“Colorblindness”: Summary of President Barack Obama’s July 17, 2009 Speech at the NAACP’s Convention in New York City

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, delivered a speech at the centennial convention of the NAACP in New York City on July 17, 2009. The President’s speech generally recognized the limitations that exist in society for Black Americans, but also encouraged continued work to improve oneself regardless of the barriers.

In theory, these are good ideas. For these theories to work better in reality, the effort of the government must meet the effort of those who strive to improve. The reader of the speech must first know that the societal majority in the United States is the White race.

United States (population: 281,421,906 (2000 Census)

Race Percentage of population Number
White 75.1% 211,460,626
Black 12.3 34,658,190
Native American 0.9 2,475,956
Asian 3.6 10,242,998

The President’s speech is vague on proposals to address problems of systemic discrimination but is specific and acerbic on criticizing the behavior of those who suffered. Of course, those who have suffered have a responsibility to act properly, but the social majority also has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has a true and equal opportunity to succeed.

A summary of the President speech follows (with my observations in brackets).

Change

Founders of the NAACP understood how change would come—unjust laws overturned, legislation needed to be passed, Presidents needed to be pressured into action. The President explained that the founders of the NAACP understood that change would have to come from the people, people who were tired of lynchings and violence (racial), Black people who were tired after raising other people’s children and operating their households who decided to walk rather than taking the bus (Montgomery bus boycott) [perhaps also anti-Black racial injustice?].

The President explained that because of what the people did, we [unsure who the “we” refers to] are [are getting closer to being] a more perfect union. Because Jim Crow laws were overturned, the President continued, Black Chief Executive Officers run Fortune 500 companies [5]. The President also stated that because civil rights were passed, Black mayors, Black Governors [3 in recent times (Wilder (VA), Patrick (MA), Paterson (NY)], and Black members of Congress [34 in House, 1 in Senate], and, implicitly, a Black President [1] served in places where they might have not only not been able to vote but also not able to take a sip of water.

Barriers

The President noted that even with these achievements, many barriers remain [The President did not explain the reasons for these barriers].

Employment-The economic crisis is bad but Black people are out of work more than anybody else, the President stated.

Health care-The President explained that health care costs crush everyone, but Black Americans are more likely to suffer a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about everybody else.

Prison-The President noted that the United States imprisons more people of all races but a Black child is five times more likely as a White child to go to prison.

HIV/AIDS-The President stated that the disease devastates nations abroad, particularly Africa. The disease also devastates Black people in the United States with devastating force, the President added.

New Foundation for Growth and Prosperity

The President stated that commitment is needed to overcome barriers. There should be a focus on eradicating prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination. The President stated that he is addressing this goal through tax credits, providing a second chance to ex-offenders, affordable housing, the Promise Neighborhoods, and providing unemployment insurance. [These ideas are good, but I do not see how they address the barriers caused by prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination.]

The President also presented a new foundation for growth and prosperity for all Americans—health insurance for everybody, energy reform, financial reform (with consumer protection to crack down on mortgage fraud, and education [It is interesting that the problems unique to Black people is subsumed into the problems of the larger society in a mere sentence. Also, Is a college degree absolutely required for success? College tuition is expensive, and starting salaries generally have not kept up with the expense].

The President devoted a significant portion of time on the education part of the new foundation. The President described his proposals for post-secondary, secondary, elementary, and pre-school education.

Parenting

The President stated that the new foundation would not make a difference if parents and community leaders fail to do their part by encouraging excellence in their children. The President explained that a new mindset was needed because one of the worst legacies of discrimination is the way we’ve (The President addressing the common background of being Black with the audience) internalized a sense of limitation—how so many in out community have come to expect so little from the world and themselves [The President did not explain why a Black person would have such an expectation. Discrimination and bigotry limited the horizons of many for a long time. Just changing that reality in the present is not sufficient to reverse the damage done over 400 years.]

The President explained that parents cannot tell kids to do well in school and fail to support them at home. The President suggested what a proper method is—no Xbox, reasonable bedtimes, attending PTA meetings, reading to children, and helping with homework.

Destiny Is in Your Hands

The President, addressing the limitation expectation, stated that the Black community (the President included) has to say that if you are Black, you face greater odds to grow up amid crime and gangs. If you are poor, the President added, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. The President advised that this is not a reason for bad grades, cutting class, giving up on education and dropping out. Destiny is in your hands—no excuses, the President noted. [Blacks are likely to face both the effects of race and of being poor. These two signifiers cause barriers to rise and the limitation mentality the President refers to. Although the burden to fight against the ill effects of race and poverty is placed on those being burdened.]

The President explained that children should set their sights higher—not to be stars in sports and music, but to be scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, Supreme Court Justices, and Presidents.

Credit Cards: American Express Overlimit Fee Ban Is Expensive

The Credit CARD law (previous post here)is showing its futility. Credit card companies are given enough lead time to defeat the weak spirit of the bill.

