‘Personal Responsibility’ Over ‘Legacy of Racism’

Printing a letter to the editor from Leila McDowell (8/26/09), the New York Times has “Another Look at Obama’s Speech to the NAACP”–from the group’s on vice president of communications.

McDowell starts with the fact that the “Times distinguished itself from most major media by virtually ignoring the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, which was started in New York”–and then, “when the Times finally did send a reporter…the resulting article (“Obama Gives Fiery Address at NAACP,” July 17) focused on personal responsibility,” even though “that was the least prominent part of Mr. Obama’s speech”:

What was noteworthy was his discussion of racial disparities, the barriers facing African-Americans and the policies to redress social gaps.

This is a theme President Obama has rarely spoken about with such depth.

Urging personal responsibility in our communities is as traditional as shouting “Amen!” to the preacher’s sermon in black churches and civic organizations.

What is new is the president’s forceful articulation of the disparities we fight every day. Personal responsibility will not remove the barriers that a legacy of racism and exclusion has left for millions of African-Americans.

“The familiar refrain of personal responsibility,” though “an important issue… articulated by black preachers long before Mr. Obama,” is, McDowell writes, “an old story and standard fare.” Listen to FAIR’s radio show CounterSpin: “Dedrick Muhammad on Obama’s NAACP Speech and ‘Tough Love'” (7/31/09).