratory. I dont need to be scolded to.

Jul. 17 2009 10:41 AM
ivan from nyc



Jul. 17 2009 10:41 AM
Miles Hunter from Newark, N.J.

I'm a 41 year old life member of the NAACP and found the President's speech appropriate for the moment and in support of the 100th anniversary of the organization. The call for personal responsibility, continued sacrifice and hard work is a message that should be continued to be preached. We all acknowledge the existence and impact of racism and class on African-Americans, but the solution is not to let those oppressions keep anyone from achieving.

No excuses is right for this time, in spite of the recent successes and achievements. I only wished that the President spoke more about opening small businesses and self-employment as a way to make economic improvements in this down economy.

Jul. 17 2009 10:41 AM
Pat from Maplewood

Not only is it true that we as parents must take full responsibility, but it"s politically astute of Obama to claim it as an issue. It's previously been Republican territory...

Jul. 17 2009 10:40 AM

But he has to tell people how to improve themselves, how to pull them up by their bootstraps. What institutions they can use to achieve their goals.

Also, Cosby ranted more than explained things in a bigger context.

Jul. 17 2009 10:40 AM
Corrie from Brooklyn

President Obama mentioned the rights of women in context of the Civil Rights movement. As the ERA has still not been ratified and women do not receive federal protection from discrimination, I am wondering if the President is indicating his support of the ERA and federal protection of women's rights.

Jul. 17 2009 10:40 AM
Loren from Brooklyn

I was impressed by the applause for gay and lesbian rights at the NAAPC, which I think has not been adequately covered in the traditional media. Is this a sign that the NAAPC can be an ally in the fight for equal rights in the gay community.

Jul. 17 2009 10:40 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I didn't type my last thought correctly. Corrected:

I was thinking the same thing as what Priya [1] wrote. Cosby was derided mercilessly by some segments in the black (political & academic) community. Not all certainly, in fact, probably a tiny minority, but one that seems to command an inordinate amount of attention from the media.

NPR's Juan Williams wrote a book about the same themes and talked eloguently about Cosby's crusade and the abuse heaped upon him.

Yes, now that Obama is President, those critics are mostly silenced. Common sense ought to be just that, but somehow manages to remain "uncommon." But there will always be people who see the simple truths these folks have expressed.

Jul. 17 2009 10:40 AM
emily from nyc

i love obama, but i feel put of by him putting on the preacher style intonations, when he doesnt usually talk like that

Jul. 17 2009 10:40 AM
hjs from 11211

maybe wnyc should have bought a better fone system rather than a new radio station!!!

Jul. 17 2009 10:39 AM
Veronica Cruz from NYC

Although we have heard this speach before from many other people I believe it is important to remind parents and children that playing video games and watching execive TV is not good and will not help if they want to be successful. I tell my child that all the time and I think it is good for him to hear from the president himself so that he can se that I'm not just being over-protective.

Jul. 17 2009 10:38 AM
lucy from brooklyn, ny

i think sometimes we need to be hit over the head repeatedly with some common sense because the lot of society seems to have lost that.

so as a very soon to be parent, i appreciate obama's speech. children are our future, and we need to prepare them for their future roles...

Jul. 17 2009 10:38 AM

From what I've seen, there needs to be a long term educational plan, one that is actually funded properly, to reverse the years of oppression that African Americans have had to deal with. Unfortunately, what we get is the opposite. The African American culture has grown far apart from mainstream (white) America. I live a mile away from a black neighborhood in Long Island and it's like they speak a different language. What's worse, when an African American comes into a place like a library, they act like they're going to kicked out any time. That kind of attitude is the result of systematic abuse.

Jul. 17 2009 10:38 AM
Dana from Teaneck

Obama is right - it's just advice that parents don't want to hear. It's been an approach (parental responsibility) that many minorities have used over the years to propel their families forward.

Jul. 17 2009 10:38 AM
plp from queens

The bottom line is that Bill Cosby is right on!

Jul. 17 2009 10:37 AM
Paul from Brooklynh

Where does the personal responsibility thing end. Was the black man in south Texas who looked at his boss' wife with a knowing glance, fully aware of the potential consequences of such an action, deserve his death by lynching. It's much easy to blame people for stupid actions than looking at complex power arrangements that exist to maintain the status quo.

Jul. 17 2009 10:37 AM
Mireille Liong from Brooklyn,NY

It was the right tone. The way he connected the whole history from his Ghana trip to 100 years of NAACP to now as President. He even looked at the future talking about 200 years NAACP.
It was a great build up. Great no excuses speech. I loved how he acknowledge how far we've come. It was praise as well as what we still need to do.

Jul. 17 2009 10:37 AM
Robert from NYC

SherriLYNN and GwendoLYNN, hmmmm. I bet they are sisters. The LYNN is the giveaway.

Jul. 17 2009 10:37 AM
Ayana from Brooklyn

I agree with Obama's "no excuses"comment. However, it is extremely important that we give minorities access to those alternative opportunities so they can become scientists, and doctors etc. Is anything being done to that end?

Jul. 17 2009 10:37 AM
jen from Brooklyn

I'm glad I had the opportunity to read the speech in its entirety since the media seems to repeat the snippets about personal responsibility more than the comments about structural inequalities and the persistence of discrimination for women, ethnic minorities, and lesbian and gay people.

The difference between Obama's speech and Cosby's is that Obama did not insult working class African Americans and he also didn't presume that economic struggles and low achievement arise out of a vacuum.

Jul. 17 2009 10:36 AM
Maria from Upper West Side

If a parent's eyes were rolling to "turn off your televisions" then they need to turn off their television.

Jul. 17 2009 10:35 AM
Marissa from Manhattan, NY

Yes, we need someone to hold us, as a society, accountable. We are all too ready to hand over the blame - to not take responsibility for our actions.

Jul. 17 2009 10:35 AM
hjs from 11211

dear obama, no child should be 'whopped'

Jul. 17 2009 10:35 AM
gianni lovato from Huntington

Unfortunately I was unable to listen to B.O.'s speech to the NAACP last night.
Strangely, I have also not been able to find the full transcript, audio or video of it anywhere on line yet (as of the time of this writing)
It is a pity, because it seems that, once again, some media and some people with personal agendas (do I dare say prejudices?) are taking snippets of Obama's speech out of contest to make their own hay.
Are we being pollyhannish in believing that, simply because we now have a President with some African ancestry (who is not afraid to address some unpleasant truths), all racism, suspicion, animosity, indolence and ignorance have been obliterated?
At times it seems as if all we have managed to do, REGARDLESS of color, class or creed, is to shove our collective distrusts and shames deeper into the closet, under a pile of fake smiles and sterile mannerisms.

Jul. 17 2009 07:29 AM
Priya from Brooklyn

And by chance is Sherrilynn Gwen's sister, I have been curious since she appeared on the BLS a few years ago for her book.

Jul. 17 2009 12:41 AM
Priya from Brooklyn

Bill Cosby inferred similar views about three years ago and was derided over them. Other than Barack Obama becoming president, what's changed in the US to make it okay make similar statements to be made now?

Jul. 17 2009 12:40 AM

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