If all you saw in the mainstream media about President Obama’s speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference Saturday night was the AP story, then you are woefully misinformed as to what the President actually said.
As soon as the AP story, “Obama Tells Blacks to ‘Stop Complainin’ and Fight” hit the wire, the narrative that the president “lectured” or “talked down to” black people emerged. In reality, the President delivered a fiery campaign style speech with the purpose of igniting his base of supporters who have been frustrated with the high levels of unemployment and overall dismal pace of economic growth. The first half of the speech addressed what the administration has been able to achieve so far, which is substantial and far surpassing his predecessors.
The second half of the speech addressed the critics which has included the CBC of late. Concerns in the CBC are completely valid. African American unemployment is ridiculously and inexcusably high and Washington, D.C. has been in a constant state of partisan gridlock since November 2010. Many African Americans are frustrated with the Obama administration and the most vocal critics, including some members of the CBC in the room during the speech, have called out the President for his so-called “failure” to adequately address the problems of many black Americans.
So what did President Obama actually say in his “lecture” to black America?
President Obama wants those critics to stop talking and get to work.
Here are some notable excerpts from President Obama’s speech with my commentary and emphasis added in bold below.
And I know at times that gets folks discouraged. I know. I listen to some of you all. (Laughter.) I understand that. And nobody feels that burden more than I do. Because I know how much we have invested in making sure that we’re able to move this country forward. But you know, more than a lot of other folks in this country, we know about hard. The people in this room know about hard. (Applause.) And we don’t give in to discouragement.
Lecturing? Nope. It sounds to me like President Obama wants those suffering to know he gets it. People are struggling and Obama wants those folks to know he hears their complaints. The President does not want them to give in to their disappointment. After many months of vocal critics on the left claiming the President refused to acknowledge suffering of many in the black community, this section of the speech is for them. (cough Tavis Smiley…cough Professor Cornel West cough).
Throughout our history, change has often come slowly. Progress often takes time. We take a step forward, sometimes we take two steps back. Sometimes we get two steps forward and one step back. But it’s never a straight line. It’s never easy. And I never promised easy. Easy has never been promised to us. But we’ve had faith. We have had faith. We’ve had that good kind of crazy that says, you can’t stop marching. (Applause.)
Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop. (Applause.) Even when somebody fires you for speaking out, you can’t stop. (Applause.) Even when it looks like there’s no way, you find a way — you can’t stop. (Applause.) Through the mud and the muck and the driving rain, we don’t stop. Because we know the rightness of our cause — widening the circle of opportunity, standing up for everybody’s opportunities, increasing each other’s prosperity. We know our cause is just. It’s a righteous cause.
So in the face of troopers and teargas, folks stood unafraid. Led somebody like John Lewis to wake up after getting beaten within an inch of his life on Sunday — he wakes up on Monday: We’re going to go march. (Applause.)
I don’t know about you, but this is the most inspirational lecture I’ve heard in quite some time. Seriously, even I get cynical sometimes but upon reflection nothing is ever easy. No rights for women, the poor, minorities, immigrants, etc. came without a fight. Ever. It never happened overnight. As Melissa Harris-Perry once said on Rachel Maddow, “we fight and fail.” Progress has it’s ups and downs but we must not waiver.
Dr. King once said: “Before we reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a frustrating and bewildering wilderness ahead. We must still face prodigious hilltops of opposition and gigantic mountains of resistance. But with patient and firm determination we will press on.” (Applause.)
So I don’t know about you, CBC, but the future rewards those who press on. (Applause.) With patient and firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs. (Applause.) I’m going to press on for equality. (Applause.) I’m going to press on for the sake of our children. (Applause.) I’m going to press on for the sake of all those families who are struggling right now. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I am going to press on. (Applause.)
I expect all of you to march with me and press on. (Applause.) Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. (Applause.) Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC. (Applause.)
Here is the full video which I encourage you watch and judge for yourself as to whether the President is firing up his base of supporters or whether he is lecturing.