Here's a transcript of what he said today.
One of the toughest things about my AP job is leaving so much good material out of my stories. Last Sunday's story about Obama's dedication speech was no exception. Here are a few of my favorite outtakes:
I spoke to Dick Gregory a few days ahead of the event. Dude was high-larious. He dispensed a lot of wisdom while steadily cracking jokes like:
"Nobody in they right mind even mentioned back then--they would put you in a mental hospital if you would have thought there would be a black president this quick. Even crazier than that would be having a Martin Luther King monument on their sacred land. The Indians talk about sacred land, but they ain't got no guns to protect it. The two of them (a black president and a memorial) coming together, nobody could have dreamed that. If anybody could have known that, they would have had the ability to win the lottery every day."
I asked Gregory if race would be a hard topic for Obama to avoid in his speech. He said, "He knows what he can do and what he can't do, that’s how he got to be president. We thought he always talked about (race) and then stopped. He never talked about it in a public forum. Like when Kennedy was (the first Catholic) president, how many times did he ever mention the pope? When did he say, 'I got to leave, I'm on my way to mass?'"Then he said, "What I love (about the King monument) is the Jefferson memorial is in front of him. Old Thomas Jefferson never thought there'd be a black man standing behind him, staring at him for the rest of time."
Something else I wish I could have incorporated was Nikki Giovanni's poem:
Finally, the couple I mentioned at the end of the story, the Coopers, had many interesting and insightful things to say. They were at the '63 March on Washington and heard King speak there. I asked them what they hoped Obama would say at the dedication. Paul Cooper said, "When King spoke, you had the feeling he was authentic, he was speaking from the heart, not merely saying things that were expedient to say. If Obama can learn anything from the lesson of MLK, it’s to do the same, to let his own voice come out. ... There are things he could say that would make people feel like he’s an authentic person. Not give the spiel du jour. People want to know that about Obama. They want to know who he is.”
After the speech, two other people I quoted used the word "authentic," or something like it. So Paul was onto something.
Are you listening, black people? The first black president is speaking to you. Some of you said he wasn't paying enough attention. Well, he paid plenty of attention Monday night on ... Black Entertainment Television.
(Pause to let that sink in.)
BET titled the interview "The President Answers Black America." It aired at 7:30 pm Eastern, pre-empting the regularly scheduled hip-hop video show "106 & Park," BET's "flagship" program, which is a favorite of the eighth-grade set.
The actual interview offered some important insights. My favorite is below; by all means read the full transcript here. (You know, just in case you weren't watching BET on Monday night.)
Why not target the African-American community? Why not say then, “This is for you. This is for African-Americans?” If there was a banking crisis, then you’d target money for the banks. If there was a national disaster, you’d target your money for the National Disaster Relief.
No. That’s not how America works. America works when all of us are pulling together and everybody is focused on making sure that every single person has opportunity. And so when we put forward a program like, for example, the Health Care Bill, our focus is people who don’t have health care. Now it turns out that the majority of folks who don’t have health care are also working families, and are disproportionately African-American and Latino, but that doesn’t mean that it’s only for them. There are a whole bunch of folks all across the country who need help. And we are going to help every single person who needs help. And if there are communities that are especially hard-hit, we will focus on making sure that those communities get extra help. But it doesn’t mean that we go around saying that we’re going to have a special program for whites, or we’re going to have a special program for Hispanics, or we’re going to have a special program for blacks. We’re going to make sure that we have a program that helps to raise everybody’s prospects...
This quote highlights the difference between Obama and almost every other black Democrat in Washington. Last weekend, Obama spoke at the convention of the Congressional Black Caucus--which has been screaming for Obama to "do something" for black folks. Obama told the CBC to work with him to make things better. But the CBC's ideas on how to make things better are fundamentally different that Obama's. The CBC wants things like job training and money going straight from the federal government to paying salaries for new jobs. Obama believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. And he doesn't say this, but he appears to believe that advocating for one specific group is "bad politics"--which means, as I understand it, that it would cost votes.
I wonder if the average white independent voter--the ones who Obama does not want to alienate with overtly racial rhetoric or policies--knows Obama's opinion on "how America works" when it comes to helping his fellow black Americans.
Yesterday a few Ebonicisms caught my eye, when a Mike Vick quote was de-ghettofied and President Obama was quoted as "telling black people to stop complainin'." That missing G means a lot. So much, in fact, that the writer Karen Hunter told MSNBC that AP is racist for accurately transcribing the president:
I don't get the 15-yard flags like everybody else do." (It was changed to, "like everybody else DOES.") I think that if you don't want to quote someone's bad English, just paraphrase them. But to change what's in between the quote marks is to change reality.
Here's the segment with Hunter n'em. Long Live Ebonics.
This post is for everyone who, like me, jumped on the headline this weekend in which President Obama told black people to "quit complainin.'" I urge you to read the full transcript of his speech here. The speech lasted 28 minutes and is about 3,500 words on the printed page. "Quit complainin'" was in the second-to-last sentence. Should that have been the headline? If Obama is speaking to the Black Caucus, is he really speaking to "blacks" in general, or to "black Democratic politicians"? If Mike Vick goes on TV tomorrow and says, "I need to quit complainin'," will his quote be printed with a G on the end? You be the judge.
Talking with some of my more conservative friends, I have discovered the common view that Obama is trying to "destroy America." This will happen, the thinking goes, by creating more dependency on more social welfare programs until these programs bankrupt the country. Then, they believe, Obama will be able to transition into some sort of socialist state.
The other day a reporter asked Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, whether he thought Obama is trying to "destroy America." Coburn's response:
"No, I don’t . . . He’s a very bright man. But think about his life. And think about what he was exposed to and what he saw in America. He’s only relating what his experience in life was. . . . His intent isn’t to destroy. It’s to create dependency because it worked so well for him. I don’t say that critically. Look at people for what they are. Don’t assume ulterior motives. I don’t think he doesn’t love our country. I think he does. As an African American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs. So he believes in them. I just don’t believe they work overall and in the long run they don’t help our country. But he doesn’t know that because his life experience is something different. So it’s very important not to get mad at the man. And I understand, his philosophy — there’s nothing wrong with his philosophy other than it’s goofy and wrong [laughter] — but that doesn’t make him a bad person."
This comment was called to my attention by an outraged Yale friend of mine, a black doctor. He sees Coburn looking at a successful black man and assuming that a) he achieved his station in life through affirmative action, not talent and hard work, and b) he must have been on welfare, food stamps, or some such. My friend called it a case of "these mediocre oblivious white men slip(ping) into this overtly racist thinking."
The doctor emailed the quote to me and two other Yale friends. One of them, a black foundation director with a Stanford MBA, had this to say:
"The GOP is simply a modern day version of the KKK. You get shouted down for saying these sorts of things, but it's true. They are white supremacists. Coburn merely reflects the unmuzzled philosophy of the GOP. Fellas, they are extremists, plain and simple. I've been complaining about Obama's approach to the GOP since Day 1, because he's approached them as if they are rational people. They are not. They are religious and cultural extremists."
I'd say that comment uses a pretty broad brush. But I found it quite significant, because the person who said it, a man I have known for 25 years, is an extraordinarily intelligent, friendly, and just plain decent person, who has many white friends and colleagues. He is not one to see an anti-black conspiracy hiding behind every bush. But when he cuts to the essence of what he hears from the GOP, he hears racism. There's an enormous perception gap when it comes to what is or is not racist behavior, something we have to solve in order to move forward. Call this Exhibit 4,080.
Jesse Washington is a Senior Writer for ESPN's TheUndefeated.com