Speed Reads

obama farewell address

Obama: Race relations are better, but 'all of us have more work to do'

In his farewell address Tuesday night in Chicago, President Obama said race remains a "potent and often divisive force in our society," but he's old enough to know that things have improved immensely over the past few decades.

"I've lived long enough to know race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago," he said. "No matter what some folks say, you can see it not just in statistics, but in attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But, we're not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do." The economy doesn't "have to be a zero sum game," the president said, and last year, "incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women." If America is going to be serious about race going forward, Obama continued, "we need to uphold laws against discrimination in hiring and in housing and in education and in the criminal justice system. That is what our Constitution and our highest ideals require."

The laws alone won't be enough, though. "Hearts must change," Obama said. "Social attitudes often take generations to change. If our democracy is going to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch." As the father in To Kill a Mockingbird said, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Obama urged black Americans and other minority groups to take their "very real struggles for justice" and tie them to the "challenges that a lot of people in this country face," and for whites to "acknowledge that the affects of slavery and Jim Crow didn't suddenly vanish in the '60s, that when minority groups voice discontent, they're not engaging in reverse racism or practicing 'political correctness.' When they wage peaceful protests, they're not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised." Catherine Garcia