This evening I had the opportunity to read President Obama’s speech at the 100th anniversary of the NAACP from the transcript at the official White House site. What a wonderful speech! He recalls the history of the past hundred years – a disgraceful history for our nation, and a brave and glorious history of those who fought for freedom and an end to discrimination. As he named those heroes, he said:
Because of them I stand here tonight, on the shoulders of giants. And I'm here to say thank you to those pioneers and thank you to the NAACP.What a powerful moment! I hearkened back to my 14 years in Atlanta, when my Congressman was the brave John Lewis.
He then acknowledges that “too many barriers still remain,” and he names them. Read that sad litany of injustices which still persist in our country.
Then he turns to the present, saying:
But what's required today -- what's required to overcome today's barriers is the same as what was needed then. The same commitment. The same sense of urgency. The same sense of sacrifice. The same sense of community. The same willingness to do our part for ourselves and one another that has always defined America at its best and the African American experience at its best. (Applause.)He then moves on to a clarion call – especially for better education, better parenting, better community involvement in the lives of all our children. It is a rousing speech, which you can read here or watch here. [Warning: it’s a 36-minute video, so you’ll need high bandwidth.]
And so the question is, where do we direct our efforts? What steps do we take to overcome these barriers? How do we move forward in the next 100 years?
The first thing we need to do is make real the words of the NAACP charter and eradicate prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States. (Applause.) I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009. And I believe that overall, there probably has never been less discrimination in America than there is today. I think we can say that.
But make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still felt in America. (Applause.) By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender. (Laughter.) By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. (Applause.) By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God. (Applause.) By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights. (Applause.)
On the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination cannot stand -- not on account of color or gender; how you worship or who you love. Prejudice has no place in the United States of America. That's what the NAACP stands for. That's what the NAACP will continue to fight for as long as it takes. (Applause.)
As a supporter of justice, I applaud his entire speech. If I were African American, I suspect I would react even more powerfully and emotionally to his marvelous speech. I don’t want to take anything away from him or the members of the NAACP who were in that hall last night.
I speak as a white woman, recognizing that I enjoy some White Privilege that is still denied to many African Americans.
But tonight, I am responding especially as a lesbian. For I am amazed that in the midst of this powerful speech, President Obama made a point of saying this:
But make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still felt in America. (Applause.) By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender. (Laughter.) By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. (Applause.) By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God. (Applause.) By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights. (Applause.)[That segment comes at about 9:25 of the CNN video.]
There have been voices trying to drive a wedge between the African American and gay/lesbian communities. We saw a sad example of that in the aftermath of the Prop 8 vote in California.
As my friend Michael reminds me, there are also African American gay men and lesbians. I fear they are too often doubly marginalized –by their race and by their sexual orientation.
Hearing President Obama’s speech made me proud. It reminded me that we are all in this together. And I am proud that he reminded the NAACP that their struggle is related to all our struggles. Let us LGBTs remember the inverse: that our struggle is deeply entangled with those of all other marginalized people in this country.
Can I get an “Amen”?