“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).


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.


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.


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.