Obama's March on Washington Anniversary Speech Missed the Mark

Colorlines' Imara Jones admonishes the president for blaming people of color for persistent economic inequality during his speech for the March on Washington's 50th anniversary.

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President Obama addressing the audience at the March on Washington 50th anniversary (Getty Images)

Colorlines' Imara Jones admonishes the president for blaming people of color for persistent economic inequality during his speech for the March on Washington's 50th anniversary. He said that Obama's talk was long on rhetoric and short on substance.

On the very site of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the nation’s first black president told America yesterday that African-Americans and other people of color carry a substantial portion of the blame for the persistence of economic inequality. Sadly, his speechemployed the very stereotypes that were used to legitimate racial discrimination and economic injustice 50 years ago. But like those caricatures of historically marginalized people, the president’s analysis of where America veered off course in its long walk toward freedom is simply ahistorical and factually inaccurate.

Twenty minutes into his commemorative address, President Obama shockingly declared that the fight for freedom had "lost its way" because historically marginalized Americans had instigated "self-defeating riots" in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. He added that if progressives and communities of color were "honest" they’d be compelled to admit that their "call for equality of opportunity" had devolved into "a mere desire for government support." Obama wrapped up his examination of this period of American history by saying that blacks and Latinos had often acted "as if we had no agency in our liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child."

What makes the president's remarks so troubling is that it’s impossible to fix problems that are mislabeled and misdiagnosed. Consequently, the president's erroneous assessment of the continuation of racial and economic inequity may provide insight as to why his administration has not pushed coherent policies to end the racial aspects of economic unfairness. From his talk, Obama indicates that he sees them as character flaws rather than structural ones. 

Read Imara Jones' entire piece at Colorlines.

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