American Express says it will no longer collect over-the-credit-limit fees. It sounds good until the price of the move is revealed at Consumerist.com–replacing fixed rate interest charges with variable interest charges (prime rate +11.99).

Disorderly Conduct in D.C.: An Analysis of a Case Involving Pepin Tuma

Questions has been raised regarding the scope of the law for disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct in the District of Columbia, partly because of the events that occurred in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Colbert King, a columnist for The Washington Post, in a follow-up column to his previous column, discussed some complaints against the police filed in D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints to demonstrate the abuse of the charge of disorderly conduct.

I think that Mr. King could be on to something, but the cases have to be considered individually. For example, Pepin Tuma, a Washington, D.C. attorney, wrote about his experience about being charged with disorderly conduct after uttering a statement, “I hate the police,” at police officers involved in a investigation with another person. The facts of his case while seemingly clear-cut are simultaneously disconcerting as well. Tuma’s professional identity of a practicing lawyer weighs heavily in the analysis of his situation. I think that a person who is admitted to law school, studies the law in depth for three years, studies for, takes, and passes the bar examination, and is admitted to practice law within a jurisdiction as an officer of the court has a higher standard of behavior with regard to reasonable responses to witnessing police officers engaged in an investigation.

Tuma stated that while he was discussing the Cambridge, MA case with friends, he approached an area with police officers seemingly involved in a traffic stop. Tuma, from across the street, uttered in a tone of voice to be heard by officers on the scene, “I hate the police.” One officer that heard the statement, James Culp, questioned his conduct and placed him under arrest for disorderly conduct. Tuma, a gay man, stated that the officer said, “shut up, faggot.”

Tuma argues that he was simply offering his opinion about the police. However, the time, place, and manner in which he voiced his opinion could have negatively affected the police officers in the performance of their duties in the investigation with which they were involved.

Something in this case seems wrong. Because of this, Tuma’s case may not be as illustrative of abuse as he thinks. Tuma, a practicing attorney in the District of Columbia, is an officer of the court and should conduct himself appropriately when encountering situations involving the activity of law enforcement officers. His statement, “I hate the police,” is covered under the First Amendment. However, the time, place, and manner of his speech is a topic that is worthy of investigation. As an attorney, Tuma could have written or called his D.C. Councilmember or other appropriate authority with any concerns he may have about law enforcement officers in D.C.

While Tuma attempts to minimize the investigation of the police officers as a routine traffic stop, any traffic stop can become hazardous as well. Could Tuma’s statement at that time have provoked violence on the scene of the investigation? This is a fair question in analyzing Tuma’s behavior on U Street, N.W. in July. A police officer raised a similar argument in a case in the D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints.

The statement attributed to the officer would be in poor form and unprofessional, if true. I am sure that the officer will deny he uttered that statement. So with Tuma’s assertion and the officers likely denial, it would be difficult to prove that the statement was made.

While the consideration of the use of disorderly conduct is good, the use of Tuma’s incident as an example of abuse of the use of the charge of disorderly conduct is questionable because of the time, place, and manner of his conduct. Tuma’s professional status of an attorney, leads a reasonable person to ponder why he did not conduct himself more reasonably that day on U Street when observing police officers conduct an investigation.

The charges likely will be dismissed, but it will be a close case if a Tuma files a complaint of harassment against the police department through the Office of Police Complaints.

Post script

Disorderly conduct in the District of Columbia is defined at section 22-1321 [search the D.C. Code at the D.C. Council’s website].

“Whoever, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby: (1) acts in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others; (2) congregates with others on a public street and refuses to move on when ordered by the police; (3) shouts or makes a noise either outside or inside a building during the nighttime to the annoyance or disturbance of any considerable number of persons; (4) interferes with any person in any place by jostling against such person or unnecessarily crowding such person or by placing a hand in the proximity of such person’s pocketbook, or handbag; or (5) causes a disturbance in any streetcar, railroad car, omnibus, or other public conveyance, by running through it, climbing through windows or upon the seats, or otherwise annoying passengers or employees, shall be fined not more than $250 or imprisoned not more than 90 days, or both.”

DC Office of Police Complaints

2005 complaint decision

Franciscan Friars: Simple Walk from Roanoke to D.C. Has Quietly Profound Effects

One morning on the Metro, I happened on a story in The Washington Post about some Franciscan friars who embarked on a walk from Roanoke, Virginia to Washington, D.C.

Unlike many stories that I pass through quickly, this story held my interest until my stop at Foggy Bottom.

One of the things that struck me was the many people who turned to them for advice.  It is rather unusual to hear of this type of activity that the friars did. I am glad that they were able to reach so many hearts and minds on their journey.

It was a benefit to come across this article, and I wish the Friars well in their vocation.

Post Script

The Friars website